Diamond has really been making progress. Or maybe I should say that I have. Or something. I do tend to get stuck on a particular behavior and I don’t want move on to a new behavior until I have what I want out of the one I’m working on. Unfortunately, that just frustrates both of us. I’m really trying to change my ways and skip around to other behaviors, even if it’s just for fun, without a true goal of, say, hoof handling. But, in the end, they all work toward the same goal – a horse that is well trained.
I haven’t tackled handling Diamond’s hind feet because, frankly, she scared me. She moves so fast and snatches her feet up when touched. And I’ve seen her double barrel the boys, so it was not lost on me that she could be dangerous with her hind feet if I didn’t deal with the problem in the right way.
A couple of weeks ago I set up the gate in my paddock for protected contact to work on the hind feet challenge. Jane Jackson, of Bookends Farm, gave me the idea of wrapping towels around a pipe on a gate and having Diamond target her shoulder to one towel and her hips to another. I did work on this a couple of times. In the end, though, I just started working with her feet directly.
This is our first attempt and I didn’t have the towels on the rails yet. I definitely have to watch how she places her feet and her balance if I want her to pick up the foot I touch. If she’s not in a balanced position, she won’t be able to pick up that foot.
I didn’t video the second session with this because, apparently, I forgot to turn on the camera! But it went well. Well enough that I thought I could tackle the foot problem without protected contact.
Here’s the first video of working with her left hind foot which was the next day:
Here we’re working on the left hind again a week later with another session in between:
Here’s the right hind the same day as the left above and with one other session previous:
Please note that I try to click early to avoid her snatching her leg up.
Some of the other things we’ve been working on include backing with head down as she was throwing her head up for some reason while backing. This might be due to some physical cause, such as she just can’t back up onto a raised platform without throwing her head up or it could be a “superstitious” behavior that just got thrown into the mix of shaping. (This is also called “unintended reinforced behavior”.) Diamond does get creative and very quickly! I really wanted to see if I could get her head down while backing.
I think this shows that it’s not likely that she threw her head up because of physical problems. She fairly quickly changed to keeping her head down. I also know that she follows my lead. If I am bending down, she keeps her head low. If I straighten up, she throws her head up. We will keep working on this and I will gradually get my body position out of the stimulus picture as a cue to throw her head up.
One other note about hoof handling. I’ve been working with Diamond in her stall to clean her front feet out before turning her and the boys out for the day so I don’t have video. You may recall that I’ve said that she wiggles her legs around when they’re up in the air and I’ve made a point recently to clean that up. To do this, I’ve let go of her hoof if she starts jerking it around after I’ve put my hands on it. Then I wait a couple of seconds and either wait for her to offer the foot again or I cue “foot”. If she wiggles it a second time, then I lower the criterion to just picking up the foot, click and reinforce. Then I ask for the foot (or wait for her to offer it), I hold it, sigh deeply, wait for her to drop her shoulder, then I click and reinforce. It has only taken a few days of this for her to keep her leg still.
Take my advice and deal with these things earlier! Don’t wait for it to become ingrained!