Hello all you Happy Horse Trainers!

Thought is was about time we shared the details of our training sessions here at the ResqRanch. This will help any potential volunteers better understand what will be expected of them when they spend time with us and so you can be sure the experience is what is best for you. Seasoned trainers will also find our techniques useful to try out themselves on the various animals they may have in their charge. Notice the two highlighted areas where you will notice that our current facilities are holding us back. This is why we are raising money through Network For Good, so that we can expend on what we have, or buy/lease something else which will improve the health and safety of our animals, guests, and volunteers. Is this something YOU can help us with?

To donate money, please go here: https://www.coloradogives.org/organization/Resqranch

To volunteer, please go here: https://mailchi.mp/drqandu/9i8ad65jg9

To contact us about offering to help us renovate the property (build fence), or if you know of a property that would more perfectly suite our needs, please contact us here [email protected].

Now for the Training Log: Training 6 Rescue Horses at Once Blog entry Thursday March 8th, 2021. 3 pm

First walk thru check in the horses. All are healthy and eager for interaction in their individual small pens (runs). They each last ate about 2 flakes of hay at around 9 am so they have eaten, had water, rested, and by now are bored and ready for some stimulation.

Since they are all well and ready (as evidenced by nickering at us and coming forward to us eagerly looking for attention), the next step is to feed them more. Horses should have grass hay available to them as close to 24 hours a day as possible for maximum mental and physical health. 

For the next 30-40 minutes they are left along to consume as much hay as they can and have access to water.  Being hungry does not lend itself well to learning. 

Once the animals have had their fill, it’s time for recess. Our positive reinforcement training program dictates that the best for the animal’s health and well being, is some free time, first, before training.  This also allows the trainers the opportunity to further evaluate each animal’s state of mind, which will help shape what training lesson is practiced on any given day. This is something which sets our training apart. Although we always have a rough idea what we will work on with each animal, everyone has good and bad days. We adjust each day’s lesson to meet the individual where they are on this day.

Only 4 of our 6 are able to be safely haltered and led to another area safely, with more room where they can run, buck, roll and play. We turn out these four, in strict respect of their ‘pecking’ order.  The two left, one the oldest needing the most retraining, and the other a youngster needing the most initial training, are left together with more hay yet close by the others so they can all see each other, and keep anxiety levels down. Horses are herd animals and can get anxiety when separated from their herd mates. To minimize any anxiety, they all are schooled  near each other in order to minimize this from occurring. 

While the 4 are out at recess, it’s time to begin the training session for the 2 still in their paddock. Since these two are neither one yet safe and reliable to halter and lead out in the open (which is unavoidable with this facility), and since safety first, we are not able to turn them out for recess and must proceed with the training session. The older mare today actively avoids us, even hiding behind a wall to eat more hay rather than approach us at the fence. The youngster, on the other hand, is too forward and is pushing at the fence and putting his head all the way through the fence actively trying to reach us. His behavior is too forward/aggressive (he is not calm in his own safety circle) so we must use caution to avoid being bitten by him as we work around the pen. Yes part of his strong attention seeking behavior is due to his lack of exercise. Yet we are not able to get him safely to an exercise area at this time (thus our need for an updated facility), since it’s safety first, so we choose to actively stimulate his mind instead which is a good form of exercise, as well for horses that can’t be turned out, such as those with injuries who need rest but still get bored and frustrated.  

For the reluctant mare, who is wary of freely approaching us in case we should choose to put her back to hard work like she did on a ranch for years, her only lesson today is clicker training. We spend the next 30 minutes randomly reinforcing her with grain (even tossing it onto her pile of hay since she is slow to approach) at the same time as giving a click and telling her she is a good girl. After about 30 minutes she is fairly full of hay, and begins to approach us near the fence in shy hopes of perhaps earning more small bites of grain. Once she displays this behavior, we can be assured she is now in the correct, safe, mindset for us to approach, halter and lead, and turn out with the original 4 who are happy to greet her.

