Horse has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, How to get started with his rehabilitation?

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Horse has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, How to get started with his rehabilitation? Empty Horse has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, How to get started with his rehabilitation?

Post by Sunny Admin on Sat Feb 20, 2010 3:58 pm

Hi Cheryl, I just read about your working with a horse that has PTSD, I wonder about our TWH gelding Prince. He is so hard to catch and halter, he seems mistrustful. in a round pen he gets very agitated and looks like he would like to jump out. yet, when my husband does catch up to him in pasture, he seems bonded to my husband, just scared. in cross ties he is the perfect gentleman, in fact him manners are impeccable.

I never heard of clicker training, is there a book to get us started, and where can I find a clicker?

It might be helpful for my other TWH gelding, he's very food oriented and pushy.

thank you

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Horse has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, How to get started with his rehabilitation? Empty Re: Horse has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, How to get started with his rehabilitation?

Post by Cheryl Ward on Sat Feb 20, 2010 6:09 pm

Hi Barb,

Thanks for your note. As crazy at it sounds, I love to hear when folks say that they have trouble catching a horse. There is such an easy fix and the huge bonus is that it's one of easiest and best ways to start a meaningful conversation with your horse.

Right now Prince (and many other horses) may have some thoughts about being caught like, "Every time a two-legged appears with my halter, something happens. I usually have to go right to work, some person pokes me with a needle (vet), I get my feet hoisted around and some person saws at my feet (farrier)!"

In my experience, the horses I work with seem to long to have a conversant relationship with their handlers. They appear to want to be treated very similar to how we want to be treated. So if I arrive at work and the instant I walk in the door, my boss starts yelling at me and shouting demands, I'm not going to have pleasant associations about walking through those doors. In fact, I'll probably start having feelings of dread the night before.

However, if when I arrived at work I had time to settle down, grab a cup of coffee, review my notes and then my boss invites me into a meeting, and we chat for a second about our weekends, it feels like I have a voice and my boss cares.

For horses that are hard to catch, we just need to let them know that we are that caring boss or co-worker. So that every time we appear, even with a halter in our hands, that something wonderful is going to happen. This is where positive reinforcement training/attraction-based training comes to the rescue. The dynamics of this training tells your horse that "Something you do earns you something you want." Right now you want your horse to feel good about being caught. You will teach him that when he approaches you something good happens. When he touches or targets his halter something even better happens.

Although I do use the sound of click (with a hand held clicker or a click of my tongue on the roof of my mouth) and a food reward to tell the horse "Right answer! You did what I wanted. You just walked up to the gate instead of running away." I prefer to call what I do attraction-based training as it put my focus and my horse's focus on what happens before the click. In the above example, the horse walked toward the gate and was clicked and then rewarded for that action. The click is just a sound that very clearly marks the exact moment that the horse did what you wanted. Soon your horse will really look forward to walking toward the gate.

Rather than calling what I do "Clicker Training", it helps me if I call it attraction-based training or conversation training because it makes me think in terms of "How can I help my horse feel better and want to do what I am asking?" It helps me continue that line of questioning if I ask, " Did I use pressure to get the behavior or was my horse invited or attracted to give me the behavior?" I my experience, especially with horses that have thoughts about humans like "Please don't catch me, please don't make me feel trapped!", attraction-based positive reinforcement training seems to, very quickly, make them think "Wow, good things happen when I see my halter, I really like being close to my humans!" It's all about changing their association from a negative to a positive.

Here are some fabulous resources about positive reinforcement training/clicker training/target training/attraction-based training:

If you want to learn about clicker/positive reinforcement/attraction-based training really fast check out my all time favorite website called Dogmantics:

The author of the site is a dog trainer. She has a series of videos that that will explain exactly what true clicker training is and she has a collection of mind blowing videos with her dogs. If when you watch the videos simply insert the word horse every time she says dog, you'll become an expert conversationalist in no time.

As for books. I really like, You Can Train Your Horse TO DO ANYTHING! On Target Training: Clicker Training and Beyond, by Shawna and Vinton Karrasch

This book is fabulous. Shawna was a former marine mammal trainer at Sea World and her husband a veteran of the grand-prix jumping circuit. They discovered that the reward-reinforcement training principles that work so well with Killer Whales, resulted in amazing breakthroughs with horses. Here's her website:

Anything by Alexandra Kurland is great. Her book The Click That Teaches: A step by step guide; is a very clear and understandable way to get started. Here's her website:

Also the book Don't Shoot the Dog, by Karen Pryor is considered a must read for positive reinforcement work. Here's her extensive website:

You can find a hand held clicker at your local pet store or online. Also, keep in mind, if a horse is food oriented and pushy, it's just because he's never had clear rules surrounding how he gets food. Horses are experts at deciphering a pattern. If just one time they nudged someone and got a treat, you can bet they'll repeat that behavior in their quest to get another treat. This is why attraction-based training is so powerful. Horses love to use their brains especially when they understand that something they do brings them something they want. Unless my horses have done something to earn a click, they do not expect food, or go looking for food. I never ever, ever hand feed unless the horse has first a click. My number one rule, no click, no food.

What I've found too, is that the 'food oriented/pushy' horses are the out-going thinkers and seem to love attraction-based work. I think you too will be in for a treat when you see what's possible!

Have fun! Let me know if this helps,

Cheryl Ward
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