KBR Horse Net
Training Case Study:

"River"

First full day at KBR
The trouble with this clicker business is that it makes training horses look too easy!

A lady gave us a gorgeous looking rose-bay roan 3 year old mustang gelding that nobody could handle. She had adopted him as a stud colt and sent him out to a trainer for further gentling and training. The only problem was that the trainer split up with his wife and she turned all the horses out together in a pasture and pretty much ignored them. River was tormented mercilessly by a couple of older studs and when his owner discovered the situation and went to recover him, he had dropped a couple hundred pounds, had horrible bites all over and was an emotional basket case.

Once back in his paddock River was difficult to approach, couldn't be haltered and went into a mindless panic when approached with simple things such as a grooming brush.

When we went over to pick him up, we found a horse that was friendly so long as we were on opposite sides of the fence, but was very anxious and defensive when approached. (He would turn a tucked in butt towards me and act as if he was considering jumping the fence.) If I retreated he would face up and he would sniff my hand so I had him target my hand for click-reward carrots for a couple of minutes so that I could touch his cheek without his blowing up.

Sharon brought out the bamboo pole and sliding neck loop. Now that he wasn't totally spooked with me I was able to rub him with the pole for a couple of minutes and get the sliding neck loop on him. From there it was quick work to put on a rope halter.


We were told that River would always load into a trailer so we walked him out and lo and behold, he loaded fairly easily. He needed to back out after being loaded the first time so we let him out for a minute, then we loaded again, Sharon closed the door, I unhaltered him and Sharon let me out. It was a quiet 45 mile ride back to the ranch where we unloaded him into Mustang Manor and let him relax for the night.

The next afternoon I entered his pen and his initial response was to act frantic. I backed off and asked him to target my hand. Then he targeted the halter and lead rope. At that point I quietly slipped the rope over his neck so he wouldn't swing away and haltered him.

For the next 45 minutes we walked all over the ranch. We looked at horses, goats, pigs and all sorts of scary things. If he got anxious I had him target my hand. About half this time was spent on the horse course. River navigated every obstacle on the horse course including the stairs and the tire rings. He needed a little support going down the stairs and it took him a couple of minutes to figure out how to cross the bridge sideways but he took all the other obstacles without any hesitation.

Next was some time at the tie pole. There were lots of things going on in the hay barn. One of the farriers was there. It was breezy and things were fluttering on the desks. River pulled a couple of times on the Leader Safe-Tie but he never pulled hard.

We targeted the scary brush and he would touch it every time with his nose. At that point he wouldn't freak out when I touched him with the brush, but it was evident that he wasn't comfortable being brushed. I was able to get to the end of his rib cage but he wasn't ready to have his butt or belly brushed.

I tried picking up his front feet. He was a little anxious but complied. I decided to try to get his overgrown fronts trimmed so I put on my shoeing apron.

Snort! Pull!

River's eyes were wide and he was definitely upset about the situation. I tried several times to get back to lifting his front legs but he was constantly evasive. The tie pole is not a place for a prolonged struggle so we adjourned to the round corral.

In the round corral the logic applied was to let him run off stress if he had to. He was afraid of the situation and I needed him to be able to leave and reapproach me until he could emotionally accept close contact with me wearing the apron. While my objective was for him to let me pick up his front feet without a struggle, my tactic was to continuously get in "up close and personal" while wearing the apron and include as much positive contact as I could while working on those legs. That included rubs, scratches, neck hugs, targeting and most importantly, finding a physical comfort zone for him where we could go back to and maintain physical contact when he started to lose his confidence.

Out in the horse course
Going the hard way (crosswise)
on the bridge was a bit puzzling
Pretty soon like a pro
Desensitizing with the scary flag
Note his ears on the flag over
his back while standing on a loose lead

When handling these horses one has to be physical; an approach that is far different from being forceful. They need physical contact and a lot of it, and it has to include a great deal of positive (comforting) contact to balance off those ventures into scary places and situations. If I'm going to get on that horse's back some day, I want physical contact to be comforting from the start. River not only got to the point that he not panic and try to pull away when I lifted his front feet, but he would allow me to pick them up while he was unrestrained.

River was in a strange, new environment and we had been working for better than an hour so it was time to quit on that. We gave River a bucket of water and let him relax and roll in the sand.

End of the first session.
Giving me a foot without restraint
(no halter or lead rope)
while wearing the scary apron

Continue to Part Two


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