You Can Teach An Old Horse New Tricks

by: Erin Shea

As summer comes to an end, the Kentucky Horse Park is a busy place gearing up for the World Equestrian Games, now only about 30 days away. The Secretariat Center has also been full of action with its daily routine of training horses, seeking adopters, shipping horses out to new forever homes, greeting visitors, and the arrival on Friday of two new horses, "Frigidoon" and "Kim's Rhapsody."

We have also been working on our plans for the Games. We will have daily demonstrations at the MMSC every morning at 10, with each demonstration showcasing a different aspect of Horse Centered ReSchooling Program®. For one demo we're planning on having our mascot, Ferdy, perform some tricks.

As Ferdie is not strongly motivated by good and seems to have a limited attention span, teaching him new tricks is not such an easy task, so we've brought in the help of a clicker. The clicker, which is a simple hand held device that makes a loud clicking noise when pushed, is used right after the horse performs the necessary task and right before he is given a reward. After a couple repeated steps of click-treat-food, the horse knows that the click means he has performed the correct task and will be receiving a reward. When the horse realizes this, the horse may beging exploring options to see how far he can push the task or how many times he can do it in a row to get a reward, and this is how the horse will learn the tricks. The "trick" for the trainer is to watch what the horse offered up as he explores new behaviors and to capitalize and build on a behavior to build it into a trick. Susanna and I noted that Ferdy willingly picked up his front foot, so we worked with that and combined it with a bow (stretching his neck down to the ground) as well, which he performs very easily now. After this action was perfected, we moved on to placing a bucket of grooming equipment in front o fhim and having him touch his nose to one of the brushes. We thought that it might be fun for us to tell people that Ferdy was keen to be groomed, so our goal is to have him be able to pick up the brush from the bucket. Although Ferdy is 15 years, it was fun to see how quickly he learned and how experimentitive he was! We will be working with him as much as possible from now until the WEG, so who knows what he will come up with as far as fun things to show to the crowd!

More to come soon, only 29 days until the games!