Last we left Cosmo, he was just beginning his training journey. With the assistance of positive reinforcement, this once-combative horse has rapidly transformed into a giant puppy dog (eyes and all) who is now eager for human interaction. This titan of a bay horse is extremely intelligent, and with the correct motivation, is very willing to move forward with his education.
Thus far, Cosmo’s schooling has consisted of learning how to take treats without being pushy/bitey, and starting the process of self-haltering. During both of these exercises he has made the connection between the bridge word “good” and receiving a treat, which have shaped wanted behaviors. In the next steps of his training, I need to see if this horse will continue to use these methods to react properly off of pressure instead of going instantly into fight mode.
I was very apprehensive when first I turned Cosmo loose to begin round pen work. Either the positive reinforcement method would work wonders, or we would go right back to dealing with a dangerous horse with very little motivation for training. The initial time I sent him off I marked his moving away with a “good,” and instantly his ears perked up and he turned and faced for his treat. It was his eureka moment! After asking softly for the same movement and continuing to mark the behavior, it was obvious that this technique was going to work after all! In no time I had Cosmo moving off and yielding to my pressure calmly and enthusiastically, round penning around me beautifully.
From that point onward, Cosmo’s progress has only improved with each and every session. His ground work has become impeccable with no sign of the angry horse he used to be. Instead, he has become quite the playful gelding and a happy training participant. I’ve continued to push forwards with his training using positive reinforcement, filling in all of his educational gaps along the way. Positive reinforcement has been a useful tool to ensure he can stand still and behave (aka not bite) while being groomed or saddled. It has also helped Cosmo relax and stand still (and also not bite) when I add my weight into the saddle in preparation for getting on. Today, it is commonplace to find Cosmo accepting riders onto his back! He still has some things to learn under saddle, as he continues to exhibit signs of anxiety such as his overzealous head tossing (though not nearly as extreme as before).
Over years of training and riding, I have been quick to learn that each horse that walks into our lives has something great to teach us – but only if we give them the chance and listen. Cosmo has been a strong example of this. He came to CHR as a troubled horse with many insecurities and beliefs that humans couldn’t do him any justice, basing his survival on the need to be aggressive. Once we were able to pin point where his worries were coming from, and find a method to positively work him through each issue, Cosmo became an open book. From him, I have certainly learned much more about what it means to have patience and flexibility. Working with Cosmo has truly been a heartwarming journey, and I am thrilled to watch him continue to improve in his training and find happiness with humans.
Come back next week to find out who will be October’s featured horse in training!