As promised our video! Woohoo! I am so excited!
Hubby helped out by holding the lead rope, target stick and to dispense treats. Soon it will be just Z and I, doing it alone but for now it was great to have his support.
The camera is set up on a tripod outside the roundpen. Total running time was about 17 minutes for this exercise but I trimmed it so you wouldn’t see all the boring stuff (no, there were no cuts when I secretly drugged Z or hit her over the head with a 2×4 so she would behave).
The next week, after a successful mounting, she will be immediately released from work, and let back to graze with her favorite friends. This is to reinforce to her that desireable behavior pays off big with what she wants most – doing her own thing with her horse buddies and me not pestering her! LOL! 😀
Each new session I’ll be increasing the challenge – for example, I’ll slide off the other side, touch her body parts while I’m seated on her, move the rope about etc…
Clicker Training and Targeting:
I had been doing this exercise of having her approach the mounting block without a clicker and target. However, she pinned her ears and had a lot of ‘tude whenever I put pressure on her back. I added the target stick and clicker training and found there was considerably less pinning of ears. Hey, whatever works!
This homemade target is a hog sorting stick, which has a nice rubberized handle on one end and on the other I threaded a tubular shape of upholstery foam. The foam is covered with a sock that has pink, white and black stripes. I chose the striped sock because it has high contrast and thus is easily visible to the horse’s vision.
The clicker is clicked during desired behavior; afterwards a treat is given by hubby (in this case, sliced carrot). In this video what am I looking for?
- She touches the target (the green stick with the striped end)
- She follows the target (note the “float” in the lead rope)
- She aligns with the mounting block
- She stands still
- She has ears forward
- She allows pressure on her back without moving away
- She allows the leadrope to be tossed over her neck, back, over her head, and touches her legs without her moving or reacting.
- She is looking forward, as opposed to lowering the head or mugging us for treats.
When you want the horse to learn something new, you increase frequency (increasing the rate of reinforcement) – that is you increase the amount of clicks and are sure to provide the food reward as quickly as possible. This provides a more direct correlation between desired behavior and reward, and thus gives the animal more interest to repeat the behavior.
Wear a helmet and boots. If you have one, a vest is also a good investment with training a young horse.
Work both sides, switching between them.
Make sure horse understands standing still. I viewed a lot of videos where horses were jigging about while the person mounted from the ground – recipe for disaster.
I worked in smaller arena, a roundpen, so a large area would not tempt the horse to bolt. Or if they did bolt, I would be able to collect them. This is only true of horses who respect fences.
Horse has been “sacked out” to some sort of degree – IOW is comfortable with ropes and equipment touching back, sides, neck, chest, butt and legs. If not, the horse could react badly to an unexpected touch (i.e. you accidently kick her when throwing your leg over) and that would be another recipe for disaster.
Getting Z comfortable with me being so high was a big challenge. I turned a water tank upside down so I could be much higher and allow myself a wide base where I could step over easily and softly unto her back. (Thanks Molly for this idea!)
Not using a mounting block? A lot of serious accidents I have personally seen have occurred when someone was mounting. If you do not mount swiftly enough the horse could bolt and drag you; getting your foot caught in a stirrup is a real concern. Though it’s a personal choice. I would prefer the horse to be trained from the start to accept me from mounting from a block (i.e. or from a tree, rock or a fence etc…).
Remember, mounting from the ground also pulls the saddle sideways and torques the horses’ back. This is one of the many ways horses’ gain a sore back (another way is ill fitting tack and tack that has been pulled sideways is not going to fit well no matter how much you shove it back over when you are sitting in it).
Photos/Video vs. FEEL
Now an interesting reality is that in the video (and in other video/photos I’ve done of our work together) LadyZ looks more relaxed then she is in real life. For example, in the first segment, she was pinning her ears a lot when I touched her back.
However, we took a short break and did some walk-trot in the RP, then changed directions at the mounting block. At that point, I felt a relaxed energy from her.
Once I got on I could feel a nice quiet and solid horse under me. She was standing square and supporting me with her back. It really felt GOOD!