Noble and I have been engaged in a battle of wills. He thinks that the only time a horse should be wet is with sweat from a good hard play session. I think there are many other good reasons – like cooling, cleaning or soaking. Who would win this battle?
I had the realization, a few weeks ago, that I had never bathed him. I’m not a big one on bathing my horses, but I do hose them off when sweaty. Summer heat was rapidly approaching, and it wouldn’t be any easier as he gets even larger. Most horses introduced to a hose find it hard to stand still … and this boy knows how to leave when he wants to! So, I set out to make him a “waterboy”.
The first session went as I could have predicted – he wanted nothing to do with the clear fluid flowing from the gray rubber snake. He danced around, as I tried in vain to splash a little water on his feet. Those feet move fast! He was satisfied with this tap dance for only a short time before he decided that I needed a bigger hint – he rocked back and tried a spin. Lucky for me, I had both hands on the rope at the time! I managed to scuttle that escape attempt, but I knew that I was on borrowed time.
Standing facing my obstinate colt, I pondered my options … and I chose bribery. Most trainers, of any species, will lecture against bribery. In the absence of the bribe, the behavior tends not to happen. I have long followed this principle, but have more recently realized that it’s all too limiting. It’s true that if you want to train a specific behavior, bribery is not as good as reward. The treat takes focus off of the cue, and can even become the cue. However, what I have learned by experience is that bribery can play a strong role in acclamation.
So, my hand reached into the pouch and produced carrot bites. Now I had his attention. Carrot in one hand, hose in the other (rope in both), I offered him the treat. As he reached for it, I raised the hose and splashed a bit of water on his shoulder. He stepped back, head tilted and snorted … but another carrot was already on the way. And so we did our dance … carrot, water, side-step … carrot water, side-step. The first time he ate the carrot, water splashing his shoulder, and did not move his feet, I dropped the hose and we walked away.
We’ve repeated this process over several days, each time having a little less drama, and just a little more wet. Then, yesterday, the temperature topped 105! It had been a few days since we’d visited the hose, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The initial approach of water brought on a slight regression in his acceptance – not surprising. But when the water made contact, things changed a bit. I won’t say that he loved it, but I believe he began to see the value! The carrots were still the anchor, but feet weren’t moving. Carrot and water, rest. Each time the water lingered longer as he munched the carrot. By the time we were done, all but his haunches were wet – and I decided I’d pushed my luck long enough!
He’s not reached “waterboy” status yet, but we’re on our way. I never thought I’d be thankful for the horrid summer heat!
Be good to your horses!