Monday, August 11, 2008

Plastic Bag Torture

I was watching Clinton Anderson's Downunder on RFD-TV and saw him demonstrate de-spooking a horse using plastic bags tied to the end of a long whip. He did say that your horse must first tolerate having a rope tossed all around his body and legs, and being sprayed with fly spray, which all of my horses do handle very well. I decided to try his plastic bag technique on Bombay.

Clinton explained that you should always act normal during desensitization exercises, and not try to sneak up on the horse with the scary object. If your body language tips off the horse that he should be scared, he will be even more scared than otherwise. He said to start off by leading the horse behind you while facing forward and waving the plastic bag out in front of you. Of course, in Clinton's demonstration, the horse followed happily behind him. In my case, the second I reached for the whip with the bags attached, Bombay ripped the lead rope out of my hands and took off to the far end of the round pen.

I had to set the whip and bags down in the center of the round pen, and lead him around them. I then led him over to the whip, picked it up and held it low to the ground in front of me in order to keep him calm enough so that he wouldn't take off in the opposite direction. I slowly worked my way up to holding it higher, and then slowly waving it back and forth.

Once the horse accepts the bags at that stage, you can then turn and face him while holding the whip and walking backwards. The idea is that the horse can build up confidence quicker if he is following the threat rather than having it come straight at him. As soon as I turned and brought the bags closer to Bombay, he freaked and took off, ripping the lead rope out of my hands. I caught him and started over.

Eventually, he let me lead him while walking backwards and dragging the bags on the ground where he could cock his head sideways and keep a close eye on them. Once I lifted them off the ground, he got visibly more nervous, shaking all over with fear. I held tighter to the rope, so that he couldn't spin on me, so he ran past the bags on my inside and ripped the rope out of my hands. I then attempted to prevent that maneuver by moving the bags to the inside when he wanted to dodge them. Big mistake.

Bombay jumped to the inside to dodge the bags, I moved the bags in front of him, and he jumped to the outside, running between me and the railing. I jumped out of the way, which brought the bags around into Bombay, and he kicked out to the side just a few feet from where I was standing. He somehow managed to take the skin off two of his legs in the process.

I regressed to throwing the lead rope all over his body while he stared terrified at the plastic bags. I thought the poor horse was going to have a heart attack. He was shaking and sweating, though he had hardly done any running. The total distance of his bolting was probably three rotations in the round pen. When I walked backwards in front of him again, I just kept the bags on the ground close to the railing, so that he wouldn't be tempted to squeeze between them and me.

Bombay did start showing more confidence and approaching the bags with curiosity. Clinton said to tease the horse with them by letting it get close and then pulling the bags away, because the horse will then try even harder to reach for the bags rather than running from them. Once I teased him by dragging them on the ground, I then lifted the bags higher and let him get close, only to pull them away. I stopped the lesson there and will repeat it another day.

Clinton says the next step is to scratch the horse all over his body with the whip, pretending as if the bags are not even there. You do have to start on the top line, then go to the rump, then the neck. The belly and face are the most vulnerable spots on a horse, so those should always be the last place to approach with a strange object.

I may have missed it, but I don't think he addressed what to do if the horse bolts and you can't hang on. I certainly don't recall him mentioning that the horse might charge past the bags and kick out to the side. For that reason, I do warn people to be careful when implementing horse training techniques you see on TV or read about. The clinicians can't cover every possibility and how to handle each situation that you can get into while practicing their techniques. Their producers give them time limits and their publishers give them page length limits.

Ultimately, you are teaching your horse to use the thinking part of his brain as opposed to the spooking part. Bombay's reaction to the bags was quite severe compared to the horse that Clinton worked with in his video. It made me think how glad I am that I haven't attempted to ride him on the trails yet where garbage flaps in the wind and bunnies burst forth from the brush. I haven't heard from K in over a week, so I suspect she felt that I was too much of a burden on her. Though we only had three rides together at the Fairgrounds arena, I'm sure she thought she'd have us out on the trails sooner. I hope she doesn't think we are a lost cause. For what it's worth, I truly appreciate the time she did spend working with me and my horses.


ranchette said...

I'm right there with you on the Clinton Anderson. You may recall I ordered the DVDs after DH had problems with handling J. J hasn't even graduated to the plastic bag stage yet. He is still convinced that the new white stick is a hot poker and it is just biding its time before taking him out.

Are you using the rope halter or a nylon one? I've been wondering if upgrading to a rope halter might give me more control over J shying away. But on the other hand, he's that Arabian personality that you can't force him to do anything he doesn't want to do; you have to make him think its his idea.

Not to stereotype, but I did notice on the DVD's all the horses are QH which I like alot; but let's face it - they do react differently than some of our clever high-maintenance friends.

Mrs Mom said...

I think step one is that Bombay needs to re-learn that hitting the end of the lead means WHOA. Stop and stand. Leave your bag on the ground, under a rock while you reinforce a few things- like WHOA on command, direction changes on line, and get his brain rewired to focus totally on Y-O-U. You want him to be able to look to you for complete confidence, and right now he thinks that HE is the complete confidence. He thinks that you are not going to save him, so he must save himself.

Not trying to pick on you--- honest. This is just what I have seen with TB's, Arab's, and other breeds that are a bit more sensative.

For what its worth, I *do* believe that there is a big difference in the way various breeds are wired to think. Sometimes a HUGE difference!

Good luck there, and go back to basics. Keep it interesting for him, and teach him that YOU are there to keep him safe, and that you can be relied on to do such.

