Saying No

I said I was going to start working on a ‘no’ cue with Rusty. Things don’t always work out as planned.

Heildorf has been offering a kiss when things get rough for him. When I’m  asking more than he is comfortable with. When  I’m pushing too hard and not breaking things down enough. I interpreted it as him  saying no. To test my theory and because we were working on something hard for him I decided to go with it.

To clarify I should add, one of the articles I read not long ago talking about letting animals have a cue to tell us no had a whale who was not interested in working any more. They gave her a target she could touch any time she wanted and would get rewarded for it the same as she did for the work they were asking her to do. They gave her a way to say no that wasn’t punished in any way.

In our training we have settled on letting Heildorf offer a ‘kiss’, he bumps my face with his nose. There are benefits and draw backs to this. My face is always there. He can give his cue without leaving what we are working on. Makes it easier to continue without interruption. But, it could get dangerous. His teeth grazed my cheek once and he nips at my hat brim once in awhile. I’m willing to take those risks and for us the benefits outweigh the danger.

Like with many horses who have been started traditionally, Heildorf is uncomfortable with the getting on part of riding. I tried to work with him on stepping over to the mounting block, gate, but he is terrified of us above him on the side. The people he came from are great but the lady they sent him to for training was a bit rough around the edges. He isn’t thrilled about riding.

I really want him not to be scared of riding and to be comfortable with mounting blocks.

On the right side, the side that hasn’t been messed with much, he’s ok with me on the mounting block/rotting straw bale. The straw bale is great for this because it’s such a tiny step up. Letting him get comfortable with this in small steps before we move up to something bigger.

Once we move to the left side though watch how quick he throws his head up there to tell me ‘no’. We stand there for the next ten minutes letting him say no.

I am not clicking him for the ‘no’. I want to make sure it is kept separate from my ‘yes’ cue. He can use it to stop me and get rewarded but it’s not the same as me telling him it is what I want.

As soon as I am able I take the opportunity to find something I can  tell him yes about. We work  on other things away from the mounting block and come back to it. I find a chance to tell him ‘yes’ for standing by the mounting block without telling me ‘no’. He lets me touch his neck without saying ‘no’ and we quit.

The video is a bit long but I wanted to show what he was doing exactly. I left out the extra ten fifteen minutes of standing there letting him say no. Kiss feed, kiss feed. over and over and over 😉

It is fascinating to me how a horse is willing to work with us even though they can get the same reward for free and how he clearly understands that he can stop me from doing things that make him uncomfortable by telling me ‘no’.  It will be interesting to see if he becomes more comfortable with the mounting block and where we go from here!

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