Monday, September 6, 2010

One Last (?) Clinic Post

Here are some more photos from the clinic with Alexandra Kurland. One of the other participants sent them to me (thanks Mundi!). In the first two photos, above and directly below, you can see a little of the cone formation which Alex set up for us to use. If you look between the two red cones, you'll see the mat. Ande and I are beginning to turn down the "runway" toward the mat. The runway is formed by the funnel of purple, then yellow, then blue cones, ending at the mat. In the photo above, I am asking Ande for some lateral flexion...not just in his neck but asking him to step up and over as well, although because of the moment this photo was taken, you can't see that bit. The rope is over his neck- I ask and release for this bend; I don't hold it- that's Ande's job.

Then we ask the horse to straighten as we go down the runway (we need to be able to ask for straight as well as bend) toward the mat. In the runway, we practiced asking the horses to take just as many steps as asked for. A horse which has done any significant mat work has learned to love it but we don't want them charging for it without attention to us. So we practiced one step forward, one step back or more, just as long as the horses were attentive to what we were asking. When they showed they were listening and responding carefully, we "released" them to the mat (providing they were mat savvy) and let them go to it. The release was more of a symbolic one, not a physical one. The rope is only over the neck so at no point was the horse physically held back, but emotional control is one of the first things we, as Clicker Trainers, work on. So even though Ande wanted to go to the mat, he kept himself under control and stayed with me. Once I released him to the mat- he went and stood on it, happy and relaxed as in the photo below.
And, may I point out, a nice square halt! That sentence should be underlined, in red and with flashing lights. The base of all of Alex's work is a well balanced horse. I did not have to fuss with him to get this halt- it simply happens as a result of the balancing work built in to her exercises. (oh, and the dog in above photo lived at the farm and was doing his job keeping things tidy by cleaning up any dropped hay stretcher pellets!)

The last photo is a fun one. This was Saturday morning (I think?) as we practiced rope handling skills. Alex built a horse out of four of us: each of us functioning as one horse corner. First she led us around the way many horses are led, with no concern for the horse. She went left and right, stopping suddenly and then just as suddenly taking off forward again. We certainly got to feel what horses feel! As I was the right hind, I frequently felt the whiplash effect of the outside hind!
You can see by the rather evil grin on Alex's face and the way she is pulling on the rope, this was early on in her demo as she was saying "c'mon horse, get moving, what's the matter with you?!" We are not in step here and I am lagging behind as the caboose of the train!

After letting us experience that, Alex switched to more tactful rope handling and leading skills. It was quite a relief. She led us forward and back, through turns and stops and we became more and more in sync....the balanced horse. In order not to anticipate, but rather just feel, I stopped looking ahead and just looked down and followed the feel of the drill team of the horse. That was when I noticed that all of our feet were in lock step! We had not intentionally done it, but through the calm and smooth movements, we had coordinated ourselves, the way the horse learns to coordinate his own body.

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