Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Teach Tricks?

For many years, other clicker trainers have been telling me of the benefits of teaching tricks with clicker training, but quite honestly I turned a deaf ear. In my opinion, tricks were silly, useless and quite frankly, demeaning. It made me think of a circus dog and I liked to think of my horses as noble, elegant and athletic. So I focused my clicker training on handling, manners and problem areas (spookiness, etc). Then I found the benefits of clicking under saddle and using Alexandra Kurland's many exercises to develop a balanced, happy athlete and my mind expanded.

I guess there were two things which convinced me to try teaching a trick or two. One was ponies who are so darn cute and the fun of showing their tricks to kids. I also approached a "trick" originally as a training tool. I taught Kizzy to target a cone for the purpose of using it in my lessons to direct her. The giggles from kids as a result was addicting.


The other was young horses in need of attention and entertainment. They were going to entertain themselves anyway by chewing on the barn, pulling up fence posts, using their teeth to explore the world (me, my clothes, and light switches that were supposedly horse-proof) and doing run-by spookings. I decided I might as well put all that energy and interest to good use. I decided if puppies get chew toys, why not young horses? I taught Percy last winter, as a weanling, to pick up his loopy toy and hand it to me. That gave him something to grab onto with his teeth and a way to interact with me.

This winter, I have expanded the list of "tricks" I am teaching and I'm seeing all the advantages to which I previously turned a deaf ear. First of all, winters in northern Vermont are long! I might as well use this time to train something rather than just hunkering down in the house with tea all day (while the horses find entertainment of their own). I've had that intention other winters but this year having some serious goals greatly increased the times I followed through with my good intentions. It will be interesting to see how things differ in the spring, when I simply transition to more riding/schooling from tricks as opposed to transitioning from nothing to training. I expect I'll have more attentive subjects than previously.


Secondly, because tricks are "useless", it takes the pressure off me. So what if Percy doesn't drop the toy in the basket? It's not going to affect his future as a performance horse! So I approach it lightheartedly and can truly enjoy spending the time with him and as a result he enjoys our time together also. That improves our relationship. He likes to see me coming and tries hard to do what I want. That is the kind of performance horse I want in the future!

Third, and this is the one that others really stressed, it really makes me a better trainer. It forces me to look outside the box. How do you get a horse on the bit? Well, I've been taught that in lessons, books, articles, clinics, etc. But to get a horse on the bit via positive reinforcement turns my mind into knots. I am so conditioned to the classical negative reinforcement of traditional training that it is difficult for me to come at standard expectations from a different direction. Or to throw the standard expectations out the window entirely. Because I am new to tricks, it's wide open and I can brainstorm different ways to approach training these things. This helps me to see all the different approaches that exist and hopefully will expand my options for teaching more traditional lessons. For example, I hope to have a video clip soon of my winter's work with ground driving Rumer. I have ground driven horses before and used that method for starting young horses, including Ande. But....with Rumer I am doing it without
any harness or tack at all :) This isn't original of me. I sat with jaw hanging open as I watched Alex do it with horses on her videos and thought that would be an impossible feat for me to achieve. We're a long way from the smooth performance on the videos, but Rumer is so much more in tune with me already as a result that even if I never get any further, it will be well worth the time spent.

In addition to opening my mind to training possibilities, teaching tricks has really sharpened my observational skills as a trainer. I'm not exactly sure how things are going to go on any given day or what the results will be, so my eyes and mind are open to seeing what is really happening rather than what "should" be happening. When beginning to teach lateral work under saddle, we apply our aids and think the horse "should" respond by stepping over. If they don't, riders frequently just repeat the aids or increase their strength. Good trainers will observe what reaction the horse does have, and use that to refine their future training. I'll take all the practice I can get teaching a pony to stand on a silly mat to learn that lesson better. So many times, horses respond to cues we don't even know we are giving. An obvious example of that is the work I've done with Kizzy on the mat. I'll try to get that video posted soon. While I thought she had learned to stand on the mat, instead she had learned to stand in a cer
tain way right next to me. When I moved, it didn't matter where the mat was, she lined herself up next to me. Then I had to untrain that! And I'm still working on it.

