Trick...Er, Treat?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Did you know that you can teach a horse to politely accept a treat? I didn't. Bella is our best treater; she will ever so delicately pluck the treat from your palm. Rina is not quite as demure as Bella, but she's becoming a close second. Lady, on the other hand, causes you to count your fingers to make sure you didn't lose any of them following a frantic snatch and grab. That is, of course, provided you're actually brave enough (or foolish enough) to offer her one in the first place.

In the same basic manner you can teach a child not to rip things out of your hand, you can teach a horse. Lady seems to understand the basic concept of a quietly murmured "eeeaaasy now" and it has made a marked difference in her demeanor when accepting treats, it's now a simply a matter of time and repetition. The horses are not allowed to nibble at my pockets (that can get out of hand far too quickly and didn't I just have to learn that one the hard way?).

Taya (our "toddler") is learning to wait politely for her treats, and not to "ask". Initially, she would ask by touching then pushing at my pocket with her nose (get the "EH" buzzer sound or a "No") and quickly turn her head away. It wasn't long before she became self-correcting (she'd forget and poke-then oops - and turn head back on her own without my saying anything). She would, however, crack me up by keeping her head turned slightly away and her eye pinned on me to make sure I was aware of how hard she was working (because you could tell the wait was just killing her - but she did it, earned some serious praise too and ended up being quite proud of herself :o)

The thing about treats is that they are a fabulous fool-proof incentive plan. Especially until the horse figures out that you are actually pretty cool to hang with; then you can cut way back. Use feet for an example; you may start out treating after picking each individual foot. After awhile, you can cut it back to treating per side, and then later after all four feet are finished. We do spend time with the girls and the moo crew without any treats involved, as it keeps them from expecting a treat every single time. But just as people are willing to work for money or study for a good grade, there needs to be something in it for the horse: Think of it as a paycheck of sorts...

Is treating really worth a little extra effort? Let's look at some pictures of the girls (notice nobody's fussing):
Here is Bella - she has some dirt near her eye and is perfectly content to stand quietly in the middle of an open area and let me get it out (my hand is simply resting on her muzzle).
Bella accepting her treat

Rina accepting her "paycheck" after voluntarily putting her nose through and scooping up her halter - she's gotten very good at it (I laughingly dubbed them halter drills; and it's now a training game). Living in a place where hurricanes happen can make this a wonderful thing to be able to do in a big hurry - besides, who wants to chase their horses all over the place?
and last is our "toddler", Taya after her halter drill (Rina is graciously *cough* volunteering to do it again for me; her chin is resting on my forearm). The day Taya "got it" (the bulb came on) with the halter drills, she wound up wearing all 3 of the halters I was carrying at the same time - and she was mighty pleased with herself, too :o) If I'd only had a camera....

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