Home » Protected Contact – It’s Not Just For Zoo Animals

Protected Contact – It’s Not Just For Zoo Animals

My Very “Dangerous” horse that NEEDED protected contact. As you can see here Fox is a very safe horse. I’m sure you can imagine why I was so sceptical.

I have debated about putting this in the Learning Theory Category, but then I realized that Protected Contact is one of the absolute first basics when it comes to Positive Reinforcement Training. So it’s going here in R+ Basics.

First of all when I originally heard the words protected contact, and learned what it was, I thought there is NO way that I need that. I pretty much thought it was ridiculous for horses. Maybe it would be useful for beginners… or small children… or people who are afraid… or the people with dangerous horses as a last resort… I totally get it if you’re training lions, or bears, or tigers… but seriously, why on earth do I need it for my regular horses!? Well did I ever learn… Now it’s one of my most valuable useful tools!!! I know it’s hard not to laugh at the idea, but keep an open mind here.

What is protected Contact?

What is protected contact? Well it’s essentially putting a solid barrier between you and your horse that the horse can’t push through while training. A paddock fence, the round pen, really anything that puts you in a separate space from your horse. Yep, you train your horse from the other side of the fence. I know, I know! It sounds crazy.

Why is it so useful?

So why is it useful? Why do you need to know about it? And why is it so important? Well here’s a tiny little back story about me. When I first started switching to Pure (as pure as possible) R+ training (I started with my heart horse Fox) the instructor insisted that we start in protected contact. I did it to humour her. I figured we would have the first exercise done in minutes, and could move on… Well… it took me a solid month to get out of protected contact. 

Why did it take so long? Well, Fox is a Fjord cross, and he LOVES his food!! In the past I had dealt with two issues with Fox. One was him biting in certain situations when I used food. You can read about it here. The other was him being “pushy” with his body. He had no issues walking over other horses and people, or through any kind of painful pressure in his never ending search for food. So here’s where protected contact was so useful. If Fox tried to push me for food I could just step back out of his reach. He physically couldn’t push into me. If he tried to bite, I could just step back out of his reach. I didn’t have to push him away, or hit him, or do anything to him. He learned quickly that if he tried his old behaviours that it just didn’t work. 

**If you are viewing this on a phone just touch the descriptive words, and pull them up or down to be able to see the photos**

It helped me teach Fox safe alternative behaviour around food.

This then gave me the opportunity to teach him an alternative behaviour. Now he can let me know that he is ready to work for reinforcers while staying in his own space. The training process was so much nicer for both of us compared to the things I had tried in the past. Believe me I had tried a LOT of things to get “respect”. Fox is the only horse that I have ever had this much trouble with, and I have to say it’s part of why I love him. It’s the horses that challenge us, that force us to grow, and I am so grateful for this growth!! It took a whole month to train the new behaviour and lose the old behaviour. It was so worth it! The cool part is that he was able to generalize to when I went into his pen with him. He became incredibly “respectful” of my space, and rarely pushes on me now. 

Protected Contact is versatile and offers many different options for training. You can be as creative as you like with it.

Protected contact is useful for more than just force free “manners” training. It also works amazing with feral horses, horses with lower confidence, and dangerous horses. It gives the human protection if the horse becomes dangerous in any way, spooking, rearing, biting, striking, kicking, the list goes on. At the same time it gives the human the opportunity to train a million different behaviours that will not only eventually help the horse become safe to be around, but help the horse gain confidence and feel safe around the human too. It can even work as a cue to the horse that we are working on something new. I’ve used it so many times since first learning. Sometimes for free shaping, sometimes to train alternative behaviours, the list goes on.

It sets the stage for a safe work environment for you and your horse.

Why is it important to know about protected contact? Well it sets the stage for further good experiences and training for you and your horse. It gives you a safe place to fall back on. Most importantly it gives you the skills to safely work with any behaviour big or small.

We spent a month training here… Notice the tiny improvement? He’s eating his hay and not kicking the gate.

If you’re anything like me, the more you dive into learning theory, the more you will see that all behaviours can be pulled apart and trained, or untrained perfectly. One just needs the right tools, and protected contact is a great one!

Have a lovely day!

Courtney

P.S. Here is a sequence where I was practicing Free Shaping in Protected Contact. My plan was to teach Fox to back up. I am still so impressed with how quickly he was able to figure it out! Smart Boy!

**If you are viewing this on a phone just touch the descriptive words, and pull them up or down to be able to see the photos**

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