using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people


Zan's Story: Fun and Games

(November 2004)


   Katie and I are playing a new game while she grooms me. She grooms me almost every night. She said my coat was getting dusty and I looked unloved. Sheesh, doesn't she know how dirty I am has nothing to do with how much she loves me. Anyway, it's fine with me as this means she plays with me for a few minutes almost every night. In the winter, she feeds us dinner at her dinnertime and then she comes out after the human kids are in bed and plays with me. Sometimes she plays with Willy and Rosie too, but I always beg to have her play with me first. I am very polite about it. I don't bang my stall like Rosie does. I don't take my halter off the hook and throw it on the floor like Willy does. Although I have to confess that I might if I could reach it.  Katie gives me my hay and instead of eating, I just put my head over the door and wait for her to come play.

    She usually starts by coming in my stall and cleaning it up a little. I'm really pretty neat for a horse, but she likes to clean it up so I can have a nice soft bed to sleep on. I still lie down a lot. Every morning when Katie comes out, I have shavings in my mane and tail and sometimes even on my face and in my ears. I do love a good nap.  She used to clean my stall and then get her brush and hoof pick. But recently she has a new game. She puts the brush and hoof pick down by the doorway and starts to clean. When I pick up and hand her the brush, then she stops cleaning the stall (she does finish later) and starts grooming me. I like getting groomed. I have lot of itchy spots and I get carrots for standing still.

    Recently during grooming, Katie has been working on having me keep my RH leg on the floor. I have gotten into the habit of kicking out with that leg when she grooms my right side. It all started one day when I slipped in the field and banged my right hip. Katie was watching and when she went to groom me that day and I kicked out, she realized I might be sore. I sure am glad she knew what had happened and didn't scold me for being so anxious about having my leg handled. For a long time after that, she ignored me kicking my leg a little and just clicked me when I was standing still. But I got so used to moving that leg, that it sort of became a habit.

    Then one day when I kicked out a little too much, she said "no." Now Katie almost never scolds me and it is usually only if I do something where I am not being careful and might hurt her, so I knew she didn't want me kicking that leg. I stood really still for the rest of the session. The next time, I started to move my leg and she stopped brushing me and turned away. Oh boy, that was a time out. Now I knew I really needed to learn to keep my leg still. I did some experimenting. I tried keeping my leg still but that was hard and sometimes I would start to kick and then change my mind.  Katie actually told me I was good and clicked me for trying to keep it still. I think she knew how hard I was trying. Then one day she clicked when I was resting that hind leg, so I decided that was pretty easy and I would just do that. For a few sessions, I stood resting my RH leg while she groomed me. Then one day she groomed me and asked me to shift my weight so I was standing square behind. I got clicked and treated for standing with weight on that leg. I guess you might think this was confusing but now I had two choices. I could rest the leg, or stand quietly.  Allowing me to stand with my leg resting for a few sessions turned out to be a great idea. It helped me learn to relax that leg and broke the habit pattern of wiggling it. After that, it was easy to hold it still. Now I get lots of carrots for standing quietly on that leg.

    Once she is done grooming, she does my feet. That is easy. I am so good at lifting and holding them that she can do it when I am loose in my stall. Then sometimes we play another game. One day she spent time working on my mane and tail. I don't really like that but she just does a little bit at a time.  Another day we practiced head lowering with scary objects. She had me stand and put my head down and then she brought in a crinkled up brown bag. She let me sniff and touch it and then she held it way up high. I thought she wanted me to touch it, but she asked me to put my head down instead. It turns out that she was teaching me to calm myself down when I see something scary. So now I know that if she holds something up high and waves it around, I should put my head down.

    Speaking of scary things. I used to be afraid of the shavings bag. Can you believe that? That was before I learned how much fun they could be. Katie started by clicking me for touching it and then for biting it. Now I have learned to pick it up and hand it to her when she is done shaking it out. Maybe some day she will teach me how to squish it down. I see her jumping up and down on it in the aisle to flatten it before she puts it in the trash. It looks like fun.

    We have lots of other games we play. Katie is teaching me to put my head down so she can brush my face. I started to get a little nervous about having my face brushed and was lifting it up. She could still reach it but she decided there was room for improvement.  She started by clicking me for holding it still, but then she decided that she really wanted me to put it down when I saw the brush coming. I am getting better at that and I do like to have my ears brushed. It's just that I get nervous around my eyes. Sometimes we play games in the stall where she has me back up and move my hindquarters. Or she has me bend my neck and move my front end over.  I am pretty good at this and she doesn't even need a halter. She can just rest her hand on my head and shoulder and ask me to bend. She says it is good practice for when I need to learn to bend around corners.

    She also taught me to walk past her into my stall. I know that seems trivial but I liked it better when she went in first. My stall is connected to my field and at night she used to put my dinner in my feed bin, I would come in and then she would go around to close the outside door. Or she would walk in and click me for following her. Then she would latch the door. Now she has decided to have me walk past her into the stall so she can close the door from the outside. She says it is good practice to learn to go ahead of her and she likes to teach me new things to keep my brain thinking and busy.

    We are playing a new version of fetch. Katie brought a nicely wrapped box into my stall the other night. It looked just like a Christmas present..for me? No, it turns out to be empty (so she says). She wrapped it up and tied cloth ribbon around it so I can practice picking it up. She says she wants me to learn to carry it so I can give presents to my friends. I am getting pretty good at it, although sometimes I like to shake it around. Is she sure it's empty?

    I think my brain is busy enough. I have lots of fun games that I have made up myself. Sometimes I find things to play with like little sticks in the field, or the tank heater. But most of them involve ways to get Willy to play with me. My favorite one these days is to walk up to him when he is dozing in the field and bite at his face. If I am lucky, he will play the "bitey face game" with me. If not, then I back up in front of him until my butt is right under his nose, then I wiggle around until he bites my back, I do a mini rear and zoom off. Then I come back and do it all over again. It's so much fun.

    As you can see, there's a lot of fun stuff to do out there. I really enjoy the little training sessions Katie does at night and I hope she keeps coming up with new ideas. If not, I'll have to come up with some ideas of my own. I'm pretty good at that....

Here's a picture of me that Katie made. She takes lots of pictures of me because I am so beautiful...





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