Trust unfolds at it’s own pace

emptycup

I visited with my counselor on Monday about horses. She is a horse owner herself and also does equine assisted therapy (but not with me) and these two factors were part of why I choose her over a year ago to help me deal with my depression.

After that visit, which was revealing and sad, I saw this quote on the Instagram account of @onehorselife_official (her website)

Trust is built like a water slowly dropping into the cup – the cup will be full, you do not have to worry about it, and your horse will trust you and you will be able to do everything together.

The question is only: “When?” – normally people push themselves to do the things with their horses that they are not ready for, but when you are not ready for something it means that your horse is not ready either. And then it’s like you go for a run with your cup half-full – it’s certain that you will spill some of the water running, and the cup will be only 1/4 full or 1/3 full after your run.

When you advance only as much as you are ready for and feel comfortable for – it’s like you keep your cup steady under the tap from which the water drips constantly – the cup will be more full at the end of every exercise than when you started, and this should be your goal now 🙂

It doesn’t mean that you cannot go and have some new adventures with your horse, it means that you allow yourself to return to the safe place whenever you feel that you start to run with your cup instead of observing it being filled with water.

Life is very simple, do not complicate it.
It’s enough to enjoy it

Not going to add anything more as it is beautiful enough.

Posted in Breathing & Balance | Leave a comment

Pretty is as Pretty does

Sunday I had a rough day with Dante. We were back to lunging in his cavesson and he was also back to throwing a fit. Specifically, when asked to trot from a walk, he gave a buck and resistance and this was going both directions. He was also very excited that day and was invasive into my space in a rude way. So frustrating as he went lovely when I lunged him for the vet.

Monday we did other free play work and he was calmer.

Today, I lunged him in the halter and he went perfectly again with no resistance at the walk-trot transitions.

So it could have been the weather Sunday, because he was off of work for several days when we had storms blow through and stay for five days. However, I’m beginning to think it is the cavesson. Sunday I lunged him in that, and today I lunged him in the halter.

dante_cavesson_tongue2

Cheekpiece too close to the eye, throatlatch slipped off

I’ve felt for some time – that despite paying for a custom piece (argh!) that took forever to get here (double argh), the fit wasn’t good for him. The problems are several: a.) he is has an unusual sized head – the jaw is draft size, the muzzle is more petite; and b.) buying a quality cavesson in the US that would fit him, is pretty much damn near impossible (trust me, I’ve looked, compared measurements, returned merchandise).

DSC_0104

Face front, you can see the slender muzzle

With the one I custom ordered, the side pieces seem to be close to this eyes and I could get them lowered if I clamped down on the throatlatch – but the throatlatch is too far forward and slips between the chin and large back jaw area. Also, where the side pieces attach to the nosepiece, it is too high. If I cranked down the nose piece really super tight, he can’t receive food rewards and it is also uncomfortable for him.

Dante is a bit fussy with his head. He doesn’t like having the top of his nose touched and he throws a fit if nasty little bugs fly around his face.

I’m leaving in a just a bit to take it over to a western tack store and see if they can make a few changes on it to improve it’s function – while trying to keep it looking pretty and strong. The Dressage tack store master saddler is going to be out of town 2 weeks and we are in the midst of show season – so no, I’m not going to wait around for whenever he is back in town.

Update: dropped off and moving the cheek pieces will be about $12 which is great financially. Now let’s hope they do a real pro job on it. We agreed to wait on moving the throatlatch until after we see how the noseband changes effect the fit.

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Another training to-do list

Sometimes, let’s face it most times, my training calendar gets thrown off. Today, is the first day of sunshine in almost a week. And it looks like next week we are going to go back to rain.

A problem I’m facing with this stupid sleep apnea and being over 50, is memory loss and forgetfulness. Sometimes I just don’t get something done because I can’t bring it up in the brain’s database so I’m going to make a list to hang at the barn so when I hit a roadblock or want to mix things up, I have access to a list of ideas.

