Aside from working with my own horse, Dragon, I am also helping my partner, Sara, start her new horse, Fig. Fig is a 4 or so year old Grulla Quarter horse mare. She has spent the bulk of her life in a pasture with other mares, and likely has gone years without handling except to have her feet done or to be pulled out once in a while when her (previous) owner made it out to the barn. Although she is friendly and social, I would not quite call her tame. She is definitely a new learner. What does this mean?
A new learner is an animal who isn’t experienced with any sort of training, and has no expectations that they can control their environment in a positive way through their behavior. Typically, they are more emotional than an experienced learner, because things are novel and they have not yet learned how to deal with frustration. New learners need simple but faster paced lessons that keep them busy earning reinforcement. Shorter lessons that leave them feeling successful.
Fig is especially food motivated: our barn owner Kathy told us she is going to video the pre-morning feed because of Fig’s “airs above the ground” as she anticipates her hay. Because of this, I am particularly impressed with how quickly Fig is figuring out the rules that surround earning a treat. She is perhaps on her 7th training session and is not grabby at all.
She does have some worries, which I assume come from her previous life, and lack of exposure. She is anxious about being in buildings, anxious about gates and doors, particularly waiting outside closed gates or doors, and somewhat anxious about handling. The gate anxiety is the most pronounced and I assume she had a negative experience near or with a gate. But despite these (minor) worries, she is eager to learn and already waiting at the fence when she sees us.
Fig is working on her foundation lessons, which are: targeting, backing up, staying in your own space (the grown-ups are talking lesson), happy faces, head-lowering and stand on a mat. These are the lessons we use to introduce horses to the clicker and ensure they have good emotional control of themselves. For more information on the six foundation lessons of horse clicker training, visit: http://www.theclickercenter.com/