An Accident Waiting To Happen

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 2 of 12

Use Your Cues
Cues evolve out of the shaping process.  That’s what we explored together in Unit Eight: “Cues Evolve”.  (Number 8: Cues Change and Can Be Changed: Published Aug. 31 – Sept. 3, 2016  If cues evolve out of the shaping process, that means – even if you aren’t aware of the hints and clues you’re giving – your horse is.  That’s what I covered in the previous post.

I don’t want to fight these cues, or pretend that they aren’t there. I want to put them to work.  As soon as I recognize how fast cues emerge out of the shaping process, I can begin to use them to solve some very common behavior problems.

An Accident Waiting To Happen
One such problem was presented by Poco, a handsome buckskin who was great to work with in every way except one: he was ear shy to the extreme.  He was purchased knowing that he had this problem.  Usually this sort of issue works itself out very quickly.  A few sessions with the clicker and the problem is well behind you. That’s usually what happens – but not always.

Poco was being handled by a knowledgeable, skilled clicker trainer.  She made good progress with him in so many ways.  She could put a halter on him.  She could bridle him without completely taking the bridle apart to get it on.  She could work him in hand.  He was polite, light, eager.  But if you reached up towards his head, he would startle away.  This made him unsafe to ride.  He was basically good, but that ear shy/head shy reaction was an accident waiting to happen.

We suspect Poco was eared. Earing is a common practice in the horse world. This means that someone grabs hold of a horse’s ear and twists. The intent is to keep a horse from struggling against his handlers.  It is similar to twitching where the horse’s upper lip is held tight and twisted to keep him from struggling.

airport-poster-with-caption-3We suspect Poco was eared originally to treat a wound.  He has a large scar on his neck.  Later he was probably eared to get a bridle on.  We’re guessing the bridling based on his reaction to reins.  His handler could get a lead over his ears long before she could get anything resembling reins past his guard.

Whatever the history, we were left with a persistent problem.  His handler had done a good job using a standard classical desensitization approach that normally resolves these issues.  Every day she would take him into the arena for his work session.  They would chip away at a bit more of his worry, but the core, hard granite of fear remained.

All Work and No Play . . .
Working through this issue wasn’t what was needed.  Poco needed us to play.  It is in play that you come up with different answers.  It is in play that you open old files and find new combinations that fit your learner’s needs.  This is where you see the true flexibility and robustness of the clicker training process.  Poco wasn’t going to be helped by following old recipes, but by coming up with solutions that were tailored to his needs.  To do that we had to look more broadly at all that clicker training means.

Coming Next: Part 3: What Is Clicker Training?

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

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Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites: