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A Case of Not Being Caught

As featured in Welsh Rider Magazine. Spike was a childrens’ pony, a dream apart from one thing - he wouldn’t be caught. With a clean bill of health, I learned a previous owner also had these problems and was heavy handed with him.

Jenni Nellist Animal Behaviourist A case of not being caught

Catching Spike made him nervy and move away. He’d been doing this for years; now a habitual emotional and behavioural response. The usual, but inconvenient solution, was to catch him in the gateway at coming in time.

I took Spike’s owners to the field to work with them all. Since they found Spike’s behaviour stressful, I asked them, in the moment, to stop, notice the world around them, and to smile. When they felt calmer we went into the field.

The next step was to give Spike what he wanted: space, but in return for any curiosity towards us. Using my traffic light system, we approached Spike when he was still and appeared curious; stopping before he moved away; pausing if he looked away (as this is a sign of increased discomfort); and moving away when he looked at us. This broke the habit of moving off and made Spike curious.

Once close enough, we opened a packet of Polos; taking care to reward Spike’s curiosity, not trick him, we gave him a Polo for his final approach. His decision, we just happened to reward it. Then we petted and haltered him (a few more Polos) while he was thinking about more attention. It helped that Spike generally liked people at other times (and also that he liked Polos).

To make the fix permanent, Spike’s owners practiced the new style of two-way interaction until it became habit, teaching Spike to catch them.

Catch me if you can Nov 2020
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