I’ve been playing a lot lately with Sebastian, who is a cute and curious three year old red roan quarter horse. Sebastian has changed tremendously from a shy, unconfident youngster to a eager beaver who is interested in people and engaged during training.
When I met Sebastian last spring he was a pretty shy guy who didn’t want much to do with people. Even with a halter left on in the pasture, it took quite a lot of time and patience to catch him. I worked with him for just a bit last spring. When I left for the summer, he was still pretty unsure about being caught and was uncomfortable with me touching him past his neck and shoulder. (Read here about him getting his spring shots.)
This fall, I’ve been spending at least a bit of time with Sebastian every time I go out to the rescue, even if it’s just for five minutes. I’ve been working with him consistently 2-3 times a week for the past month and he’s made a ton of progress. We started with LOTS of clicker training practice putting a halter on and off, because he was really uncomfortable with this. We broke the process into basic components and focused on the parts he really had trouble with, such as him letting me put my arm over his neck.
I’ve spent a lot of time getting him comfortable being touched all over his body. I went slowly and built gradually from what I could do well (touch him on his neck). I would stroke his shoulder once, then click/treat. Then stroke his shoulder twice, click/treat, and gradually increase the length of time I could scratch him before he thought about leaving. I used small approximations like this to increase the amount of his body I could touch. Each time he let me go and inch or two farther, he would get rewarded. Now he’s fine with me petting and scratching him on his barrel, belly and hindquarters. We’ve also started working on his legs and face, which are a bit harder.
I have begun playing the Parelli friendly game with him, getting him use to being rubbed all over with a training stick. This I taught entirely at liberty; he was not on a lead rope and always had the option to leave. Since he was staying because he wanted to earn treats, it made it his idea and really helped to build his confidence.
Click here to watch two short video clips of Sebastian, one of him standing still for scratches and another of him playing the friendly game.