Today, as I was unsaddling Speckles after a trail ride, Tim walked into the barn and told me a story that warmed the cockles of my heart.
"That stupid horse," he began, with a nod toward Speckles so I would know which stupid horse he was referring to this time. He continued, "I was out here in the barn yesterday and Speckles came running in to his stall, backed up to the muck bucket, and pooped in it."
Well, glory be.
My decidedly not stupid Speckles:
To take this photo, I stood in the doorway at the front of his stall. Behind him is the gate into the pasture. (It's all dirt out there because we're in the process of building an outdoor riding arena.) The red thing in the corner is the muck bucket.
Since he was born, Speckles has always chosen his pooping spots carefully. He backs up to things to do his business - the fence, a tree, the corner of his stall. This made a lightbulb go off over my head. Perhaps, I thought, I can take this tendency of his and teach him to do his business in the muck bucket. A very cool behavior and one less chore for me.
Training commenced. At first I put the muck bucket in his stall and watched to see what happened. He was masterful at pooping to either side of it. But, because I had begun paying attention, I began to notice when he pooped. He often went as soon as he entered the stall in the morning to be fed. Or, if not when he first entered the stall, then it would be about twenty minutes after he ate. More often than not, I missed it when he pooped. He would do it when I was dishing out grain or while I was next door feeding my neighbor girl's horses.
But a couple of times, I was ready. I would see him take the turn around the stall to put his butt in the corner. He already knew how to "target" on my hand, to follow it, so I used this skill to back him up so he was lined up with the bucket. And he'd stand there wondering what I wanted, trying to figure it out. While he stood there, I "clicked" occasionally and gave him a treat just for standing lined up with the bucket. Some days he moved just enough to miss the bucket, then pooped real fast. Other days, he just decided to hold it until I grew tired of the game. Then I'd open his gate and he'd go outside and poop.
But then one day, he pooped and it landed in the muck bucket. Ding, ding, I chimed. Speckles knows what this means. It means he did something really good, something that earned him a jackpot - a half cup of sweet feed. (His regular food is a pellet. More nutritious but not as tasty as oats and corn covered with molasses.) Wow, I could hear him thinking. A jackpot for pooping?
Then it happened a second time. Maybe it was a week or ten days later. By now, Speckles knew what I wanted had something to do with the bucket and something to do with pooping but he hadn't put it all together. I could see his brain spinning as he began experimenting to see what kind of poop earned a jackpot. Poop to the left. Nothing. Poop to the right, ditto. Poop in the middle. Ding, ding. At this point, he began pooping all the time as soon as he entered the stall. It was now a game we were playing. He knew there was a jackpot in it for him if I saw him poop in the bucket.
Eventually, it happened that I would come out in the morning and find fresh poop in the bucket. Speckles and Mr. B come up and stand in their stalls to sleep so I figured he was up there napping then took a little poo before he went back out to graze.
He got rewarded more and more often. He got used to the particular position he needed to be in in order for the manure to land in the bucket. He got used to the feel of his tail brushing against the bucket (something he did not like in the beginning).
So I knew he was getting good at this.
However, I never expected that he would be out lolly-gagging around the pasture with Mr. B, munching on some good green grass, and he would feel a little poopy urge and a lightbulb would go off in his head that said, ooo, I should run up to the barn and go in the muck bucket.
Is that too cool or what?
I hope this little story warmed the cockles of your heart, too.
My sweet Speckles