As for the yearling, we worked on more advanced clicker training, alternating between each of his lessons and freely rewarding the mare for ‘no reason’. This includes teaching him to turn his head and stick out his tongue on cue, move his hand limbs left and right (disengage his hindquarters) just with a word and slight finger gesture from a distance, to back up and move forward (follow the trainer) via only hand signals, and to practice putting eye drops in his eyes, cleaning out his ears, looking at his teeth, lifting legs, inspecting underbelly thoroughly, lifting all 4 feet easily and without danger of kicking, and finally asking to carry a rider, bareback, and how to respond to rein signals via reins clipped to each side of the halter.  All of this was accomplished in less than 40 minutes, easily, happily, safely, and effectively. By the end he is standing patiently and attentively on his side of the pen, ready to respond to the next request, no longer pushing and ramming to reach us against the fence. Now we know, he too, is ready and safe to be haltered and led out to enjoy the other 5, who have been sniffing around and exploring but not straying too far, their ears betraying them they are closely paying attention to the clicker training session (so they are learning at the same time) occurring with their two friends and anticipating their own training sessions where they too can earn bits of grain rewards. They all run about happily together, rolling, running, bucking, and nuzzling each other in delight at getting to have free time with their friends. 

Only now, two and half hours in do we even begin getting the only horses suitable for riding, ready for a riding session.

By now the two ‘riding’ horses have gotten free time with friends,  a chance to run and play and blow off steam, and the option to get fully satisfied on hay all the while being nearby friends and getting entertained (and learning) while watching the first two horses training sessions. 

Now we halter them and the ‘lead’ horse and take them out of the big playtime area and off into three individual square paddocks slightly bigger than the average horse round pen with a 60 foot diameter, that are all right next to each other. The ‘lead’ horse is a rescue not really suitable for riding, but gets very upset, and creates anxiety in the others, if separated too far from them. When training animals it is very important to acknowledge the hierarchy of the animals, and respect it at all times. Remember they are horses first, and always will be. This is an issue which can be controlled in a different kind of facility (again why we need a change) we know from experience because it was not an issue at a previous facility where the lead horse was naturally housed slightly further away, and just that additional 150 feet of space allowed him to overcome his over addiction to being near the others (a condition also sometimes called barn sour) while still allowing him to see the others and feel like a part of the herd. 

Luckily at this facility it is relatively easy to overcome since there are three individual working, or classroom pens we can use for training which allows him to be physically close but still loose and not able to interfere with our training.

Again we put hay bags and water buckets in the pens, so all three have no anxiety about getting moved over into these new pens, and get right back to munching hay and loosely checking out where the others are (still loose with each other in the big arena where they all just came from). And speaking of those who are now loose, they too act like they are interested in sniffing and exploring but really mostly they gather at the end nearest to their friends who are now in the classroom pens so to speak, intently watching and learning from their training session. 

Once we now double check to ensure all animals are content and relaxed, we get on our helmets, and set’s of reins, and begin a little simple clicker training exercises with the riding horses. We use clicker training to help us easily attach the reins to their halters. We also use clicker training to encourage them to stand near the fence, and use more clicker training to reward them for allowing us to mount up.

Then, we just sit there, with them loose, while they eat hay. We talk, laugh, watch clouds go by. We feel the horses muscles beneath our own. We shift our weight to get the feel of what it would feel like should the horse suddenly move. We make up stories, tell jokes, and share dreams of one day galloping over fences and along beaches. 

If the horses lose interest in the hay, and begin to explore the enclosure, we simultaneously give seat, rein, and leg aides that correspond to what the horse is doing. We only interfere if there is a safety concern. Soon we are riding the horses from one hay net, to the next turning left and right easily. Next, we incorporate a halt just before the hay net. Soon the horses turn left, right, and halt with only the slightest of our body gestures.

We just sit there and talk some more, until the horses seem downright bored. Perfect. Time to get off and reward them for a job very well done. Today we accomplished mounting,  with them loose, and got them to comply to  basic commands, without any running off and no one falling off. HUGE success. 

Now all the horses are brought in for the night, to their own individual areas to eat their dinner on their own, not being bothered by their herdmates, and reflecting on an eventful day. 

This is what we call perfect progress. Perfect progress like this will have us riding these horses on the beach and over fences all with free choice methods, in 6 months to a year depending on no mistakes being made, the limitations of the facility, our own physical fitness,   and how often the exercises are repeated. 

Does this sound like something you want to be a part of? Come help us retrain these animals, the right way, for their emotional and physical health, and yours!