Kirsten captured some great pictures over the weekend of Gracie and I interacting. I’m petting her in most of these, but the way my body is turned, you can’t really tell. I just love how calm, relaxed, engaged and curious she looks in all of them. She is definitely a different horse from last November! (Click Here for more info on Gracie, our formerly untouchable mare.)
I haven’t had as much time to work with Gracie, now that I’m only out at the rescue one or two days a week. However, she is gradually becoming friendly and we are continuing to make slow, but steady progress.
She still has a lot of issues with certain parts of her body being touched, particularly her face and her legs. A week or two ago I started working my way down her shoulder. Really gradually, just an inch or so more each time and interspersing this with things that I knew were easier for her.
I made it almost all the way down to her knee on one front leg, which was pretty good progress considering we haven’t really worked on this before. One of the ultimate goals is to get her comfortable enough with being handled that we can safely trim her feet.
Even if we go slowly, desensitization can be a bit worrisome for the horse, or at least mentally tough. I’m asking her to try to think about the world in a totally new way!
So, I want to make sure there are other fun and interesting things that I’m working with her on that aren’t quite as taxing. I’ve introduced her to the clicker and we’ve just recently started working a bit on targeting. She caught on pretty quickly, but we haven’t really done anything too challenging yet. Targeting and other similar clicker training games will help expand the number of ways that she knows how to interact with people in a friendly manner.
I still have to pay careful attention to her body language. Sometimes the interaction and the clicker training is still too much pressure. If she gives me a really nasty look, I move off and give her back her space. No sense in getting bit or kicked. The happens pretty rarely, however.
More likely, sometimes she’ll still tense up a bit and get that worrisome expression. If so, we forget about the treats and clicker training for awhile and go back to pure CAT. I’ll wait for any sign of relaxation and then back off. And then repeat this a few times with whatever we were doing, until she’s okay with whatever we were working on.
In these situations, she’s telling me what matters most is still distance. So, I can use that to my advantage by giving her what she wants (distance) when she offers what I want (relaxed and friendly body posture). Treats can be problematic sometimes in these situations, because we can end up reinforcing the tension and stress. (Click Here for some more info about when to train with treats and when not to use clicker training.)
As long as I’m aware of her expressions and what she’s trying to tell me, we’ll continue to make gradual progress. We got a few short video clips of her this weekend, I’ll try to get some of them edited and on youtube sometime this week!