Tank

Tank is my most beloved friend and the very best teacher I've ever had. I had looked at many horses before I found Tank, all of the deals fell through for odd reasons just before they came home. Then I went to see Tank, we drove several hours out to a farm when her trainer agreed to meet us there. Sure enough, he wasn't home at our appointed time (first warning). His wife was there (but didn't know anything about the horses), she showed us Tank and said I could go in with her. From across the field I was in love, she was the most beautiful horse I'd ever seen, despite being bald, covered in flies, with dinner plates for feet. The trainer called and told me she was trained everything up to ground driving, hadn't been backed or hitched but was great otherwise. Of course he couldn't show me this. But in her paddock she was thrilled to have me rub her belly. I was torn, obviously she had little to no training and the trainer had something big to hide about her, but she was so beautiful. I went home quite torn, but the next morning I got the call “she's on the truck, she's going to your house or the auction, which do you want?”

So my new friend Tank arrived home a few hours later. She was herded off the trailer into her new paddock/stall combination and there she imprisoned herself for the next year. She was terrified of the world. While she tolerated my presence for belly rubs, she was miserable in her environment. I tried all my natural horsemanship, all my traditional training knowledge and eventually hired trainers to help. She was polite enough when she wasn't afraid, but when she was pushed too far she'd run back to her stall and nothing could stop her. Several trainers I hired told me she should be euthanized, for her own good as she was a danger to herself. She couldn't even leave her paddock without breaking whatever needed to be broken to get back in.

With the help of a big strong man I got her in a trailer and moved her to our new farm we were renting with her little friend Punk. The problems obviously continued here at her new farm, but here we experimented with clicker training (what did we have to loose?) She had a bigger stall indoor/outdoor with a nice field with grass. She was more open to exploring her new field herself (due to the food incentive), but would bolt back to her stall with any breeze or odd sound. We began our clicker work in her stall, standing calmly, touching target, backing up, the bare basics. She was so eager and happy, like I'd never seen before. She caught on so fast I was amazed, clearly we were on to something. I practiced walking her around the perimeter of her field, to the far corners, in protective contact (me on the outside of the fence) which protected me if she needed to bolt back to her stall. It was finally OK for her to do this, to express her feelings without endangering me or anyone else. If she did get scared and needed to run back to her stall I'd go about half way back from where we were and wait with the target, she'd come eagerly back and we'd carry on. Within a few weeks her spooks got smaller and smaller, to the point she'd jump right back to the target at any little spook. We started to adventure out of her paddock, we remained at liberty, because restraints made things scarier for her and more dangerous for me. Besides I knew if she went anywhere it'd be back to her stall. By the end of our time at this farm she was confidently taking walks around our property and the neighbor's hay field.

We moved again, which of course set us back again, but with a larger herd, a more open property and a foundation in clicker training we progressed much faster! She felt much safer with the paddocks set up so she had other horses around her and with her. Her lifestyle was dramatically improved and we were able to begin actual training! We spent many months focusing on introducing as many new stimuli as possible, in the form of clicker shaping games, enrichment toys and other puzzles. Suddenly her whole demeanor started to change. She became curious, confident and inquisitive.

We started practicing with agility, which exposed her to many more new obstacles and games to play. She's become so connected and eager to work with me. Her spooks have reduced to a much healthier reaction and we've developed more tools to help her deal with her fear when it does arise. We've also discovered how most of her spooks are a result of stimulus stacking and are working on helping break down these stacks. We'll carry on our unmounted agility work and begin some “ground riding”. We've put a new focus on cognitive study work, Tank's favorite school subject! She's learning the names of colors and all the objects in her world. Now she's learning to express preferences and use a communications board. We have a long path ahead of us as she continues to teach me so much, but we have come further than I (or anyone else) ever thought possible.

Tank has been so fabulous for the time she's been here, she's taken on the roll of teaching new students how clicker training works. While her fear still gets the better of her sometimes in the agility ring, she works hard to handle each task as they come to her. Her favorite thing to do and to show the new students is vocabulary lessons. She is learning the names of colors and objects in her world. Ultimately we aim to using these vocabulary lessons as empowering tools of communication. The possibilities are endless with this brilliant girl!
She will always be my best friend and my favorite teacher and I'm so excited for our future together!