I’m working with a gorgeous horse, Fire – the picture here is of my daughter leading him. But when you take this purebred Arabian horse to the woods, or up to a log-strewn tarp with wavy branches and rocks and water pools, even though he has encountered these situations 60 times previously, he will still spook big-time – sometimes. And sometimes not.
And sometimes it is very hard to get him to walk on the tarp. So you work with him and work with him until he is crossing calmly. But other times he goes straight over with no trouble.
Then next week, or a few weeks later, you take him over to the tarp and he’ll cross it one way, but big freak out for crossing the other way – even though he mastered calmly all ways of crossing numerous times (like 60 times) before.
Here Comes The Serendipity
So, believe it or not, I’m on a business blog, reading about plugins for streaming video and I see the photo on a comment someone’s left of a woman with her horse. “Oh, that’s interesting” I think and I click the link (her name is linked to more info on her comments) and it takes me right here to this post on a Professional Grooms site where she has also left a comment. And the article tells me exactly HOW the groom, Liv Gude, used this new clicker training method to stop her crazy-spooky horse from spooking!
She starts her post by writing:
“Almost 10 years ago, I found this red headed appendix quarter horse and brought him home. What I found was a horse that was wickedly smart, and really spooky. While I rode him primarily English, during a spook he would channel his inner cow horse by dropping his shoulder, spinning about, and running. If he spooked while I was leading him, he became a really big kite in a wind storm.”
Of course, being a professional groom, she is well-versed in a number of training techniques, but she searches even further, trying everything she can until she discovers this book, You Can Train Your Horse To Do Anything by Shawna and Vinton Karrash.
And after implementing their reward-behaviour ‘clicker’ technique, she reports:
“So, over time (months really), I began to use the target command for anything that he found scary. We took anything and everything as an opportunity to desensitize him. The clicker training is a way to use positive reinforcement, and I would praise him for any movement he made towards the beast that is sure to eat him once he started to relax and move towards it. Eventually, what took him several minutes to take a step would only take him seconds. Now, he will seek out new and different objects around the barn, farm, and trails to target.”
Visit her post to see the excellent photos of her horse, before and after.
THEN I go to Amazon to check out the book and after spending 20 minutes reading the sample, I see there’s also a DVD and try to purchase that, but it is unavailable. However, the book has given me the author’s website – her story is remarkable, Shawna Karrasch was originally a whale and dolphin trainer at Sea World. And perusing round her site, I found her video blog where she gives specific advice and lots of videos.
I also found this fully illustrated guide to clicker training – the same method Karrasch uses – for a really good price on Amazon and great reviews, so I contemplated purchasing that.
So even though I’m fired up (no pun intended) with all this new knowledge and possibility… I have to admit that I myself get bored with rote, or repetitive training methods, and so I don’t know if I could bear to implement this method long enough for it to bring results. I prefer a more intuitive, ‘get to the root cause’ approach. Added to the fact that this is not my horse, so I have limited time and limited access to a relationship with this horse.
But if you’re at the “just tell me what to do” place, perhaps you would enjoy clicker training and it may be the golden ticket, like it was for Liv Gude.
What I did have time to do with Fire, was to take him into the woods one day. I started by setting a perimeter boundary – after feeling into him for how large this boundary needed to be. He needed it to be about 1/4 mile in diameter. So using my intention (imagination) I set a protective boundary 1/4 mile around us. The next thing I did was to ground myself; bring the prana (or chi, or Source energy) in through the top of my head, and send it down my body and out the soles of my feet, into Mother Earth. I sent that energy down, down, until it reached the tree roots and joined the network of tree roots from all over the area. All the time, I was breathing calm, slow, belly breaths.
Of course, this whole time Fire is quivering, and jumping around, blowing, etc. I just gave him a loose rope and let him express his anxiety through his body.
When I’m with a horse who is fearful or anxious, I put all my attention on myself and I create a space of groundedness (connection to the earth) and peace. I put a protective bubble around myself, another one around the horse, then a third bubble enclosing the space around both of us. And I just stand in that space, in that state of being. And in anywhere from 10 seconds to 5 minutes, the horse’s energy begins to shift into MY space – because I am holding that space so strongly, the calm and peace spreads out and eventually penetrates his being.
As Fire began to shift into the space I created, I began talking to him, “Why have you done this to yourself? Why are you behaving like a human and relying on your ears, your nose, your eyes? You have sensory abilities far beyond that. You have the ability to sense danger a mile away. Do you remember when you were a stallion (he was gelded at age 7) and you used those abilities? It is time to reclaim them, so you can stop being afraid of everything and save your alert system for the things that matter. Remember how to feel the ENERGY of something and discern whether it is safe or not.”
And then I led him (by imagining it) through a process of bringing the prana/chi/lifeforce energy in through his forehead, through his body and down each leg into Mother Earth. I told him to send his energy down until he reached the tree roots. “Remember the tree roots?” I said, “Their network spans for miles and miles, they can tell you what is coming from 10 miles away. All you need to do is plug in and ask.”
And then I walked him through the woods for a while, stopping every few steps the re-do his grounding process. After about 30 minutes or so, I felt that was enough for the day and we returned to the hay manger in the barn – this was his big reward, as he was schedule-fed only twice per day – and I groomed him as we relaxed together.
Fire’s original owner claimed him back soon after that and I bought my daughter a horse, and so we all moved on. So unfortunately, I have no idea what happened with Fire after that, and whether this process benefited him, or not. But I use the same process now with my own mare when she’s scared and it works really well with her. And recently I had to manage a thoroughbred during a film shoot that was startling and shying over the place with his owner, but within 30 seconds of this technique he calmed down enough to stay in the shot for 45 minutes of filming.