Dan and Bill’s Weblog

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2 Week Update…the good and the bad October 14, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — danandbill @ 12:59 pm

When my friend Allison suggested that I start a blog for Bill and Dan, the thought crossed my mind, “What if they do something bad?”  Do I put it on here and risk them becoming less adoptable?  When I started this, I decided that I was going to put it all out here…the good, the bad, the ugly…whatever happens.  I want people to know what it’s like working with rescues.  I think a lot of people dive into something like this with the best of intentions, and then things go south.  I said early on that I’m no trainer.  I’m pretty timid to tell you the truth, and probably not the best person to be taking on a rescue horse.  Let alone two.  But, as I also said before, lack of a good reason has never stopped me before.  🙂

A few things I do have on my side are the fact that I’m willing to ask for help when I need it.  I’m not closed-minded to different training techniques.  I’ve had the good fortune of working with mostly good trainers.  I did have one really bad one, but I even learned a few things from him too…like how not to do things. 

Dan has made some visible improvements in 2 weeks.  Though the difference is not dramatic, you can see that his spine is less prominent, and his neck and face are even filling out.  His ribs are still visible, but his hindquarters and chest are fuller as well.  His coat shines, and this boy is going to be a looker when he is fully restored.  Despite his poor condition, Dan has been pushy, so we are working on ground manners.  I think he had some good training in the past because he responds very well to the “refresher courses.”  The plan for him will be to continue the ground work for quite some time since he needs to pick up weight.  I’m happy with how he’s gaining, and I can only assume that once he gets his dental work done he’ll gain even more quickly.  It is reassuring that he is doing so well, which indicates that there probably isn’t an underlying reason as to why he was so skinny, but it is sad to think that the only reason he was in such bad shape is because someone wouldn’t feed him.  He did finally feel good enough to take a trot around the pasture, and he looked good.  He arched his neck and flagged his tail which made me think maybe there’s a touch of arab in his ancestry.  At any rate, I can’t wait until he’s all filled out.

And now on to Bill.  Bill has been leary from the start, but has gone along with everything fairly well.  In hindsight, I see now that I should have been doing more work on the very basics.  I think Bill was manhandled.  He’s a tolerant guy, and because he does kind of go with the flow, I think his previous handlers took advantage of that, and skipped a lot of the necessary basics.  Looking back now, I realize that Bill trusts no one.  On Saturday, we had our first set-back.  I’ve been giving Bill his meds for his respiratory ailment and treating his thrush.  I’ve been tying him to do this.  Early on, I started swinging the rope over his back, and around his legs and neck to make sure he was desensitized.  No reactions, he seems to be used to it.  Looking back now, I wonder if he was still in his shell and just not really reacting to anything.  
So I tie him as usual, except this time something freaks him out.  He yanked back, and in the process, the halter that I had on him (which was too big, again, hindsight is 20/20) came off of his nose.  He was pulling back hard at this point, and since I always tie with either the blocker tie ring or a quick release knot, I grabbed the slack of the rope and undid it before he hurt himself.  In retrospect, I would have probably attempted to ask him to move up before I untied him, but my priority then was releasing him before he hurt himself.  Once I undid the knot, he stood there for a moment.  I reached up to fix the halter and he took off.  I have rope burns on my hand.  Oops.  Why is it that we think we can hold a panicking 1000lb animal?  Seriously!
It took the better part of an hour with help from my hubby and dad to get the broken halter off of him.  While my dad and hubby were of great assistance, I am concerned about Bill’s reaction to them.  There is no other way to describe it than he was terrified.  I don’t want to leap to the conclusion that he was abused or mistreated by men.  After all, Christy’s husband Rick lead him onto my trailer at the auction that day with no problems.  But he litterally was trembling anytime my dad or husband approached him. 
So, even though Bill has had some training and has been a trooper up until now, I’m starting over from scratch.  I did some research and found some ideas that I think will help.  There are lots of training blogs about working with mustangs, and gaining their trust.  There are also lots of articles about working with rescues.  I’ve combined some things that made sense, and I’m giving clicker training a go. 
Session 1 went like this.  I waited until close to Bill’s dinner time, knowing he’d be hungry.  I went out in his pasture armed with grain and an ink pen that makes a nice clicking noise.  He turned and looked at me, so I clicked.  He took a step forward, clicked again.  Stood.  Waited.  Seems like forever, then he turns away.  As soon as he moved away from me, I made him trot.  The good news is that he trots sound, and if he does have any standardbred in him, he has a nice trot and canter.  Bill isn’t a spunky one and tires of work quickly.  He stopped and faced me again.  Click click.  Takes a step towards me.  Clickety click.  Walks up to me and takes grain from my hand.  Clickety clickety clickety the whole time he is approaching and eating the grain.  The reward is 2-fold…if he comes to me he gets grain and also does not have to work.  If he retreats, he has to work.  Bill’s getting this quickly.
Session 2 just builds upon this.  He is coming to me reliably in just 2 days.  This evening I held the halter in my hand while I gave him the reward.  In the next sessions I will ask him to touch the halter as a target to get his reward.  Eventually I am hoping to have him actually put his nose in the halter to get his reward, and then voila, catching him will be as easy as click, click, click.  Yes, it sounds so simple, but it is going to take time and patience.  I’m OK with that.  It’ll take as long as it takes.  I think by combining the positive reinforcement/clicker training with the negative reinforcement of making him work a little when he retreats from me, he’s getting the idea.  There won’t be any skipped steps or any agenda for Bill.  I definitely want to take my time with him and do this right because I do think once he learns to trust he’s going to be a super nice little horse.  As always I’ll let you know how it goes.
Have you had success gaining a horse’s trust?  Have you used clicker training, or taught a hard-to-catch horse to come to you?  I’d love to hear your stories/tips/advice.  Thanks for checking in, and now I’ll leave you with some pictures. 

