using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people


Zan's Story: Fetch
(October 2003)



I have a new toy. It is red and I can pick it up and trade it for goodies. My human mom, Katie brought it into my stall last night. I didn’t know what it was so I sniffed it and she said “good” and gave me a carrot. Pretty soon I figured out that every time I touched it, she would say “good” and  I would get a treat.   I learned to touch it when it was in her hand and also when she put it down on the floor.


Tonight she came out again and asked me to touch it. I remembered that and was happy to touch it no matter where she put it. Sometimes I had to walk a step or two, or move my head around. But then I touched it and she didn’t say “good” and I didn’t get a carrot. What??? I was so surprised that I nudged her all over as I was sure she had just made a mistake. But she just pointed to the toy again and told me to try again. So I touched it again and this time she said “good” and I got my carrot. Phew! I was worried for a while there. We played this game for a while and sometimes I got carrots and sometimes I didn’t.  I sure don’t understand, but I keep trying because sometimes she says “good” and I do love those carrots.


Katie brought the toy into my stall again tonight. I have been thinking about this game and I wanted to do really well, so I made sure I touched it really hard. She seemed to like that as she said “good” and gave me a bunch of carrots and told me I was smart. So I touched it really hard again, and I even put my teeth on it. She liked that so much she gave me a whole bunch of carrots. Pretty soon I figured out that the more I bit at the toy, the more carrots I got. Once I got so excited I bit the toy and picked it right up. She really liked that!


Now I have figured out that I am supposed to pick up the toy. Sometimes I drop it right away and get a carrot. But sometimes I manage to hold on to it for longer and she takes it from me. Then I get a whole lot of carrots. Sometimes my toy gets wet and dirty and she wipes it off for me.  I hate getting sawdust in my mouth. 


Now sometimes we play with my toy when I am loose in the aisle. Sometimes at night, Katie lets me out of my stall and we play in the aisle. I can stand on my box, get groomed or practice walking around. I am getting really good at picking my toy up and handing it to her. Tonight I went to hand it to her, and she had moved. I was so surprised, I dropped it!  How am I supposed to give it to her if she’s not right there?  I picked it up again and she said “good” and gave me a carrot. Ok..I guess I am supposed to pick it up, but now what do I do?  I am holding the toy again and Katie reaches out her hand and takes it. She is farther away but I guess she can still reach. This is ok.  We do it again but this time she can’t reach, oh, oh.  Then she reaches out and instead of taking the toy, she holds my halter and has me move forward a step. I get rewarded for this. We do this a few times and the next time I pick up the toy, she reaches forward and I just step toward her and give her the toy. She doesn’t even have to hold my halter. She is so happy she pats me all over and tells me I am brilliant.  Now the game is even more fun. She can put the toy down or throw it and I will pick it up and bring it to her. Sometimes I get distracted and she has to restart but it’s a great game. I really like it.


Here I am with my toy:


The next story is Weaning,  a  new friend, and cross ties.




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