Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Learning Curve 5 (the curve increases)

The next session (third of the day- what fun to have Alex all to ourselves!!) was the big aha for me.  The aha didn't really come until we were doing our record keeping afterward but I'll lead up to that.  

Goals- 1) assess any differences if we have Percy on a rope, rather than at liberty, 2) introduce the game of basketball, 3) continue to build comfort and connection toward the goal of riding him.  [My footnote- as far as I'm concerned it's a special brand of Alex magic that allows her to figure out that introducing a totally new behavior in the midst of an uneasy horse experience will be the right thing to do.]

Location- the closer half of the arena.  She set out a circle of cones between the round pen and the barn door with a mat between them.  This formed a figure 8 with the cone circle as the bottom part of the 8 and the round pen as the top half.  She set the mat where the two circles joined.  To the right of the 8 was the open wall, which was so very distracting to Percy.  To the left of the 8 she put her toy basketball hoop.  

Basketball: 3-> 4.5 (yes, we now have ranges of numbers)
Figure eight: 3-> 4.3
Hugs: 3.6 -> 4.9

Time- 3:15 to 4: in the afternoon 

Tempo- Basketball: 3, Figure 8: variable depending on position on the 8

Equipment- pen, cones, mat, basketball hoop and loopie toy from home

Reinforcers- h.s. pellets, voice (our excitement when he made a basket), the basketball was becoming a reinforcing behavior, hugs became VERY reinforcing

Emotion- Around cones good but not completely at ease, some worry. Around the pen, he would scoot in the trouble spot which was when he was between the pen and the open wall but that improved greatly during the session.  During hugs he was very engaged.  During basketball he was interested and in SEEKING mode.  

Distraction- that trouble spot when he was "squeezed" between the round pen and the wall.  [footnote- this was not a physically tight space.  There must have been 15 feet between wall and pen.  But as they (Alex worked him in this bit) rounded the corner and began to turn their backs on the open wall, my sense was that he didn't like having his back to it and so he felt trapped or "squeezed" by the pen and being on the rope.  I would have taken the rope off, following my tendency to let him choose whether or not to stay.  Why Alex did not do this was my AHA.  I told Alex (during our discussion afterward) that I felt he did quite well in squeeze situations.  At home, his barn/paddock setup is such that sometimes while I'm doing chores there is a panel that divides his stall door.  I can scoot around the panel by stepping into his stall and back out the other side of the panel.  He's smart enough to know when that space is too small for him...and also smart enough to know when it's just wide enough for him to barely squeeze his hips through.  He doesn't hurry through, but verrry carefully steps through clearing the space by a millimeter on each side.  So, she said, he doesn't feel threatened by a physical squeeze...this is an emotional squeeze.  (The first little light goes on in my brain.)

This was such an enlightening session I'm having trouble figuring out how to write about it.  

To try to give you a mental picture:  starting at the bottom of the 8, they headed clockwise around the cone circle.  When they reached the mat at the connection of the top and bottom, Percy got clicked for stepping onto it and then Alex proceeded with her hugging magic while he stood on it.  To read more about the hugging, see my post from the clinic with Alex in August.    Percy retained his love for being hugged after we got home from that clinic.  My challenge was to try to get him to relax into my hugs, rather than just dropping his head or turning toward me.  The goal was to get him to just relax and allow me to place his head somewhere, rather than cueing him with a touch and having him PUT his head somewhere.  He loved his hugs and he was in hug heaven with Alex.  The mat for this exercise, as a result, was incredibly reinforcing and relaxing.  After many hugs, they headed off counter clockwise up the top half of the 8, putting them in that squeeze spot.  And tada!  Clever me, I have a video clip:

As you can see, he got quite nervous in that spot.  When he hurried past the ideal spot next to Alex, she would turn him and head back through it again.  In our discussion afterward, she asked what I saw.  I thought she was simply walking him through there and if he scooted, then he had to go back.   "Oh, there was much much more than that", she said.  So I think rather than going on to explain, I'll allow readers to watch the video and see if others can catch what I missed.  You have an advantage because I didn't know there was more to it but you do.  

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