Valor, my yearling Azteca, is building his confidence by getting rewarded for popping bubblewrap.

Valor, my yearling Azteca, is building his confidence by getting rewarded for popping bubblewrap.

Usually this blog is about ‘U’ but this week we are going to talk about ‘V’ or Valor. I wanted to talk a bit about him this week as a comparison to ‘U’.

Valor is my not yet two, two-year-old Azteca gelding. I have had Valor since he was about four months old. His weaning and transport would not be what I would call ideal, but he seems to have suffered no permanent emotional damage from it. I’ll just leave it at that. He had to have his feet done when we got him and as soon as possible as his legs were not growing correctly because of them. He was a star for that less than totally positive experience. I made it as positive as possible, having a great farrier who took it slowly and calmly, with lots of breaks and over a couple sessions, with lots of scratches, that valor seemed to enjoy while the whole thing was going on. He never once offered to kick or strike during this and I knew I had a young horse with a fabulous mind and was going to do everything in my power from then on to preserve it!

After that first experience he was introduced to real positive reinforcement and clicker work. He was taught to follow a target, halter himself and then follow the feel of the lead by pairing it with the target so he understood what the lead meant. Any time he was a bit hesitant I could offer him the hand target to give him a hint as to the correct answer.

Valor was free shaped to go and investigate scary things, allowed to explore his world and be rewarded for being brave. Here is his video of bubble wrap stomping. You can see that he is free to leave but chooses to stomp and be rewarded for it. This is very different from ‘U’ who is hesitant to go and explore for fear of being punished or doing the wrong thing. He is getting bolder but it will take some time for him to feel safe doing this.

I’m slowly introducing the six foundation lessons to his repertoire and also playing with some of the behaviours I will need many years from now when he is ready and invites me onto his back. By that time he will move in balance and self carriage, yes before I ever sit on him! He will be in tune with my body and what all the subtleties of the rein on his halter mean. I will be able to move his shoulders and haunches and have most of the lateral work in place as well. His body and brain will be ready for that first ride and there will be no doubts in my mind or his. I will keep you posted on his progress as well as ‘U’s’. Valor will progress much more easily and quicker than ‘U’ because he has not had the history that ‘U’ has had. It will truly be exciting to see how this next generation of clicker superstars turns out; stars who are not crossover horses. Here Valor is lining up to the mounting block at liberty and learning how to take treats from the side like he will when I am riding.

I also wanted to share with you a fabulous video of a cross-over horse who was rescued initially from the meat truck and then purchased by Natalie who has done all this lovely work with him, all of it using clicker and positive reinforcement. Look at that fabulous balanced movement!