using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people


Zan's Story: The Bath

(July 2004)



Would you believe that before this summer I had never had a bath! Well, maybe a good soak in the rain, and Rosie used to lick me all the time, but I had never had a real soapy bath in the wash stall like the big horses.

My stall faces the wash stall so I have seen lots of horses get bathed, and I have stood in the wash stall to get groomed.  But Katie had never gotten me wet or used the hose, until this summer.  I didn't get a bath last summer because she was busy doing other stuff with me and she hadn't taught me about the wash stall yet.  Of course, I was still with Rosie all the time too, except for our little walks. Since Katie didn't have anyone to help by holding Rosie or me, she just decided I could wait for a bath. Besides, I had that nice foal smell so why would anyone want to give me a bath!  Gee...last summer, I didn't even know how to be tied up. I have learned a lot. Over this past winter, I learned to stand in the wash stall for grooming and Katie has spent a lot of time touching me all over and helping me learn to be brave about new things.  Besides, I was ok with being dirty, and even kind of liked it. I donít roll much and when I do lie down and sleep in my stall and get yucky from that, it just makes me smell even better.

Well, anyway, one day about a month ago, Katie took me out of my stall and put me on the cross ties in the wash stall. I am used to the wash stall as I get groomed there and sometimes we just stand in there and I get clicked for standing quietly in the middle.  She spent some time grooming me and just when I was all relaxed and enjoying myself, she took out the hose. Now the hose hangs on the wall next to the stairs and is not too long, but it looks sort of strange and makes strange hissing noises. Katie took the hose down off the wall and held it up for me to smell. I looked at it kind of suspiciously, but it wasnít making any noise so I sniffed it, click/treat. Hey, this is easy. I touched it a few more times and then she touched my neck with the hose. I tensed up and wiggled a bit, but as soon as my feet stopped moving, click/treat. Katie rubbed me all over up and down on the neck with it and I decided it was ok.  Then she put me away and gave me some treats in my bucket.

The next day she took me out and put me in the wash stall again.  She had me touch the hose and when I was ok with that (more carrots, yum!), she went back over to the wall and I heard some strange noises and she brought the hose back over, but this time there was water coming out of it. I backed up as far away to the side as I could, as I didnít want anything to do with that!  So, Katie folded it over so the water was not coming out much and was pointing down. Then she held it up to my nose and I stood pretty still, but I really didnít like it.  She had me touch it a few times and I did get my nose wet, but I hated that too. I tried to get as far away from it as I could.

So Katie put the hose down and picked up a sponge. She left the hose lying where I could see it and it still had a trickle of water coming out. I was careful not to get too close. Katie came up to me with the sponge and she had me touch it. I figured that out right away and got lots of carrots for touching it. I was so relieved to be doing something easy that I shifted over so I was back in the middle of the wash stall.  Then she touched my neck with the dry sponge and clicked me for standing for that. Since I didnít mind that, she put warm water on it and touched me again. Now that felt weird and I really didnít like it at first. But once my neck was wet, it didnít feel so bad. It was a hot day and the water did cool me down. Then instead of using a damp sponge, she made it wet enough that the water dripped a bit. When she put the sponge on me, she squeezed it and water dripped down my leg and neck. ....Oooh..that was too much.... I hated how it felt running down my leg. I hated the sound of it dripping on the floor. I picked up my leg and then I tried to turn myself around on the cross ties. I even managed to turn enough that I was now facing into the wash stall instead of out of it, but I had the cross ties in the wrong place. I was really stuck. Katie had to unsnap me and turn me around. She told me I was silly, but that I was a good boy to stand and wait for her to untangle me. So she took me off the cross ties and tried to sponge me just holding the lead.  I have to say that I was not very cooperative. I wiggled around a lot and kept trying to leave. I had decided that this whole business was not something I liked. Carrots or no, I would prefer to stay dirty.

After a few minutes when I didnít settle down, Katie filled a bucket with water and took me out on to the lawn. That was great, except she brought the bucket and sponge with her. She let me stand and eat grass, YUM!  Then she tried to wipe me with the sponge. I wiggled away, but she kept wiping me until I stopped. Then she took the sponge away and allowed me to eat grass.  As long as I allowed her to wipe me with the sponge, I could eat grass. If I moved off, she just moved with me until I stopped. Then she took the sponge away for a minute and started again.  After a while, I was getting pretty damp and I do love grass so I just started eating and let her wipe my neck, back and rump.  I have to say that it wasnít so bad but I would have preferred to just eat grass. 

When she was done, Katie put me back in my stall and gave me a big pile of carrots. She told me I was the silliest boy she knew to be so scared of everything, but that it was ok, we would work on it.

Well, I was pretty sure she had given up on it.  She didnít try to give me a bath again for a long time. Instead she spent time grooming me in the wash stall and playing with me in the ring. Oh..she did seem to spend a lot of time getting me used to being touched everywhere, especially my legs, and with lots of different things. She took her dressage whip and stroked my legs. If I lifted my leg up, she kept stroking it. If I put it down and let her stroke it, then I got a click and treat.  Sometimes she used the really tickly end of the dressage whip, other times she used the hard end.  She rubbed me all over with a towel and even with a damp sponge. One day I thought she was going to bathe me, but she just turned the hose on and laid it out on the floor so I could see it and then did her regular grooming. A few times, she filled a bucket with water and dripped it on the floor around but not on me.  To be honest, she did so much weird stuff with the hose that I started to sort of ignore it. Sometimes she just unrolled it and left it on the ground so I had to step over it when I went in and out of the wash stall.

