Monday, March 30, 2009

Medical treatments 2

I had another little session with Percy and the syringe yesterday afternoon. I took some warm water out and sucked some up into the syringe. Then I let him bite the end of it a couple times for a Click/Treat and then when he took it the next time, I squirted some of the water in his mouth. It did surprise him but I C/T'd and tried again. He wasn't too sure but did it again with the same response. hmmmm. I need to work on that part even more slowly. I stopped there so I could spend some time coming up with more baby steps.

This morning, I wore a different coat to the barn so I didn't have the syringe in my pocket. This was probably a good thing because I wasn't sure if he'd want to try it again and it prevented me from trying it! I went hunting in the tack room for a suitable substitute (I wanted a pen with a cap but had removed them all in early winter so they didn't freeze and break). I did find a little plastic "pin" for an electric fence gate that was about the same diameter as the tip of the syringe. I thought it would be a good imitation since it was plastic and a little pokey.

I think the term for what I am doing here is called generalization. I don't want him to think that this "game" is about standing in a particular place, using a particular tool, or inserting something in his mouth in a particular way. And animals do look at things that way. A willingness to walk into one horse trailer does not necessarily carry over to comfort walking into a different trailer. So while I am avoiding touching his wound so that I don't hurt or discourage him, I do want to put various things in his mouth, in various ways (different parts of his lips) and with different results. I hope this will make him less hesitant in the future for any necessary procedures involving his mouth: worming, checking teeth, bits, etc.

He was game to give the little plastic pin a try and pretty soon was happily grabbing hold of it with his front teeth for C/Ts. Somehow I needed to get the ability to stick something in the side of his mouth. I went back to steadying his nose with one hand and then began brushing the corner of his lips with the pin. That was OK too. Then I thought I should see if I could get him to target the corner of his mouth to the pin. This would put the action in his hands, rather than just asking him to tolerate my actions. I held the pin right next to the corner of his mouth so his smallest movement had his lips bump the pin. I did this several more times until I thought he really might be doing it on purpose rather than just bumping it accidentally and then I gave him a jackpot of a handful of pellets and stopped there.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Medical treatments

So now I have a chance to work on something I have read a lot about- teaching Percy to accept/enjoy having a syringe put in his mouth! The vet jokingly said as he left that it would be ideal if I could rinse the wound inside his mouth regularly to try to keep food from getting in it. I know a lot of people who have taught their horses to take wormer tubes in their mouth so this will be the same idea, but at least my goal only includes a water rinse!

I began this afternoon by introducing him to a 15 cc syringe. I let him touch it with his nose, C/T many times as I tried to see if he would touch it with various parts of his nose as well as let me brush it against his lips while he held still. I was careful not to touch the area around his wound as I didn't want anything to hurt and discourage him. Luckily, I think the best bet will be to put the syringe in the opposite side of his mouth and shoot the water in from that side....although I'm not sure if his tongue will get in the way. Since the vet didn't think it was possible at all, I figure anything I do will be better than nothing and it will be a good general experience for him and may carry over to future wormings!

After several C/Ts for the syringe touching his lips, he offered to bite the end of it- yea! I gave him a lot more hay stretcher pellets than usual- he is learning to like mints as a jackpot, but I wasn't too sure if the sugar would be at all problematic with the wound (it might actually help as I know they use sugar to contract tissues for prolapse replacements?!) I also told him how wonderful he was and gave him a good scratching on his shedding itchy neck. I wanted him to get the idea that was the best of all! He did this a few more times since it had been so successful before and then I tried poking it between his lips at the corner of his mouth. He did not like that- whether it was because it was me doing it rather than him, or because the syringe was a little pokey or memories of getting bute paste when he was castrated, I'm not sure. The important thing was that it was too big a step and I needed to figure out how to break it down smaller into steps that we could be successful with.