As humans, we have our way of communicating. But animals do it differently and we can be much more successful with them if we learn to engage them in the process and try to become more aware of what cues they are really picking up on as opposed to the ones we are delivering.

And now for a stupid dog trick- Beetle the dog waves goodbye.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Percy learns to pick up

Here's a video of the results of one of my challenges for the Facebook Clicker Challenge. I wanted to teach Percy to pick up some other things besides his little loopy toy. I thought it would be fun to teach him to pick up and carry a bucket by the handle. He had offered to pick up a supplement bucket that I had perched on top of the wheelbarrow one day so we were off to a good start. My initial attempts showed that he had trouble with the feel of the bucket handle in his mouth. Whether it was a little too sharp (thin plastic) or too small, or baby tooth issues, I'm not sure. Regardless, I decided to leave that for a while and teach him to lift a little jolly ball. He did well with that, so I moved on to having him drop it into a feed tub. After he was good at that, I returned to the bucket but I wrapped the handle with vetrap as you'll see. We had great fun with this and I plan to continue with this as a good way to channel his love of mouthing things at this age and his sharp little brain.


video

Thursday, January 21, 2010

SEEKING


SEEKING (intentionally capitalized to differentiate it from the simple word) is a term and concept credited to Jaak Panksepp of Washington State University. I first read about it in Temple Grandin's book Animals in Translation and later in Karen Pryor's book Reaching the Animal Mind. I won't try to explain it here other than to say it is what motivates animals to do things...and it has a large part in everything from why an animal goes foraging for food, to drug addiction and gambling, to clicker training.

The reason I bring it up is because Kizzy demonstrated the concept beautifully today. If Clicker Training was really about food, then it would make sense that an animal would work for the food as long as there was no "free" food available. Today, I absent-mindedly threw Kizzy a flake of hay when I went to the barn before thinking about the fact that I was planning on working with her. Certainly a Welsh type pony knows the value of free food. Nonetheless, I picked up the wooden mat I have been using to teach her Mat Work, filled one pocket with hay stretcher pellets and the other with a few peppermints and went in her stall. I had to walk around Her Fuzziness to plunk the mat down as she didn't exactly step back away from her hay pile when I entered. But when she saw the mat, she lifted her head, turned, walked to the mat, and stepped onto it. I clicked and gave her a peppermint because I was so pleased that she had chosen to work with me. The younger horses will always leave food of any kind to come and play but I thought Miss Kizz might be a little too jaded for such nonsense. I continued to work with her for a little while and after the initial peppermint, I just gave her the normal 2 hay stretcher pellets per click. She was choosing to stay, stepping on and off the mat upon request, in exchange for what amounted to a total of about a handful of hay stretcher pellets. Since there was a large flake of hay right there in her stall, free for the taking, it had to be something other than the food motivating her to work with me. What is it? Temple Grandin:

Dr. Panksepp says the best he can come up with is intense interest, engaged curiosity, and eager anticipation.
Recent brain research has indicated that the

part of the brain starts firing when the animal sees a sign that food might be nearby but stops firing when the animal sees the actual food itself.
(again from Temple Grandin). So it isn't the food (or drug or coins coming out of the slot machine) that is exciting, it's the....SEEKING.....of it. It's the puzzle, the challenge, the game that is fun. And that is why Kizzy was willing to leave her food to come see if she could figure out how to make me give her treats. It truly was the training which was rewarding because she had to figure it out, not just be pushed or pulled into place.

To quote Karen Pryor, it is SEEKING which differentiates Clicker Training from traditional training.

In traditional training, animals learn what to do and what to avoid around people from the reactions of people. It's the same way animals learn what to do around other animals in the wild, from the reactions of other animals.

