I think we’re overdue for an update on the young mustang gelding, Friday. A lot has happened in less than a year. Friday is now comfortable with having his feet handled thanks to clicker training, time and patience. He was ill enough that we were concerned for his life. Thankfully he recovered and came back better than before. Then he was saddled for the first time, again, thanks to clicker training. All more or less before his 4th birthday!
Friday celebrated his 4th birthday on August 2nd 2015. I bought him a year and 4 months ago. The story I was told is that he was orphaned at just a couple of months old in a traffic accident, so was never sent to the holding pens (he is unbranded). I bought him at just over 3 years old and quickly found that his trust in people was limited despite being raised by humans (or perhaps due to being raised by humans…). The last article about Friday, “Isn’t Clicker Training for Dogs?” discussed how we used clicker training and a wonderful barefoot trimmer to overcome his fear of his feet being handled.
Friday has improved and grown in leaps and bounds since the spring of 2015. He now gets his feet done like “a big kid” by the same gentle, and experienced trimmer. Our horses’ last trim took place on an extremely windy day and, even in the far from ideal conditions, he shone like a bright star.
In the summer of 2015, Friday became ill. There were several instances when I looked out to check on the horses and Friday was standing and shaking with full body muscle spasms. Initially his prognosis was not good. Thanks to our vet’s expertise in equine internal medicine and quick detective work, we got him on antibiotics in a timely manner and the matter was resolved within a couple of months. It was a scary time, and also good bonding time as Friday first had to get a Panacur PowerPac (once a day wormer for a week), and then had to get antibiotics twice a day for 30 days. I alternated between medication and apple sauce in the syringe to maintain a precarious balance in our relationship.
We don’t know for sure what Friday’s illness was, but because antibiotics are what helped him, odds are it was a bacterial infection that could have been in the makings for a long time. Therefore, he might have been uncomfortable for months before his illness was painful enough that he showed me. After Friday’s recovery, I would not go so far as to say that he was a different horse, but he was significantly less scared of objects and less skittish over all. A curious nature started to shine through, and the silliness expected of a 4 year old began to show rather than the consistent fight, flight or freeze reactions of a terrified horse.
Friday’s illness as well as his nature, have forced us to take our time and have pushed me as a trainer to be flexible and resourceful in my methods. I cannot say enough about the value of taking our time and using clicker training. Friday isn’t the bravest of horses, but the curiosity that has come through since his recovery keeps him coming back and trying harder. Each time he comes back and tries harder, his confidence grows. I believe that clicker training encourages him to remain interested and coming back, which in turn leads to his growing confidence. Clicker training gives him a reason to come back and try again. Traditional methods where all he felt was fear, did not give Friday an incentive to come back and try harder when he was uncertain about something.
Thanks to the help of the clicker, his first saddling experience in the autumn was relatively stress free. I saddled him up using a light, bareback saddle and tightened the cinch without any problems, rewarding him with clicks and oat-alfalfa pellets each step of the way. The only moments of stress were his first couple of steps on the lounge line at the walk when suddenly the stirrups bounced on his sides. He shot forward for a stride or two but then immediately turned toward me in the center of the circle and walked to me. My goal has been to be the safe place for him. Moments like that one let me know that I am succeeding. That first day with the saddle he walked, trotted and cantered on the lounge line. He had some worry initially at each new gait getting used to the new movement of the stirrups, but he never got worried enough that we had to back track.
The next time I saddled him and lounged him, it was like he’s been doing it for years. No problem at the walk, trot or canter. Such a brave, young man…
Once the weather improves, it will be time for one last saddling with the bareback saddle before being saddled with my treeless saddle and hopefully, shortly thereafter, his first ride! We’ll keep you posted…
Have you had an odyssey of a journey with your horse? I’d love to hear about it! Please comment below and tell me your and your horse’s story.