the relationship with your horse into one of your dreams.
Following a systematic training plan can drastically change the relationship with your horse. Even a fearful or aggressive horse can turn into a partner who is eagerly waiting for you at the pasture gate.
Blondie was 3 years old when I met her. She lived in a very impoverished environment: box with small paddock, no turnout.
She was started as a very young horse in a “do it or else” environment and became a compliant ‘soldier’ without sparkle in her eyes. Many horse people would appreciate that (non-) behaviour and label her ‘well trained’.
Blondie coped by escaping into crib-biting which she probably started already during weaning. I began working with her in 2016 for a MSc thesis on crib-biting under the guidance of Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz.
The study results showed that Blondie’s crib-biting was under the stimulus control of cues anticipating hay feeding which opens the possibility for operant procedures.
This is important!
Said differently, this means that, in principle, it is possible to change the behaviour with training.
Current explanations focus on pathologies, e.g. some kind of disorder in the gastrointestinal tract or changes in neurophysiology. They don’t offer a solution other than often unsuccessful measures such as environmental enrichment, physical restraint or surgery.
In a follow-up study we were able to retrain eating hay in the absence of cribbing under certain conditions which was quite astounding.
But I don’t want to elaborate on the cribbing study here. What I want to point out though is that her owner could not tolerate the cribbing and tried various things to stop the behaviour.
One of his attempts was the application of a cribbing collar which may have been the cause of a partial facial paralysis that Blondie suffered on her right side. As a result, her right ear and lower lip are dropping slightly and she was close to losing her right eye. She has lost some sensation in her right cheek which we discovered through bite marks on her inner cheek.
All of this led the owner to decide to get rid of her, a fate many cribbers share. Thankfully, with the help of the clicker training community, I was able to raise enough funds to add her to our little herd. MANY THANKS AGAIN.
I soon realised that underneath that complying soldier was a precious gem waiting to be uncovered and polished.
However, it’s never as simple as that.
When punishment and intimidation are no longer occurring, previously suppressed behaviour comes back to the surface.
It is frustrating when you have rescued an animal and, in return, that individual responds with aggressive behaviour.
You shower your horse with affection and all you get is pinned ears, threats to bite or kick, running away or rearing. That’s not how you imaged the relationship.
But don’t give up on your horse.
What he shows you is his experience from the past, not the present.
There are ways to overcome this extinction burst. The most important points are to be NON-REACTIVE to these behaviours and to STAY SAFE.
Start out in protective contact, i.e chose a training environment with a solid barrier between you and your horse (not electric tape). This setting provides safety to both of you when you introduce the target and explain the rules around food to your horse.
As you progress in your training ALWAYS make sure that your horse stays in his comfort zone.
Change the environment or increase criteria in tiny increments but always observe if these changes have introduced tension or hesitation. If they did, make a change in your training plan. Immediately.
With Blondie, I started in protected contact and she learnt to self-halter which changed the context compared to what she knows. In her ‘old’ experience, a person would come in, put the halter on and interaction follows in the “Do it or else” paradigm. Now, the halter is presented in a different way, predicting an interaction that is kind and compassionate.
Following the same logic, I have trained many new behaviours: leading, saddling, bridling, mounting and riding as a whole.
This CONSISTENCY transformed the relationship with Blondie.
Blondie is no longer the shut down little soldier following orders. She has grown into a confident and beautiful mare with sparkling eyes.
We are working on both, emotional as well as physical balance and even though we have not yet started “serious” physical work, the effect of thoughtful training already shows on her balance and posture.
Any horse can be transformed and you can achieve the relationship you dream about.
You don’t need to be a professional trainer to achieve that with your own horse.
I have documented most training steps with Blondie to improve my own training and to capture her progress. These training videos proved to be very useful and I have decided to share this work with you.
The training steps may not be 1:1 transferable to your situation but they can be an inspiration for your own training.
They can also give you hope if you feel frustrated because the relationship with your horse is challenging.
The platform I chose for sharing Blondie’s transformation is Patreon.
Different from social media, Patreon posts remain accessible in chronological order. Whenever you decide to join, you can always go back to the beginnings and see where we started and where we are today. This gives you a good overview of what can be achieved if you put the work in.
You will find videos of our starting point, the “warts and all” videos that clearly show Blondie’s “NO” replies to my requests. Then I share chronologically the training steps we went through and you will see the changes she makes.
In addition, I offer video COACHING to both, individuals and groups, for those who feel they would benefit from advice tailored to their specific situation. Video analysis is a great tool to identify missing components and clarify the next steps in the training progression.
To find out more about accessing Blondie’s Patreon page or video coaching options, click on the respective boxes below.
Enhance their own training journey with video COACHING.
Video analysis is a great learning tool. There is so much to see in 3-minute training video. You can watch yourself AND the whole horse at a distance which allows you to analyse and evaluate your training choices and your horse’s reaction.
You want to know more about individual and group coaching?
Click to get more information on how it works.