I put the syringe in my pocket and started touching all over his nose with my finger for several more C/Ts. No problem with that! Then I stopped to really think about how I would approach the actual rinsing and realized that I would probably want to steady his head with my left hand. Not to prevent him from pulling away because that was not the point. Instead it was more to steady myself. So I rested my left hand on the lower part of his nose, CT, slid my hand over the bridge of his nose, C/T. Again, I didn't want to really touch the opposite side of his face where the wound was, so I figured the bridge of his nose would work. When he was happy with this, I started touching the corner of his mouth with my finger tip. Each time he held still, I C/T'd and the next time would stick my finger just a tiny bit further in his mouth. This caused no concern whatsoever and soon I could easily stick my finger in his mouth up to halfway between my 1st and 2nd knuckles. I decided that was enough for that session.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Well, Percy earned his first little boy stitches today :( The good news is that he was very, very good about the whole thing. I was so glad he has had the clicker training that he has so that he felt he had a choice in the whole matter (even though he really didn't!), but it made all the difference in the world to handling him. The vet repeated over and over what a good boy he was being.

My first trick was putting his halter on, considering where the wound was. And that was clicker training's first victory. Since Percy was trained to "self-halter", he does not try to evade the halter at all, but rather pokes his nose into the noseband when I hold the halter, and then holds it still while I do up the crownpiece. Very different from trying to stuff many weanlings into a halter while they try to wiggle away! And in this case, if it hurt, he could stop, rathe
r than me trying to force it on him. He had no fear or anxiety about the situation. I did click a couple times for him putting his nose in just to reassure him but also knew it probably didn't feel good going on although once it was on, the noseband sat above the wound.

I wasn't sure at first how deep the wound was, but my biggest concern was that there were large bubbles coming out of the blood in the wound. That made me think that air was coming OUT of the wound....which made it seem like the wound must go all the way through to the inside of his
mouth. It didn't look that bad, however, so I decided to see if he would let me clean it enough to get a better look at it. I took a bucket of hot water and some cotton out to him and put him in the round pen where it was bright and protected from the other horses. I let him investigate the things I had brought with me and C/T'd him for touching the various scary objects like the crinkly roll of cotton. Once he was comfortable with that, I dipped some cotton in the water and just wiped a little blood off below the wound where I hoped it was not too painful. He let me do it and I C/T'd but he didn't like it. After a couple times, I tried the other side and he let me scrub away at the other side of his face with no problem. That told me that he was reacting from pain on the injured side, not because he didn't like the feel of the cotton or hot water. I did not want to traumatize him at all before having a vet look at him so I decided it was time to call him in. I did not want the halter irritating the wound so I carefully removed it and let him out of the pen. I was glad to see he was willing to eat his hay.

When the vet arrived, I was in the barn and had Percy followed me- no halter or rope, out to meet him. He walked right up to the good doctor and stood for visual examination. He then followed me back to the round pen where I had left his halter and followed me in. Clicker training victory #2 (at least)- no equipment needed to get him where I needed him and proof that he was happy, confident and not fearful. He willingly put his head in the h
alter again and stood pretty well while the vet administered a sedative. Now you COULD say that after that, his excellent behavior was all due to the fact that he was under pharmaceutical effect, but considering how the vet kept telling him how good he was being and commented that he was a lot better than adult horses he had treated, and I have seen plenty of horses react like lightening even under the influence, I think his comfort levels and training had a huge amount to do with the fact that the rest of it went off without a hitch.

The vet did check the inside of his mouth and found a matching wound on the inside of his cheek, a little bit longer. He could
not find any connecting hole, but said, considering the bubbles, there might have been a very tiny hole. The question was, HOW did he do it??? I think I found the culprit:

He and Rumer had been playing hard this morning and had managed to break this insulator off the panel. I guessed, and the vet agreed, that Percy had somehow gotten that sharp crack in the broken insulator into his mouth so that each side of it cut both the inside and outside of his mouth. We are hoping the inside will heal well on its own and not get full of food, etc. He got a tetanus booster and his spring shots while we were at it- stitches come out in 10-14 days.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Play time

Teaching tricks and games is a common activity for many clicker trainers. To quote Alexandra Kurland, "Tricks are fun, plus they develop your horse's emotional control...Trick training is an easy way to spook-proof your horse". Since spook-proofing is a big part of training babies, I thought a big blue beach ball would be a fun thing to play with.

