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Bad Medicine

Good Day!

Recently on Horse Master is an episode featuring a very stubborn little horse who has learned to make a big fuss out of de-worming or any oral medications. He throws his head up in the air, pulls you off the ground and slams his head into you. He’s not opposed to running you over in the process either. Have you ever had a horse like this? Not fun to work with.

Basically what we did with this little guy was just break down the steps and train repetitiously at each step before moving on to the next one. First we taught him to drop his head on command; then we taught him to accept sticking our fingers in his mouth; then to open his mouth; then to accept the tube, etc. We used applesauce to squirt in his mouth when we got to that stage.

Although we made significant progress with this horse, not all problems can be solved in a half hour TV show! In fact, the more engrained a behavior is, the longer the horse has been acting that way and the longer he has had success, generally the longer it will take to fix it. In this case, the horse was older, maybe 17, and had been doing this forever. Think of it this way, if every time the horse threw his head up and got away from the medicine he scored a point, the score was probably 987 to 5 at this point. Now we have to score 982 points without him throwing his head up before the score is actually even—as if you were starting from scratch. Hence, the repetition.

It’s something to keep in mind as you train your horse. Remember, every time you work with a horse you are either training him or un-training him. And every time he gets away with something he scores a point. That’s why repeating the same thing over and over without success is not a good thing with horses. All you’re doing is engraining the wrong behavior. There’s lots of articles about this in the Training Library on my website, but this article on “Ask, Tell, Command” is a really important concept.

We did see some improvement on this little horse during the short time we had with him while filming this episode, but most importantly, we left the barn manager, Mary Ann, with a training plan for how she would work with this horse over time to correct his bad behavior. What I remember most about this episodes was some of the behind-the-scenes stuff.

For reasons I don’t exactly remember, we had to do the intro part of the show, where she and I came walking out of the barn together, over and over—like 20 takes before we got it. It had something to do with bad sound quality I think. All I remember is walking out of the barn with Mary Ann, saying our intro remarks again and again. This is pretty unusual because almost all our scenes are shot straight through on the first take. When working with horses and training issues, you pretty much have to do it this way. You can’t just yell “cut” and ask the horse to do it again the same way. Horses with training issues present a unique challenge in filming a TV show!

Until next time,



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