Words of Wisdom: The Perfect Horse

Per Courtney Huguley, Stepping Stone Farm.

No horse is perfect. Every horse has quirks. You have to decide what you can live with.

Said during a conversation on Milton’s tendency to launch into the air when perturbed [Two Hops Forward, One Step Back].

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

5 thoughts on “Words of Wisdom: The Perfect Horse

  1. Some quirks can be conquered. Should be. Current project had a quirk that caused a chain reaction of stress. Every time I mounted and asked him to walk off he would … get weird. Scoochy. Act like he was going to bolt or buck. Every. Single. Time. Now, in all fairness this project came to me with remnant of bad saddle sores on his withers. Full-on, large patches of white hair on both sides. So clearly, he spent a considerable amount of time wearing a poorly fit, probably quite painful western saddle. Muscle memory is an amazing thing, no? So every time he felt my weight settle on his back, even though it was in a well-fit saddle, he remembered. And he acted as though he “expected” those first steps to hurt. The solution? Positive reinforcement to make the experience more rewarding for him. Thankfully, this horse is a treat hound. So I taught him a “bingo” cue, which means he learned to associate a “pending reward” with a tongue cluck from me. I use a sound that I pair ONLY with getting a treat, and he was taught to wait like a gentleman for the ensuing goody. Being careful to use the cluck to “capture” the exact behavior I want to reward, I trained him to accept this as praise for a job he has done EXCEPTIONALLY well. He does NOT get treats for every little thing, or just because he’s cute! (He is indeed, very, very cute!) Yes, this is basically clicker training 101. Controversial in the horse world, but for some horses (the food motivated) and for some things, it works. OK, so once the horse learned the drill I made sure I had a pocket full of treats, one of which I grasped between my own teeth before mounting. As soon as I got on I would cue with the cluck, then offer the reward, which he had to bend around to either side to accept. (I make sure to alternate so he doesn’t anticipate) Initially, I did this every time I got on, then immediately asked him to walk off. No scooch. No weirdness. He likes his treats and he seems to understand that my getting on is a good thing. It means a treat. He now walks off like it’s no big deal. Gradually over time (many months) I reduced the rewards for mounting; sometimes he gets one, sometimes he gets a pat and a hearty “Atta boy!” It’s worked like a charm and it’s given him time to learn that my saddle doesn’t hurt and mounting up really isn’t a bad thing. Yay! ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh, and I learned something new. White hairs from saddles sores will go away. Today there is no sign of them at all. Who knew?

  2. In talking about quirks when alarmed, perturbed, etc., as recently as yesterday when I volunteered to help the barn manager do turn-in: Thoroughbreds go up. Quarter Horses go sideways. Walkers go forward. Mini donkeys and Shetland ponies go any damn where they please! Duly noted! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. I like the idea of Clicker Training. Have read Don’t Shoot The Dog several times. Never seem to get around to implementing. I do use treat training for bridling. Started that with Previous Horse so I didn’t have to get my finger slimy by sticking it in his mouth. Has had the side effect of settling/distracting Milton about bridling away from home. I need to do a blog post on that. (Makes note. Adds to pile.)

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