using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people


Zan's story:  The Box

(September 2003)



I am growing a lot these days. I can’t wait until I am big like my horse mom, Rosie. In the meantime, my human mom, Katie is teaching me to stand on a box so that I can pretend I am big like the other horses.


The first time I saw the box was when I was little and I saw Rosie standing on it. She puts her two front feet on it and then she gets carrots. A little while ago, I learned about carrots. I saw Rosie eating them, so I thought I would try one.  I know some horses take a while before they like them, but I liked them right away. I’m still not sure about those apple things, but carrots are yummy.  Now when I do the right thing, Katie says “good” and gives me a carrot piece. I am not as itchy anymore so I like to play games where I earn carrots even better.


The first thing I learned to do to get a carrot was to back up. When Katie comes into my stall with hay or water, I have to get out of her way. If she comes in, and I back up to give her room, she says “good” and gives me a carrot.  I heard her telling someone that she was so surprised because it only took one time for me to learn that I could get a carrot if I backed up. I had been backing up pretty well already because she would give me some scritchies, but I liked the carrot so much that I started backing all the time. 


Anyway, now that I like carrots so much, I am learning some new games and one of them is how to stand on the box.  When Katie first showed me the box, I thought it might be fun to eat. I tried chewing on it and I tried banging it with my foot.  She tried picking up my foot and putting it on the box, but I wasn’t really too sure about that. Then she took the box and put it in front of my stall. Rosie was in the stall and I was trying to touch noses with her. Actually I wanted to bite her, but I didn’t tell Katie that. I couldn’t reach with the box in the way, so when Katie picked up my foot and put it on the box I was already leaning forward, and I decided it might be ok to put my foot down on top.  So I did, and Katie said “good” and gave me a carrot.  Then she led me off the box very carefully and we did it again. After a few more times, I was pretty happy to have her put my foot on the box, but I wasn’t too sure about doing it myself.  I wish I had had this box back when I was too short to look over the stall door. I remember being so pleased when I was finally tall enough to look out. That was back in July. 


We kept practicing with the box after that and I learned to let Katie put both front feet on the box, although I didn’t help her much.  I did eventually learn to step up all by myself. It’s really pretty fun to stand on it. Sometimes I paw it but I only get carrots when I stand quietly.


Many months later when Katie was taking me up to the ring, she showed me a flat piece of wood and asked me to step on it. I really wasn’t sure about it at all. It was sort of like my box, but not quite the same.  I tried dancing around it and pawing it.  But then I learned to stand on it, just like the box.   We usually go and stand on it when we first go out to the ring to play. I can stand on it and look around and get settled before we start to do some other things.  I like starting out that way as it is nice to know what to do when I get to the ring.


Here I am on my box:



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