When the grass is greener over there

Recently this issue came up on the Clickryder group. What to do when you are walking your horse and he just dives for the grass without any thought of you. No amount of clicker training for leading nicely seems to keep the horse from running to the grass when he sees it. I answered it there and I thought it was a good one to keep. I added a few more thoughts here.

To me, this is a great example of needing to live and train in the Real World where there are all manner of reinforcers ‘out there’ to reward behavior, some of it Unwanted. The grass is obviously highly motivating and much more interesting than whatever you have in your pocket. Your choices are, either live with the existing behavior Or don’t go where there is grass to tempt him or learn how to control his access to the grass. Option 3 is what I would do. 🙂

Now the challenge you have is get a lot more interesting than the grass. This may require a huge effort on your part because he is highly motivated (he wants the grass and will go through fire to get it) and there is a strong reinforcement history (remember that from my Expectations post a few days ago?) of the dragging the human to the grass behavior. So, changing it will require something dramatic on your part. Something as big as his desire to run to the grass.

So, I would start by whacking the ground hard with a whip or the tail end of my rope like a lunatic until the horse whipped around and stared at me with a ‘what the heck happened to YOU?’ look. 🙂 When he gives me that look I go to him, pet him, and then carry on. The instant his attention starts to drift off toward the grass (and this is before he actually dives for it because when that happens you are sunk) you can interrupt that thought by having another lunatic fit till he looks at you. When he checks in with you you get all calm and smile and carry on. This must be repeated each and every time you (start to) lose his attention.

Over time he will learn that it is necessary to pay attention to you because if he doesn’t you have a fit. But guess what? Who needs to pay attention? He only will if you do! So is no easy solution. It is simple… just not easy.

Now you can either decide to not let him graze while walking with you (ever) or you can decide that you will reward him for paying attention to you by letting him have a few bites. The second option is for people who are quite confident about their skills. Cuz with some horses the grass is like potato chips you can’t have just one. 😉 But if you go with second option you must be able to get him to stop eating. I do this by getting the feet moving and I might do that by having another fit. 😉

This is an example of using negative reinforcement. The reinforcer/motivator is you having a fit. The behavior you want is ‘look at me’ or ‘give me your attention’. You have a fit till you get the attention then you cease the ‘having a fit’. If you remove having a fit when he looks at you, you will increase the likelihood of him paying attention to you in the future.

2 Comments

  1. So what if your horse has a fit? 🙂 – does this work both ways? (coming from someone who owns a fit-having mare??? as you well know)

  2. Sure, if her ‘fits’ get your attention!! LOL