Sunday I went to visit four horses. I gave the owner a heads up to have plenty of treats available. I arrived with the ringed toy, my clicker and a gift clicker for the owner.
Three of the horses were adults. One was over 20 years old. The fourth horse was a miniature who has his eighth birthday coming up soon.
All the horses were in their stalls. The three big critters had a door with the top half composed of iron bars. I stood outside in the aisle. I started with one of the big horses, explaining to the owner that the first step is to get the horse’s attention. When the horse looked at me, click/treat. I held the toy up to the bars. The horse moved his nose to the toy. Click/treat. I walked a few feet along the stall and held the ringed toy against the bars. The horse walked to the toy. Click/treat. Then, just for fun, we opened the stall door and held the toy at ground level. No problem. Nose to toy. Click/treat.
Back in the aisle we searched for a second object to play the differentiating game. We found a hand towel and presented it to the horse, “This is a towel” and I placed it behind my back. Then I held the toy to the iron bars, “This is a toy”, it, too, went behind my back. Now for the biggie. I said, “Touch the towel”. I was standing directly in front of the horse. After speaking, I brought both objects out from behind my back and held each one a bit to the side so that the horse would have to move his head to touch the towel. And, would you believe it!!!! He did! The other interesting thing is: when I said “touch the towel” the horse moved his head to the side where he’d seen the towel before I brought both objects out from behind my back.
To check that this differentiating was not a one-sided fluke (one of the horses seemed to love turning to his left, which is my right), I placed the object I wanted him to touch in my left hand so that he’d have to turn his head to the right. He did.
I entered the stall again and tossed the toy a few feet. The horse walked to it and touched it. At that point I decided to try to help the horse figure out how to hold the toy. These sweeties had learned years ago to NOT open their mouths near people. No biting. No nipping. Now they were face to face with a person who wanted them to open their mouths AND hold something. One of the big horses placed his teeth gently on the toy. Another big horse put his mouth around one of the rings on the toy. The third horse touched it for me, but didn’t quite get his mouth open.
I visited each horse twice, giving the animal a short “gap time” to assimilate all this new stuff.
All three horses enjoyed the games and did a great job.
I’d never worked with a mini and I sort of figured the miniature horse just might be like ponies who are reputed to be: SMART. Daniel Nummer has a miniature Palomino stallion, Sunny, who can do dozens of tricks. So…I turned to the little one AND this miniature was a genius! I told the owner, “After I leave here today if you notice that the mini is no longer here, don’t panic. He’s enjoying a journey to my farm…for the winter!!!!” She laughed.
The mini was able to pick up the toy and hold it! At one point the mini wanted attention and was pawing with his left front hoof. I told him, “That’s very nice. Can you paw with the other hoof.” I pawed with one of my feet, then with the other. He looked at me, pawed with the left front hoof, then stood still waiting for a click and a treat. I stood quietly. He pawed with the right front hoof and received tremendous praise, click and TREATS.
At that point I realized I’d forgotten to teach everyone the BIG SMILE. I started with the mini and he instantly rewarded me with a wonderful smile using the upper and lower lips. Daniel Nummer told me that the minis can smile with both lips and the horses use the upper lip. I’d never seen this two lip smile before. It’s really neat!
Each of the big boys smiled the first time I cued them. Even though the stalls don’t allow them to have their heads out they obviously could see what I was doing with the other horses and quickly demonstrated that they could do what the others did.
I told the owner, “One day very soon you’ll enter the barn and all of them will be smiling.”
I headed home with my ringed toy and clicker and, sniff, the mini was not in the Caravan with me.