Sunday, December 9, 2012

Learning Curve 6- spotlight moment

Once he finally calmed down enough to take a brief rest

OK, so- what I missed in Alex's work with Percy was that she actively asked for a response from him.  Rather than waiting for him to calm down, adjust on his own, and just decide to stay even through his anxiety, Alex asked for baby gives.  Her reasoning was based in a John Lyons story.  Many of us train by exposing our horses to as many things as possible.  We start when they are babies by introducing them to halters and ropes and grooming tools and our hands all over their body.  As they get older we add things they may see in their environment: dogs, vehicles, clippers, other animals, plastic bags or wrapped bales, farm equipment, livestock, bicycles, the plastic chain around a dressage arena, big horses, little horses, the trailer, groups of horses, the noise of a loudspeaker, a ribbon on the bridle, other horses galloping past, boots and bandages, the list goes on and on.  But, says John Lyons, what do you do the day an ostrich comes up the driveway?  Did you desensitize him to ostriches?  Or anything remotely like an ostrich?  Different animals have different capabilities for generalization- show them one dog and all dogs are OK or not.  In Percy's case, Black Angus cattle were OK but Holsteins were not.  I like to think this is because he is smart and can tell these subtle differences but I wouldn't mind if he wasn't so keenly aware!  

But the point is, you can't possibly expose them to everything in the world and what do you do when something new and different shows up?  What Alex says he needs to learn is, "even when you are afraid, you can respond to me".  I actually just typed "you need to respond to me" and then had to delete and retype when I looked at my notes because that is a significant difference.  "You need to" is taught and enforced with, well- force.  "You can" is slow, rewarding experiences which show that you are trustworthy in a scary situation.  This was not a light bulb moment but a spotlight moment.  Full on glare of a major piece that was missing from my approach of letting him be completely free to make decisions about whether to stay or leave.  If I waited until he was ready to listen, then I would always be waiting for him to determine if the environment was safe.  I need a way to tell him that I have determined the environment to be safe and so he can stop worrying and play with me.  A horse who isn't a worrier will be more ready to accept this idea.  A Percy is going to take some convincing.

Alex went on to say "if something no longer frightens him, it's no longer of use as a training tool- because you want to teach 'when you're afraid, you can still soften and listen to me'".  There's a glass half-full perspective.  The world is full of training tools.  I simply need to embrace the difficult situations as training opportunities.  I don't have to go far to find them.  As hyper vigilant as he is, I have had many opportunities to work on this right at home in the safety of his own barn and paddock.  

The reason she turned him around when he got worried was not to make him go back to the scary spot.  It was to ensure and practice getting a response when he is worried.  If he's worried about something behind him, he could just bolt off and leave town.  So when he got nervous and his head went up, she'd oh-so-softly ask him to yield his hips and turn.  I just love the way she verbalized it to him, "you're with me".  This was not a light bulb or even a spotlight but a lightning bolt.  Anyone who knows Alex's "Why Would You Leave Me" exercise appreciates the wording of it.  It's not "Hey Get Back Here".  It's "look at all the fun we can have together playing this game and you're getting all these treats, so why would you possibly want to leave?"  "You're with me" is a variation on this. It's not based not on all the fun we're having... the world can be a scary place and when the monsters are hiding under the bed is not when I want to get down on the floor and play tiddly-winks.  When the monsters are under the bed is when I want somebody I trust completely to say, "here, come with me and I'll keep you safe".  

In asking for these baby gives, you can see she wasn't using the big powerful Tai Chi wall to stop his running off.  I haven't built a reliable Tai Chi wall for her to use on him.  I guess perhaps there are horses you can use it on without ever teaching it (and I have), but with a Percy you'd get a 4 year old version of the hoof trimming explosion we got when he was a few weeks old.  So she slid down the rope without taking hold and asked for a turn.  She got a turn, but again we have the precision of Alex's work come in.  She didn't like the quality of the turn.  This isn't just about control- it's about balance and soundness and all that good stuff.  So that was the work to come.


Cynthia said...

Really great post! I just took my youngest donkey out for a walk today and she has been a bit unpredictable lately. She is quite clicker savvy but has developed this habit of scooting behind me and tugging to the side of the road, getting her head all twisted and getting tight and resistant. I've been trying not to react but I definitely have been in the "Hey get back here mode!" Your post is a grea reminder and has given me some ideas - thanks!

Bookends Farm said...

Glad to know it was helpful Cynthia!