Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Kizzy Challenge

Kizzy had a great lesson yesterday- she loves it when I can make the lesson about her instead of the kid on her back! Luckily, this time I was able to make it about both pony and rider. Miss Kizz can get quite stubborn and just plain refuse to move. And you can't tell the little rider to kick harder because that gets a Kizzy-sized buck...nothing which loses a rider and really quite comical to watch except for the worried look on the child's face. As I've said, we don't know much about Kizzy's past except that it was unpleasant so the fact that she is willing to be a lesson pony at all is a stretch. The kids LOVE her because of her size and her cuteness. She does love to be groomed, and closes her eyes peacefully as she gets pampered.

And of course, the pony in her will do anything for food. So clicker training is very successful. But she doesn't like it when the lesson is about the kid and I don't give her opportunities to earn treats. So she goes on strike. I think this is what worries a lot of people about clicker training- that the animal will not work without food. But in fact, the issue with Kizzy is that I have taught her to work for me and somehow I need to transfer that to working for the kids.

So yesterday I did something which has been successful before. I had the rider give a little squeeze with her leg and then I clucked to get Kizzy to move. As soon as she took one step, I clicked and treated her. Kizzy was glad to see that I was making her the queen so she was more than happy to oblige. The rider gave a tiny squeeze and Kizzy marched right off- no second thoughts, no ears swiveling back and no little bucks. I knew this would work but then I had to come up with a way to make this worthwhile for her little rider! So the lesson became about aids, a balanced position and counting steps! For Kizzy, the lesson was about moving off promptly when the child squeezed and then keeping up the walk. The rider gave a gentle leg aid; Kizzy marched off; the rider had to count steps with me as we gradually increased the number of steps for Kizzy to get clicked; and then when I did click, the rider had to be sitting up tall with a deep seat and heel because when Kizzy hears a click, she slams on the brakes! We had a couple instances of "hitting your nose on the dashboard" at first, but with giggles and lots of repetitions, her rider became more and more secure. The real challenge was counting steps. I love that exercise because it is so valuable for connecting a rider to her seat and to the horse. For the little ones, it is good practice for posting preparation so they learn to feel rhythm of the gaits. Now with Kizzy, it is very challenging as counting her steps is kind of like counting the number of pecks of a woodpecker. By the time we got up to a count of 25, (starting with 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 15, 20), I couldn't even say "twenty-three, twenty-four" fast enough to keep up with her steps! That was also great fun for the rider. So as long as they are giggling and learning, I consider it a lesson well worth the fee. Having Kizzy reinforced as well was icing on the cake.

Once Kizzy was moving off nicely and staying in a walk, I put a rail out so the rider could practice turns. I set up a cone about 10 feet in front of E, and put the rail at X, parallel to the long side. Now the rider was going to get "tagged" (I use a clicker with a "ping" sound for clicking or "tagging" the riders). She had to ride down the long side and at the cone she was to look at the rail to plan her turn ("tag" if she remembered to look), keep her eyes on the rail until she got to E where she was to turn and then lift her eyes up to a rock on the hill once Kizzy was turned ("tag" if she rememberd to lift her eyes up) and then ride right over the center of the rail (final "tag" for hitting the center of the rail). Then Kizzy got clicked after she stepped over the rail. Both pony and rider learned the exercise and were rewarded accordingly!

It has been a continuing challenge for me to come up with lessons which are reinforcing for ponies as well as riders. This lesson is a keeper!

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