In OUR kind of training, animals learn how to find food, increase their skills, and discover new ways to have fun the same way they learn in naturefrom exploring the world itself.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Horse Play

Mary Hunter, from Stale Cheerios blog, posted some great photos of a couple horses playing. It perfectly illustrates how much they enjoy the biting and dodging game. click here to see them.
Thanks Mary!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kizzy and Mat Work


One of the challenges I chose for the Clicker Challenge on Facebook was working with Kizzy on mat work. The challenge is almost up and I have learned a lot in this three weeks- I thought it would be a simple exercise, as it has been with others.

My first challenge was in the type of mat I used. I have been told that horses really like a wooden mat and the guess is that they like the sound for some reason. So I used a piece of plywood this summer and really liked the results compared to the flimsy doormat I had used previously. But plywood on snow is slippery, and snowy hooves on plywood are slippery. So I began working with Kizzy in her stall with the doormat. After a couple sessions, I could see that she frequently had her foot half off the mat, even though I was shaping her for having her feet in the center of the mat. I realized that she probably could not feel when her feet were on the mat compared to when they were on the shavings. I realized that if I used the plywood, she would be able to hear her feet hit the wood. She could certainly see it as she approached, but I began to really wonder about horses' ability to see where their feet are for this kind of work. Due to their blind spot, right in front of their noses, they wouldn't be able to see where their feet are precisely. This is all conjecture on my part, but certainly gives me things to think about and look for while training.

Another thing which happened was classic- Kizzy was using me as her cue. Not just for when I wanted her to step on the mat, but for where the mat was. And even further- where to stand even if the mat wasn't there. I had, without even realizing it, started standing right next to the mat. I probably did this unconsciously to sort of block her from stepping off the edge of the mat. But then when I tried to stand a little further from the mat, she didn't step on the mat at all, but lined up right next to me as if on an imaginary mat. This was a classic example of when we think we have taught behavior A (in this case I thought I had taught her to stand on the mat), but really what the horse learned was behavior B (in this case, to neatly line up next to me like a dog at heel, with no regard for the mat at all!).

It took us several sessions to clear this up and I'm not completely sure we have it fixed yet. I found a small piece of particle board (easier to lug into a stall than the larger piece of plywood I'd used this summer...not to mention I can't find that and I fear it's under the snow somewhere!). At first, the big breakthrough was her confidence in the way she stepped onto it once she could hear her feet landing on it. If her hoof ended up half off the edge, she quickly and easily corrected herself....she could feel that!

I thought that was the solution there, but soon found that if I was not right next to the mat, she still lined up next to me instead of stepping on the mat. This led to a frustrating session as I tried to click and treat a couple times and then step way away from the mat for the behavior to continue, but she just didn't get it. This was also an opportunity for me to learn more about Kizzy. She is very food motivated (she is a pony after all!) and I'm quite sure she'd stand on her head for food as long as she understood what I wanted. I also know she isn't "stupid". This was MY training problem, not her learning problem. But it was apparent how hesitant and concerned she was when she didn't get clicked. I work with the young ones so much that I get spoiled by their willingness to keep trying new things to get a click if what they are doing isn't working. But "crossover" horses- those who were originally trained with more traditional methods where creativity is discouraged rather than reinforced, are much less likely to try new things. And Kizzy's past is a bit murky and she is very worried about being wrong. So when I didn't click as she lined up next to me, you could see her confusion as she tried again and again but did not venture to try anything different. Then she would just stop and stand next to me. Poor pony.

So I started over from the beginning- clicking as she stepped onto the mat right next to me and gave her a full ten chances to be correct and get reinforced. I wanted that plunk plunk of her feet on the wood to become a part of the routine and set in her head along with the click. Then I moved about 2 inches further away from the mat and gave her many more trials there. I slowly moved my position (rather than "testing" her by moving further away) in different directions so that she got used to the stepping on the mat even if it meant stepping forward away from me or not being right next to me. And when she did make a mistake, which happened when only one foot landed on the mat because she was trying to be closer to me, I did not wait to see if she would correct herself because I had seen that only lead to confusion for her. Instead, I quickly and quietly asked her to back up off the mat and try again. Luckily, she caught on to that. If both feet didn't thunk thunk onto the mat, she was corrected and given another chance for immediate success. After a couple successes with that, I quit for the day.

