I am really looking forward to attending another clinic with Alexandra Kurland in August. After spending a few days with her I am so inspired and amazed at what I learn. I got a little boost of excitement earlier this week when she posted on her "The Click That Teaches" list about her clinic themes for this year. She doesn't post often (everyone else keeps the list moving along quietly but productively) but when she does, they are long posts just bursting with information.
After reading about what her theme for this year has become (she doesn't plan this, the horses give her the theme as the season progresses), I had to decide whether I wanted to focus on this before getting her input, or whether to jump in with her written word and see what she thinks of my work when August comes. I decided it was too good to sit on and I'd give it my best shot for the next 4-5 weeks and then be amazed by her peeling of the layers and what I'm sure to miss! :)
Without trying to rewrite her words, I'm going to give you my interpretation in the form of the exercise I created for Ande (age 4, who will be going with me to the clinic). It's a continuation of loopy training and stresses teaching individual parts of the loops before stringing them together. That can lead to concept training...and I'm not sure I'll understand that until I see Alex in the flesh but here's what I did with Ande:
First I plunked down a mat in the middle of an imaginary circle. Then I put a cone to each side of the mat, about 15 feet away. Additionally, I put two cones about 4 feet in front of the mat about 3 feet apart from each other...a gateway leading to the mat. Opposite the gateway, I laid a large rail about 25 feet away.
x mat x
Unfortunately, the editing of this does not allow me to line these little x's up correctly. I'll try to get a photo or video.
IF I understand correctly, I can teach Ande the concepts of staying straight to a fence as well s looking to me for the next jump in a course by using this little exercise. Ande was wearing his halter with the lead draped over his neck. He was at liberty. I walked out of the barn with him toward my little setup. Seeing the mat, he headed toward it because that's a learned place to get goodies. So, he was right next to me. But rather than going straight to the mat, I clicked as we went through the little gateway. Hm. He did stop, not quite sure about what. He got his treat and moved off with me again to go the 2 steps or so to the mat. Click and treat for two quiet feet on the mat. Three more CTs for standing quietly and waiting on the mat. Then I stepped forward and he moved off with me, CT and praise! Leaving the mat is not always easy!
Forward again and I turned left, making a small circle toward one of the cones to the side. CT for turning and staying with me, CT at the cone. Staying with me at liberty is not new- we have done this oodles and oodles. The CTs were simply to reinforce "yes, this is what we are doing today". I often use cones as markers for places to CT- I taught him to free longe on a 20 meter circle that way. So that is not new. But I was marking the specific circle I wanted him to do by CTing at it. Going to and standing on a mat is not new. The only new part here was the little gateway of cones. Why? I wanted him lined up straight for the mat, not approaching it at an angle. I would like to teach him the concept of approaching fences straight...and I had that rail set out there for that purpose.
I repeated that circle three times. He knew the exercise well and was stopping at the little gateway of cones readily. That had him focusing on them so he was always lined up to go to to the mat straight. The next time we left the mat, I stepped into his space a bit to send him to the right toward the right hand cone instead of the left. I knew I had to be careful because of mistakes I have made with his space and crabbiness in the past. He is SO much more pleasant faced now but I know to be watchful. I had to time my clicks carefully to reward his stepping away and not any ears back when I got in his space. I wanted him looking to me for suggestions on where to go to earn a click, not irritated because I was pushing him around.
And so we built in a circle to the right: CT for turning right when I stepped right, CT at the right hand cone, CT for turning right toward the gateway, CT for going through the gateway, CT at the mat. Each one of those CTs was a link in our chain. Each one of those spots is a reinforcing place for him to be. I began to leave out the CTs for turning away and he stayed right with me to the next cone without frustration because he knew the cone was the next place he could get to CT. In this way, learned behaviors become rewarding themselves.
I did three circles to the right, and then alternated one to the left and one to the right. He visibly watched me as I left the mat to see which way to turn. Just what I wanted.
We are having a heat wave and after this little exercise at the walk, the sweat was literally dripping off my chin....at 9:30 in the morning. I decided that was a good start and I will save the rail option for another day. That will simply be another option after we leave the mat- to go straight to the rail for a CT. I will not CT at the rail much but instead show him that going over the rail leads to going somewhere else for a CT. That way I won't have a pony who thinks the job is over when he goes over a fence, but will be looking up and for where to go next that will be fun!