Sunday, April 5, 2009

Kizzy learns lateral work

I certainly had no intention of teaching Kizzy lateral work when I took her to the round pen today. It was one of those situations where my training plan worked backwards. I started at one place and kept backing up steps until I finally found a place that we could work from. That isn't the best method to approach these things with but it is eye-opening to see all the layers of training that can be missed if you don't take the time to back up.

Since Kizzy has learned to love targeting cones (and even went so far as to start smacking one around the other day!), I thought my next step would be to teach her to go between a set of cones. My purpose is to use this to give her a gateway of cones to go through, between which I could then place ground poles or small jumps for kids. It is challenging enough for kids to worry about position and pace without having to steer as well. Since Kizzy has no jumping background, she isn't a "point and shoot" pony who will figure out which general direction she's pointed at and find the jump for the child.

So I picked out some very different-looking cones so she could learn which to target and which to go through- these are smaller, white, flimsy and not solid whereas her targeting cones are the big road construction type cones. I also used two sets of "Bloks"...the plastic blocks that can be set at different heights and used to make little jumps. That way, they will transition perfectly to their jumping purpose. So with those 3 pairs of "gates" set evenly around the round pen, I started out leading her around and would Click/Treat every time we went through a pair. I am trying to be careful to get behaviors more solid before progressing with them so I made myself count out 10 repetitions of this behavior- 5 in one direction and then 5 in another. I found a huge discrepancy between the two directions. To the left, with me leading her on the traditional side, she marched right along eagerly and even quickened a tad as we approached the gate. But to the right, when I was leading from her right, she lagged behind me and would always try to go around behind me either when I clicked or after I treated. So I changed my criteria to doing 10 full repetitions to the right alone. By the tenth, she was staying more consistently next to me but still with nowhere near the enthusiasm she had to the left.

My next step was to lay the leadrope over her neck and walk to the inside of the inside cone while she walked between the cones. I want to progess to my standing in the middle of the round pen and sending her around on her own. Yes, I could just chase her around with the longe whip, but that would not have showed me all that going through these steps did and I think I am going to have a much happier and more cooperative pony in the end this way. Again, to the left, she seemed to pick that up pretty well, but she had a tendency to drift toward me so she wasn't in the center of the gate. I needed a way to send her away from me. I tried the same cue I had used to send her to target a cone....but that made her go to one of the cones or bloks and touch it with her nose. Well, that was good I guess, that she figured out that cue so well! But I was going to need something different here. So I thought of the longe whip. My traditional training has taught me how to send a horse out on a longe line, so that's what I decided to try next.

I let Kizzy loose in the round pen while I went to get a whip and do some thinking. What I was remembering was how Kizzy behaves while I longe her with kids on her. She does this a lot and is still happiest the closer she is to me. When I try to point the whip at her shoulder to push her out, she gets VERY cranky, pins her ears and swings her head at me. I realized I have never taught her to move away from a whip, I have just used the threat of a whip to send her out. Not that I really meant to threaten her with it....but when you wave a whip at somebody to make them go away...well that's what you are doing! And what I got in return was Kizzy's defensive behavior. I'll refrain from commenting on why that wouldn't be a good form of longeing in any situation but it certainly wasn't ideal for trying to teach kids on her back.

So I decided to use the same method I had used with Percy- if an 8 mo old weanling can do it, a teenaged pony should be able to! So I restocked my treat pouch, and took my lashless longe whip back to Kizzy. It only took me a trial or two to abandon the whip entirely and realize I had started (and in fact so far only used) my finger with Percy. Kizzy's pretty reactive and she wanted to move when I touched her shoulder. I clicked for that once or twice, just to tell her that moving was what I wanted (as opposed to a situation where I wanted her to stand still while I groomed or handled a wound). But then I withheld the click and lightly held the lead so she couldn't go forward. I didn't put any pressure on the lead, just held it so that if she tried to go forward, she would hit it and be stopped. She stepped forward and back a couple times before I saw a step that I could see was at least fractionally to the right and I clicked that. I tried again and once again we got a forward-backward try first, but then a distinct step to the right- away from my hand. I clicked and made a big fuss over her. That was all it took- she now knew that she needed to step away from the pressure (very light) of my finger on her shoulder. I was able to pretty quickly focus on her outside front leg as the clickable moment and within minutes, she was offering that as the first step and got lots of repetitions of that and lots of treats as well as verbal praise. I think that is important with her because of her worried temperament. She really responds to the kids and moms who fuss over her in a soothing manner :)

That quickly evolved into letting her walk forward, applying my finger and voila! beautiful lateral steps! We only did that about three times but I was sure she had it and so she got a huge handful of all the hay stretcher pellets left in my pouch as well as some carrot pieces I had. What a difference it will make if she will willingly move away from me pointing the whip at her shoulder instead of feeling threatened and forced to. Now if only I had started the day's session there :)

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