I hope to video it soon, maybe today, and we'll see how things go. Photo above is Kizzy with a couple of her biggest fans- me and a student :)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Punishers and Reinforcers

OK- for anyone following this through the Bookends Farm fan page on Facebook, you already know I put up a link to an article by Karen Pryor about this topic today. Following that I was encouraged by EquiClick's Sarah Memmi to go ahead and post an equine version (thanks Sarah!). So here goes:

First, a quick definition of punishers and reinforcers:

Reinforcer- something which occurs during or immediately after an animal performs a behavior which increases the likelihood that the animal will repeat that behavior.
Punisher-
something which occurs during or immediately after an animal performs a behavior which decreases the likelihood that the animal will repeat that behavior.

So for anyone not familiar with the terminology, spend some time taking that apart. Forget your preconceived notions of punishment being something Bad or Mean. In Operant Conditioning language, in order for it qualify as punishment, it has to decrease the likelihood of that behavior happening in the future. So, for example, if you yell at a horse that is pawing on the
crossties and he stops pawing right then, but repeats the behavior 2 minutes later and the next time you go in the tack room and the next day, then it wasn't a punishment. Punishers don't have to work immediately, but they do have to decrease the likelihood so that using that punisher over time will cause that behavior will cease.

The other important thing to point out is that in order to be effective, punishers and reinforcers have to occur during or immediately after an animal performs a behavior. So shoving a dog's nose in a wet carpet when you return from work will not decrease the likelihood that he pees there again in the future. Oops, this was supposed to be equines. OK, so giving your horse a carrot when you get back to the barn after a good ride will not increase the likelihood that he performs well again tomorrow. It will increase the likelihood that he'll hustle back to the barn after your ride tomorrow because that's what happened right before he got the carrot! If you want to increase the likelihood of his doing a nice canter transition or jumping a ditch, give him a reward immediately. (And best of all, a click at the precise moment of his good behavior will be even more clear to him!)


Last of all, punishers and reinforcers are defined by the animal, not the trainer. So it doesn't matter whether you think you're reinforcing the animal or not, if the horse doesn't find what you are doing to be punishing or rewarding, then it won't affect his future behavior (or will affect it the opposite of the way you think. What does this mean? Some of my pet peeves:
  • riders who "pat" their horse on the side of the neck or, even worse, the top of the head, by pounding with the force that would knock over a small child. You frequently see this after a wonderful performance at a competition. The riders are ecstatic and they wave to the crowds as they pound on their horses. Looking closely, you can see the horses flinch! What horse likes to be pounded on, especially near the head?? A nice scritch on the withers will most likely be more appreciated. But will it change future performance? Debatable.
  • people who yell at their horses in the barn for banging on stall doors...and then throw them some hay to shut them up. Guess what? For most horses, a flake of hay is a lot more reinforcing than getting yelled at is punishing. They'll gladly bang on their stall again tomorrow, ignore the yelling and enjoy the following snack!
I'm not going to give anybody suggestions for good punishers because I prefer not to use them. But, for reinforcers, FOOD is great :) What kind of food? That depends on the animal AND the behavior being asked for. Your horse may be willing to work for hay stretcher pellets on a daily basis but if you're trying to work with trailer loading and a horse who has had an accident, you may need a more enticing treat to get him started...carrots, apples, peppermints, etc.

Rest can be another good reinforcer. If you are working a horse and he gives you a great moment of lightness or good transition, etc, drop your reins and give him a break. Many people want to push on at that moment because they've finally got it! But if it is hard for the horse, and you make him continue to work hard when he does something nice, well, he may think, ugh, I'm not doing that again- all it got me was more work! On the other hand, if you're working a thoroughbred or other horse who loves to Go, then by all means let him go on as a reward! So you need to know the individual you are working with to know what will work best for your horse. And it may be different on different days. Rest may be the best reinforcer in mid-summer when it's 90 degrees, whereas a nice trot would be more effective on a windy fall day.

One of the (many) enlightening things I remember hearing from Alexandra Kurland was her discussion of young horses who like to bite. Most handlers respond to biting babies with a swat- thinking it is punishing. But as Alex said, what most likely happens is that they think, oh great! Somebody to play with! They pull away and wait for another opening and take another swipe and quickly duck away before you can swat back. Ha- won that one! Just watch two babies together to see this game go on in equine form. My yearling and 2 year old will play this game on and off all day every day. They love it! Diving it to take a bite at a neck or nose or hock and then dodging away before the other one can retaliate. So, is swatting at a youngster punishing or reinforcing? I'd say reinforcing. To them it means "Game On!" And what is more effective? Well since they do it to initiate fun, if you walk away from them instead, then they don't get their fun. If they approach you politely and you offer to play games with them, then politeness will be reinforced. Think I'm nuts? I've followed this approach with all three of my youngsters since they were born and I've never been bitten. I've had plenty of swipes taken at me, but when I walk away they don't get the opportunity to do it again. When they approach nicely, I offer face rubs or clicker games or legitimate things to mouth (puppies are given chew toys, why not young horses?) That reinforces the pleasant approach.

Last but not least, it doesn't have to be the handler doling out the punishers or reinforcers. The environment can do it too. Think of a horse who slips on a trailer ramp, goes down and bangs his knees. You did nothing, but that horse will be less likely to go up that ramp confidently in the future. What about horses who figure out how to get out of fences...and get into deep green grass? I think I can say that good grass is about the most reinforcing thing in the world for horses. If they can repeat that breaking out behavior, they will! Going in a run-in shed to escape flies is an environmentally reinforced behavior. Pretty simple. (Running around like a madman in the pasture until someone brings you in is reinforced by the owner who goes tearing out to rescue the horse!)

So I have learned to think carefully about how I respond to the different things my horses and ponies do. I do try to focus on reinforcers and I observe to see how they respond to them. If they immediately repeat a behavior, I know I've got a good reinforcer!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Click Ends the Behavior


That is one of the many mantras of Clicker Training. It came up yesterday during a demo I did so I thought I'd go into it in more depth here. The situation yesterday was a big beautiful Friesian horse who is new to Clicker Training, as is his owner. They had agreed to be the demo subject as he has become very difficult to bridle and due to his size and strength, it's a dangerous situation for anyone trying to put the bridle on him. Since I've written about "shut down" horses before, this guy is an example of the opposite! He's more like a hyperactive little kid who can't sit still while you approach with the tray of cookies. Once he gets taken off the crossties and his owner gets on, his halo appears and he is the most wonderful guy imaginable. But on the crossties he was non-stop movement. He varied between pawing and dancing left and right. Very food motivated, he was probably more wound up than ever by me standing there with pockets full of treats. When the cross ties were removed to put the bridle on, that big old head would swing on its full axis- up, down, left, right.

My thoughts were that before we could begin to address the bridling, we needed a horse who would stop the action. He needs to learn some self control on the ground: to stay out of people's space, to stand quietly and patiently whether tied or not, to stop "mugging" for treats, etc. I began with some simple targeting to show how that is done and he was one of those who picked it up like he'd been doing it all his life. I did that while he was still cross tied. I knew as soon as the ties came off, we were going to need to address the fidgeting and mugging so I went right into Grownups. That he picked up quickly as well, but got distracted by the bag of carrots he knew was in his brush box. When he couldn't get me to hand out free food, he decided to help himself to the carrot bag on his right. His owner removed that temptation (as a beginner, we needed to set him up for success in these first lessons). Now that he was standing quietly with me next to him, I began to step away from him slightly, clicking if he stood when I stepped away.

The host for the day- the owner of the barn where we were and an experienced horse trainer- pointed out that sometimes he was stepping forward as he got his treat. Her experienced eye had easily picked up this apparent inconsistency in my training. My answer was, "The Click Ends the Behavior". The "loop" I had set up (see my blog post on loopy training) was: step away from horse > if he stands, click > step back toward horse and treat > step away from horse again. Because this was a new behavior, not to mention a horse new to clicking, the loop was not yet clean...there were other behaviors thrown into the loop. Specifically, when I clicked, the horse would step forward as I reached to treat him. The other trainer saw this (quite understandably) as a fault. It looked like the horse was being rewarded for stepping forward! And in part, he was! But that was my fault in the training loop and not a reason to avoid treating him. The deal is: one click = one treat. (not 100% of Clicker Trainers follow that deal but that's a whole 'nother post). So because I had clicked, I had to treat. If I hadn't, I would have completely destroyed the whole meaning of the click for this horse. I want him to have a 100% positive experience with the sound of the click. I don't want him to hear the click and wonder "was that good or not?". I want him to hear it and think "YES! I got it!". That's where our enthusiastic learners come from. So I cannot decide to withhold the treat or make a correction after I click. I need to do something different with my training instead. The responsibility is with the trainer.

It is very true that what happens between the click and the treat is important. That behavior can get built into our treating experience. If a horse is allowed to reach for your hand or your pocket for his treat when he hears the click, then he will always do that and you'll have a greedy mugger on your hands. That is why we start by having a horse back away from us for his treats at first and we return to that if, at any point, the horse's manners deteriorate. I want my horses to automatically step BACK when they hear the click or at least rock back in their balance. This has all sorts of good repurcussions for their balance and musculature development as well.

So what did I need to do with this demo horse?
First of all I needed to respect the "Click Ends the Behavior" and treat him even if he stepped forward to take it . He had done the required behavior- standing still- to earn the click. Once he heard that click, the behavior was over and he had earned his treat. Secondly, I had to find a way to clean up that loop so that the stepping forward did not occur. I felt I had two options here. I could stay closer to the horse so that I could get the treat to his mouth after clicking and before he had a chance to step forward. That was probably the more correct of the two options. Instead, I felt like the improvement he was showing was SO huge that it was worth allowing that little step forward as a temporary measure in order to give the horse repeated and rapid positive experiences with standing still while I stepped 3, 4, 5 feet away from him. As we continued this exercise, the horse visibly relaxed. His head dropped, his expression changed and he had an almost constant supply of hay stretcher pellets in his mouth. What did this mean? Good things were happening while he stood still. Standing still was being reinforced- he would be more likely to continue standing still. I would not have continued to go further away from him without correcting that stepping forward, but really felt that the gain was worth it temporarily. I was confident that the more he relaxed while standing still, and the more times he experienced my immediate approach with his treat after the click, the more likely he would be to just stand and wait.

Note- I also want to point out that if he stepped forward before I clicked, I corrected him by making him step back.

Many times a horse gets reinforced for dancing on the cross ties. We approach him and give him attention in an effort to calm him. So he learns to dance to get attention. Dancing is reinforced. In the very least, owners frequently hustle to get back to a dancing horse rather than dawdling in the tack room. So the horse learns to dance to make you return quickly. And once this behavior is a habit- it almost always gets reinforced. Rarely do we drive off and leave a horse on the cross ties for the night! He keeps dancing and eventually his person returns. It takes conscious effort to wait until the dancing STOPS to suddenly step out of the tack room. And then we need to build up from there in the duration of quieter behavior. It's easier to start from right next to the horse to teach him to stand for a count of "1" for a reward, and then progress to 2 and then 3 etc. and then after that build in distance gradually until you can confidently go into the tackroom and leave your confident, happy and quiet horse on the ties until you return.

