Sunday, July 5, 2009

Backing Ande

The way I am backing Ande with clicker training is the same way I would do it without a clicker except that I have the added benefit of telling Ande exactly when he is doing something I standing still! The biggest difference is the amount of work he has already had before I get on. So much of Alexandra Kurland's work just makes all the beginning riding lessons easier and safer.
While I have had a saddle on him and have longed him in it etc, I have so far just ridden him bareback. It seems to follow the "chunk it down" philosophy of breaking all things down into the tiniest steps possible so that progession can be slow and steady without missing any steps or overwhelming the horse. By climbing on him bareback, it also makes it easier for me to slide on and off easily which I do a lot to accustom him to all the movements.
In this first photo, I am asking him to put his head down, a relaxation exercise. He knows several cues for head down: a light touch on his poll, a slide down the lead and a slide down the rein with a little lift. Once on the mounting block, I practiced this exercise with my hands at his withers, where they would be once I got on. I wanted to be able to get on him and ask for him to put his head down and stay relaxed and quiet while I sat up there. You can just barely see one of his ears by my left knee to see that he has dropped his head and I have clicked and am reaching in my pouch for his hay stretcher pellets. This is also an opportunity to teach him to turn his head around and reach back for his treat. I always delivered the treat to him when working him in hand, but that will be very difficult while riding- he needs to learn that when he hears the click, he can turn (always in the direction his was bending) and get the treat from me.

Next step is to heave myself up onto his back, lie there, kick my legs, pat him on the far side of the barrel, wiggle around, etc to accustom him to having me on both sides of his body. Each one of these steps has been done individually with a C/T after each one. Then I combined them and just C/T'd occasionally. I have to concentrate when I do this that I am clicking him for doing something and not me! I tend to transition into "I did it" mode and find myself wanting to click if I get on etc....but I have to be careful that HE has done what I wanted in the process. Did he keep four feet still? DId he keep his head low and relaxed? Is his expression quiet? I look for all those things both to reward him and to be attentive to how he is reacting.
These photos were not taken on the first day on him. I spent a lot of time lying on his back while astride. It can be very scary for a horse to see you that much higher than they are when you sit up so I went slowly with that too. The first time I sat up, I clicked immediately and slid off. Then repeated. Even though I may have been on him 10 different days, I have probably gotten on 50-75 times. So he has had that many experiences with mounting. And he has been reinforced for each step along the way many times.
The last photo show him with his head lowered a little. I had asked him for head down and the camera caught him in this halfway point but I was very happy to see him understand and comply with my requests. The last thing I did with him today (and yesterday), was to take the slack out of one rein and wait until he yielded his hips a baby step. I saw a brief portion of a breaking demo with Kenny Harlow this spring at Everything Equine and I loved the way his methods were adaptable to Alex's and clicker training. Rather than getting a just-backed horse to go forward in some fashion when they are not familiar with leg aids, he has them step over behind which gets them moving with a cue they know solidly already. My only problem with it is that the mounting block is in the way so I think I may have to get my camera man to move my mounting block next time.

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