I think Pat must be a person-whisperer as well, because when I got into the stall I easily out-scared Telikos. Getting ready inside, my suspicions were raised when Pat lent me her ‘flak’ jacket and a helmet. Yesterday Pat led a group of six of us training Telikos to come to ‘target’ and outstretched fingers, and rewarding him with hay. But it’s easier when there’s a group of you, and the worst the horse can do is get stubborn while he chews his last mouthful. Today we were working on getting Telikos to let us touch him, and there was no hay.
Pat entered the ring first, with her ‘arm extension’ (a 10 foot plastic pole). Telikos backed into a corner and watched her from the corner of his eye. When Pat reached out with the pole, my knees went a little wobbly as Telikos flung himself around the Pen, crazy at being unable to get away from Pat and her stick. Pat stuck in the middle as Telikos flew into the walls and fence, following him around and keeping the pole resting on his withers. Eventually Telikos stuck reluctantly in a corner, watching Pat out of the corner of his eye. Pat gently started to use the pole to scratch his withers, and work it slowly up and down his spine. Every time the pole touched somewhere new, Telikos would be off again, around and around the stall, backing up and turning around, trying to work out how to get away from this strange lady and her stick!
Pat switched Clare into the stall. Telikos skittered a little when she put the stick on his back, and Clare followed him with it, until Telikos stuck panting in a corner with the stick resting on his back. Clare started to work the stick up and down his spine a little, and Telikos eventually tolerated it as far as his ears and his tail. On Pat’s advice, Clare kept on moving around, so Teliko gets used to humans moving around near him.
My turn, and Pat came back into the stall, so I could hide behind her. On my turn, I accidentally poked him with the tip, instead of resting it on his back, which spooked him a little. By now though, Telikos was calmer, and would generally just pant in a corner of the stall while we touched him with the stick.
The most unexpected thing, was that after Telikos got so calm he seemed almost to enjoy having his spine scratched, when we tried the same procedure on the other side it was like started all over again. He flew around and around the stall, and I resumed my position hiding behind Pat, as she followed him around with the stick. When he got calm on his flighty side as well, we tried to move the stick to new areas.
We took it in turn; Clare and Pat worked for perhaps an hour to bring the tip of the stick down from his withers, over his shoulder to the top of his leg – but Telikos was having none of this, and would run from the stick when it moved more than a few inches from his spine. Eventually, with this gradual method not showing much progress, Pat stepped in and placed the stick directly against his chest. This time Telikos flew around the stall again, but settled down quicker than earlier in the afternoon – perhaps he was beginning to trust us, or to recognise there wasn’t much he could do to avoid the stick, or perhaps he was just getting tired…
Over the afternoon we got Telikos comfortable with being touched with the stick all over, and not too bothered when we moved closer to him. We could have reached out to touch him, but he didn’t seem calm enough yet. To encourage him to pay attention to us, and to give him a sense of control, we began to reinforce him turning to look at us by removing the stick when he faced us. We didn’t do this all the time- for instance when we were trying to get him used to having it on his legs, but behaviourists reckon on partial reinforcement being stronger anyway. When the stick was on his legs and he began to kick it off, we made sure we held it on, so as not to reinforce kicking.
When he turned away again, we placed the stick on his withers again. At points, he was so chilled out, his eyes and lips were drooping, and we could move the stick to areas where he was scratching at himself. He seemed to enjoy that. At one point when he was very relaxed, I moved closer and eventually my hand was holding the stick so close to his back I could ‘accidentally’ touch him. Too much for Telikos, who was off around the stall again. We had been out with him for around three hours, and I think we were all getting tired. So we worked with him until he was relaxed about the stick again, and ended today’s session when we were ready. Touching him will have to wait until tomorrow. But by the end of the day, I think Telikos and I were a lot less scared of each other.