Almost Free Trick Horse Prospect

Some horses love to practice their stuff. Osiris is one of them. I can set a basket of hay on the ground in front of him and ask him to perform one of his favorite behaviors (target one of his body parts to my hand). He does the task and when I give him the bridge signal, he dives his head into the basket and helps himself. Then he returns to ready and waiting position for the next command.

I think he is enough of an Animal Entrepreneur that he would make a very fine trick horse. And, you could buy him for only $25.

King Arthur on his first morning at Mustang Camp

I sure was proud of King Arthur and Lancelot today. It was their first time on a lead rope. I had changed some protocols and kept them for almost 2 weeks in the training stalls. They learned to put on the halters and to follow me at liberty targetting a green ball so they knew the basics already. When I clipped on the rope this morning, King Arthur just started following. We went around the stall a few times, then out into the alley and down to the round pen. He wanted to sniff and snort at Trinity, but a little bump on the lead rope got him back with me. It was as good as most domestic horses ever get and it was the first time on a lead rope. Lancelot did even better. Yep, I am proud of those boys.

Morgana has been in the trailer training pen and is now quite happy to jump in the trailer for the piles of grassy hay I keep at the front. Merlin is not so sure about the noisy accommodations. I still don’t trust her, so we haven’t started with the halter. When I can touch her without her biting at me, then we can risk getting that close. For now, she is okay.

November 2010: the Update

I ended up staying at home and training horses all summer. I still have a dozen in the pens, with four of them being here only 10 days. I took in four at a time once or twice a month for the whole summer and fall. I got some adopted out from here and some of them I just returned to the USFS facility when I was done with them. There are still four of my trainees up for adoption in Farmington. I finished about 30 some horses. Dan is not trapping horses now so I don’t know how close I am to being finished with Forest Service horses for the year.

Sometimes I feel very successful and sometimes I feel very inadequate. I guess that is normal for an occupation where one is pushing the envelope and trying to work out something totally new. You realize where something is not working and you figure out how to change it. Hopefully, there is an improvement along the way.

The horses were showing resistance once they started being led, it was time to try something else. So, I changed protocols for these latest horses, which I call the Camelot Kids: King Arthur (an elder stallion), Lancelot (his 2 year old son), Morgana (the evil mare) and Merlin (the colt foal). I did targeting with them through the fence panels: nose, shoulders, sides, through a rope loop, then into the halter. Today we had a funky end of the bale of hay for treats and no one would work for funky hay. This was very disappointing to me. They wouldn’t even put on their halters. You can demotivate a horse in +R training pretty easy: feed them too much or give them “off” hay. Once they know the behavior and have been thoroughly trained, the food motivator isn’t so critical. It’s nice when petting becomes a reinforcement.

My last helper, Alan, and I used an interesting form of reinforcement last week. The reinforcement was the presentation of a cue for a behavior they already knew. Using a second request to reinforce a first request is using the Premack Principle. It worked well to keep their minds occupied through a behavior where they might have gotten nervous.

I would very much like to deepen my own understanding of animal training by going off and working with an excellent trainer this winter. I need some mentoring if I am going to make any progress.

I’m working on a plan to turn my operation into a non-profit organization with the main reason that it is hard to contract gentling and adoptions and this would provide a way to do cost-sharing. Furthermore it would legitimize the education and research component of my work. It’s a bit expensive to buy the right insurance and pay all the costs, so I don’t know when I can get it done, but it’s in the works. If anyone would like to review the business plan for the Mustang Camp, please let me know.

My video and camera are getting repaired, so soon we will have photos again! Meanwhile, let me hear from you!