The photo above is Elly, who was great at escaping to vacuum the aisle just as soon as the halter came off and before the bridle went on until we did some clicker training work with her :)


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Clicker Challenge

OK so I've picked my two subjects for the clicker challenge. I want to work with Kizzy this winter to continue increasing her comfort level. The two behaviors that the group picked were mat work and picking something up. I had to stop and think about which horses didn't already know mat work but I don't think I've done much, if anything, with Kizzy. I may have had her step on the plywood mat a little but I haven't done a lot. Mostly I just want to work with her and increase her understanding that she can have fun with me and make good things happen. I got her willingly standing on the mat just by free shaping in the first session. Now I need to figure out where to go with it next. I think I might incorporate it into the work I'm doing with distance targeting of cones and backing. Last time I did that I think she really started to get the idea of waiting for a cue, rather than just the presence of the cone being her cue. The behaviors are not truly taught until they occur only when a cue is given and every time a cue is given. So now, we need to iron out the details in these behaviors.

As for picking something up, Percy is the man. He already fetches his loopy toy- I taught that last year as a way to give him something he was ALLOWED to mouth. It's so hard for those little boys to keep their teeth to themselves and he has always been so good about it, I wanted to give him an outlet. Just like we give puppies chew toys, why not colts? But I also didn't want him going around willy nilly picking things up in his teeth so I initially limited him to his loopy toy. Of course he occasionally volunteers to pick up other things but I just don't reinforce it. This morning, however, he volunteered to pick up a small, empty mineral supplement bucket I was going to take to the house. I decided that could be fun- I can put things in it and have him ferry stuff around. It will keep him happy and busy as well as entertain others.

We're allowed to choose one other behavior and so I'm sticking with teaching Stowaway to be better about picking up his feet. I realized I probably shouldn't teach it just with a pointing cue because kids need to learn how to pick up a horse's foot. If Stowaway learns to pick them up with a point, the kids won't learn how most horses work! So instead I'll just teach him to do it with a light touch but focus more on having him hold it up. This past summer, if kids were lucky enough to get his weight off it, he'd frequently slam it back down or lean on them. So if he learns to hold his foot up (duration), that should solve that problem as well as teaching him a little self control.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Resolutions


Happy New Year!

I think making a New Year's resolution that is fun makes it more attainable so I am going to make "more training in 2010" one of mine. It's easy to get caught up in other things and not leave myself enough time to work with each horse each day so I am making goals for each horse and I have even been given deadlines.

I am doing a Demo and Intro to Clicker Training Clinic a week from tomorrow at a barn I have just started teaching at this winter. I want to show some things that you can teach with clicker training so I chose something for each of my horses to do and am working on getting short video clips of each of them to show as part of the "demo" portion. I hope the quality of my video camera will be sufficient. So far I've videoed the two youngest and neither has knocked over the camera on tripod so I'm considering myself lucky!

I also recently joined the Clicker Training Horses group on Facebook (anyone on Facebook can fan the Bookends Farm page too!) and they are having a friendly challenge for three weeks in January. Everyone taking part is going to share their experiences (successes as well as difficulties) and if possible, take photos and or video. So that will provide me with new goals after the clinic. The group wants everyone to pick something similar and unfortunately most of mine already know most of the skills they are shooting for but I have enough variety of equines that I think we can still be challenged. Stowaway, for instance, came with absolutely no willingness to pick up his feet. I worked with him last winter (and things move very slowly with Stowaway) and by Spring he was great. But it didn't transfer over to the kids very well because they are so inconsistent with their aids (cues). So one of the challenges is picking up a foot with just a pointing cue. If I am very careful how I teach it and then just as careful teaching the kids the cue, hopefully we'll have better luck this coming season?

I'll be posting the challenges and experiences here as well....

Wishing PEACE for all and in all ways in this New Year.