In between spending more time helping my mother, I pondered what to do with Magnum. How could I start to change his behaviour. He was taking the treats with so much tension… he was unpredictable. I had to be careful and always have myself in a safe spot.
I was learning that clicker training wasn’t simple. Each horse was different – and Magnum in particular was a huge challenge. He reminded me of a terrified child – wanting so much to be part of the process – but unable to overcome his fear. He was forever on alert – with a very tense neck and jaw – and sensitive to noise, moving arms etc. – even if I accidentally scraped my foot on the ground – or anything similar…
Here is a video from my YouTube channel horsemagicblog which shows some of the challenges I captured on film.
I received lots of help and advice from the very supportive clicker community and tried various ideas. Some helped…. a little…. but I didn’t know how to move past this combination of eagerness to play the clicker game versus anxiety with every movement.
Eventually I decided to observe Magnum carefully and click for even the smallest sign of relaxation – the blink of an eye, movement of the mouth, softening of the jaw etc. In fact I had abandoned the sound of the click as he was sometimes startled by it. I started saying ‘good’ or ‘yes’. I spoke very gently. I wanted him to associate me with relaxation. I became very quiet and observed carefully.
I watched relaxation videos on YouTube and spoke in those tones. It helped greatly. In fact all the horses loved it – they would all relax.
I was careful not to spend too much time with him. I always left him wanting more (of course with a suitable amount of treats for the end of a session!) and I regularly returned to him after doing the rounds of the other horses.
I also started to walk behind him – rewarding him for any relaxation… before that he had always turned to face me – no matter where he was. I could never touch him beyond his wither. I would casually walk to one of the other horses while they were eating – a reasonable distance away from Magnum – but still behind him. Eventually he got used to that – and he learnt that I would do the rounds of the horses and there was no need to worry.
All of this took time – lots of time. It didn’t happen overnight. Being consistent with my own behaviour plus taking lots of time adds up to success.
In time his neck started to relax and I could move further down his body – past the wither….. but there was a long way to go…
I was happy with our progress though – even though the time spent together was short. I was spending more and more time helping my mother…. and in the November of 2012, things were about to take a turn for the worse.
I received a phone call……..
COMING UP – FAMILY CRISIS…
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