Revel

Revel is the love of my life (don't tell my husband). We started our journey together deep in the city while I was in college. Revel worked giving carriage tours in the city. At the time I was going through some serious horse withdrawal and found a part time opportunity driving tours with the company. Revel and I teamed up immediately and had lots of fun the first year. We spent the long days play tug o' war with water bottles, snuggling and taking leisurely rides around the city. Often on short days I'd hop on and plod around the parking lot with him, we had tons of fun.

Then politics changed the way the carriage companies worked, then the companies made 'business decisions'. I've not known many business decisions be made that actually benefit the horses. Things spiraled down hill for the next year. Revel became miserable and violent, he lashed out at people walking by and earned his “I bite” signs on his blinders. He became cinchy, bitter, and angry. His health spiraled downhill as forage was reduced, his legs got infected with fungus from his wet environment. I began offering to buy Revel so I could quit, but he was needed to do his job. Finally I reached the point where what I was doing to help Revel just wasn't enough, I couldn't stand by and watch anymore. I quit. I returned every few months to remind the company that I wanted to buy him, with an envelope of cash available each time. Revel had earned that money for me, he deserved to use it to buy his freedom.
A few years later I got the call I'd been waiting for, he came home the next week! He was 19 years old, 19 hands, covered in his own filth and more than 300lbs underweight. He had sores, scabs and rubs all over him. But he was HOME and he was safe. We spent the next few months rehabilitating him health wise. Of course I used clicker training to help with all his medical needs. He learned to tolerate needles, take oral medicine, stand still for clipping, bathing and topical medicine for his leg fungus, as well as many other basic husbandry tasks. With clicker training he became a very easy patient.

As he became healthy and we started our leisurely trail rides I had just begun to learn the more detailed aspects of Clicker Training. This is where I learned how clicker training can teach a horse to be honest. Suddenly Revel was spooking at things he'd seen all his life, he was avoiding tack he'd always accepted. I was very taken aback at first, thinking he had gotten “worse”, then I realized, he always felt this way about those things – but he knew if he expressed his opinions he'd be punished. So he lived in silence and suppressed his opinions, like an obedient horse. I began working through counter conditioning tack and basic handling, he rapidly overcame things he was scared of with positive reinforcement and we were back on track.

We began our riding and while I added clicks and treats to his usual cues and I dramatically reduced the severity of his tack, things still weren't stellar. He was obedient and we had fun... But something was off. Skills I taught him with clicker training, they were done smoothly, with excitement and vigor – he was so proud and eager to participate. When he heard his click his body would get big and he stood with pride for his treat to be delivered. But when I clicked for his traditionally trained skills, he would begrudgingly receive his reward, or ignore it entirely. At first I thought it nice, he wasn't only working for food. It wasn't until after we moved and I had a student working with him, shaping his behaviors freshly that I saw how happy he could be. It wasn't until then I had another of those terrible realizations... No, the cues I was using had such a deep routed history of fear and pain that it left the food with a “bitter taste”. I had poisoned our reward, making him have to comply with things that upset him in order to earn it.

I had forgotten the most important aspect – free choice. He was performing the skills I wanted, but he had no choice, while I wouldn't have escalated the pressure had he decided not to do as I asked, he believed I would (it had been that way all his life, no one told him it changed). He needed to know he had the right to choose. So I reshaped his basic behaviors, stopping, turning, going forward and put the on gentler cues. Now the beautiful connection we had with our clicker trained skills existed in all our play together.

Since our move we have no more trails and I've acquired a number of more rescues so Revel had become quite the pasture bum! He was getting bored and frustrated seeing everyone else go out to play, but it never being his turn (he was so easy and they needed so much work he was often put on the back burner). It was quite obvious he needed more puzzles and games to play as he mastered opening every door we have, letting himself into the riding ring to play. We supplemented his environment with many enrichment toys, he loves them all, not just the ones that earn food.

He has become the horse for everyone. While most of our horses have a one on one intense partnership with their partner human, Revel is just a lover. He loves training the new kids and giving rides and playing in the snow! He takes such good care of the kids and has a blast showing them the clicker training ropes.