using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people


Zan's Story: Clippers

(September 2004)


Katie has a new toy and I really hate it. It is noisy and scary and just makes me want to leave!

She came in the stall the other day and put on my halter and lead and showed me this little tiny machine. It looked so harmless. She gave me carrots for touching it and letting her touch me with it. I wasn't too sure about that. It is not nice and soft like my brush or gentle like her hand. It felt kind of funny. She just touched my neck with it, but I think she should take it back to the store and get something better. Maybe a new fetch toy or something to push around.  To make things worse, then she touched them and they started to make this funny noise. Now I really felt like leaving. She wasn't even holding them near me but I decided to leave and turned and looked out the window.  This put my hind end in front of her, which I never do..that's how upset I was. Luckily she knew I wasn't really threatening her, I was just trying to get away. So she turned them off and patted me until I settled down. Then she gave me a big pile of carrots in my bin and went next door to Willy's stall. Oh no, poor Willy! Willy's stall is separated from my stall by bars so I could watch what she was doing.

But, what was really strange is that Willy didn't seem to care. She rubbed those things (clippers, as I learned later) all over his head and neck and he didn't even flinch when she turned them on.  She talked to me while she did it and said she was sorry she scared me. That she had no idea I would find them so scary and she should have worked on Willy first so I would know they were ok. I don't know if it would have mattered. I would have hated them anyway.  She tells me I am silly to be so sensitive but it's ok, I come by it honestly. What does she mean by that? I think just that my mom is sensitive too, so she shouldn't be surprised that I am that way. When she was done with Willy, she went down to Rosie's stall. I couldn't see what she was doing but it sounded pretty quiet except for the noise of the clippers, clicking and Rosie eating carrots. I guess Rosie must have thought it was ok too.

Almost every day for the next week, Katie came in my stall and had me touch the clippers. She would just ask me to touch them a few times and then she would rub my neck with them. She didn't try touching my head with them, even when they were turned off. She let me choose to touch them, instead of just having me stand still while she touched me with them. I am very sensitive about my head and she can see that I am still worried. She never turned them on, and I got carrots for touching them so I stopped worrying about them so much. Sometimes she stood outside my stall and turned them on and off. I didn't really like that but after a while I decided it was ok as long as she was out there.

One day she came in the stall and had me touch them which I was happy to do. I was munching my carrot and waiting to try again, when she turned them on! Yikes! I backed up. She didn't move but just stood there. When I didn't move any more, she clicked and turned them off. Then she did it again. When I was comfortable at that distance, she came a little closer and clicked me for standing still with them turned on.  Then she had me touch them again while they were turned off. I was a bit worried about this because they seem to turn on when I don't expect it, but after a few tries, I did sort of put my nose toward them. I got a click and treat. Ok.. I can do this again.  Then something strange happened. I noticed that when my nose went towards the clippers, they turned off. Now, this was cool. I tried again. Yes, I was still getting the click and treat, but what I really liked is that I was turning them off. WOW!

Soon I was eagerly touching the clippers so I could get them to stop making noise. Once Katie was sure that I really understood it, she gave me an extra big jackpot and left. The next day she came back and we played the same game again. I remembered it really well and touched them right away. A few days later, we played again and this time she touched my neck with them and clicked me for that. Then she turned them on and when they touched my neck, they turned off. So, now I can turn them off by touching them with my nose, or by letting her touch me with them. I thought this was ok.

We kept working on this a bit at a time over the next week and by the end of the week, Katie could touch my with the clippers running and I would stand quietly. She never let them run long enough that I needed to turn them off with my nose, but I liked knowing that I could do it if I needed to. I guess they're not so bad after all.

Here is a picture of me turning them off, and Katie rubbing my neck with them

The next story is The ROUND PEN part 2



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