Saturday, June 13, 2009

Teaching Rein Aids

Since Rumer has gotten comfortable with all the parts of the harness, it's high time I started long lining her in preparation for driving. I decided that rather than putting a bit in her mouth as a start, I would begin with a halter and see if we can learn to steer without the fuss of all the initial bit chewing, etc.

I was intentionally a little careless when I put the surcingle on her so that she gets more comfortable with all those long straps accidentally flapping around her legs. It still amazes me when I work with her at how laid back she has become compared to what she was as a foal and yearling! I only put the surcingle on this time since we are introducing something new; I wanted to keep it simple. Then, rather than use long reins at the start, I simply clipped a long lead rope to each side of her halter and ran each one back through the rings on the surcingle.

Keeping it as absolutely simple as possible, I started by standing right next to her, putting very light pressure on the left rope near her halter and clicking and treating the second she responded by turning her head just a hair to the left. I repeated this several times until I could get a full head turn left with just a touch on the rope.

Then I did the same with the right rope, but I stayed on the left side. This is often a confusing part for young ones, since they are turning away from the handler and it goes against most of what they've experienced in their short lives. That's another good reason to teach cross tying by having the ties just looped through rings so you can pull them back and forth...that is their first experience with "counter bending" if you will and can be done at a very young age. Rumer took a moment but once she had been C/Td for that first tentative turn away from me, she was more than willing to repeat to whatever grade of bend I asked for.

The other thing that is important to note and break down here is the difference between lead pressure out from the halter vs lead pressure back. When being led, I put pressure on the lead to ask her to come with me (or on the cross ties) by pulling toward me. But once those ropes were through the rings on the surcingle, the pressure was pulling back, not out. So I had to acknowledge this was something new for her and be sure to understand any confusion or hesitation that might have shown up. I am hoping that this is also being made simpler for her by using ropes, rather than a bit and rein at first. By the time I ask her to do this with a bit in her mouth, she will understand that pressure back also means yield to the side, not stop or anything else.

The next step was to ask her to go forward since she was still standing in the aisle. I made sure both ropes had plenty of slack in them and slid down the left rope and put a little pressure forward on it when I reached the ring of her halter. She hesitated a moment but took a somewhat resistant half-step forward so I immediately released the rope and C/T'd. The beauty of clicker training is always apparent when starting new things. She was immediately engaged in the learning, had already figured out what the right answer was, and we could move right on to fine tuning. That isn't to say that I started asking for a lot more out of her right off, just that there was no resistance, concern, "laziness" or reluctance to head off out into the paddock each time I slid down the rein. I did have to be careful with my food delivery- she is 100% pony and if I cheat and feed her just a little closer to my body, she will meet me right there or closer the next time! She can also be like her mom (Kizzy) and get very excited about the food, so I move slowly but methodically so that the food delivery is consistent and reliable and she can respond in the same way.

So we had several trials of her just moving off from the rope cue, with me keeping in mind that doing all this with the surcingle on was asking more that having her just walk around with the surcingle. It looked to me as if she had forgotten completely about the surcingle- her attention was focused on the job and ears were either relaxed to the sides or on me- not flicking back to wonder about all that leather stuff. I was also careful not to click if her ears looked at all cranky- I am intent on avoiding ear pinning and don't want to click any time ears are back for any reason. That is NOT something I want to reinforce.

I then varied between stopping and asking her to yield her nose to the rope cues a couple times in each direction with a C/T for each one; then we stepped off and went anywhere from 2 to 10 steps before I clicked her for a steady tempo, head and neck straight and ears relaxed. I stayed on the left side for this whole lesson, but I did ask her to turn in a large circle to the right toward the end. We used the whole area of the paddock for this circle. I wasn't asking for an extreme turn away from me, just the idea that she could follow the rope cue away from my body.

No comments: