Wednesday, August 25, 2010

High Rate of Reinforcement- conclusion

I only reported on the first two days of the clinic regarding the high rate of reinforcement. On the third day, I did tack Ande up so that if he was still calmly focused on me I could ride. I think the biggest distraction on that last day was in my own mind. Because it was the afternoon of the last day, I was having a hard time staying present rather than thinking about the long drive home, what awaited me at home (having been gone almost four days) and the fact that I needed to be up and away early the next day to teach at Pony Club camp. On top of that, we had some heavy rains blow through in the morning while the horses were turned out and instead of going in the shed, they chose to race around in it and then stand in the middle of it. After that the sun came out and it was hot and sticky so the bugs came out in full force and when we went to bring them in, they were pretty stressed. They got hosed off and were cool and dry by afternoon but mentally, I was not as composed as I could have been.

I have been saying "they" because I took Mariah to the clinic as well, so that my friend, Sarah Memmi, could work with her. Sarah lives only an hour from me and it's great to have a support person like her so close! She helped me back Ande as well as learn the single rein riding techniques with Smarty. Since I was taking the trailer, it was wonderful to put Mariah on as company for Ande as she is such a steady big girl. Here is a photo of Sarah and Mariah at the clinic. So, back to riding Ande- after the morning romp, Mariah was calling to him more than the previous day so he really did a good job paying attention. Furthermore, I was also concentrating on taking the "make it happen" out of my body language...more on that in another post. So we had a very nice light communication going on but when Mariah would call from the barn, he had a hard time ignoring her. After a bit, Alex and I did agree that I could get on. Alex reminded me of her rule for riding: no one is allowed to fall off in her presence. :)

There was a time or two when I wondered if I had made the right decision- Ande never did anything wrong but that focus was constantly being tested by Mariah's whinnies. Alex talked me through it, having me repeat the exercises we'd done on the ground. I was really happy to get on and test the same things under saddle. Alex pointed out I was not releasing soon enough when I asked for a single rein stop. She said if you really need a stop, go ahead and reach far down the rein but it's very dangerous to hang on to that for fear of flipping the horse. I needed to be more sensitive to when he gave even a little in his hip and let go of the rein then. It's not as if he was taking off with me of course...but he sometimes offers a little jog because we've been working on it at home and initially it got a lot of reinforcement. I am working on putting it on cue so now when he offers it without the leg aid first, I slide down the inside rein for a stop.

One of my questions with him was that when I asked for little gives of his jaw and poll, he would give me the whole thing- a lovely flexion all the way through his neck, stepping up nicely from behind and then softly stepping over laterally. I was making it way more complicated than it needed to be. Alex simply said that I didn't need to keep asking when he already had it down! When I worried about the lateral steps when I didn't ask for them, she simply said "ride him forward". OK, talk about a "duh" moment. Actually, we had done all that on the ground so that when I was riding, all I had to do was think about riding forward, rather than laterally, and he held his lovely balance and went forward when I asked for it, or over when I asked for that.

Such a difference with this approach...I guess I'm just not used to having it be so easy!


Mad Dog Ranch said...

Thanks for taking time to write this, amidst all your other activities. Um. pony club camp, Anthony coming home, etc. Great posts about the clinic.

Hope you enjoyed the experience. Highlight at MY Alex clinic (where I was organizer and host.... blahhhh, too much) was having my horse calmly accept me putting one hand on his forehead and one under his chin. So you got to ride! Rock and Roll!

Bookends Farm said...

I haven't hosted an Alex clinic but have done similar things and I really applaud and am grateful for those who do!
Yes, getting to ride is quite a highlight :)
I really need to get more posts written because even yesterday I was struggling to remember the details...because we left immediately afterward, I hadn't taken notes on that lesson. Writing things down is a big help to my memory...thus the blog!