Caleb, Our Horse with a Limp

Caleb is nineteen years old, but very youthful. He is an Arab gelding, and from what I understand, Arabs are more compact than most horses and very intelligent. Apparently they used to sleep in their owners’ tents in the desert, and they were used to guard the tents as well as for transportation. Emma has owned him since he was born; her face was the first thing he saw. She rode him until he was nine. Then, when her career and marriage to a man without much acreage got in the way, she boarded Caleb at a farm six miles from here. For many years, Caleb was used in their riding school, but he was retired a couple of years ago when, for some reason, he developed a limp.

Now we have moved him to a place less than two miles from our house. We can see him twice a day, and we have started to think about what he might do next. He may be rehabilitable; an expert veterinarian will see him next week. But even if he cannot be ridden again, he might find a career as a therapy horse of some kind. We have read about horses used as therapy animals for children with autism or ADHD. It is obvious to us that Caleb is not ready to retire completely. He needs a job. He is so full of it, that already after a couple of days in his new home, he tossed toys our from his stall, and one day he ran around the yard with a piece of plastic that the wind had carried from the lumberyard across the street.

Emma has collected a couple of books on clicker training, which is being used for dolphins and many other animals. Our puppy, Moses, had some clicker training, but got a little too wound up by it. It does sound like an interesting option for the horse, though. Clicker training is based on rewards that are linked to the clicking of a small hand held device. This sound allows you to control the behavior of an animal across a distance.

One exercise we did in Moses’ puppy class involved one dog owner clicking when another dog owner did the right thing. The subject didn’t know what the desired behavior was – to sit down on the floor.

I happened to be the leader. When the subject looked at the floor, I clicked. She looked at the floor again. I clicked. She stretched her hand out toward the floor, and I clicked. She reached toward the floor and bent her knees; I clicked, and so on, until she sat down on the floor.

As I write this, Emma is reading a book that came in the mail today from about a full blood horse with symptoms a lot like Caleb’s, who was clicker trained, and as a result became more or less rehabilitated.

All of this reminds me of Clarine, a patient who came to mean a lot to Emma and me; she married us. Clarine was bed bound for the last several years of her life. She was an English teacher, writing coach, editor, writer and an ordained minister. Even though she lost many of her physical abilities, she lived a rich life, in part because of the power of the computer at her bedside and the internet. People have a tendency to view physical handicaps as bigger and more insurmountable than they need to be. If Clarine could write and edit books from her bed in our little village, I am sure Caleb can find a new purpose in his life.



2 Responses to “Caleb, Our Horse with a Limp”

  1. 1 icereyder June 9, 2008 at 4:20 am

    Let us know if you need any more info about clicker training horses.

    We find that it works real well. There are several horse clicker videos here:



  1. 1 Historien om Vår Halta Häst « Amerikabrev Trackback on June 8, 2008 at 3:55 am

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