Saturday, April 25, 2009


Self-haltering and bridling are common things to teach a horse with clicker training. Percy is very good at self-haltering....I just need to remember to give him time to do it. I hold out his halter at my waist height and he puts his nose down into the noseband and holds it very still so I can slip the crownpiece over his head.

Today I decided to do a little clipper work with him since I had gotten the clippers out to trim up bridle paths and such on the others. As he's just a baby, I'm not worried about any fuzzy bits on him, but clippers can be Scary Things so I might as well introduce them long before I ever have a need to really use them. I first let him sniff them all over. I was carrying them to the barn when he accosted me with his typical "hey, whatcha got there? What are those things? Can I sniff them? Can I eat them? What are you going to do with them?" So that was a pretty simple process.

Next I waited until he was about 10 feet away but looking at me and I turned them on. I wanted him paying attention so he wasn't startled but not so close he was frightened. At this point, I was in the barn with a panel between us. I just wanted to see his reaction. His head went up and his eyes got very big- and he came closer to investigate. As soon as he began to approach, I clicked and turned them off. So of course he came to me for his treat and to check out those clippers again. I turned them on again and he leaned away with his nostrils flaring and keeping a close eye on them. As soon as he moved toward them at all, I clicked and turned them off.

This was one of those things I didn't really have a plan for. I was just flying by the seat of my pants. The concepts going through my head were: any approach needed to be rewarded and I wanted him to feel in control of the situation rather than at risk. So by clicking and turning them off when he approached, he was getting reinforced for approaching them AND was able to make them stop being so noisy. The other thing I hadn't planned out but that worked well was the panel between us. I certainly didn't feel the need for any safety reasons, but realized that it was preventing ME from falling into my traditional training of "just get it done" and try to approach him with the clippers rather than letting him approach me. The added benefit was that I was able to sit my camera on the edge of a stall and not worry about him investigating IT instead of the clippers!

Once he got to the point where he was staying right with me and sniffing the running clippers willingly although very cautiously, I stopped turning them off. I just left them running and held them out and he began his "self-clipping". I held them in different positions so they would touch different parts of his muzzle as he investigated- C/T for each touch. Slowly, the whiskers on his top lip got trimmed pretty well! I was careful not to move them as he investigated. As it was, he got poked by them several times and startled himself but came right back. I think it was different than if I had reached toward him and he'd gotten poked.

During this time, Rumer heard the clicking and came running. I had just fed everyone their noon hay so both these guys had been eating 2nd cut hay and had left it to come play with clippers. This is just another example of how much horses love this training. Some people claim it's because we are using food but I don't think many horses unfamiliar with clicker training would leave a large pile of green 2nd cut hay out in their paddock to come in and get clipped in exchange for hay stretcher pellets being doled out 2 at a time.

Rumer and I had played with clippers last year when she was a yearling and had not been too successful....I had done much more of an "approach" method with her. So I just let her hang around and any time she touched the clippers, she got C/T'd too. It was pretty funny to see the two babies pushing each other out of the way to get at the clippers! She was not nearly as bold as he was but I just let her do as much as she felt like. She certainly had a lot more whiskers left afterward than he did. She also was not as patient when I walked away to reset the camera and would get halfway back to her hay pile before hearing me clicking again and would come hustling back.

It was a great introduction for Percy and a good re-start for Rumer. I think I'll do a little bit each day when I spend time with them.


Mary @ StaleCheerios said...

What a great story. I recently found your blog and am enjoying it so far!

I love how brave horses are when we let them figure things out--rather than forcing them to accept what we want. Sounds like your horses are quite clicker savvy!


Mary H.

Bookends Farm said...

Hey Mary, thanks for the comment. I thought I would get notified if someone commented but I just found it now. Yes, clicker training does open amazing doors, doesn't it?