Here’s a REAL challenge (especially for me!): for four weeks, every day, I challenge myself to present the letter ‘A’ to each of the horses in the lower barn. There are six horses there. The good thing about working with multiple animals is: one of them is probably going to be brilliant on any given day, thus keeping me motivated!!!!! The approach is like The Butterfly Project where thousands of butterflies were trained to fly about 100 metres, on cue, to a specific spot. If you’d like to know more about this, let me know and I’ll forward the article I read about it. As you can well imagine, negative feedback to butterflies does not work. The training was ONLY positive.

Your challenge can be to present the letter ‘A’ to your horse or horses (or any other animal within reach) each day. (If you decide to train on a different schedule, let me know what it is. I’m going with every 24 hours because I need a push to keep me in line!) What just might happen over time is the horse will find the letter ‘A’ and bring it back to the handler, thus taking the first step towards selecting the correct letter to spell a word. As time passes other letters can be placed near ‘A’ and the horse is rewarded for bringing back ‘A’. Once ‘A’ is firmly established another letter can be introduced. I’m wondering if I should then teach ‘B’ and the subsequent alphabet, or if I should teach letters I plan on using in the future (letters for “oats”, “hay”, “water”, etc.). Also I need to decide if I will place the letters always in the same order which would most likely be alphabetical order.

Apparently The Beautiful Jim Key could spell. I’m guessing he actually could spell some words, but mainly relied on reading his handler’s mind. The Beautiful Jim Key got really good at this! (Look him up on-line if you’re not already familiar with The Beautiful Jim Key. There used to be spell downs against students. Jim Key usually won! Currently there’s a movie being made about Jim Key and his breeder, trainer Bill Key. Morgan Freeman is starring as Bill Key, a black man born a slave in 1833.)

Are you game!?

Earlier today I sent this challenge to fellow clicker trainer, Colleen Archer. She has accepted the challenge. Here is what she’s done ALREADY!!!!

Hi Winnie, Always game!

I got three wooden letters at the dollar store – C, A and T. I extended the tab at the top of A with duct tape so the letter can be picked up by mouth. I stood the A up in a box of tissue and Timbit (he’s a white pony) got the A right away, as he is used to taking a single tissue from the box. Aurum (a palomino) got it with some difficulty, so next time I am going to stand the letter up in a bucket of sand for him.

What kind of letters are you using? How will the horse pick them up?