It is Not About the Food

Danke head shot

The lovely Danke

I thought I would follow up with my own observations of the experience with Danke and the massage therapist.

As you may recall (and if you missed it you can read about it here) Danke was not OK with having Heather standing on the hay bale while she worked on her croup area. This was the first time she had attempted to work with her like this. In the past if Danke needed to move Heather would just stay with her till she settled. But, since Danke is so tall (17+hands) it was necessary for Heather to stand on the hay bale to get a better look and feel of this particular area. As such it was necessary that Danke stand still. HA!

Initially I simply blocked Danke’s efforts to leave. However, when Heather invited me to join her on the hay bale to look at/feel a particular knotty area the problem escalated when there was no one up front to keep Danke still! So the first problem we solved with clicker training was just getting Danke to stand still long enough so that I could see what Heather wanted me to see. Then it was time for Heather to get to work. It was quickly becoming clear that just telling Danke not to leave was not helping her feel good about the process.

That’s when I said, “Well, you know, we could click her for standing here while you work. Do you think that would be too distracting?” As you know Heather believed it would be. But, I felt that it was worth a try because we weren’t going to get anything done at the rate we were going! So, we proceeded.

The part that I wanted to add to Heather’s story was how initially one might have questioned the sensibility of the plan. At first Danke tossed her head and stomped her feet. An inexperienced person might have said, “this isn’t working,” and quit.
But I kept the click/treats coming at a fairly high rate. Click for positiong her rump near Heather, click while Heather had her hand on her rump, click for stillness, click for relaxing the neck and so on. It really only took 5 extra minutes to start to see that Danke was ‘getting’ the idea that the clicks were coming when she let Heather ‘in’ and worked with her to release the area.

Heather’s surprise that the food would end up not being a distraction comes from one of the most common myths about clicker training. It is hard to wrap your head around it if you haven’t seen it time and again.

When the horse is really clicker savvy it isn’t about the food. It is about the process and the understanding.

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