Do not second guess yourself.
Do not anticipate a disaster.
Remember- see it happen before you see it happen, and do it over and over and over again. See the two of you, standing there, with the bag draped over his ears, and running all over his body. See him relaxed, licking his lips, with a hind foot resting.

As long as you can keep a clear picture in your brain of your end result, it makes it easier to get to that end result.

Keep us posted! We are pulling for you guys here!

nikki said...

Way to go leaving the training on a good note. It's hard not to get frustrated sometimes but I've learned that as long as you can end on a good note- even a small one it makes it easier the next time you try.

I too saw that Clinton video and decided to work with my horses with the plastic bag. Clinton makes it look so easy! I just try to take bits and pieces from his videos and try to apply it to my horses and tweak it/customize it for them. One of my horses is super confident and will let me do pretty much anything to him. The other is more reactive and sensitive so I have to work harder with her.

Have you tried clicker training? Mine love treats, grass, and scratches so I mix that up for the reward. I have also tied a plastic bag filled with treats to my pants and played with clicker training and cones and I think it helped to introduce the bag. I think it helps get the message across of what you want from your horse and it gives them a little more confidence.

Good luck with yours. Can't wait to hear what happens next time. :)

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Ranchette - I use a nylon halter on Bombay and a rope halter on Gabbrielle. I was told by one trainer that a rope halter will get better control of the horse, but I haven't seen much of a difference personally. My Arabian breeder friend begged me not to use a rope halter on the horses, because it's too harsh for their delicate heads. She also advises against placing a stud chain over the nose to avoid causing bumps.

I have a Clinton Anderson book that I plan to spend more time working out of.

Mrs. Mom - I know you are not picking on me. The great thing is that all the help that people provide me through comments will help countless others as well. A lot of people don't want to ask for help or don't want to admit their struggles, so I'm doing it for them (as well as for myself).

Bombay does halt and change directions immediately when I lunge or ride him where he is comfortable. I'm thinking I need to take him into the not-sure zone, but not the life-threatening zone, and work with him on the halt and changing directions there. It seems he has two modes: Totally cooperative and respectful and You-Are-Invisibile-To-Me-And-I-Am-About-To-Be-Eaten-Alive.

Thank you and I appreciate that you keep reminding me of the visualization. I think I'm being positive, but not seeing the outcome in my head. I'm usually just thinking about the technique, but not the result.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Hi Nikki -
I have not tried clicker training. I know that some of my readers have recommended it in the past. I do believe strongly in positive reinforcement. My horses respond really well to pets and praise. One time a while back, I asked Bombay to maneuver in such a way to help me open a gate. He did it right on the first try, so I made a big deal about it with lots of petting and praising. After that, each time I rode him, he stopped at that gate to help me open it even though I didn't ask him too. He remembered that as a good experience and wanted to do it again and again. Anyway, I have had clicker training in the back of my brain for a while, and will look into it.

ranchette said...

Thanks NuzMuz. :) I"ve had the same thoughts on the rope halters that your friend has; but was wondering if I was being paranoid. For what its worth, had a good session with J on some of the Clinton basics plus the good old basic whoa. I had to really get after him with the nylon halter the first time, but succeeded in getting and keeping his attention the rest of the time. Sigh, some of these kids are just a lot of work.

For what it's worth I think Mrs. Mom has some good advice and think your idea of working with Bombay in some medium stressful situations on those basics will be just what the doctor ordered. Baby steps.

Mrs Mom said...

I use the rope halters with just about everything, **UNLESS** the horse tells me otherwise. Which has only happened once to be honest, with a pony.

My thoughts on halters? They Are A Tool. Just like pitchforks, saddles, bridles, brushes, and lunge lines, halters are a tool. From watching others, reading, and watching countless horses, for years.... I see that John Lyons gets the same results as those guys who use only rope halters. John Lyons uses tools that are common in the regular guys barns- nylon halters, 8' cotton leads, and full cheek snaffle bits.

Kinda made me think

Take what you learn from everyone, take it apart, and apply it in increments one baby step at a time like Ranchette said, and see what works best. Every horse is different, and will teach you something new, and you will learn how to apply things differently as well.

Victoria Cummings said...

These famous clinicians do usually leave out the part where the horse freaks out when they do whatever they are trying to do in their videos. It would make the clinician look like he /she wasn't "successful", right? But I think that it's in those seconds when you react to what your horse is doing as it wigs out that can signal to your horse that you aren't afraid and that you are the one to follow. It's being rock calm and totally unexcited and responding in a way that reassures the horse - and that's not easy when the horse is bolting or rearing. The horse is just being a horse, reacting like all horses do if they are in the wild or in a herd. We're asking it to put aside natural instincts and follow us, which is a huge leap of trust.

Saddle Mountain Rider said...

I believe in the techniques you are using. I have seen Clinton Anderson work with a goofy ass TB mare. She bolted, kicked, reared, and just about everything she could. He lunged her for respect, used his methods step by step and, after an hour and a half, the mare left as a completely different horse. Parelli uses the same kind of technique and, as you probably know, Parelli says these techniques work on any horse of any breed or age. Keep working on it, you will get around the corner soon and you will have better horses for it.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Ranchette - Yay for the progress on J!

Mrs. Mom - I'm sure most big name clinicians are pressured into signing their name to some tool in order to increase both their income and the income of the manufacturer.

Victoria - You have such a nice perspective on things.

Saddle Mountain Rider - I'm thinking, based upon the feedback that people have given, that live clinics are way more valuable than 20-minute videos. The clinicians have more time to really work with the tough horses when they have all day to do it.