Monday, March 13, 2023

Calculated Retreat

Ben and I are in a week of sore feet purgatory right now. Turns out he cannot wear the leather pads with dental molding. Yoshi loved them, Ben gets sand under the toe then gets sore. His farrier is coming on Wednesday to reset and then he's getting his compensatory sore SI shock waved and/or chiroed on Thursday. Hopefully this gets him feeling better. I entered Terranova but haven't paid the fee yet... Waiting until I'm sure he's 100% again! 

Today we played on the ground with a bit of Nicole's weird Things idea combined with a new tactic to approach spooky objects. I read it on COTH and the poster there credited it to Warwick Schiller. My interpretation is therefore several degrees removed from the original creator. The gist I got though was to retreat from a scary object as soon as it was acknowledged. We started by purposely turning away from a saddle pad I had tossed on the ground as soon as he pricked his ears towards it.  We walked a few steps away, he grazed for a second, then we turned and walked back to it till his ears locked on it again. We repeated this four times until he was willing to stand on it. Then he got a click and treat.

Next we tackled a feed bag. He pretty quickly smelled it and had positive thoughts so it was only two retreats until he stood on it. He got a click and a treat for that. 

Had to anchor it with the hose because it was very breezy

Then we moved into the ring and tackled a few of the items on the scary side of the arena. 

Squirrels are constantly running around in the woods which only adds to the deep, dark woods fear

Things that are not upright are some of Ben's least favorite things

The whole time, I physically had to turn him away from things. He's probably spent his whole life not being allowed to turn/"run" away from things, certainly has spent his whole year with me with that rule, so I had to initiate the retreat. Also, since the retreat was made as soon as the object was acknowledged at all, he certainly wasn't alarmed enough to need to move at any faster than a walk as we turned away. 

It took probably twenty goes at it before he made it to the cart in the above picture. Between each retreat we meandered through some ground poles clicking and treating when he chose to step over the poles instead of around. He chose over the poles almost every time.

We practiced straddling the pole too, he was very very good at that once he realized the game. He was pretty focused on the reward so I don't know if he got super reflective about where his feet were, but he didn't struggle much at all with this.

Once we made it to the cart he actually sniffed around in it with a much calmer eye than when I've had him walk up to it under saddle while kind of forcing him forward. Shocking the way that worked. 

Then we headed to a part of the property where we don't really bring the horses much. He was super excited because that also meant the grass was GREAT. He grazed for twenty minutes while Ms GY and I chatted. He occasionally did look behind the garage which was the area I had in mind for our next scary item. He got to do his own retreating because I was mostly sticking to a small area so I could keep chatting while he grazed around me.

Once we stopped talking, he headed behind the garage on his own with me trailing a bit behind him holding the end of the lead rope. Then he completely blew my mind. The other horses were also pretty far off in the pasture at this point which can be stressful for him. But he actually led us up to the multiple weird, spooky items behind the garage!!!

Each time he got a click and a treat. But I've tried to use treats to desensitize him before (specifically to the drag on the spooky side of the ring) and they haven't had this effect. I'm so excited to play with this under saddle. I was completely amazed that he was literally pulling me towards new spooky objects to sniff them. 

This photo belongs much further up, but I got tired of fighting blogger on my phone


  1. charlie's chiro / acupuncturist swears by Warwick Schiller's methods -- glad this approach is working for Ben too! maybe one day he'll be more brave lol

    1. Not gonna lie, that is my secret hope too. I mean, I love him just as he is, but I'd also love a less spooky version 😂