3 Responses to “2 Week Update…the good and the bad”

  1. Allison Says:

    I think it’s good to put everything on the blog, so good job! No horse is perfect, and since you are dealing with rescues it’s impossible to know where they came from and what they are used to. Consistency is key, and it sounds like you are doing that, so it will all fall into place. Wow-Dan does look better! I’ll have to come out and see them both! Don’t forget to have Christy add this blog to her website-I haven’t seen it on there, or anything about Dan!

  2. Judy Says:

    There are many resources and support for clicker training!

    You can join the ClickRyder email discussion list:


    There are experienced clicker training as well as beginners.

    We have a blog with videos:


    and you can read about Clicker Training Little Man here:


    and on the ClickRyder email discussion list.

    If you have any questions, please let me know. You can email me.



  3. Holly Says:

    You wrote: He turned and looked at me, so I clicked. He took a step forward, clicked again. Stood. Waited. Seems like forever, then he turns away. As soon as he moved away from me, I made him trot.

    every click gets a treat. To click and not treat (click, step forward, click again) makes the marker weak. You need to reinforce every click. The click replaces a pat or a “good boy”.

    The making him trot, is counter productive. The idea here is to let him find out what works, not to add punishment. The very least I would do if he turns away is to leave with my treats and try later.

    You wrote: He stopped and faced me again. Click click. Takes a step towards me. Clickety click.

    click click, should be followed immediately by a treat. If that means that you have to go to him to treat….that may be how it is in the beginning. If you don’t want to move toward him, click only when he is close enough to get the treat without you moving.

    You wrote: I think by combining the positive reinforcement/clicker training with the negative reinforcement of making him work a little when he retreats from me, he’s getting the idea.

    he may, but when I work with a new training subject, I don’t add in anything negative until I .know. he understands he controls the click and therefore the game. If he is at all unsure about what will come after the click, he may quit playing the game.

    You wrote: Have you had success gaining a horse’s trust? Have you used clicker training, or taught a hard-to-catch horse to come to you?

    Yes I have. When I bought my mare she had been led and fed mostly. She could do what she wanted, when she wanted and she had precious little use for people. It took 5 hours to get her loaded in the trailer. Today she’s a point and shoot for loading, she is soft and compliant. I used the clicker for nearly everything. She is now weaned off the clicker mostly, but she’s as steady a mount as one that has far more time under saddle than she does. She’s not spooky at all, maybe because she trusts me, maybe because nothing bad happens under saddle. I have also used the clicker for the dogs…too many stories to relate (I teach basic good manners classes) and I have recently started using the clicker and food to build a relationship with a very shy and nearly feral barn cat. She is featured once a week or so on the blog.


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