Voluntary Worming!Posted in: Equine Training, Positive Reinforcement Training, The Academy of Positive Horsemanship
That horrid thing that we have to do to our horses at least once a year. It’s often a really unpleasant, aversive experience for them, especially if they have suffered force previously to get the job done.
Hardly surprising really given that worming paste tastes pretty awful! Most horses will do their utmost best to avoid it, whether that is simply lifting their heads up high, or more dramatic avoidance behaviours such as rearing or pulling and trying to bolt away.
We can help our horses to participate in this process though – as my horse demonstrates here in this video. We can do this by using Systematic Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning – where we begin with very small exposure to the aversive stimulus (systematic desensitisation) and pair it with something very rewarding or aka appetitive (counter conditioning).
Because most horses have had (often very strong) prior learning that syringes are very nasty indeed, we often need to begin this process by systematically desensitising and counter conditioning them to the contextual clues which predict that worming is about to happen – things such as where we usually do the worming, the presence of the syringe itself, the experience of the syringe in their mouths and the feeling of the paste being deposited in their mouths. And of course that needs to be done slowly and gradually over time – well before the actual worming date.
However, if we do this without causing them to feel overly anxious or fearful, they will be well prepared for the actual wormer and voluntarily participate through the process as well as being happy to accept the slightly aversive and unpleasant worming paste…because it gets them an exceptionally rewarding jackpot.
And all with cooperative participation without the need for any force or coercion.
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