Thursday, April 30, 2009

A second pair of hands

Pony Girl got me thinking tonight - she often does - in her post regarding reinforcing good behavior versus bad. I had to laugh... not at her post, because what she says is very true: every action we take has an effect, and at some point, good or bad, that effect usually becomes apparent.

Every herd has a pecking order. You may have gathered by this point that in the herd of 8 horses at the farm, Sunny is the boss/bully of the group - basically, he gets whatever spot at the hay feeder he wants, and he enforces his position with teeth and threatening heels when he feels he's being encroached upon.

But on the flip side, he's also the horse
that's most respectful of my space.
The one that I can move over
with a gesture if need be.

Because of the way the lot and the gates are configured, the horses that come up to the top lot to be grained must pass through a 10' wide bottleneck/dogleg right closed off by a gate that spans the width of the alley. The main hayfeeder forms the inside of the L's curve, with a right-angle corner of the fence on the other side.

This wouldn't pose a problem, except that I don't want ALL the horses up, just the 4 that get the most grain - they get tied to eat until they've finished, with the bottom four basically getting a skiff of grain and a headstart on the evening's hay. (They think they get more grain than they do, air-ferns that they are!)

Two of the ones that get more grain are definitely on the bottom end of the herd pecking order. The horses all know who gets fed where, and the four that get fed down below don't rush or crowd the gate, but they will block the opening into the L, keeping the ones I DO want from coming through. To get to the gate those two have to run a gauntlet of more dominant horses snaking necks, baring teeth and telling them in no uncertain terms, "Go the other way, stupid, or I will bite you!"

Now, if there was anywhere down there to tie up the horses I don't want, I'd do that. But the big solid railroad tie posts are all above the gate - electric fence doesn't make a very good securing point! And it would mean monkeying with many more halters than I really wanted to deal with in -10' last January.

I usually don't have help when I feed...
except Sunny.

None of the mares will even try to move him. But he does respect me, and he knows what the clicker and "Stand" means. So now we do this: the first two horses (higher in the herd and therefore safe from being picked on) go in.

If the dogleg is clear, the other two are able to come through on their own when I call. If not, by that point Sunny has positioned himself by the closed gate, effectively protecting the space in front of it from any of the others. I can go down and escort one or both mares to the gate past the other mares - they all know better than to make a run at another horse with a person attached(!) - and when I get up to the gate, I just motion Sunny to move over.

He moves out of the way of the gate, I open it, and as each mare passes he gets clicked & treated for being a polite roadblock.

Any laying back of ears
or making faces
at the mares when they're with me
= no click and no treat.

He caught on fast that manners
are a good thing.

After all four are through and tied, the other four get their grain.

I didn't intend to teach him to guard the gate. Initially, I just wanted him to stay put somewhere so that he wasn't following me around, running all the mares in circles while I was trying to sort out the ones I wanted. But at this point, he's effectively my second pair of hands. Now if only I could figure out how to get him to open the gate for me....
On second thought, that would probably be a VERY BAD idea! LOL!


BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

My mom insists on graining in the same rotation every time. It's amazing how quickly the horses pick that up and will essentially stand in line waiting their turn to come in and get their bite of grain. It's also kinda funny to watch.

Good for Sunny that he has figured out a positive way to get himself a little extra treat. Smart horse.;)

Denise- LessIsMore17 said...

WOW that is so cool that you clicker trained Sunny to guard the gate as you safe- very clever! Less gets a treat minus the clicker, lol. He is just like Sunny it sounds like, highest in the pecking order with the most respectful to humans of all the horses and I don't think it's just a he's my horse thing. I demand respect from all horses, but with him it's so easy.