Working with Untouchable, Feral or Abused Equines
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Working with Untouchable, Feral or Abused Equines

March 5, 2020

Hey there, Shawna Karrasch here with another
Ask Shawna answer. Now, this question comes to us from Adam,
he said “I’m from Australia and recently bought a jenny donkey with a one-month-old foal. The jenny has a halter on but will not let
you too close. I’ve no idea of her history. Over the last week, she has started to eat
from our hands through the fence, but when you um, get in with her, she swings her bum
toward you. We have been able to separate them and the
foal is friendly and likes a rub. How do I gain the jenny’s trust, please?” Alrighty, well this is a, uh, one of the subjects
that is near and dear to my heart, as we also right now, it’s not a, it’s a foal, she’s
a yearling, but she’s an untouchable and an extreme untouchable. When she came to us we were even told you
know, that she would just throw herself into fences, so it’s people that have worked with
untouchables before, but she was not having, she was not going to fall into their program
at all. So, we started working with her and utilizing
the food and the positive reinforcement and we’ve made great strides with our trust. She will touch us all over the place but we
can’t really touch her yet. But that’s ok, she’s as sweet as they come
and she’s making great strides. So I definitely understand and I’ve worked
with a lot of ferals and, and, severely abused horses and untouchables. So I completely understand and I appreciate
that you are taking the time with her. One of the things I find about donkeys? Donkeys do better when we give them a chance
to think. So there’s a real tendency for people to think
‘well I didn’t get a response so I’m gonna do it again’. I find that it works much better, this is
just my own observation, I find that they’re rather thoughtful, and so giving them a minute
and saying, “ok, can we do this?’ Ok, we’ll try again, as opposed to can I,
can I, can I, can I. So give them a chance to think a little bit,
that’s just a, an aside there for you. Ok, so you’re on the right track. Getting her to eat out of your hand is the
biggest thing. One of the things I often do, and this gives
a lot of choice, I oftentimes will start seated on the ground, and having them take food,
and when that works well then I move to standing, I will even take steps further back where
I use a feed tub, and then I bring the feed tub closer and sometimes I’ve tied a string
around it and pulled the strings ever so slowly, over weeks, but, so they wouldn’t pull it
away until eventually, I could have my hand and they’d eat down to my hand and then eventually
I could hold my hand up, pretty soon they eat from my hand, pretty soon I’m standing
and they’ll eat from my hand, or maybe standing back to the bucket and then to the hand. All these little pieces, but you’ve got her
eating from your hand and that’s a really big step. The next thing I suggest you do, and I think
this is really an important piece, is, it’s a way of giving her control. So what I’ll do, is when they take the food,
I’ll take a step back. And then, when they take the food, I take
a step back. When they take the food, I take a step back. So I let them eat the food, but then I back
out while they’re chewing. So what this does, it gives them a way, because
really at this point in time we’re still aversive to them. So I want them to know they can, they can
go away and I do oftentimes have the same food available somewhere else, but they’ll,
as they’re making the choice to be with me and being inquisitive and when they’re younger
they’re very inquisitive so that helps quite a bit. But what I do is that I give them that, when
they take that, I step away, I take it, I step away, take it, I step away, and what
this does quite a bit is it gives them control and they realize, I learn how to make the
human go away. And so I don’t go all the way away, but they
get the, they can learn that they can get the human to back out of their space a little
bit. What do they typically fear? They fear that we’re going to rope them, capture
them, handle them, manhandle them if they get caught, things happen that are scary to
them. Even though we may think this is in their
best interest, to them, it is their fear and I think it’s really important to remember,
their fear is real. That is their reality. We can say ‘no, no, it’s just my hands’, but
to them, those hands are gonna kill them, you know, so we need to just, so I get it,
it’s really important to you. So, by taking the step back, you’re giving,
you’re gonna give her control that she can learn to make the human go away, and then
the other part that happens with it she also learns ton pursue you a little bit, so as
you take a step, then she’s like well I want more food and she walks up and I take a step
she takes, so she learns to kind of walk and stay with you a bit until you find her without
hesitation taking that next step then I’ll start feeding in place a bit. And when that’s going really well, then I
feel like that is a time, I wanna feel like a lot of the aversiveness has gone away, it’s
still gonna be there a bit, because what you do and the things you do, it can be for a
really, really, really sensitive horse that’s had a bad history, like our little gal, you
know she’s very curious and she’s there and she nickers when I come up and she wants to
stay there but she’s still cautious of all the things that go on in her environment,
so, it just takes a little bit. But I, I have, but she’s loose, she knows
she can go anywhere she wants to, she can go eat if she wants to from someone else,
but she chooses to come up and want to work with us. So, by giving her and knowing, letting her
know she has control, and then when I feel like she’s right with me and she stays right
with me, then I feel like it’s time to start the clicker work. Now, where we actually are starting to condition
and teach the bridge signal. So now we have a way to start pairing the
clicker with the good actions so we can draw attention to good decisions. But keep in mind the sound of the clicker
may be a little worrisome at first, so I will put it in a pocket, or I’ll muffle it so it’s
going to be much quieter, and just a dull sound, or even, in the beginning, I may have
somebody it further off and see how she responds to it, and then build from there. Some of them it’s no big deal, for some, it
might be. So, I think the first place is getting her
to learn that she can have you, that you’ll back out of her equation and that she can,
then she’ll start to work on the clicker and then I would start to the target. I would also see if you can’t start teaching
her a hand target. So, calling her name and presenting a target
and as she comes up to touch it you click and then reinforce and touch, click, reinforce,
and this is a way that she also gets used to your hands a little bit, but you could
also teach a proper target, and again, a new object in her environment is probably going
to be quite fearful, so like with our little gal I had to go back to sitting on the ground
with my bucket actually, so I had my rubber feed tub and I sat back on the ground and
I had the target, the target wasn’t in my hand, it was sitting on the ground beside
me. And is she just looked at it I would click
and reinforce until eventually, she’s actually touching the target, and then I can hold it
in my hand and then I could feed her from my hand and then I could stand back up, so
what I’m also explaining to you is something called context shift. You shift one little piece of her context
or the context of the training that happened and you may lose criteria. So by bringing in that target, she’s like
‘well now I can’t eat from your hand’, you know, because she’s worried about that, so
everything gets a little worried. So, that’s ok, I’m fine with that, I anticipate
it and I know we have the steps to get back to it, so sitting it on the ground and building
it back up is a great way to go until you’re back where you were and she’s touching, trusting
the target a little bit.When you’re teaching the target, and I have podcasts for you know,
the clicker is the first podcast, the liberty leading is the second podcast, the target
is the third podcast, so you can find kind of more detailed lessons, and I actually think
I have an untouchable uh, podcast, yes, Lesson 12 is rescue and untouchables, so we can go
into some more details there, but remember each little thing you introduce is new. I took Taz to a new area, she’s still not
in a halter, but she’ll follow me, so I took her out to a new area and she went out there
and she wouldn’t eat from my hand again. She will now, but the first day, she was like,
no I can’t trust all that, I’m in this new weird place that’s kind of a you know her
adrenaline’s all lit up. So I think that’s a good place to start. Go listen to episode 12 and I think that’ll
give you some more information and you, follow us, we do have, I have, I’ve posted some things
about Taz our little untouchable on Facebook and on the Terra Nova Training Center site
and on my Facebook page so, you can learn and follow along a little bit more. You’re gonna have more questions as you go
along, Adam, I’m sure of it becasue you have a whole lot unpack with your little gal, and
the baby too, you’ve got, the baby’s going to be bold and you’re just going to be teaching
or it sounds lie she’s going to be much more confident, but I definitely give her tim and
use the positive reinforcement. Another thing I’m going to tell you, if you
have positive reinforcement that you’re doing with any other horse, I would do the positive
reinforcement in front of your, your little Jenny, because, watching another horse, they
read their body language, if they’re frantic and running around and being chased and displaced
and having to do stuff, they’re gonna read that and that’s not really gonna serve youwell,
is if you have another horse who’s like, I love this, I’m great, I’m calm, I’m relaxed,
I’m walking, I would do that. We used, I used my old horse Mint um, around
Taz in the beginning so she could see that, boy, he sure likes her, and so our little
gal got to see that Minty would follow me and walk with me and eat from my hand and
touch the target and nothing happened to him so that’s another thing you might use, a little
vicarious or social learning can often times go a long way. Ok, I just touched the tip of the iceberg,
but hopefully it helps you. So, if you or anybody else has more questions,
which you’re gonna, I want you to go back to Ask Shawna, which is on the, on my website,
which is So it’s On Target Training with the hyphens
inbetween. you can find my podcast, you can find the
Ask Shawna, you can find products, you can find a lot, all sorts of things, and if oyu
want to learn more about me and my um, and who I am, you can go to Terra Nova Training
Center and my schedule will be posted there, find out more about what we’re up to and sign
up for our newsletter. Anyway, so, there you go, that’s a little
bit more information for ya, and I hope this helped you out a bit and is getting you off
to the right start. Until next time, enjoy getting your horse
on target! Bye-bye!

