Case Of The Month – Training To Increase Emotional Relaxation

Posted in: Clicker Training, Equine Training, Positive Reinforcement Training, The Academy of Positive Horsemanship

When my client originally contacted me for help, and then I consequently met this horse in her home, she was and had been separated from the my client’s other horses for quite some time due to her dangerous behaviours around every possible valuable resource – hay, space, humans etc.

She used to kick the other horses, the fencing, run up and down and snake her neck. Her stress levels were continually high, demonstrated through her high headed posture and facial body language.

Her owner contacted me originally to help her with that, which, after implementing a detailed rehab programme, improved the mare’s behaviour immensely around those valuable resources. Over time we were then able to introduce her gradually to being being turned out with one of the other horses for very short periods of time.

I then recently had the pleasure of being able to spend 10 days training with this mare as a short-stay livery in house.

The focus during her stay with me was on continuing to increase her emotional relaxation, both overall, as well as within her backing training.

I spent quite a bit of time working to extinguish unwanted behaviours in the presence of me as well as ensuring her management was plentiful so she didn’t need to guard or get stressed about any resources. I also focused on her emotional control so she could redirect any seeking-driven behaviours into a calming and more natural behaviour of grazing and eating hay and of course any interaction (+R) was also 100% contingent on that calm, relaxed, natural equine behaviour.

Jolly FieldShe was so unbelievably calm and relaxed in the presence of the triggers which previously caused her stress and anxiety by the end of two weeks here, but the move back home would be the next big test for her.  I coached my client here before they went so she would feel confident about being able to continue to help her once they got home.

JollyI am happy to report that she has done a super job continuing the training beyond leaving here. These pictures demonstrate that lovely relaxed horse who is now perfectly able to live with her buddy in the field, on the yard AND in the shelter! What a fabulous outcome and very rewarding indeed for everyone involved.

This little video below shows the incredible development in her emotions from stress and anxiety through to calm relaxation over the period of the 10 days she was here for training.

“Jo worked with Jolly for two weeks. Although I was getting a lot of the behaviour I wanted, such as standing still by the mounting block, it was very tense and Jo also made me aware that, long term, this tension could lead to back problems.

Jo worked to counter condition every element of the mounting process to gain genuine relaxation. This has been extremely successful and Jolly now has a much more relaxed demeanour with everything. We still have a way to go with mounting but we are well on our way!

It has also opened my eyes to how the behaviour might be learned but not with relaxation to promote long term soundness. I am also much better at noticing more subtle indicators that her anxiety and fear is rising.

I am certain that my on-going progress with Jolly would not have been possible without Jo’s help and support.” – Karena Gomez