He won't let me leave him!

Liz is a Recommended Associate of the Intelligent Horsemanship Association, and can help with behavioural issues
IonnaStar
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He won't let me leave him!

Postby IonnaStar » Mon Dec 17, 2012 1:58 am

I'm having trouble parting from my pony without upsetting him. Here's how he reacts:
Stable - kicks the double door.
Tethered - breaks away and comes and find me.
Paddock - trys to jump the post-rail fence.
It's not even about how long I leave him; I once left him to put a grooming kit away and he was getting really worked up!

Expert_LizPitman
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Re: He won't let me leave him!

Postby Expert_LizPitman » Mon Dec 17, 2012 5:52 pm

Hi there,

The answer will depend on a couple of factors. Firstly, is he alone, in individual turnout or does he have company in the same field as him? Also, how do you react when he does start to stress?

If you could also give me more details on his background, what you do together, what your routine is, etc., I'll then be better able to form a picture of what's going on.

I'll check back tomorrow and will answer you more fully then if you've had time to reply.

Liz

IonnaStar
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Joined: Sat Dec 15, 2012 7:41 am
The SECOND number please: 99
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Re: He won't let me leave him!

Postby IonnaStar » Mon Dec 17, 2012 9:07 pm

If he starts stressing, I go and make sure he's alright. He's turned out everday and we have Maya, Lady, Rio and Sadie for company, but he's stabled next to Sadie. We also have the dogs who are on the yard most the time and I'm down there everyday.
I ride him 5-7 times a week, depending on how much time I have. We always put a crosspole up and do some gridwork, aswell as flatwork. We compete every 2-5 weeks, depending what's on in the area. He's clipped and trimmed, we usually compete in showjumping.
Ionna.

Expert_LizPitman
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Re: He won't let me leave him!

Postby Expert_LizPitman » Tue Dec 18, 2012 8:50 am

If he starts stressing, I go and make sure he's alright.
Ionna.
I'm afraid that this is your problem. It's a totally natural reaction (either that or going and telling them off), and I can understand why you do it. However, I'm afraid you are inadvertently teaching him to stress when you go.

Let's look at the theory first. Animals (us included!) learn to either do or avoid things depending on what they get in return. In behavioural terms, behaviour is reinforced by a response. If the (perceived) result of a behaviour is something nice, that's positive reinforcement, if it results in something unpleasant being taken away it's negative reinforcement. If the behaviour gets something unpleasant added it's positive punishement and if it gets something pleasant taken away it's negative punishment. Reinforcement makes it more likely the behaviour will be repeated, punishment makes it less likely. Pretty well everything we do can be put into one of those categories, so it can be helpful sometimes to stop and think how what we are doing can affect our horses' response.

The other key element is that word "perceived". From a learning perspective, it is almost irrelevant what we intend by an action, it is how that action is perceived and understood that counts. Someone trying to be a funny clown who gets it wrong and comes across to a child as big and scary will have taught the child to be scared of clowns, even though the opposite was his intention.

So, back to your horse. What's happening at the moment is that he's saying 'I want your attention' by various behaviours depending on where he is. Each of those behaviours gets the reward he wants, in other words gets positive reinforcement, which makes it more likely he'll repeat that behaviour to get that same reward.

This needs to change, so that he gets negative punishment (what he's looking for is taken away) for the behaviour you don't want, and positive reinforcement for the behaviour you do want.

You obviously need to teach him that this is what now happens in a way that he can learn without getting too stressed and without potentially injuring himself. In other words, you need to set this up as a training exercise to start off with, and I would try and find a couple of consecutive days where you can spend a lot of time in separate sessions with him - you weren't planning on doing anything else this weekend, were you???

I'd start with the stable as it's the easiest to control and probably the safest. Put him in there and turn to leave. Take a step away and wait a second. If he does nothing go back to him and give him a stroke and tell him he's good. Then do the same again, and again, so 3 times so he can understand. Then go to 2 steps and wait. Again, if he does nothing, reward by going back to him. Keep on increasing until you get a reaction - a bang at the door or whatever else he might do. At that point, take another step away. Stop and wait to see if he can work out what to do. It might take a little while but he should at some point stop banging as it's not working and think. The very second he stops, go back to him and reward. Repeat from the same point, unless he starts banging earlier, again to make sure he understands.

What he should start to figure out is that his old behaviour is now getting the opposite of what he wants, and instead he needs to do something different (stand still quietly) to get that reward.

For the paddock and when tied up, I'd add something else into the training to make life easier. I'd teach him to ground tie, in other words that you can leave him standing with his lead rope on the floor in front of him while you walk off. Click on this video to see how you go about it:

Image

You keep attention on you by asking very lightly for the horse to keep his head straight, and correct any foot movement immediately, again using the line lightly. The horse should understand to just stand still. You can then put the line on the floor and step back, leaving him standing still. Just go back one step to start off with so that you can correct quickly if he moves. You should then be able to increase the distance step by step, until you can ask him to stand still wherever you are and he will do that for you.

You can take this exercise to his tie up point, so you teach him to ground tie there, and also to his field.

As well as the practical aspect, this exercise has a very useful additional benefit which is to help the horse relax. By asking him to stand still and keep attention forwards, you are switching off his alertness on things going on around him and are also giving him something else to do instead of flight when he starts to worry. The net effect is that he should start to relax. The horse in the video hadn't got to that point, but he was a very, very nervous horse. We got there shortly afterwards though.

A combination of these principles and techniques should, I hope, help you.

Good luck

Liz


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