Thursday, July 16, 2009

Foundation Lesson Review

I have two new students- at this point I should probably call them tentative students- and have been spending my stall cleaning time (which is when I do a lot of my thinking) trying to figure out the best way to begin with them. I know that clicker training will work for both their horses but I also know how unconventional it can appear and I want to introduce it in a way which entices and encourages them sufficiently that they are willing to "take the time it takes" to go back to the basics.

In Riding with the Clicker, Alexandra Kurland lists four foundation lessons:
  1. Happy Faces
  2. Head Lowering
  3. Backing
  4. Grownups Are Talking
Just like the Dressage Pyramid, the longer you work at it, the more you realize the importance of the foundation and the more benefit you get from returning to the foundation regardless of how far up the training program you are. An advantage of the four foundation lessons is that they both keep the handler safe and immediately address some questions, concerns and skepticism people have about using food as a reinforcer. Happy Faces keeps the horse from thinking he can threaten you into providing the goods; Head Lowering builds a calming exercise into a horse who is loving this clicker game and might get over-excited; Backing and Grownups both teach respect for handler space. The added advantages of Head Lowering and Backing are the stretch and balance which build and evolve into a horse who is more physically prepared for self-carriage. And on top of that, the horse and handler develop a communication of ultra-light cues and responses which makes for a much more comfortable and confident pair.

The problem of course, is that people don't see themselves as needing this practice. So many people are accustomed to dragging their horses around or being dragged around by them- and then they can't figure out why they don't have a responsive horse under saddle!

Wish me luck!

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