I got word that at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow morning they’re going to put down one of my horse friends. He’s a retired jumper and he’s had a severe injury, apparently he keeps falling and has a very difficult time getting up. I’m not going to go into the Rights and Wrongs of his life and the decision to put him down. This is really from my own viewpoint. It’s about me, and I’m sad to lose another horse friend.
I met him a little over a year ago. He was a retired jumper and he was leading a fairly sedentary life because of the stresses of jumping on his body. His owner wanted to provide some enrichment and change of pace and she thought clicker training would be a good way to do this.
When I arrived I found a horse that was not overly enthusiastic about the presence of humans in his stall. The owner told me that sometimes it was even difficult getting a halter on him. So I began the task of letting him know that I would be a very dependable human and provide him opportunities to earn what he wanted with very little effort on his part.
I kept my promise. I started with easy behaviors, in fact sometimes I just clicked him for being a horse. We expanded to include targeting and one of his favorite things of all time was to offer an auto back that we shaped; he was so enthusiastic about offering the backup. We expanded the training to include some targeting, then I combined the halter and the target. I also included some casual touching combined with food reinforcers.
This process gave me some interesting information as it became pretty clear that touching was not his favorite thing either. However, that began to change with CHOICE and a change in how touch was offered.
Over the course of the year he became more and more receptive to earning reinforcers for activities he thought were worth his effort. I even expanded his repertoire to include putting on the halter.
I did not see this horse on a weekly basis but what I can say is that the combinaion of what I did and what the owner followed through with, made this horse begin to blossom in this last year. I was more recently privileged to be in his presence to see the change to soft eyes, a calm demeanor and the “Ooh-so-willing-effort” that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing in horses who are clicker trained, as he put his head in the halter and held it very still while the owner buckled the buckle. And added to that, he reached out and wiggled his lip as the owner scratched his neck and fed him a bite of pellets.
So I spent time with a horse improving elements of his daily life during the last year of his life. I was a part of a process that allowed him to view humans in a different way. More important it empowered him to gain things he wanted as he offered Behavior that was good for the human.
Horses are the most amazingly gracious creatures I have had the privilege of knowing. I will miss this horse. And I will miss what I think could have unfolded for him in the following months. But one thing I’m sure of, his quality of life was improved in this last year. Many thanks as you fly over the Rainbow Bridge, my friend. You take a piece of my heart with you.