Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kizzy and targeting cones

Today I will introduce you to Kizzy. Kizzy holds a special place in my heart; perhaps it is because she is the littlest, perhaps because she was the pony who started me off giving Jr Pony Club lessons here or perhaps because she was a rescue who was a challenge to even catch when I first got her. The littlest lesson kids love her (and so do their moms!). She is not at all a laid back pony- and kids who learn to post on Kizzy have really accomplished something as her trot steps are rapid-fire! Kizzy is also Rumer's mom :) She is about 12 hands and in her early teens. I have had her about 3 years.

I began using her as a lesson pony the first year I had her even though I knew very little about her background. My daughter, who is a perfect pony rider because even as an adult, she fits on ponies just fine, had ridden her and she was a little wiggly but didn't object to being ridden. I was only planning on using her for one beginner on a longe line anyway... little did I know how that would grow!

I knew she had been treated harshly and she was very head shy; and very quick to jump and react around people. Initially, I just gave her time to get used to us and tried to reward her with treats and pleasant experiences whenever people approached.

Fast forward to today. I have used her in lessons with many children and she has come along nicely. It is great to introduce new kids to her because they can easily see how they need to move slowly around her so she doesn't get worried. Because of her size being perfect for very young children, I am trying to find ways to make her job enjoyable and be a good mount for small children as they become more independent and go off lead. My current project with her is teaching her to go to a cone even if it means going away from me. Now that she feels safe with me, she'd rather stick close to me when kids are on her than go off around the arena. As long as the kids use proper rein aids, she does go along, but sometimes it requires stronger aids than I'd like and I'd rather she was happy with her job of going where a child "suggests". I'm hoping to use targeting cones to teach her to go around the arena, to go over a line of ground poles or a small jump and go straight to the end, etc. without needing a lot of direction from her tiny riders.

Now Alex Kurland has filled my head with fantasies of teaching a pony to identify colors and be able to direct them around a whole course from a distance. I'm sure she is very capable of doing that but right now, I need to start at the beginning! So after teaching her to target cones, it took some time to teach her that she could walk away from me to go to a cone. As soon as I tried to stop and just have her go a step beyond me, she would stop dead. Good pony! I can't fault her for that!

So I needed a cue to tell her it was OK to keep going beyond me. Today was the first day we really achieved that. What I do is slide down the leadrope as we arrive at the cone and invite her to continue going forward by extending my hand out in front of her nose in a gently sweeping motion. At first I hung back just a hair as we approached the cone and made sure not to put any pressure on the leadrope that she would interpret as a request to stop. I do want this pony to halt at the slightest request from a small person. I felt it was a huge success when she took this tiny initiative to go beyond me. Even though she is VERY food motivated, she is more concerned about getting in trouble. I repeated that several times to make sure she was confident in stepping ahead of me and to try to be sure that both she and I were clear on the cue: I need to be very consistent with the cue I am giving her and I wanted several repetitions so I was sure she really understood it. Then I began to ask for a little more- a full step ahead of me, then a step-and-a-half, etc but with many repetitions at each new distance. I had put out two cones about 6 feet apart. At first I had her target one cone, then just led her to the next one to target, then led her beyond the cone and turned and came back to both cones again. When we had built up to her going the length of the (short) leadrope from me, I moved the cones further apart and laid the leadrope over her neck so I could let go of her and have her go further from me. At the end of our session for today, the cones were about 15 feet apart and I could send her from one to the other! She isn't enthusiastic about it and so I want to work on this more so she will do it without hesitation and worry. But I hope we are on our way!

You can see a couple photos of Kizzy on my website: www.bookendsfarm.com

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