I put the ball in the round pen and one at a time brought Ande, Rumer and Percy in to play. My first goal was to get them to target it, which with these guys was a cinch. They are curious and know that touching scary things usually gets them a treat! It's a pretty big ball so I did not hold it for them at first the way I would do for something smaller that they would have to reach down for. They each reached out and touched it quickly and then got 10 trials of touch/click/treat. Rumer had a little confusion because she wasn't sure if it was the fact that she was putting her head down or actually touching the ball that was getting clicked. Several times, she put her head to the ground right next to the ball so was in fact touching the ball and getting clicked.

After they had each gotten 10 rapid C/T for touching the ball, I touched it with my foot to push it forward just far enough so that they would have to take a step to target it. Here I got different responses. Ande followed it easily, and I continued to tap it around the round pen with him following and targeting. He did think he should be with me though so if I kicked it more than a couple feet and stood still, he was hesitant to go to it and would circle around me and I could tell he got frustrated. So I went back to kicking it just a foot or two and stayed with him so he could be successful and we'll work on more distance another day when I take time to teach him to leave me to target something.

Rumer first had to figure out that it was touching the ball and not head down that was what I was looking for. I had to ignore her head down, walk to the ball and she would follow, then she'd target the ball for a C/T so that is where I need to work with her- getting her to figure out that it is targeting the ball that I want- which I will do by holding the ball and moving it around for her to target before putting it back on the ground. She was a little more concerned than Ande about the ball's movement. As long as it went away from her, she was fine, but when it rolled toward her, she would raise her neck and twist her head down suspiciously to watch it and move a foot if it touched her (whereas I think I could have bounced it off Ande's head without worrying him...and I'd like to get to the point where I could bounce it off his back!)

Both Ande and Rumer were a little distracted being in the round pen because I haven't used it all winter due to snow. There is a little left in there but it's great to be able to use it again. But all the babies wanted to explore it! They each wandered off a couple times to sniff at old manure piles or weeds along the edge but would come back within a matter of seconds. Percy, on the other hand, was like a kid in a new playground. He is usually SO intent on playing games with me that I was pleased and surprised to see him decide that targeting the ball was fun, but he'd really rather just look around. I say I was pleased because I was a little concerned that he put too much pressure on himself to figure out the games and would occasionally get frustrated but be unwilling to back off to calm down. So it was nice to see him just be a baby :) He also seemed to think perhaps it was a good place to show off and trot and canter around a bit with his archy little neck. Wish I'd had the video camera!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More duration mat work- details

I have been continuing to work with Elly on the mat and we have worked up to a fairly consistent count of 15 for duration of her standing still on the mat. I have gotten a little fussier about how she stands as well, which I think is why we don't have more duration than that yet. Initially, as long as she kept her feet on the mat, it counted. But she quickly started to creep with her feet, closer to me. It was an inch by inch creep but it did mean that she was definitely not "standing". Initially I allowed it because I thought she was just adjusting for comfort but it transitioned into this creeping. Not only was it working against the purpose of the build self control in her...but it also was going to affect my long-term goal of better trailer loading: I don't want her creeping toward me off the side of the trailer ramp.
So now I try to make sure she is in a balanced position before I begin to count, and then if she moves one foot even an inch, I stop the counting, re-position her, and begin counting again. I do count out loud. That seems to convey to her that we are working on something. If she moves, I stop counting and am quiet until she is re-positioned, then begin counting out loud again.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Whip cues (the Duct Tape lesson) and harnessing steps

