Training Is Fun for Everyone

By Terry Golson


Miniature horses are often pasture pets. They’re loved on, but rarely trained. Adorable, but taken for granted. I was brought in to train this massive Percheron cross to walk safely onto and off of a trailer.

After two visits to the farm this little guy had a conversation with me.

Me, too, said Sugar.

 

He practically bubbled with excitement when we brought him into the round pen – just him and his people – no big boys to compete with. In less than a minute, I taught him to touch the flat palm of my hand. I used a clicker to mark the moment that he did what I wanted, and he got small pieces of carrot as rewards.

 

You could see his brain engage. Sugar got into the game. His owner watched him figure this out. He’s so smart! she said. If you don’t work with your animals, they don’t have the opportunity to show you how clever they are. This was such simple stuff, yet tremendous fun for everyone. I gave the owner and Sugar homework. Over the next couple of weeks they played the touch game, and Sugar even learned to step on a foam pad. If Sugar was a dog, he would have been wagging his tail with happiness. This made his owner equally happy. Training opened up a pathway for her to get to know and communicate with her little horse. Rewards all around!

Sugar was avid and eager. That is, until I asked Sugar to step over the pole.

 

For some reason, he did not want to. Sugar stretched his neck. He walked around it. He brought all four feet as close as he could, but didn’t budge. Look at his changed body language.

 

This is where observation, timing, and breaking the behavior down into small pieces is important. Before Sugar could step over the pole, he needed to take a step. Before he could take a step, he had to lift a foot off of the ground, so that’s what I marked with my clicker.

 

I don’t know why Sugar doesn’t want to step over things. Could it be a physical issue? I tested that theory by putting the lead rope on the ground. Walking over that wouldn’t require straining any joints. Sugar refused to walk over it. Often, animals that are kept on flat ground lose their confidence about stepping over anything unusual or irregular. So, Sugar’s person has put a pole into the paddock, right where Sugar likes to walk. He can choose to walk around it, or take the straighter path over it. We’ll see if that changes his attitude towards poles.

In the meanwhile, they’ll keep playing in the round pen. Sugar will insist on it. This is his work with me face. who could resist?

 

If you have a mini that you would like to train, contact me. I drive throughout New England, and will go further afield for clinics.


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10 thoughts on “Training Is Fun for Everyone

  • Virginia Klophaus

    So did you get the big guy to load into the trailer safetly already? There are quite a few mini’s around here, but I think they are mostly pasture pets. I do my best to advise some of the new owners, they’ve never had horses before usually, to not overfeed the little guys. Especially this year when we’ve had so much rain and the grass is really lush.
    And while I’m on the bandwagon about trailer loading, I don’t know what you do, but I wish people with stock or slant load trailers would teach their horses to back out as well as turning them around and letting them walk out. You never know when they might have to be in an inline trailer, or be sold to someone with an inline trailer, and then it can become a problem. Especially if they have never been taught to back anywhere.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      The big guy is in and out. This time we relied on a horse friend keeping him company in the trailer. We need to work up to loading alone. I agree about calm backing up! I worry when I see horses flying out backwards. I had to teach that to Tonka. I’m afraid I overdid it, and rewarded heavily for staying on, and he decided that he liked it so much that he preferred staying on. Then I had to teach him that steady stepping out was what I wanted 🙂

  • HeatherE

    This post reminds me I need to work with my mini more! She’s clever – she taught herself to stand by her feed bucket and not go grubbing in everyone else’s- and she also doesn’t have the fear issues I need to be so mindful of with the other two. Maybe we’ll start to work on ground driving – I think she’d like the going and doing of being a driving pony!