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Kill Pen to Kindness, Part II

Published: 3/29/2014
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Popular guest columnist, Marsha Craig, took on a new project by the name of Precious, a miniature horse saved from a Camelot kill pen. She details the story, from initial inquiries to training successes here in three parts.
Read about Marsha and Lily and their therapy work.
Read Part I - Learning to Trust again

Part II - Thoughts on clicker training, plus learning from mistakes

By Marsha Craig

Let me say, I am an advocate of clicker training . But I believe any training done with respect, love, kindness, and patience is a win for any animal. 

I firmly believe training can’t be done effectively if you are feeling pity for what the animal has been through.  That’s the past. You can’t change it.  Feeding the mental, physical and emotional scars of her past is counterproductive.  We share Precious’ story with people but we don’t share it with Precious.

If you don’t agree, that’s okay. Far be it for me to try and come across as an expert or anything close to it.  Any comments, suggestions, criticism are welcomed.  I’m just an old woman that loves animals and wants what is best for them. 

I try to pay attention to their body language, their eyes, ears, feet, how they move, what makes them nervous, what scares them, where their confidence level lies.  

When I identify a weakness or if I’m told of a weakness, I’m going to address it immediately:
I was told Precious didn’t like being approached from the right side; perhaps her vision was impaired.  I stood at her right shoulder and abruptly raised my arm. Without hesitation, she balked; her vision was fine.

It didn’t matter what caused the issue. Causation has no ownership in the cure. 

The important thing was to continue to approach that side until she realized there was no longer a reason to fear someone approaching from that side.  

Another visit included our vet, Dr. Kendyl Foristall (owner of Highland Hills Veterinary Service).  I thought the visit would give her a baseline of Precious’s condition.  Kendyl gave Precious a physical and discussed what was known of Precious’s background and asked questions we would never have thought to ask. 

She suggested dividing our pasture in half with a corridor separating each fence to ensure no nose-to-nose contact for two weeks.  
In late September, Precious came home and was turned out into half of the pasture.  She and Lily showed little interest in each other.

Two weeks later, the fencing came down. Lily and Precious met hooves to face for the first time.  
I did all the wrong things that day. 
I tried to lead Precious to meet Lily and when that didn’t work, led Lily to Precious. That is when Precious threw out her back legs at Lily.
Confirmation I’m not a horsewoman! 

Once the fencing came down, I should have allowed the horses to meet each other on their own terms.  I regret interfering.

During the first week, we brought Precious to the grooming area.  It became obvious she was not accustomed to cross ties and freaked out.  I spent ten minutes clicker training just standing in the ties.  If she remained calm I’d click and give her one alfalfa pellet.  If she danced around, I didn’t react. But the nanosecond she stood still, she got the click and a pellet.  No words were spoken. All Precious heard was the click when the action I wanted was given.  

Let me stick this in as several people have asked: Why treat a horse that has been starved and is food aggressive? I hoped clicker training would help her overcome the food aggression and I decided if it made it worse then I’d continue with the clicker but use only a pat or scratch as reward.

Part III - Kicking, grooming, and smoother sailing.

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4/10/2014 Donna F.
Marsha, I have so enjoyed reading your articles about Lily and Precious!

"If the horse does not enjoy his work, his rider will have no joy." - H.H. Isenbart