Don’t Touch Me There

eyeIn my efforts to do ‘some’ thing.’ rather than ‘no’ thing this week I have been playing the touch game again with Chapiro. The touch game came about when he was very young and nervous of just about everything including being touched anywhere around the head or face. I love the TTouch exercises as they are non-evasive and both Fidge and Moo had enjoyed them; not Chaps- so it was back to the drawing board.

At that time I was delving more and more into clicker training and reflecting on the boundaries of what was acceptable. Is it acceptable to clicker train something that is stressful for the horse? Do we risk making a stressful situation worse or can we actually change their opinion of something and turn stress into relaxation? Those who know me well will be aware of my love of the science behind things – the why and wherefore of behaviour is fascinating but does it always offer the answers we seek?

With the touch game I was winging it, hoping that I wasn’t messing up but truly not knowing. So how does the game work?  Starting in the stable, no physical attachment to each other by way of rope or headcollar just Chaps, me, the clicker and plenty of food or a scratcher (hoof pick, curry comb). I don’t have to approach him as he is always intrigued, as are most equines – smelling of carrot probably helps! He already had a basic ‘touch’ well on cue so I just put out my hand and let him touch it…click!! It wasn’t too difficult to shape this to the point that he would place the front of his face on my hand and then gradually accepted my hand anywhere on his face; a heavy reinforcement rate helps, really full on fast at the start. This helped with teaching him to bridle himself, lowering into the noseband when offered, and generally seemed to ease his head shyness. Winging it definitely paid off in this case and I overcame the moral dilemma of using food to conquer stress because of the outcome.

I never progressed the touch game because I didn’t seem to need to take it further at the time but with my intention of trying to be more alive with my daily training (in small steps) I am looking for simple ways of being with the horses that will build confidence and partnership further. I have now reached the point of him coming to find my hand, often with his poll, and often staying for more than a few seconds. It feels great that he trusts me in offering this, not a big deal for many horses but for him a huge step and for me just another of my small steps in positivity!



ps anyone reminded of The Tubes track can reminisce here