Along with teaching the babies to back out my space, I am going to brush up on their ability to move various parts of their bodies away from me with a whip cue. I want to be very careful to define the word cue here the way I use it. When I give a horse a cue, he or she has the option not to respond to it. My hope is that they will always respond to my cues because they want to get along with me. I hope that they will learn to respond to a cue so automatically that they will respond even in a questionable situation. That is what didn't happen the other day when Ande scooted off. If he had been more solid in his response to my request for a hip yield, he should have hit the end of the rope so that his front end stopped and the back end swung around. So- here we are once again back at basics.

As shedding season is upon us, I put both Ande and Rumer, in turn, on crossties for a grooming session. I used the cross ties in the shed for Rumer where there is a solid wall behind her in case she should pull back but Ande was in the aisle of the barn as he needs to get big boy training. I had done a little backing with each as I approached the gate to get them. They like to crowd at the gate and push each other for the chance to be the one to be taken out. Obviously, this is a good thing that they are so willing to come work with me but it gets dangerous with them pushing and shoving while I'm trying to get through the gate. They both seemed to have "gotten it" though: today I could just point the whip at their chest and they promptly backed away so they were C/T'd promptly as well. This is the repetition I want to try to keep up and not just assume they know it and drop it before it becomes automatic for them.

After currying, brushing and using the shedding blade, I took out a long whip that I have. It used to be a longe whip but my first Jack Russell chewed the lash off it so now it is just a long stiff whip- which I actually really like in a lot of situations! The lash can get so tangled up in things and sometimes a dressage whip just isn't long enough. Standing in front of them (again, I did this at separate times for each of them), I pointed at their chest and C/T'd for prompt energetic steps back. I only asked for one step. I am not increasing the criteria at this point- just getting the behavior solid. After they had been successful a couple times, I reached back and tapped on one hip. I had done a quick review to make sure neither was at all afraid of the whip and they were both fine with having it all over them and their legs etc as I had done that before. Rumer was pretty responsive and it didn't take many taps before she stepped away- C/T. I was careful to keep the taps light and in a steady rhythm and not escalating the pressure at all. The second she took any weight off either hind foot in the beginnings of stepping away, I dropped the point of the whip to the ground and clicked. I also told her she was wonderful and rubbed her face. I had her step away to each side and then for an easy treat, asked her to back. It's nice for them to be able to do something easy once in a while when they are learning something new or difficult. We only did this a few times to each side and I thought that was sufficient introduction for her.

I also took a few minutes to introduce the breeching of the harness to her. She has worn the surcingle and had the long reins flapped around but the breeching sits on the top of her rump and against the back of her hind legs. As a filly, she has been a little goosy at times but she was great about this. She got C/T'd for letting me put it on her back, then letting me put it on her rump (I was careful at first not to let it go over the back of her legs), then since she had shown no concern, I did let the back part slide down the back of her legs. She was great for it all and so I quit there. I will work with the crupper and her tail on another day.

Ande is not a reactive type horse (bolting in his case I think was more of a whoopee! than a reaction). Last year I had tried to introduce a whip cue to start him longeing but it seemed like I could tap away on him all day without getting a reaction. I didn't want to increase the pressure so I was a bit stumped. It turned out to be more successful with him to use my hand to lead him forward and/or a voice cue. I am now learning that I can use these cues which are successful to transition him over to the whip cue. But since I was asking for a step sideways, I couldn't ask for forward, so instead I just took a hold of his halter and bent him slightly toward me so that his position also made him want to step away in order to straighten out. I only had to do this once or twice and then I could just ask with a tap of the whip. He actually began to move when I simply raised the whip to point and that was great. That's what I'd like the behavior to end up as- simply a pointing of the whip or even my hand at a body part and have him move away from it.

