Sarah and her grass diving horse


Hey there, this question is from Sarah, and
Sarah says, “I’ve been having some trouble getting my horse to stop eating grass when
I’m leading her on it and trying to work on it. She will constantly try to push me over
and fight to eat the grass. She is a three-year-old Appendix and has twenty-four seven access
to hay and water. I’ve only had her for a couple of months.” Ok, Sarah so is a common
thing and there’s some variables that make it more challenging for some horses than others.
So for some horses, they have been, they don’t have grass. That’s how it can be in California,
a lot of our horses don’t have access to grass, so they see grass and they’re like, oh my
gosh! And it can be really really challenging, or we have horses that have insulin resistance,
or metabolic issues or whatever it might be where they can’t have the grass that they
get to see all the time and that can be really challenging. So, you know, if, if they have
access to grass, I’ve found that working horses on grass is no big deal, I’ll just, like horses
that live inside even, I’ll turn them out all day long, but they can be on lush grass,
but you go out and they’re like hey, I’m ready to do this. So, the more they’re interested
in training the easier it makes it, but when grass is a rare commodity it’s jsut a challenge.
In New Mexico we, we don’t really have grass, and we have some green grassy things that
aren’t lush grass, but the horses, some of the horses, will dive for it, you know, it’s
in them, they get plenty to eat, and I have food, so the thing is it’s not really about
that they’re hungry. It’s a need, that the grass, which is a very high value and a rare
thing, and it’s also in them to graze, so grazing is pretty hard-wired in them. So you’ve
got kind of a bunch of pieces there that you’re kind of working against. Nonetheless, we still
have things we can do to help them to focus a little bit better. So, one, I’m gonna tell
you a story, because this is, I had a horse, Bugs. And Bugs got sick and he went to um,
the, he had to go to the veterinary clinic, and he had a lower intestinal colic that went
on, and on, and on, they didn’t know what it was from, but basically he inflamed lower
intestines. So he couldn’t have hay, and he was on reduced grain, so he’s on this massive
diet and so, at the veterinary clinic they had some planted grass, he didn’t get to see
grass, he didn’t live on grass, he didn’t have access to a paddock, so they would take
him out for ten, four ten minute sessions a day to graze, and so I came in and said
‘so how’ that going?, you know because of course he’s not gonna want to come up from
the grass, no horse that they had dealt with wants to come up from the grass typically,
you know, and he’s hungry and he’s on a diet and it, everything about him says he wants
to have that. So, he um, so what I did is I went out and thought, I need to, I need
to help him understand how to do this because of course, he’s dragging his head to eat it
because what happens is when the person pulls their head up, that’s it, you’re done. And
so that predictability, they’re like well then I’m not taking my head up because that’s
the end of all my fun and this is really valuable to me. I think, I think it hurts two things,
one, they really want it and we say no, but it also I think says I don’t care what you
want, you know? I mean that’s me, and that’s being anthropomorphic I know, but I think
there’s a certain degree of partnership that comes when I see what my horse likes, wants,
and values and I think ok, but you can’t just do that any time, anywhere, but let me, let
me say I get it, I see that it’s valuable to you and I’m going to see that you get some
of that. But he could only have ten minutes at a time so I still have this quandary of
I can’t just let you, I can’t leave you out and let you graze, so I had to kind of sort
this out a little bit. So what I did with him, so when I would go to pull his head up,
because the vet techs have already been working on it, and he’s been a little bit like most
horses are, not really wanting to come up. So when I needed to pull his head up because
I’m teaching him on the fly, this wasn’t something I could prepare him for, I didn’t think about
this, we had, he was kind of newer to me and we had a lot of other pieces to deal with,
so I would have to pull his head up, I mean, I would pul it up, but as soon as I felt like
he would go ok, I would point him right back down. So he’s like, ok, so that as soon as
he came up and he relinquished and he got soft and he said ok, I’m with you, I would
point him right back down. So what I’m addressing there is I’m saying lifting your head up doesn’t
mean the end of all your fun, which is what you think it means. So now, I start to change
the predictability of this pattern and then what I, and then I would do it again, and
I would do it again until I didn’t have to pull his big giant head up, I could just pretty
soon, and I mean it took you know within a week I’d say though because I was pretty diligent
with it, pretty soon I could just go tink and he would lift his head up, but, there’s
a couple things I did here in between. So, what I would do is I would pick his head up,
and then I would point him right back down, so pretty soon he’s like ok, I’ll pick my
head up, no big deal, you know, because I’m going right back down, and then what I started
doing is going ok, I’m gonna ick your head up and we’re gonna walk a step and I’m gonna
point your head back down, and then I’m gonna pick, ask you to pick your head up as opposed
to I kinda was making him pick his head up, but now, I was going ok can you pick your
head up? and he’s like yes, and I would point his head right back down. Now the other quotient
there that was important is I started noticing what did he prefer in the grass, you know,
so did he like that patch of clover, did he like that long stringy stuff, did he like
the, whatever I felt like he was making a preferential treatment towards of he munched
it a little more vigorously, I’d pay attention, and when I would see that I’d ask him to lift
his head up in an area, and then take him to another patch that was the stuff he really
liked. So then he started kinda letting me pick out what his favorite grass was. So I
would let him kinda chew through that part until he kinda went off to another area, pick
