Yesterday was a miserable day to be outside, making it a good day to be indoors with a hot cup of tea (or several). I chose to do some reflecting on 2018 and planning for 2019.
Training plans and logs or journals come in many forms and I've tried several: from digital spreadsheets to long hand journaling. I've had the benefit to work under some amazing trainers who shared their approaches and I played with those options. Over time, I've developed a template I really like for daily training of complex behaviors but am still fine tuning my big picture approach.
This post is going to focus on the big picture stuff since that was my focus in looking back and looking ahead yesterday. I've gotten a lot of ideas from the Bullet Journal community. If you are unfamiliar with bullet journaling, I recommend looking at the website of its originator, Ryder Carroll. If you look up Bullet Journal on google or social media, do not be dismayed by what has become an obsession with making pretty pages. Diagnosed with learning disabilities early in life, Ryder was forced to figure out alternate ways to be focused and productive. Isn't focus and productivity what we want from training journals?
I started yesterday by reviewing my daily logs from 2018. I will freely admit to falling off the wagon with this on occasion, but my training is better when I do keep up with it, so those are worthwhile reviewing. Doing so, I was reminded of things I tried which didn't work and how I resolved them. I was reminded of projects I worked on and dropped for one reason or another. Some were dropped for good reason (certain things make lovely noises when chomped on and therefore are not good subjects for being fetched). On the other hand, one thing I was reminded of was that I did some (very minor) TTouch work with Percy for a while and he really liked it. I asked myself why I had stopped and saw that it was when I went away to meet a new baby granddaughter for a week. When I returned, I got right back into training, but forgot all about the TTouch. That brought me to another realization which is that I don't look back often enough. I tend to plan and record, but I was missing a big advantage by not reviewing my records often enough. I hope to make a change in that in the coming year. Yesterday was certainly a good start.
While reviewing my journals, I did something known as a brain dump. I made a different section for the different individuals (horses and dogs) and just wrote things down as I thought of them. They ranged from skills such as training a new way to deliver reinforcers, to wanting to try the TTouch some more, to books I wanted to read (in a section I added at the bottom for me) to long term goals. In a brain dump, you just try to get all the things that are swirling in your head out and down onto paper.
Once I had done that, I picked one individual at a time and studied the list. What could I work on in January? What did I want to work on in January? While trail riding more with Walter was on the big list, it was not something that we could do in January. But here's where I could miss out if I don't look back on this list. Just because I can't work on it now doesn't mean I want to forget about it when the weather and footing improve. I could get so wrapped up in other things that I neglect to make the time in future months for that. This is something that my personal Bullet Journal can help with. Ryder recommends a Future Log where you set aside a page and section it out for the next six months. I now have a note for April which reads "make a plan for trail riding". On April 1st, when I look at the future log, I will be reminded of that.
Percy's and Walter's lists look very different. I have several different things to work on with Percy. Winter is a good time to experiment so in addition to doing some more TTouch with him, I am going to see if that functions better as a warmup to other mental work, as a calm down afterward, or as something that is better to do all by itself in a day just as a way to spend time together. I can use the findings to my benefit when warmer weather and more focused arena work returns.
Walter's got one main theme which is to keep him physically flexible. He arrived with various stiffnesses and habit patterns in his body. He's made good progress in warmer months with regular work, but this time of year his body and mine react the same way. We move less, tense up from cold, take tiny steps on questionable footing, and our physical structures get tight and stiff. I have developed a pattern of movement for him using the barn aisle and the stalls. The footing is solid and I can click and treat for lateral steps turning through the stalls and big steps down the aisle. He also benefits from stepping over raised rails which I can set in the aisle. Finally, I have some new things to play with such as a pedestal and Sure Foot pads to add to our work with hoof placement. I will be confirming all this with his chiropractor.
Once I had things which I wanted to work on in January, I had to make a plan. I have found I work well without having to think about "what to do today". So for Walter and Percy, I set out a list of five things to rotate through. For Percy I varied active thinking days with more relaxing days. I like winter to be a time that we practice our down time. Not every minute together needs to be on his Type AAA mentality. We'll do husbandry skills one day, explore the Sure Foot pads together another day, and try to keep things interesting but relaxing.
For Walter, I set up a rotation that involved working his legs and back in different directions, at his intention and at mine. Some days we'd use props to help him explore different ways to move and stretch and other days we'd use behavior.
I don't get to work with the horses every day due to temperatures and my behavior consulting work schedule with other people. I set out a five day rotation for each horse, thinking that if I got five days per week with each, that would be great. If not, the rotation would continue in order, even if it was only every other day or I skipped several days in a cold snap. I have yet to find gloves that I can extract and feed treats with (that are at all useful for keeping fingers warm) so my training is done in snippets when I remove gloves of the feeding hand.
To track what I have actually done, in the winter I use a calendar layout. In the summer I tend to use more detailed training plans and write them up in individual training journals for each horse. This time of year, it's less about creating and developing complex behaviors and more about mental and physical maintenance so with the plan I outlined for each horse above, I mostly just need to log what I've done. If I want to add more detail, I make a note referring to the journals and I have room to write as much as I want in there.
So what about the ponies? They, alas, do not get the training focus that the others do. They get out in haphazard fashion when other people come to train with me. They work on what the people need to work on, usually the Foundation Lessons in some form. I always have, as a goal, to work with them somehow and what I find is most successful is to choose one of them each day to focus on. Sometimes there is a particular project to work with. Kizzy is learning to ring a bell to ask to be let out when she is through eating her breakfast. She gets that almost every morning right now so that's nice for her.
In order to keep the ponies in rotation and keep skills in rotation, I have used another Bullet Journal technique called a habit tracker. In order to track all the aspects that I want to, I have even incorporated color. This may seem over the top to some people but it works. It's an inexact system, without the detail I am using for the horses, but functions on the basic level I need. I make a chart, listing the days of the month across the top and the horses listed vertically on the left. I have assigned a color to various training topics and I fill in the corresponding block(s) each evening. By looking at this, it's easy for me to be sure that each pony is getting some attention, and that I am varying what we work on, even though it's in sporadic bits.
If I only had one animal to work with, it would be a lot simpler. With six equines and two dogs to keep busy, it has taken me years to work out this system. I am glad to be reminded to look back as well as forward.