There are times when training is a calm sunny day in a round pen with a brave, intelligent horse. There are also the times when conditions are less than optimum, yet even a frightened horse can achieve a major breakthrough.
This is one such success.
A week or two ago we had a cold, bitter storm blow in from the Arctic. Caught by surprise by the cold pellets stinging our faces, and the 20 degree, gale force winds howling around us, we set out in the dark to blanket the few remaining horses who still needed the added protection from the fury of elements. With wind chills in the low zeros, blankets were not a request, they were a requirement. Our yearling Friesian-cross did not agree.
Spotteigh, usually calm, compliant, and friendly, had only worn a blanket once in his life… on a calm day at that. This night of all nights, the blanket seemed to have a life of it’s own as it blew around in Kirsten’s arms. The blanket for pasturemate D’Art was laying on the ground and moving of its own accord.
You could see it in Spotteigh’s eyes: “It’s gonna EAT ME!!!” That’s one of those moments where either all your training clicks together or you or someone else gets trampled. Short lead in hand, we danced in circles until he calmed down enough to try again. And try we did…
We have this little secret we’ll share with you! From the moment one of our horses sets hoof on the farm, we instill in them clicker-training. A bridge signal (in this case a ‘click’ sound) marks a behavior as desired… an implicit yes that says “You’re doing things right!” A click is always rewarded with a healthy tasty little snack treat. Think the trained Orcas at Sea World.
Face and hands going numb in the cold, we began the process of introducing Spotteigh to the blanket… the moving, scary looking mass that would give him warmth if he could trust it. Sniff…click… reward. Touch… click…reward. Touch on side… click…reward.
Each step was building on the success of the previous step until the surcingles were buckled and the front straps closed… and we were back in the truck thawing out.
All with the power of a click and a pocketful of hay stretcher!