But he knew how to do it last time…

horses on the hill

I spent part of the afternoon playing with some of the rescue horses at the rescue’s other property. These horses are turned out on a friend’s 60 acres as we just don’t have the space for them at the main property. They are fantastically happy there, and even more so now that the weather’s warming up and the grass is coming in. (See some recent pictures here, if you missed them.)

I had a new volunteer with me and we visited with all of the horses. These days, when I go over to the property, I’m trying to spend a few minutes with some of the younger horses, reviewing some of the work we did over the winter. Many of these horses were untouchable last fall and have come a LONG way since then. We spent the winter working on getting them friendly around people, as well as some of the basics like haltering, leading and trailer loading.

One thing that is essential for any good training program is to remember to plan for maintenance. For instance, just because I could do trigonometry in high school or shoot a basket ball in junior high does not mean I’m proficient at either of these things now!! Yet, very often, just because an animal did something really well at one point, we seem to expect the animal to remain perfect at this task. If the animal’s behavior is not up to par, it’s his fault, he’s being a brat, he should know better, etc., etc., etc.

Skills we teach our horses and dogs are just like skills we teach ourselves. If we don’t continue using the skill and practicing it, it’s going to deteriorate!! If a behavior that was taught does start to deteriorate, stop and think about why this might be.

How long has it been since this animal had to do this?
Try and take a bit of time every now and then and review old behaviors. You might be surprised about what has and hasn’t stuck! Also, if it’s been awhile, an animal may need conditioning before they are physically able to do a demanding task again.

Did something change?
Your horse will notice small environmental changes, even if you don’t. This is why it’s important to train for generalization. For example, read here about how Boomer wouldn’t get in the trailer when we put shavings in it.

Has the animal had any bad experiences with this task or skill?
If the last three times the horse has been in the trailer (or the dog in the car) has been for a ride to the vets…..well, no wonder she won’t get in this time!

Was the teaching process pleasant and did the animal originally enjoy the task?
People have a way of “forgetting” things that weren’t very pleasant to begin with. So do animals. If some task has been closely associated with fear, pain or frustration the animal isn’t going to willingly do it in the future.

Was the skill really as strong as you though it was?
If the behavior or skill wasn’t well developed and practiced to begin with, the animal’s going to have a lot harder time performing the behavior two months (or however long) later.

Most of our little ones that we checked on today did wonderful. Jester was perfect–he let Kirsten (who he had never met) halter him, lead him around a bit and pick up 3 of his feet. Blossom was a bit skeptical about being haltered, but she was never super wonderful about halters at any point. She did let me put one on and off of her half a dozen times, so we’ll just keep working on it. Most everyone else was pretty friendly and happy to see us.

marty the spotted donkey

We definitely got our exercise walking around the 60 acres, though! Marty the spotted donkey had wandered off on his own. So, we had to go wandering all around the property until we found him. It’s no good when your head count comes up short one donkey. He was happy to see us, though, and really enjoyed getting his ears scratched a bit.

After we left him he brayed after us a few times. He was quite put out that we weren’t going to stay and keep him company for the rest of the afternoon!

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  • Great post! It's very easy sometimes to just think “oh we've done that” and then forget about it, until you need it! I now find myself constantly revisiting things I've taught, and just brushing it up and improving, which also helps everything else as well.

  • Love your trigonometry analogy!

  • This is a good point. You also have to take into account the fitness level. Too many people push too hard for certain actions under saddle after significant down time. They need time to build fitness and remember things just like we do.

    • Great point!!

      Sometimes the horse doesn't do something because he physically CAN'T do it. Always important to remember conditioning and fitness. Or limitations, especially with older horses.

  • I LOVE your analogy about trigonometry. I DEFINITELY don't remember any calculus, lol.

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