using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people


Zan's Story: Head Games
(August 2003)




Now that I am big enough to stick my head out over the stall door, Katie says I have to learn some manners if I want to look out into the aisle. I am so excited to be able to see clearly and watch what is going on, that I like to spend a lot of time looking around. I can see the other horses when they are being groomed and watch Katie when she does her chores.  Rosie and I get to go out during the day but sometimes when we are tired or the bugs are bad, we just hang around in the stall.


When I first got big enough to put my head over the door, everyone else was excited too, because they all wanted to pat me.  I thought this was great because they would put their hand up to pat me and I would try and nibble on them. I didn’t want to hurt them, just taste them and chew a bit. I guess Katie didn’t like this because she told the little kids that they shouldn’t pat me until I learned some manners.


I was a bit worried about learning my manners, but it turned out to be easy. All I had to do was hold my head still, and keep my mouth closed when someone touched me. If I did, then Katie would say “good” and give me a carrot. I just learned to eat carrots and I really love them. We played this game a lot and I learned that sometimes Katie would hold her hand right up to my mouth as if feeding me a treat, but if she didn’t say “good” I needed to keep my mouth closed. If I kept my mouth closed, then I would get a big handful of carrots.  One day someone else offered me a carrot without saying “good” and I wouldn’t even take it. I was sure it was a trick!


Katie plays the same game in my stall. She touches my head all the time. She strokes my ears and looks in my mouth. Sometimes she even puts her finger in the side of my mouth and when I open it, she looks at my teeth.  In the beginning, I really didn’t like her handling my head, but I have gotten used to it. It’s a good way to earn carrots and she is always very gentle and lets me move it away if I need to.


So I guess learning my manners is not so bad.  I wonder what I will get to learn next?


By the way, I still love to play head games with Willy. It was one of our favorite ways to pass the time in the winter. Now that it is spring, we still play when the bugs get bad. Willy hates the bugs and hides in his stall, but he is still willing to play with me if I stand by his doorway.  Here we are, can you tell who is winning?





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