Then one day she took the hose out and started rubbing my legs and neck with it. I was a bit surprised at first, but then decided it was really ok. I had seen it so much that I really didnít care anymore.  She rubbed me all over with it (turned off) and I earned lots of carrots for standing still when she touched me.

But then one day it was really hot.  She put me on the cross ties and groomed me. I still get clicked for grooming, mostly for keeping my feet on the floor, but also for letting her brush my tickly spots. And I always get a click and treat for putting my head down so she can brush my forelock and I get a click and treat each time she picks out a foot. I am really good about letting her handle my feet now, and she can wiggle them all around without me losing my balance.  Well, on this hot day, she took out a big container of carrots and some other bottles and filled a bucket with water.  And then she started stroking me with the hose again. That was ok and I got clicked and treated for it.  Then she rubbed my neck with the dry sponge, with a click and treat for that too. That was ok too.  Then she put the sponge in the bucket and rubbed my neck with it. I was a bit surprised at first, but it was rather hot out and I wasnít scared of the sponge anymore, so I stood still and she clicked me. She wiped me all over my neck, back and rump with the sponge and even down my legs. I got lots of clicks and treats for standing still. It was easy.  The water dripped a bit but I didn't mind as I was used to it by now.

Then she took the hose and held it next to the sponge. I looked for a minute, but then decided it was ok. The hose wasnít even on. So I let her rub me with the sponge some more. Then she went and turned the hose on just a bit. Now it does make a funny noise with the spray nozzle, but I was used to it from all the weird stuff she had done with the hose before when I was standing in the wash stall.  She held the hose up so the water trickled on to the sponge and then on to me. The sponge got a lot wetter that way and some water trickled down my legs, but I didnít mind too much. After all that work touching me with strange things, it didnít seem so bad. I got clicked and treated for being rubbed with the sponge too.

Once my neck and shoulders were wet, Katie took the sponge away and sprayed the hose directly on my neck. It was ok! I didnít mind at all. She actually sprayed on to her hand and then moved the water around. I liked having her hand there, because then I knew where the water would be coming from and it didnít surprise me. I also felt better with her hand on me because I am so used to her stroking me with her hands and I like it. I got clicked and treated if I kept standing still while she sprayed me. She did both sides and my legs and even my tail.

Then she rubbed me all over with the sponge and got me soapy. This part was ok too, although I started to get suspicious about the carrots smelling funny. Soapy carrots do not taste good.  Once I was all soapy, she sprayed me with the hose again. I didnít mind this part, except I did notice that there was a puddle forming in the wash stall and I really, really wasnít sure I liked that. By the time she was done, I didnít want to stand in the middle of the wash stall anymore. I like to angle away from the hose anyway when she turns it on, and I didnít want to be anywhere near that drain. Katie did ask me to move over and then click me for staying there, but I am just not comfortable with that yet.  She told me it was ok and that next time she would let me stand on my mat with my back feet so that I knew where to put them.

When she was all done, she scraped me off with the sweat scraper. That felt funny. I did twitch my skin a bit, but I didnít mind until she got to my legs. She took her hands and put them around each leg and squeezed the water down and off. It felt pretty weird, so I kept picking my leg up.  I also thought she might want me to pick my leg up, so I tried that too. When she did my front legs, she just kept her hands on my leg and clicked me for putting my leg back down. I did get used to it. But with my back legs I kicked out a few times. Instead of holding on to my back leg, she just kept her one hand on it loosely and rubbed the water off. That way when I kicked, she wasn't holding on. A person can really get hurt holding on to a hind leg and it can panic a horse to have their leg held when they are not comfortable. It is much safer to just not hold on hard. I thought it would discourage her when I kicked, but she kept on trying and then I realized I wasnít earning any carrots, so I started to think about it. Katie always rewards me for putting my feet back down when I wave them around, so I decided to try and keep my back feet down. Well, I tried that and then I earned a lot of carrots.  And she told me I was a good boy, wow! She said she was so happy to have the clicker to communicate with me so that she didn't have to worry about me learning I could take my feet away when I wanted.  Instead of getting in a fight over whether or not she could hold my foot, she waited until I was ready and able to let her hold it. 

So that was my bath. She even put detangler in my tail so that she could brush it all out. Did you know I used to hate having my tail brushed too? Katie said I was worse than a little girl with snarly hair. Yikes!  She has clicked me a lot for brushing my tail a little at a time, but this is the first time she brushed it all out.  Now that it looks so beautiful, I'm glad she did it and wish she had one it sooner!  I looked so beautiful that she took a picture.  Here I am.. Donít you think I am getting big too?


Here I am during my bath... 


And here I am the next day, still clean and look at that nice tail!



The next story is the Round Pen part 1



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