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  1. I love this! I used almost identical techniques to tame a feral cat. The operant conditioning and counter conditioning work so much better than desensitization alone!

  2. Hello Im Sarah, last week I bought a 3 year old lightly started horse and trailered her over to where she is now. Shes in a quarentine pasture where she can see other horses, she often trys to escape (and has escaped) to get to the other horses. She shows many signs of stress, she will gallop around winning to the other horses and is often in an untouchable mood in there and it has been one week. At her previous home she was so sweet and let you do anything with her but now shes being very spooky and unsure. We started to do some bonding and a couple days ago I went into her pasture and she ran up to me with excitement but then she pinned her ears and kicked me. In 2 more weeks she will be put into a field with a bunch of other mares. But she is now very aggressive when ever I enter her pasture, what do you think I should do?

  3. Shawna, I no longer have a horse (he died at 30) but I still love watching your videos. 
    You are such an engaging teacher and make it FUN unlike most clicker experts. Thank you for doing these Q and As! My first exposure to clicker work was YOUR video (back in VCR days!) that has you with a whale on the cover. You changed my life and relationship with Red Rabbit. He went from "Yeah, whatever" to "Hey there, what's next?"

    Thank you forever for what you do and not droning on and over -repeating in your instruction!

    Hey — found the video — it is still available on Amazon and I recc it all the time to beginners in Clicker work!

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