Many domestic horses become hard to spray because of poor training technique. In this subtask, we turn the opportunity to be sprayed into something the horse will work for. As always, the trainer should maximize control and predictability for the animal.
Task 12 Subtask 1 Associate spray sound with food delivery (no OMGs <4)
Overall objective: We want the horse to associate the sound and sight of the spray bottle with pleasant experiences. This subtask turns the sound of the spray bottle into a secondary reinforcer.
The Set-Up: You need lots of stemmy alfalfa hay and a spray bottle of drinkable water. The horse should be at liberty and the weather should be warm..
Prerequisite Training: The horse must be very relaxed about hand-feeding (T1).
Protocol: Make the sound of the spray be a predictor for reinforcement by spraying water onto a handful of hay then handing it to the horse. Do not bridge for this task. Start with the spray well away from the horse (turn partway around), then gradually turn back toward the horse so the sound of the spray becomes, in the end, very salient. Keep the ROR high. Do not spray the horse, only the hay.
QC: When the horse hears the sound of the spray bottle and turns to get the food, you are ready for subtask 2.
Task 12 Subtask 2 Do “easy” while trainer sprays around horse (no OMGs <4)
Overall objective: We now want to desensitize the horse to seeing spray in the air.
The Set-Up: You have a spray bottle of drinkable water, a motivated horse, and it’s a warm day.
Prerequisite Training: Spraying has been respondently conditioned to predict food arrival (T12.1).
Protocol: At this point, the spray should function as a secondary reinforcer and you can actually get the horse to perform behaviors in order to get you to spray and then feed. The spray will function as a bridge. Ask the horse to do “easy” and reward it by squirting the spray bottle (as described below) and feeding.
Extend the ways that the spray can be presented by getting sloppy about spraying just the hay and gradually start spraying “around”. Get creative but don’t spray the horse. The parameters being extended here include arm action and body language. Often the horse will be very concerned about the extended arm holding the spray bottle, so introduce this slowly.
QC: The horse will do “easy” to earn a spray sound/motion parallel to their body on both sides.
Task 12 Subtask 3 Accept fly-spray on L and R side (no OMGs >4)
Objective: The horse stands quietly as you spray its body and legs with flyspray.
The Set-Up: You need a motivated horse, a warm day, and a spray bottle of water.
Prerequisite Training: The horse should be conditioned to associate the sound of the spray bottle with delivery of food (T12.1) and be accustomed to having the spray delivered with an outstretched arm (T12.2).
Protocol: Extend the activity in subtask 2, asking the horse to perform “easy” to earn a spray sound bridge and food, but now start spraying the horse. Your body language is critical for this training; you need to handle that spray bottle with no tension in your body or arms. It should be light and rhythmic. Spritz a bit near the hoof and reward. Mist and spritz, don’t spray directly! Work up the legs and onto the body in a light way, reinforcing as you go. When you can mist on water, it will be no big deal to spritz on that flyspray. Keep it away from the face.
QC: The animal will work (doing easy) for bridge that includes spraying his body.
- What if the flies are bothering his face? Never spray the animals face with anything but water. Apply fly repellant to the face with a sponge or small cloth. If they are bothering the eyes, we rub a ring of Crisco or another shortening around the eye; it works as well as the commercial poisonous products. We also use Canadian catnip oil mixed with alcohol as a spray.
- What if he seems like he is habitually running from the spray? If the horse learned to run away from it (probably because you were too intense), then you need to find some way to punish yourself for making stupid mistakes. Go lay down on a red ant pile. I no longer trust you enough to tell you how to fix it. But you can watch the Trainer Error video to realize that you aren’t the only one that can make stupid mistakes.