"Pavlove-ing" Your Ponies ~ Huh??

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Perhaps A Little Bit of Background First...
This was one of those funny little things discovered quite by accident (don't you just love those?) One of the girls (my collective affectionate reference to our Arabians), Rina, was an absolute wild child when she came here. She came from a large Arabian horse farm in another state that was a wonderful place, but had lost their trainer (she had a baby) and was frantically trying to downsize their herd. They had not found a suitable replacement and their training schedule was way behind. Translation? Rina had barely been handled by the age of 3 months; add the fire that comes inherent in the Arab breed and you've got yourself quite a challenge. Initially, it would take 3 of us to catch her in the corner of the stall just to put our hands on her ~ she was really quick and able to execute evasive maneuvers that would be the envy of any military commando :o)
Maybe I should pause here to confess that I talk to the horses all the time; I'm sure the neighbors within range think I'm dotty (they're just too polite to say it out loud ~ but I really don't care :o) I can't seem to help myself. Once we managed to get past the hands on hurdle, I tried to spend some time with Rina every day. If she was a good girl and held still as I brushed, she got a treat (always prefaced by "What a good girl Rina!" or a similar praise). Somewhere along the line, I noticed that when I uttered the words, "good girl Rina" she'd start to wiggle in anticipatory excitement. Hmmmmmmmmmm...

Uh, Testing 1-2-3...
Remembering the basics of Pavlov's experiment (which was a really long time ago in the 8th grade ~ and we're not even gonna go there :o) I started talking even more, and began consistently linking the phrase good girl to some lovely happy-spot scratches and strokes alternating with the treats. It wasn't long before the phrase good girl began eliciting full body wiggles and a head bob for emphasis, thereby showing her comprehension that she had done something right (cooool :o)
Beating The Three Second Rule
Now maybe you think this is the stupidest thing you've ever heard, but think about it from a training perspective ~ the possibilities are HUGE. It is common knowledge that there is a basic 3 second rule when working with horses; meaning you have approximately 3 seconds to reward or discipline before the moment is lost. By teaching a verbal association to rewards and/or discipline, I can immediately acknowledge desireable (or undesirable) behavior from anywhere I am immediately. I can be right there with the horse, across the fence, halfway across the pasture, or standing in the center of the training area - it doesn't matter as long as they can hear me. I believe this is more or less the basis for the Clicker Training method; but why would I want to give myself one more thing to tote around or (more realistically) forget to bring? I'm not too likely to leave my voice someplace now, am I? :o)
Some Points to Ponder...
Now if you're not willing to be consistent and give this necessary time to develop, it may not be the thing for you. Horses have all different types of personalities, so you have to factor that in (I've noticed that the Arabians we have were much quicker to pick up on this idea than the rest, but they all do respond to it now). Another thing that I've noticed is that it's kind of a "mom thing", at least half the time it's an automatic response. I talk to the horses in the exact same manner I talked to my daughter growing up, (and have had some truly amazing results). I will post something on treats next ('cause they can be mighty tricky :o)

Footnote: To see who Pavlov was, click this link:
Footnote: To read about Clicker Training, click this link (haha - get it? :o)

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