using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people


Zan's Story: I Learn Some New Rules
(May 2003)



Today I learned that my horse mom, Rosie, can push me around just as much as my human mom, Katie.  Katie has been working on getting me to move around when she touches me.  She puts her arms around my sides and scoots me along if she wants me to go somewhere.  She has even put a rope around me so that I get used to the feel of a rope on my sides and around my rump. I don’t really like that and it makes me want to buck.  But she always says "good" and scratches my itchy spots when I figure out what she wants so I like to play wih her.


I had been having a great time out in the field with Rosie. I got to do whatever I wanted and she just followed me around. Sometimes I would nap in my favorite sunny spot near my stall door. Sometimes I would wander out into the field and explore. But today, Rosie wouldn’t let me do what I wanted. She made me stay near her so she could eat a big pile of hay. I couldn’t figure out what she wanted. I went dancing out into the field like I always do, and she got in front of me and made faces and pushed me until I turned around. Then when I tried to turn around and go back, she blocked my way. I kept trying to get by her and she kept sending me back to the hay pile. She kept this up for about 20 minutes until I stopped trying to go far out into the field.  It was very frustrating. I thought it was my job to plan our day.  So I gave up and took a nap.  Maybe it’s not so good having two moms, if they are both going to be pushy and make me go where they want.


So after some thinking, I have come up with a new game.  It’s really fun. When Katie comes into the stall, I come right up to her and when she puts her hand out to try and pat me, I nip at her. She doesn’t like it and she moves away and then tries again, and I bite at her again. It’s a great game but I don’t think Katie likes it too much as after I started playing it, she left. I tried a few more times today when she came in, but she wouldn’t play for very long.  


Later she came back and instead of allowing me to walk up to her, she waved her arms all around. I thought that was pretty weird so I decided I better just keep my distance. She told me I was very good… how strange.  I was waiting to see if she was going to be even weirder, when she came up to me and put her hand on my nose. I hated that and shook my head all around. I wanted to yell “Help…I’m trapped” and get Rosie to help me.  But no matter where I went, her hand stayed on my nose, not holding it, just stuck there. This was really a problem. I did finally shake it off, but then she put it right back there again.  Finally I stopped throwing my head around and she moved back to my side and scratched my itchy spots. Oh goody, I love that. But then she reached forward and put her hand on my nose again. Agh! What is this? I shook my head all around, but that is hard work so I stopped for a second and she said “good” and scratched me again. After a few repeats of this I started to figure it out. She puts her hand on my nose and if I keep my head still, she says “good” and scratches me. Ok, I can do that.


From that day on, she played that game a lot. That was how she always approached me and how she passed in front of me.  After the first day, she sometimes put her hand on the side of my face and rewarded me for holding still when she did that. I really hate the hand on my nose.  The side of my face is much easier. Once I got used to that, she tried putting it on my nose again and I didn’t mind as much. I really don’t like to have my face touched, but I do love getting scratched so I guess it’s something I can do.  She uses the same method when she wants to walk in front of me. If she is patting me on one side and crosses in front of my nose, I love to nip at her.  But I have learned that if I hold my head still and let her get to the other side, she will scratch me there too. 


Once she is standing next to me, we play all sorts of games. She touches me all over, sometimes in new places and sometimes in tickly places. If I stand quietly, then I get a nice scratch. Sometimes I offer to help her by scratching her back. She must have some itchy spots, but I guess she doesn’t like that because if I bring my head around as if to scratch her, she stops scratching me!  She seems to like it when I keep my face forward.  She also picks up my feet and moves my legs around. She used to touch my feet a lot when I was lying down and I didn’t really mind. Sometimes I even let her move my legs around. But it’s a lot harder to pick up your feet when you are using them to stand.  If I pick up my foot and let her hold it, she says “good” and puts it down and then I get a nice scratch.  Luckily she doesn’t hold it up for very long. Another thing she does is look at my teeth. Yes, I have some beautiful white teeth. I am very proud of them and like to use them to nip Rosie. Rosie lets me do it. Can you believe it? She is very tolerant of me. Katie is often saying that Rosie is way too nice. But how can that be? A mom can never be too nice, especially about letting you chew on her.  I’m glad Rosie lets me chew on her, because Katie sure doesn’t. 


Tonight just for fun, Katie took Rosie and me out of our stall. She had Rosie on a lead and let me explore the aisle all by myself. I met some other nice horses. I made baby faces at them and they were pretty nice, although that spotted one did squeal.  I was so busy looking around that I didn’t notice what Rosie was doing. Then I realized she was standing with her front feet on a box.  Her front feet were way up off the ground. Boy is she tall that way. Seeing my opportunity, I walked over and nursed off her. It was great. I didn’t even have to duck my head.


Here I am following Rosie like a good boy:





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