We placed a protective cover on one of the floor pianos (which is now attached to a firm backing, a ¾ inch plywood board) and put the floor piano at nose height in the arena. It’s sitting on two stacks of three bags of shavings. We introduced Kye to it and he was very soft with his nose. Sometimes he activated the piano, sometimes not. Zeloso was very precise and made music every time his nose touched the piano. Zelador has shown us in the barn (on the one occasion when we brought the floor piano out for them to see) that he likes to place his nose on the piano, then drag it across the keys. So we had a bit of retraining to do. I asked him to halt in front of it, then to touch it. He did and it made a sound every time. Then I removed him from the piano before he could drag his nose across it. We walked a circle, then came back and played one note. We did this several times.

We also placed a “piaffe board” (an invention of mine) in the arena. It’s ¾ inch plywood and 4 feet by 8 feet. We had it parallel to the wall about ten feet from the wall. I repeated the Albert Ostermaier exercise we’ve been doing in the stall which is the horse alternately lifting each hind leg in time to my “cluck”. I use a long wand (from Allen Pogue’s www.imagineahorse.com) and lightly tap near or on his hind legs. With Albert Ostermaier’s method you rarely have to address the lifting of the front legs. Zeloso is following this precedent. The activity of the hind legs has him starting to lift the front ones.

When it was Zelador’s turn he decided the game was “I can walk off the plywood or turn my head to the side!” I had Bill hold onto Zelador’s lead line but Bill was not able to keep the horse’s neck in line with its body. I remembered the quote, “If you want to change what the horse is doing, change what you are doing.” I moved the plywood to the wall and placed it perpendicular to the wall. Zelador stayed straight (his head to the wall). Bill commented that Zelador most certainly understands what the “cluck” means and that I should not tap his hind legs with the wand. So I held the wand near his hind legs, “clucked” and Zelador actually created a rhythm with his hind legs and added his front legs. WOW!!!! We stopped instantly and praised him.

On another note a horse owned by a neighbor is here for stall rest. Brown Sugar is a 15 year-old Belgium/Thoroughbred, 17hh. He has a gate for his stall door so that he can put his head out and watch the world go by. A week after he arrived I introduced him to the clicker. I started with clicking the clicker. When he looked at me I gave him a small treat. I did this several times to help him understand that paying attention to the clicking sound meant he’d be rewarded with food. Then I held an orange cone outside his gate. When he investigated it, I clicked the clicker, then gave him a treat. I moved the cone to the right. He put his nose on it, click/treat. I moved it to the left, nose/click/treat. I moved it up. No problem. I moved it down a few inches. He was lost. Hmmm…I put it back in a position that he was comfortable with, nose/click/treat. End of session.

About ten days later I remembered to have the clicker, cone and treats with me. I showed the cone to Brown Sugar. He was way ahead of me. Not only did he remember our first session, he demonstrated that he had a much greater range of movement for finding the cone. After a few warm-up cone/nose/click/treats I entered his stall and progressively held it lower. He was successful. I placed it on the ground. No problem. I placed it twelve inches to the right. He took a short step and touched the cone.

I fetched one of the toys from the bunny box. Brown Sugar quite enjoyed touching this new thing (the red and yellow soft rings).

I’m looking forward to his vet giving the go-ahead to hand-walk this horse. There are so many things in the arena to show Brown Sugar!

An interesting note: some ladies came to the farm to watch the horses doing liberty work and tricks. One of them commented, “You must spend a great deal of time teaching these horses.” I said, “Follow me.” I led them to Brown Sugar’s stall with the cone, clicker and treats in hand. I explained cone/nose/click/treat to them. After a grand total of 45 seconds my training session with Brown Sugar was done.

I recently read Karen Pryor’s “Reaching the Animal Mind” printed in 2009. Then I read “Don’t Shoot the Dog” printed in 1985. If you only have time to read one of them, go with “Reaching the Animal Mind”. It answers the questions Karen had in the 1980’s: why do the animals learn so quickly with the clicker training and why do they retain things for years/decades?

When I first started on the “let’s get the horses to play instruments” journey, Rick Parker (www.canadianwrangler.com) gave me a book about clicker training and said, “You need to teach the horses to touch a target.” I tried the clicker with Zeloso (famous for his incredibly short attention span) and was amazed that after thirty minutes he had never left me and was still eager to do things. A month later I did another clicker session. Then the really interesting thing happened. Some people came to watch the horses and I brought Zeloso into the arena. Past experience has shown that Zeloso needs quite a bit of warm-up (trotting/cantering around the arena) before he can focus and do more than one trick at a time. Well, I asked him for a circle at the trot. He did it. I called him to me, knowing that he was probably NOT ready and would ignore my request. To my shock, he trotted to me, instantly. I asked him to come with me, step up on a pedestal, stand, turn, lift one front leg, then the other, etc. and he was focused and eager to do more. There’s no doubt in my mind that his clicker sessions brought about this incredible change.

In Karen Pryor’s “Reaching the Animal Mind” she describes the amygdala (part of the brain) and what she learned from several scientists. I won’t spoil this for you by trying to paraphrase. I’m in the process of rereading her books and I’m encouraging everyone I can get to listen to me to do the same. The subtitle of “Reaching the Animal Mind” is “Clicker Training and What it Teaches Us about All Animals”.