Training with the “Soft Whip”

training with a 'soft whip'I have been around horses my entire life and have been privileged to work as a professional marine mammal trainer for the past 19 years. One of the best lessons the dolphins have taught me is that there is always another way to ask for the same thing! There is a kind, gentle and efficient way to communicate what you as a trainer need the animal to do.It is called clicker training! The clicker is simply a little plastic goodie that makes a click sound when pressed.

But like all training it is not a magic quick fix solution to a problem. When used properly clicker training is a valuable tool to complement any discipline of horse training and shape the desired behaviour in the animal. This training method is especially beneficial in training “husbandry behaviour” like standing for body inspections, having ears and feet worked with, standing for injections, being backed for the first time, etc. Horses with severe phobias are usually able to come to terms with their fears, becoming fairly bold after only a few clicker sessions. And the wonderful part is that the communication between handler and horse suddenly becomes a whole lot clearer. In all the years I have been applying the principles of dolphin training to horses I have never encountered a horse that was not willing to try to do the right thing.

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Loading Your Horse

loading your horseAbsolutely no surprise! Why on earth would an animal that is programmed for open spaces and flight want to be confined in a horse sized box. It doesn’t make any sense from the horse’s point of view. All his centuries of survival instinct go against it in every fiber of his being.

Some horses trust the humans around them and have no issues with boxing at all. We have 16 horses all with different histories and training experience. My own young horses over the period of training begin to view the horse box as nothing more than a traveling “feed room” however some of the older ones with us, have unknown pasts hate boxing and it is always unpredictable whether they will load easily or not. With training and trust the situation does improve so there is hope.

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Why does my horse spook?

Simple answer: Because it is the most natural thing for him to do!

Just like us horses are all different in the ways they react to different situations. However they have evolved by relying on their sharp vision, quick reactions and the ability to run very fast the instant they fear for their lives. Predators considered horses pretty good eating during the time of their evolution so these characteristics are what ensured the horses survival. Some breeds like the arabs, thoroughbreds and hot bloods are more prone to spooking than are quarter horses and warm bloods. Spooking can be greatly reduced in horses with the correct desensitization training and exposure to scary objects and situations but it can never be prevented 100%. Even the most experienced old trail horse can still spook if a guinea fowl jumps out of a bush under his feet.

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We Just Don’t Like Each Other!!!!!

Horses just like people are unique in character and some have definite likes and dislikes. Sometimes however there is a definite clash between horse and owner/rider. People are then inclined to feel guilty and bring emotion into decision-making but we must keep in mind the horse may be just as frustrated and unhappy as the owner. Humans by nature like to presume they know exactly what an animal is thinking; this sets us up immediately for problems. We cant even figure out what other people of the same species are thinking and are surprised when that person is perceiving a situation completely opposite to what we perceive. Yet we still like to think we know exactly what our horses are thinking. Unlike us humans, horses only work with the information they receive! The information comes in many forms from his environment at the time, from the rider and also from past experiences.

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Help Your Horse Enjoy Traveling

pony with loading issuesTransporting horses is always a stressful situation as so many things can go wrong. We are working with horses which are by their very nature claustrophobic flight animals in the extreme and unpredictable at the best of times. Transporting horses also means we have to share the road with people that have no idea about towing animals, especially when the pull in front of you and brake! The majority of horse’s travel fairly easily but very few are totally relaxed and comfortable in transit. Numerous times I have heard the comment “My horse always used to load perfectly, I never had a problem. Now he won’t get in! I think he is just being stubborn”…..and so the perfect horse becomes a problem horse as everyone tries to fix it……

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