Protective Contact

“Protective Contact” is working from the other side of a fence, gate, stall door or other barrier (backwards round penning is a blast with the human inside and the horse outside the pen). Protective contact is an extremely valuable tool to keep in our tool box, it's great for horses new to CT, new to people, new to being hand fed, new to living domestically and great for people new to CT. It's incredibly valuable for us because it keeps up safe from mistakes or confusion by the horses and ourselves. It also protects the horse from us, this is especially valuable for horses who aren't comfortable with humans or who may have experienced a lot of punishment throughout their lives. Horses who have been punished often will be less comfortable trying new things, clicker training depends on the learner's desire to try to sort out what we want. This protective barrier can help horses feel more safe and comfortable offering behaviors. It also puts us in a position where we won't ever need to use aversives to defend ourselves should anything go wrong. Many horses people are resistant to trying protective contact because they're so comfortable in full contact, it's important to remember protective contact is as much for the horse as it is for us. Often people think it's impossible to train without physical contact, but in the exotic/zoo world the animals are all trained primarily in protective contact and learn intense, detailed behaviors like offering body parts for examination, injections and cleaning as well as freely offering dental work, all this can also be done with horses the same way. 

My blind pony and her young friend are a great example of when Protective Contact can be used well. Butterfly has been blind for a few years now and loves people, but her feet can fly if she's surprised. Her young friend is new to clicker training but doing very well. Using the barrier helps Butterfly feel safe and willing to offer behaviors without being startled or overwhelmed by having people around her. The barrier also helps my young student get used to her timing, fine tuning her criteria and perfecting her treat delivery, without risk of startling Butterfly and getting hurt. They've come so far together from this stage and are working on agility now, but will still return to protective contact work when introducing a new skills or stimuli.

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