So I’ve a made a comprehensive DAILY To-Do Training List. Here is a glimpse as a photo shot but the final product is two pages, put back to back, laminated and hung at the barn. Here the DAILY DO LIST in a pdf format.

dailytodolist

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Playing with a ball – clicker training

Teaching a horse to roll or play with a ball is an easy thing to do with clicker training. It’s a variation of Touching Target, but can become a game you play together, kicking the ball at each other to help connect with your horse in some free play. It makes a welcome break from traditional work, can help your horse’s muscles loosen up, and encourages your horse to become more playful.

One real big benefit for me is that by using the ball, and rolling it away from me with Dante following the ball, it removes him from my space. Dante has some rude behavior of being too close too me during workouts so this is a great way to share and play together which allows me to control my space without doing it with punishment (i.e. a whip for example).

It’s so muddy out, I decided to take a $5 plastic beach ball and see how much Dancer might remember of a game we did years ago. When you introduce the ball, the horse is rewarded for touching the ball and later kicking or moving it.

In this video, you see Dancer lifting a leg, and pawing. This is a behavior (lifting leg) that was one of the first things I taught her and which she is very good naturally at doing. She reverts to this behavior whenever she is uncertain or would prefer to do an easier trick then the one I’ve asked. However, in this instance I want her to touch the balls so I wait until that happens before clicking.

The more behaviors you have taught through clicker training, the more your horse might present a variety of other behaviors as your horse seeks to understand what you will reward for at that particular moment. Making those mistakes helps your horse figure things out like a puzzle and increases his solving abilities.

Ignore the behavior you don’t want and wait for the desired behavior before clicking and treating. Having a cue for your horse (verbal or body) helps him better understand specifically you are looking for at the time you ask.

Remember, with ponies, keep the treats to something safe they can eat (low calories, low sugar).

Posted in Clicker Training, Pandora | Leave a comment

Implementing a training schedule (part 3)

Well, those recent posts were all well and good but how are you going to do this day to day? How do you even make this plan of Friendship-Liberty-Traditional?

The first thing I do is create a list of what I want to work on. I don’t want my horse flooded with too much too do – he won’t learn that way.

This list has to be chunked down – in smaller micro tasks that my horse can learn over a course of 3 sessions before another piece is added. Think of it like rail road cars and each car is a task, the entire train is the final, completed goal. However, until the first car is learned and can be repeated with 90% or better accuracy, you don’t hook up the second car.

train_car_tasks

So if each micro-task is a ball, how many balls can my horse juggle before he starts dropping them? Don’t have too many going on! It’s better to keep it small and focused, and let that ball achieve 90% competency before adding in another ball. Until your horse can juggle that ball without thinking of it, don’t add in another.

Each task I consider the following: low or high energy? how much choice the horse has? how can I increase my horse’s motivation? What activities does he like? What ones does he seem to do naturally?

With each activity, I consider how much time I spend on it in proportion to other activities. In making my weekly plan, I want to weight Friendship time and Horse Can Choose time more heavily then Person Controlled Activities. Horse Enjoys vs. Must Get Done. Tasks can be layered in sequences that can encourage more “buy-in” for tasks your horse doesn’t enjoy as much. End on a task your horse enjoys.

Let’s look at my weekly chart. For my convenience I’ve made this in a table using Word (here is dantes_workschedule in a pdf).

dante_training_week

The Light Blue areas are those that are required to get done. Dante wouldn’t choose to do these activities but I will reinforce with food rewards when I can. For example, the grooming and hoof care sessions take place while he is eating breakfast. The Physical Therapy (PT) and Masterson Method both take place with a halter and leadrope; the first has food rewards.

The Rose Pink areas is training that I feel needs to be done to make him stronger such as Straightness Training. An extension of the Physical Therapy it is probably his least liked activities, with little Horse Choice, and the maximum Person Decided.