him up, ask him to go, so now we start walking further away. Then the next thing I started
doing is I would pick it up, and I would walk to the pavement, because once we got to the
pavement he thought, now I’m going back to my intensive care unit, my stall, I, this
is done now, and so what I’d do is then I’d walk him to th pavement and he’d be walking
nicely and then I’d turn around and take him back. So now he started realizing walking
further and walking further to the pavement isn’t necessarily the end so I could walk
further and then I would come back. So I really broke up the predictability of the pattern
and what it was telling him was happening, so that part was really important. Another
part that I do quite often is I will also have my side bucket, I’ll wear two side buckets
a lot of times. One will be stuffed with fresh grass, stuffed with freshly picked grass,
and the other will be stuff, I’ll have food in it just the regular whatever I use, and
actually, I’ll pick a higher value something or other so while I may use hay pellets a
lot, in this situation I use something a little more high value because I’m competing with
high value. So I want to have something that’s extra intriguing and some pieces of carrots,
some pieces of apple, and some grain and some, whatever things they like, that I also have
those, but I’ll wear two side buckets so I can grab a handful of the grass and give him
the grass. So, I think those are all things that you can do to start to build a reinforcement
history with him listening to your cues to lift your head and let’s walk away. Now, it’s
and basically this also this cue, I mean I was teaching you know on the fly because I’m
at the vet hospital, you know, now we’re in the thick of it, it’s not like I had time
to do it, but you can teach them to lift their head up and put it on a cue so you can teach
the head up cue, and that can help too, essentially I did teach a head-up cue, I just kinda had
to teach him on the fly but you can teach it in the arena where you say lift your head
up and make it so doggone reinforcing that they love that behavior and that part will
take the tug out of it that I had to do in my situation. So you can get him where he
learns to lift his head up, you reinforce, reinforce, reinforce, and then walk on your
way do whatever you want, and work on that so it becomes one of their favorite behaviors,
and then when you go out to a grassy environment you can you already have a cue that can help
you a bit to ask them to lift their head up because like I said I wasn’t anticipating
I was going to be in that situation. So those are some ideas of things you can do. There’s
always more things you can do, but those are the things I’ve had um, the most success with
the most horses.So those kinds of techniques have been really helpful to me and if you’re
not really good at the grass yet, I avoid it, you know, so if I know that I have a problem
getting by the grass, I stay in the middle of that road where I am as far away from either
side or I’m between them a little bit, whatever I can do to help set them up for success,
so I’m not putting myself in that predicament if I can help it until I’m ready to try it
out a little bit. So, those are my thoughts, and Sarah, I feel your struggle, because we’ve
all been there and having to deal with that, and if you can find time to let them have
some grazing time, remember this is something they really value and use it as a reinforcer
for them. So, what and you just think ok, he really likes it and you’ve dealt with it
a little bit, maybe you’re doing your other sessions, and then say this is great, I’m
gonna go take you to graze for ten minutes, and then you can practice this little exercise
in the grazing area, but you’re also giving him some time to graze. If they want to graze
really badly, now I know some of the insulin-resistant horses we have a y harder time with, but if
they want to graze really badly and we just say no, forever, then they’re gonna feel more
desperate about it, but if we can say ok, we’ll take you, but it’s at my, I will initiate
this please let me initiate it. So it’s a way that we can really help build that partnership
and build that bond and build that relationship because we say, I hear you, I know its important
to you and I’m going to see that we, we make some time for hat you value, and anyway Sarah,
I hope that helps you. If you have more questions you or anybody else please don’t hesitate
to reach me at Ask Shawna, and that, and you can find my Ask Shawna page on Facebook, but
really the question area is on my website, which is, and you
can find my Ask Shawnas, the place to submit, the place to watch the videos as well as you
can find my podcast player at the podcast, so Equine Clicker 101 and I don’t know that
I’ve done one on grass, ooh, I should, that will be coming up in the spring for sure.
But anyway, so there’s thirty episodes there so there’s lots of things you can search for
because a lot of these techniques are little nuggets that are in a lot of the episodes.
So, there you go, that’s the information for everybody, and one last thing, I encourage
you also to go to, um, you can find that if you also search Shawna
Karrasch you’ll find On Target, you’ll find Terra Nova, and you can search all those things.
Go sign up for our newsletter on Terra Nova and you will be able to stay abreast of what
we’re doing, what we’re up to, and what’s happening, where we’re going, and so that’s
a great way to stay in touch and keep track of what we’re up to out here. Anyway Sarah,
so, until next time, enjoy getting your horse on target! Bye!


2 Responses

  1. Linda Lukens

    February 20, 2020 11:59 pm

    Great answer, and what I have done with my horse Cinematic. However, I live in the Northeast, and when there is still a little grass here and there, he becomes impossible. Carrots, apples, and German Muffins (a treat he adores) are the only things that work to get him to pick up his head. I also need to allow him to eat a bit of the tiny patches of grass, and don't ask him to move at that time as he is in this crazy desperate mode, and nothing works. He can throw a tantrum if I don't let him munch a bit. So extra time freezing my butt off outside, to get him to the indoor arena.


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