Sunday, May 24, 2009

Reinforcing Me

On Friday, I had a very reinforcing experience regarding clicker training. So much of the training itself is reinforcing, but sometimes it's nice to get feedback from others. Clicker training is still not very mainstream and more often than not raises eyebrows with many people. The most defensive, of course, are those with a long history of training with other methods. Many of us who clicker train, come from those same backgrounds so it's easy to understand their resistance since we had those ourselves....but it's frustrating to see them discount it without really considering it fully.

Elly's owners came to visit her on Friday.
I have written about Elly in previous blogs: mat exercises, WWYLM, and single rein riding. I have been very happy with her progress but no one has really asked her to do much in the way of "dressage". When I ride her, my goals are Alex Kurland's exercises; when my student rides her, my goal is the student's position, confidence and control, as well as developing a feel for the horse.

Elly's owners are wonderful people who adore her but outgrew her and wanted a place she could live happily, with attention from kids, preferably one "special" kid. I had a student who was ready for a more able mount so it seemed like a great match. The owners' opinion of Elly was that she didn't love flatwork and might have some discomfort in her body somewhere that prevented her from cooperating when asked to carry herself much. She would stop and begin backing up in earnest. They were aware of her training background which included quite a bit of pressure and "gear" and were happy to hear that I was not a fan of that approach. They had her checked thoroughly by vets and chiropractor who found nothing so they decided that just being a beginner horse was what she wanted to do.

On Friday, her teenaged owner just wanted to get on her bareback for a bit and go for a little hack. I told her my challenges with lesson ponies wanting to roll in the new sand I put down in the arena and asked if she'd mind taking Elly out there for a minute or two first to give her another "no rolling allowed!" ride as I had done the day before. She was happy to do so and when she got in the arena, she picked up the reins and began to walk around. A look of astonishment crossed her face and her mom said, "Look at her, she looks great!". I don't even remember what the girl said, but it was something about how light or soft or easy she was. I had to admit, Elly had immediately responded to the reins being picked up by gathering herself into a lovely little frame. I said the girl must have learned a lot riding her new horse and she said, "no, she was never like this before!".

What a great thing to hear. I had told them the things I was doing with her, and the mom said repeatedly how happy she was- that she had tried previously to get the trainers to keep the excess gear off her and "just let her find it herself!" but were either over-ruled or it was done subversively. Elly made no attempts to roll, so they went off down the road as they had when in previous years, daughter riding and mom walking alongside. When they returned the mom said that her daughter expressed how happy Elly seemed. I was very glad to have them see it and believe it and VERY glad to have the opportunity to work with this horse with the approval and support of her owners.

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