The Light Orange areas mark Liberty and Clicker Training sessions with a lot of room for Dante to say no as these activities take place with little to no tack, in large areas with the option to leave at any time.

The Green areas are Friendship and Companionship time where nothing is expected from Dante from me other then “chillaxin.”

You can see that Tuesday and Thursday are going to be his hardest days – days spent doing things he would rather not do! HA! So I will have to pull out my rewards and think creatively about how I can make him start liking this task a bit better. I could end those days with something he loves to do – such as letting him eat grass in the outer field, or play the leg lift or shoulder in game at liberty.

tinycarrot

This is a living document – something to be scribbled on so there is a notes section for each day. Things I want to record –

  • what was Dante’s energy level that day? (1-10, 1 being low, 10 being highest)
  • how long did we spend on each activity? (write in a time in 5 minute increments)
  • what level is he showing with each task? (Zero = clueless; One slash = attempting; two slashes = accomplished)

Once an X is at a task, that shows me that he has become accomplished; that ball (exercise) is now juggled without thought. Time to hook up a new railroad car to the previous task as we work towards the bigger picture.

Time spent on the task also gives me a clearer idea of how long I’m doing activities where he has no choice, vs. ones where he does. I can see how that effects his mood and willingness to be with me or work hard on tasks he normally doesn’t care for. Recording time is an important part of this training schedule – don’t forget it!

After next week, I’ll show you a video of a completed record and how I’ve used it to shape the next week’s training schedule.

tinycarrot

Most common problems I see with training:

Not having a plan – just winging it. This means you will have no ability to track your progress. Your horse will learn things out of sequence and there is a greater chance of confusion on the part of your horse. Bigger possibility of flooding the horse with too much information resulting in your horse becoming non-cooperative.

Not understanding the reason behind how the training works. There are some great training methods out there – such as Liberty, Clicker Training, Straightness Training, etc… but if you don’t understand the theory you won’t get the application. This can lead to over doing something (flooding = overwhelming the horse) or not doing enough micro tasking which causes the horse to become confused.

Not listening to the horse. Each horse and your relationship with him is unique. Trainers make it look easy in their videos, but they don’t show how long it took to get there! If your horse acts out, gets frustrated, gets confused, or you get mad he isn’t performing, it’s time to take a step back and figure it out. Listen to the horse – he really does know stuff!

Expecting things to be done quickly such as in a day or week, when it will take months. This is the person who throws too much at their horse, too quickly, (flooding = overwhelmed), resulting in the horse becoming frustrated and confused. If your horse doesn’t get it in 3 sessions, break down into smaller micro tasks. Give yourself and your horse time. It takes a lot of building bricks to make a building!

Spending too much time on accomplished tasks. This is the person who continues over and over again with a task the horse knows well, and then wonders why the horse eventually becomes bored, disengaged, and non-cooperative. Once a task is truly accomplished, move on to making it slightly more challenging (in a micro way). For example, if your horse knows to walk over a ground pole, raise one end of the ground pole.

Giving up because you are confused or making mistakes. I’ll tell you something the horse world won’t – it’s really okay to make mistakes! Your horse will forgive you! It’s through mistakes that you and your horse will really learn! If confused, go back to Friendship time, and review your reading, videos, books, and helpers to see where you might be going wrong.

Be flexible but stay consistent. If your schedule isn’t working, make a new one. But re-working the schedule from the bones up every day is not consistent. Not coming out but once a week to see your horse isn’t consistent. Your horse and you need consistency to progress.

And last DO NOT PUT YOURSELF IN A DANGEROUS SITUATION. Yes, horses are dangerous but you don’t have to encourage it! 😉 stay safe out there! If your horse scares you, or an exercise became scary, pull back and rethink. You might need some professional help or at least a friend or trainer’s outside judgment.

Posted in Art Natural Dressage, Clicker Training, Liberty, Masterson Method MM, Straightness Training, Training | 2 Comments