Thursday, September 3, 2009
Table for One
I want to start getting Ande out further from his comfort area on the farm. He has been very good about going to the arena- out of sight from the other horses. He listens carefully, especially if Stowaway calls to him, but he doesn't whinny back and he does pay attention to me, even if it isn't 100% of his attention 100% of the time. But I'd like to be able to take him down our road in hand before thinking about trying it under saddle. I know it will be stressful, so I want to use really wonderful treats to make him think it is worthwhile. Problem is, I haven't really been able to figure out what he likes best.
So today I set up a buffet of treats to offer him. I was going to do a scientific experiment. I came up with eight different options: hay stretcher pellets (my everyday treat), 2 different brands of peppermint pellet treats, peppermint hard candies, cut up apples, cut up carrots, sugar cubes and a baked dog/horse cookie. I set several of each out on a "table" and took him in to see what he would do.
Lesson # 1- do not make the table unstable. The first time he picked up a treat, the table tipped and all the treats that could roll, did. I quickly scraped them back into their piles and put the board on the ground.
Lesson # 2- do not use the same piece of plywood you use for a mat as the table. He wasn't really sure if he was supposed to eat them or stand on them. He did a little of both.
Lesson # 3- science went out the window. It was kind of like setting a kid free in a candy store. I found out what he didn't like, but for the most part, it seemed pretty random as to what he went for first. I'd let him take a bite, then ask him to step back and wait for him to finish and then let him go again. I was trying to see if he went for the same thing consistently.
If I had to rate them, I'd say 1st prize was a tie between the hard peppermint candies and the apples. It could be they were the most fragrant so they were the ones he was drawn to first. After that, the carrots, hay stretcher pellets and one type of peppermint treat all seemed equally enticing. The baked cookie treats were turned down completely (which is OK because the dogs like them...they are a bit old and perhaps stale). The other peppermint treats and the sugar were tasted with lots of head flipping and tongue action, but not repeated. When that's all that was left, he just went for the grass.
So I filled my carpenter's pouch with the apples, carrots, preferred peppermint treats and candies and ventured off through the farm. He was quite good all the way to the house, showing no concern. Then of course, my husband was hunting for something in the tall weeds across from the house so his white tee shirt kept popping in and out of view as he rustled around. Ande decided he needed to keep a pretty close eye on him. I let him look, asked him for head down which he gave me promptly, and then handed over a piece of apple. We went a few more steps and I asked for another head down and this time left him there for a count of 5. No problem- another apple piece. I had him touch each of the three mailboxes for a hay stretcher pellet each.
We continued down the road with him keeping an ear on the silly man in the grass. I asked for head down a couple times and he was fine but then he stopped at the edge of our lawn and left a pile of manure there. My point was not to push him out of his comfort zone, but rather to the edge of it, show him he'd survive, and then go back another day to extend it. So I asked for head down there and he had a hard time doing it. He would put it down but couldn't leave it down for more than 3 seconds. I decided to settle for three, gave him a carrot piece, and we turned around. As we returned on the road, I would ask him to go 5 steps, then ask him for head down, and each time increased the count. As soon as we reached the target count, I would click, give him a piece of apple and immediately walk off again. His reinforcement was that not only did he get a click and treat for maintaining head down calmly, but he also got to move closer to the barn. But then 5 steps later, he'd have to head down again and for longer. By the time we got to the shop, I was down to carrots and peppermint bits. We were in sight of the barn now, but the shop area is full of things to look at and it changes constantly. Nonetheless, he was able to head down for a count of 15 without even moving a muscle so he got a good handful of the mess that was left in my pouch. After that I was able to let him graze his way back to the barn.
I will have to take advantage of the fall apples (I had used drops from our tree) over the next weeks to extend his walks.
And here's a photo of this winter's hay as it was mown today. In the foreground is the rotational paddocks for the horses. The one closest to the tractor is the one they were just turned into this morning- the others were grazed earlier in the week.