Sunday, April 12, 2009

Keeping Training Records

Sometimes when you keep coming across the same information/advice in rapid succession, it's a sign that you need that advice. I've been reading recently about the necessity of making training plans and keeping training records. This blog was one effort to do so and I think it has been helpful in a reflective sense. But I've been reading more about keeping detailed records, including things like the actual count in duration work and even rating the quality of responses you get in certain behaviors. I think overall, this just helps you analyze the success of your training and underscores the fact that things are improving when you might feel like you're stuck. And I know it would be helpful if I had a real plan when I worked with a horse because it would make for a more logical "lesson".

So today I wrote up a plan for working with Elly. My big goal is to have her "stay with" her handler, whether it is rider or someone leading her. She is fine with me, but can really drag a kid around if grass is available. I'm not sure if this is really a reasonable goal. The kids just don't seem to have the muscle to stop her and I worry about whether they have the mental sharpness to be quick enough to outwit her. My hope, therefore, is to teach her to pay attention to her handler- in this situation it would be me- and see if it will carry over to the kids when the time comes. In any case, I'm sure all these little lessons will come in handy for her general education.

In clicker fashion, I had to come up with things she should do, not things she shouldn't do....I need to have things that I can reward her for. It is not clear enough to a horse that they are being rewarded for "not eating". I came up with three mini-goals toward this larger goal:
  1. relaxation- she needs to be relaxed with her handler, not worried about anything, nor on the hunt!
  2. self-control- she needs to be able to resist the grass or other food temptations when she is being asked to work in any way- under saddle or in hand
  3. attentive- she should be looking for the next cue, wondering what she could do next.
After that, I came up with one of Alexandra Kurland's foundation lessons which would address each one of these goals. I decided to use them as exercises toward each mini-goal. The following are the exercises/lessons I came up with:
  1. relaxation-"Grownups are Talking"...she needs to learn to just hang out next to a person and not fidget
  2. self-control- "You can't Get Me to Eat that Carrot"...this will be identical to practicing her self-control around grass.
  3. attentiveness- I chose a combination of the "Cha-cha" and "Duct Tape" lessons. My thought was that by doing a combination of all these, it would keep her busy and focused on what I was going to ask for next so she wouldn't get bored.
So then I had to break each one of these exercises down into tiny, measurable pieces. This is called "splitting" as opposed to "lumping". Lumping is when one asks for a behavior that is just too big for the horse to figure out.....stand still on that mat and don't move your feet or your head and don't try to get treats out of my pocket and don't put your head down....etc! Splitting, on the other hand, splits all those pieces apart and trains each one separately before asking the horse to combine them.

It was easy to break down the Grownups Lesson. That was simply a matter of duration so I just continued to count as I asked her to stand and just increased the duration by a second or two at a time.

I broke the "You Can't Make Me Eat that Carrot" lesson down into holding the carrot out, approaching her with a carrot, standing in reach of her with the carrot, and then trying the same with a fresh cut apple, then with a flake of hay and then with a bucket of grain.

The third mini-goal was the Cha-Cha and Duct Tape Lesson exercises. I set up a random series of movements to ask her for to see if she would pay attention both to each request and to the long series of them as I switched from one to another. The different moves were:
  • one step forward, one step back
  • forward, back, forward
  • forward and then back 5 steps
  • forward half a circle, then back 2 steps, then forward again
  • repeat all of the above from the other side
  • ask for step over from hip cue from each side
  • ask for step over from shoulder cue from each side
Now we'll see how this plan works!

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