Help me! Help me!
The man called out as he came lurching down the path, a rifle clutched against his chest.
I was hand walking my leopard Appaloosa, Spotzy, with a friend when we noticed the armed man coming towards us.
Quickly realizing that the man’s “rifle” was a realistic-looking pellet gun, we ran to help him.
The man had been bitten on his right hand by a large rattlesnake.
With the snake’s venom racing through his body, the man, who I’ll call John, told us that his lips had already turned numb.
And now he felt the numbness spreading. John was really scared.
And he started to freak out.
I knew that the quieter John was, the better his chances of recovering from the rattlesnake bite.
Since I seemed more adept at calming down the panicked man, my non-horsey friend ran back to the ranch to call 911.
(Yes, this happened years ago - before we all carried phones with us!)
Don’t forget, I had my horse Spotzy with me.
We were out in a gigantic field.
There was nothing to tie my horse to.
And John needed my FULL attention.
But I wasn’t concerned about what my Appy would do.
All I had to do was say “Wait.”
Spotzy stood like a statue.
My Appy didn’t wander off to forage for food.
He didn’t say, “Screw it” and head for home.
Spotzy simply stood where I asked him to.
Even though we had to wait for what seemed like forever for help to arrive.
Even when the ambulance came roaring towards us with its lights and siren on.
Even when the EMTs had to bail out of the ambulance and run the last few yards towards us.
Spotzy waited patiently.
Do you know why?
Because Spotzy knew that responding to my cue was a predictor of good things happening.
Despite crazy stuff going on around him.
And that's because I used positive reinforcement to teach him.
So he associated my cues with FEELING GOOD.
I love using positive reinforcement with horses.
“Working” becomes a fun game.
One that they participate in with choice and enthusiasm.
I’ve been teaching horses this way since I was a kid.
And I’ve found that the “Wait” cue is helpful in so many instances.
Back when I did a lot of jumping, my horse would stand patiently in the middle of the arena while I moved jumps around.
Here’s another example.
My current horse, Breeze, was severely injured a couple of years ago.
For a few months, Breeze had to endure uncomfortable medical procedures a couple of times a day.
No horse would want to put up with that for long!
The “Wait” cue saved us.
Breeze knew what to do when I said that word.
And he associated the cue with feeling good.
It was a lifesaver.
I could attend to my horse’s painful injury without even haltering him.
Communicating in this positive way deepens the trust between horse and human.
And this joyful connection makes life so much sweeter and richer.
For horse and human.
There are tons of useful cues you can teach your horse.
And some silly ones as well.
And it took all of 5 minutes to teach him that!
Last week I shared how using positive motivation with YOURSELF can improve your life in a multitude of ways.
You might want to check it out for your horse too.
What about you?
Are you interested in using positive reinforcement to teach your horse?
If you do, it’s essential to get professional guidance on the subject before you dive in.
There are some great equine clicker trainers who offer books, videos and online programs.
Let me know if you’d like recommendations.
I’m not an affiliate. Just an enthusiastic advocate.
Email me and let me know your thoughts!
Many thanks for reading and sharing.
And loving your horse.
p.s. To the skimmers: Whether applied to ourselves or our horses, using positive reinforcement to influence behavior can improve quality of life. Hit “reply” and let me know if you’d like to know more about it.
p.p.s. John tracked me down 11 days after the snake bite incident. It was a bad one! He'd been hospitalized for several days and needed a lot of antivenin. When we spoke, parts of his body were still numb. I trust and pray that he made a full recovery.
Are you curious about what John was doing with that gun? And how he got bitten on the hand? I asked him. Let's just say he promised he'd never do it again!
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