The Post of Don Sam Incognito

Spring Training: Clicking Back, Stand, Ears Up

Another clicker training session with Sam and Mattie this afternoon. I’ve been down with a sore throat and sinus lately–not good for working with horses in the cold. But today, energy back, I worked with Sam and Mattie and the clicker again.

Sam is really picking up on this game. When I went into the corral with the halter and yogurt container, he came up to me, interested. He now will bump the container with his nose wherever I put it. We played a game where I put the container on the ground and told him to stand then moved it and told him “touch” and he walked over to it and bumped it, then looked at me. I then tried adding the clicker to commands Sam already knows, hoping to reinforce them.

Sam is a horse who thinks he knows better than any human and is always testing to see what he can get away with. I’m hoping to refine some basic “manners” with him and build on these to reshape his attitude a bit. I don’t know if this can be done, but I’ve seen Mattie change over time from my teaching her “ears up,” so maybe Sam can change, too.

We started with the command, “Back,” which he already knows, supported by my walking towards him and shaking the lead rope. He will often push me with his head (or try to), and he doesn’t like me to be positioned anywhere but on his left side. I’m hoping to get him to step backwards at a verbal command. I started by saying “back” and stepping toward him. When he stepped back, I clicked the clicker and gave him a beet pellet. We did it again, three times. Then I said, “Back” and waited till he moved his feet backward on his own. Then I clicked the clicker and gave him the treat. We did this a few times, till he was taking several steps back on his own. Then we did the same thing with the command, “stand,” which he knows, but isn’t as patient with as Mattie. I was able to give him the command, “stand” and step away from him to the front and to both sides. Then, because I couldn’t reach him to offer the reward when he was standing away from me, I added “step up,” which they both know and do, mostly. We did this from the front and both sides, then went back to “back.”

Doing clicker training with Sam convinces me even more that someone has trick-trained Sam in the past, possibly with a clicker. Not only did he pick all this up quickly, but he seemed engaged and, if I can say this, amused. I’ve read that this type of training can improve the relationship between horse and human, and that would be a great outcome.

As for Mattie, she’s a bit gentler about touching the yogurt container, as if she really doesn’t believe I want her to touch it. Still, she caught on to the move-the-container game and would walk over to it and touch it at the command “touch.” An added benefit was, since I have taught her to put her ears up to get a treat, she put her ears up, then touched the container. Mattie’s already a good backer, so we worked on “stand” and “step up.” Then I tried walking with her, using the command “ears up” to see if I could get her to walk with her ears up (like a normal horse!). This is difficult for her. Whatever happened to her in the pack/trail string involved being led-maybe tied to another horse-and from the first, she has held her ears back, not pinned, when I lead her at the walk. I don’t know that if I train her to keep her ears up at certain times it will train the anxiety out of her, but it will ease my anxiety to see her ears up. Plus she shows off her proud Tennessee Walking Horse neck better when she has her ears up.

I used the Helen Keller metaphor to describe this process in a former post, but, truly, it feels like we’re communicating more precisely with this method. I’m eager to keep on with it.

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