Make Haste Slowly, 4-16-14

Hoof handling and grooming and sheath cleaning training continues with the boys, Atty and Ollie.

It doesn’t matter much what I think about the process and how fast we’re progressing.  Or not.  In fact, it doesn’t matter at all what I think.  As I realize once again that the only opinion that matters is the horse’s.

Ollie, once allowed to be at liberty with me, has continually told me that he’s uncomfortable with just about everything – the wash stall itself, grooming, hoof cleaning, tacking up.  You name it, he doesn’t like it and he leaves.

I do have to say, however, that these last couple of session, he’s leaving less often and not going nearly as far away.  That’s actually a huge improvement and I need to recognize and remember that.  Maybe if I actually kept data records…

But I still have to listen to him.  I still have to honor his leaving or his not wanting to pick up his foot or wanting to put it back down or whatever.  It doesn’t matter that I think this is all old hat and that he “should just do it”.  Or that I have any right to “just get the job done”.  “Just getting the job done” will only set us back.  I may want to “just” clean his feet or “just” put the topicals on his soles.  But it’s much, much more important to Ollie to go at his pace.

Ollie is going to teach me (yet again) how to be supremely tolerant (I won’t say “patient”*) and how to really, really, really thin slice my criteria and – and this is the MOST IMPORTANT part – WAIT for him to tell me when he’s ready to raise or change criteria.

I might take him 100 repetitions before he’s ready for what I think is the next step.  Not just 10 or 20, much less three.

That being said, we just worked on lightly, lightly touching the backs of his front legs and waiting for any kind of weight shift or buckling of the ankle or knee.  I’d try to do ten reps on one leg and then go work with the other.  But sometimes he only did two reps and then walked off.  Sometimes I could click if he lifted the foot I was working with and he’d take that step and stop to wait for the treat.

But sometimes I just let him go.  If he needed to leave and check out the world or the hay box, that was okay.  It was even better if he decided on his own to come back.  The few times that he left completely, he didn’t stay away that long, even at the hay box.  He’d check out the hay, take a bite or two, and then come back to me.  That was more important than anything else we worked on.

Ollie is such a Nervous Nellie that it’s sometimes hard for him to actually get the treat.  He fumbles it with his lips and knocks it to the ground.  He will also grind his teeth and suck in his cheeks.  I need to figure out when this happens and stop sooner.  I’d rather have a session that ended on a good note than get to the teeth-grinding stage.

Another thing that Ollie does is back up all the time and swing his head around.  I swear he has the most flexible neck on the planet.  Sometimes he comes close to clocking me with it!  Annoying to say the least, but maybe, someday, when he calms down more, he’ll begin to trust the process and not throw so much my direction.  I just haven’t spent the time with him that I have with Atty.

Something that I’ve noticed with both boys is that when I want the left front foot the head really swings far to the right.  I know that both of them are bent right and, therefore, weight both their left legs.  At this point I assume that they need to swing their heads to the right in order to unweight the left front foot.  That’s going to require some thinking and planning on my part to figure out how to balance them in a way that they don’t have to do that.  Hmm.

Atticus was very good today, even though he left to check out the hay box at least once.  But he, too, came back on his own.  In the very beginning of liberty work with him, he would just leave and not come back at all.

As I said above, he also swings his head to the right when I want the left fore.

One thing that I’m working with Atty on is his targeting my hand with his fetlock when he picks it up.  I think this is going well, although I do still want to pick up and hold his foot and leg.  I need to have some resistance to clean out the foot so I need to at least hold it.  But it is also fun to have him target his fetlock to my hand and to teach duration in holding it up himself.

I will also revisit having him rest his foot on the hoof stand (backwards) and to target the hoof stand going forwards.  But not yet.

Atty and I also did some grooming.  In this category, I’m teaching him to target his forehead to my brush or my hand so that I can groom his head.  He does pretty well unless I bring my hand up too fast.

With both boys, I’m working on being able to touch and clean the sheath.  We’re just working on touching right now and keeping those hind feet on the floor!  So far so good.  🙂

Atty also offers what I call a camel bow or stretch.  He reaches out his front feet and lean back onto his haunches while lowering his chest.  I’ve been clicking and treating for that hoping to capture it and put it on cue.  We’ll see.

Ollie and Atty are so different in temperament!  I must change MY behavior in order to train them each well!

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About Laurie Higgins

I play with clicker training - with my horses, dogs, and cats. I also attempt to grow vegetables with the hope of one day being able to feed my family from my garden. My daughter and I are learning ballroom dancing. Well, we were. But she left me for a paying horse job, so now my husband and I are learning ballroom dancing. I'm also now helping Peggy Hogan, of Clicker Training Horses (and The Best Whisper is a Click) to teach people how to train their own horses using "clicker training".
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