The Horse

FEB 2019

The Horse:Your Guide To Equine Health Care provides monthly equine health care information to horse owners, breeders, veterinarians, barn/farm managers, trainer/riding instructors, and others involved in the hands-on care of the horse.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 46 of 51

BEHAVIOR SUE MCDONNELL, PHD, CERT. AAB | The Horse February 2019 47 Q How do I get my horse to be polite in the cross-ties, be it starting young to instill good ground man- ners or curbing existing rude behavior? Carolyn Arnold Colorado A When introducing a young horse to cross-ties, I like to try to have a calm companion nearby whenever possible—preferably tethered or cross- tied, as well. This is what behaviorists often call a "helper companion." I find it best to have the helper settled in and comfortable before bringing the young horse to the cross-ties. Personally, I find well-timed small food treats to mark and reinforce desirable be- havior very effective in training horses for these routine management tasks. As soon as I see the first sign of relaxation in the trainee, I say "good" and offer a treat from a small pan, reaching under the neck to the off-side. (Delivering the treat in this manner results in the horse turning away from rather than toward you when antici- pating a treat. This helps avoid reinforc- ing nudgy "asking" gestures or nips.) For many young horses, scratching at the withers is an effective substitute for food treats as a primary reinforcer, either intermittently or entirely. Then I proceed by starting to do something with the horse, such as brush- ing or currying. Should any undesirable responses occur, I find it most effective to simply ignore them and continue with whatever I was doing to the extent safe. Ignore means no verbal response, no ten- sion on your part. It can help to organize the situation to make the undesirable be- havior, should it occur, the least annoying to you and anyone else in the space. So, for pawing, I like to have a ½- to ¾-inch- thick rubber stall mat covering the floor. That way, the pawing is least annoying to me and probably least self-reinforcing to the horse. Similarly, I like to have stout cotton ties with fittings that are quiet so any wiggliness makes less noise. It is always helpful to start with a pro- cedure such as grooming that: 1. I know the young horse seems to enjoy in other settings, and 2. I will be most able to keep doing through any anticipated wiggliness. As soon as the horse demonstrates a pause in undesirable behavior, I again say "good" and reinforce the relaxation with the food treat or scratching. Clicker train- ers often use a clicker or audible sound, instead of a word. The point is to have a standard marker that tells the horse, "Yes, that's what will lead to a treat." As you go, the objective is to wait for longer periods of relaxation before rein- forcing and only intermittently deliver the primary reinforcement (food or scratch- ing), while using the secondary reinforce- ment (the "good" or the clicker) more liberally. One of the valuable skills some people have naturally, but usually develop or hone with experience, is the intuition to instantly adjust their pace of reinforce- ment "to effect" in any given situation. The goal, of course, is to hold off on reinforcement just long enough to keep increasing the target behavior (called shaping) of standing calmly, without accidentally inciting counterproductive frustration, confusion, or overexcitement. For young horses that start out, as most do, with the tendency to pull back or lunge forward, I find it effective to drop back to a more gradual introduction to cross-ties. I have a handler hold the horse from the left side with a usual cotton lead while I groom. I often also ask the handler to perform the reinforcement and roboti- cally deliver the treats or scratches when- ever I say "good." Once the horse stands well for long periods with that arrange- ment, I try attaching the far-side cross- tie, with a handler again standing at the shoulder and holding the lead on the near side. Next, I may attach the offside and do a sliding tether on the near side. My objec- tive is to avoid any wrecks by gauging the horse's animation and adjusting the tension on that lead, as the handler would have done, balancing teaching the horse to be stationary with avoiding a punish- ing, scary event on the cross-ties. Horses are great spokesmodels for teaching behavior modification, Well-timed small food rewards can help reinforce desirable behavior on cross-ties. THE HROSE STAFF Teaching Cross-Tie Manners

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Horse - FEB 2019