As you know I’ve been trying to find a way to teach the horses to play a song. Each of the horses enjoys pulling on the rope and ringing the bells. But I’m finding that the bell ringing isn’t very precise. I would never be able to count on a horse creating the sound at a specific time. And, as far as Pax is concerned, I wouldn’t be able to stop the sound. He loves ringing and ringing and RINGING the bells!
When Allen Pogue was here I brought up this dream of mine. I figured that a person whose website is “Imagine a Horse” should be open to unusual ideas.
I took him through our attempts to have the horses touch things with their noses to create a sound. We abandoned that approach because the horses seemed reluctant to press with their noses. I moved on to the bells and while I was bemoaning the fact that we probably couldn’t create something that the horses could step on, I had an idea. How about making a walkway (perhaps the shape of the 3 feet by 10 feet teeter-totter inspired me) and have the horse activate sounds as it walked. (I did sort of forget that the hind feet would ALSO create noise…)
Allen thought it was doable.
I mentioned this walking song to Rick Parker and he immediately said, “That’s boring! If I can teach chickens to play the piano you can teach horses to push specific colours to create tones. Start with one colour. I’ll bring a book next time. It’s about clicker training for horses. It describes ‘targets’.”
True to his word, Rick brought the book. It’s terrific, “Clicker Training for Horses” by Alexandra Kurland. I liked it so much I looked it up on the internet. I found a larger book by Kurland and a DVD showing people using clicker training to help horses with problems. I ordered both and eagerly check the mailbox each day!
A few days ago I started with one 2×4 about twelve inches long. Bill screwed the white lid of a yogurt container onto it. All of the horses love targeting the disc on the board.
Time for two colours. Rick said, “When you have two colours place one to each side of the horse’s head so that he has to turn to the right to touch one target, then turn to the left to touch the other.”
Today I took two dumb bells. These are dumb bells, six inches long, created for dogs to retrieve. They appear to be “horse proof” as long as I’m closely monitoring the horse! I introduced “blue” and “green” to Z and Z. The green dumb bell is sort of lime green, but I decided to not open that can of worms. I placed the two dumb bells on the arena floor, about two feet apart and called out a colour and said, “touch”. When the horse touched the correct colour I said, “Good” and gave a small treat. Then I picked up the dumb bells, walked at least three metres, placed them in the same juxtaposition on the ground and repeated the exercise. Both boys started picking up the coloured dumb bell and playing with it. Hmmm…wasn’t trying to get them to pick the thing up. Now I needed to figure out a way to get the horse to let go of the dumb bell. I said, “Here”. Whew, it worked. The horse dropped the object and looked to me for a treat.
This evening I searched through the driveshed and found a 2×4 that’s at least two and a half feet long. I then scoured the kitchen and garage to find different coloured tops of containers. I rounded up three colours: red, white and blue. Now I need to have Bill attach them to the board.
Two hours later: Bill screwed in the coloured lids. I took it to the barn for night feed. Once the horses were munching on the hay I went into Zelador’s stall and placed the long board on the floor. He walked over to the board and checked it out. I said, “Touch the white one”. I ignored his other touches. When he touched the white disc I said, “Good” and gave him a small treat. We played with each of the colours and he enjoyed the extra treats.
Zeloso was also quite interested in the new game. Kye played, too. I passed on Pax because I figured he’d pick the board up and I need room to maneuver out of its way. I’ll take the board to the arena tomorrow and use it there.
It was a rewarding session. I knew my chances of getting them to play were dicey, what with the hay under foot. Curiosity… it’s such a nice trait in a horse!