Something I noticed was that both Ande and Rumer stepped to the right more easily than the left. A lot of people say that horses naturally bend more easily to the left, which would set them up better for a step away to the right with the hip. But I wonder how much of it is being taught to lead from the left so they get consistent practice bending and giving in that direction. In either case, I need to remember to work that other side!

I titled this the "Duct Tape Lesson" because that is what Alex Kurland calls it when we teach horses to move various body parts in different directions. She puts duct tape on the part of the horse she wants to move to show people which parts are most successful at moving a horse. You can read more about this in her book The Click That Teaches, A Step-by-Step Guide.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Back to Basics

There are always reminders with horses that we need to go back to basics. The more we learn, the more holes we see in our previous training! I had a little wake-up call from Ande the other day. He's been such a star for so long that I let myself get careless in handling him, treating him like a grown-up horse instead of a 2 year old. Earlier this week I had him out and was working him in hand when he suddenly bolted, yanking the lead out of my hand and kicking out in glee as he went....and giving me an impressive bruise on my thigh.

It's taken me several days to work through this in my mind and try to come up with "why" and "what's next". I corresponded with a friend whose knowledge and experience I greatly respect and that was a crucial piece of helping me think it through. The whys I came up with:
  • he has been living in confined winter quarters with ice, snow or mud for footing for months and this day he could see wide open spaces which were too tempting
  • I was leading him on the right, which isn't foreign to him, but apparently is not as solid as leading from the left
  • his single rein stop is not as solid as I'd hoped so he blew through his shoulder rather than yielding his hip when he hit the end of the line
  • I've gotten lazy about my handling him and he has gotten less respectful of my space
  • he's only 2 1/2!
So the what's nexts correspond:
  • don't forget how old he is and practice practice practice the basics and be consistent and clear with my expectations of his behavior.
  • work more with him from the right
  • work more on the hip yields
  • look forward to when it dries out so they can all get out in bigger pastures and kick up their heels without danger to me!
Happy Spring!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ande at almost 3

Ande is the last one to be introduced and he has the biggest goal for the year! Ande will be three years old on May 23rd and so this year he becomes a riding horse. He has had lots of work in hand since birth, and late last year I introduced him to long lining. Late this winter I have been able to do a little more long lining with him and I've been thrilled at how much he has remembered and how brave he is. Last fall I also sat on him with the help of a friend at his head. This friend has done a lot more clicker training than I have so she made sure I took baby steps all the way and clicked and treated him as we went. He was great about it. A week or so later, I got on him again by myself- she had led me a couple steps on him but I did not try to do that on my own. At this point, he has no idea what leg aids mean.

One of my projects while I long line him has been to get him consistent on a voice cue for walk from a halt so that I have a way to get him to walk forward once I am on him and can then transition him over to leg aids. Normally I would use a "cluck" to get him to go forward but my history has taught me how to escalate the clucking too easily and that leads to my losing my patience. So instead I am using a kissing noise. I have used that to get his attention and to get him to come to me and it is a sound he likes and associates with paying attention and moving. So that is what I have used while long lining him. I try to click and reward frequently when he responds quickly to it, which of course means that he stops to get his treat...but that is a good excuse to practice it again!

I am also trying to fine tune some of the "Why Would You Leave Me?" (WWYLM) game that we have been doing for a while. This is how flexions are introduced on the ground and lead to lateral movement on the ground. I am very excited to get on a horse for the first time who already knows how to flex and move laterally...the babies I've ridden before have certainly not had those basics! It is challenging right now to find an area of ground the size of a decent circle that is not icy or muddy to practice this in. But on these nice warm days, we'll deal with the footing!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Zoe's yoga

Zoe is a TB mare who belongs to my daughter. She is Percy's mom so has been out of work (as an event horse) for a little over a year. She is definitely a high- energy and high-anxiety horse. Before being bred, she could never have more than a month off of work because she would get so wound up because she was bored! Thankfully, she adapted well to motherhood and Percy kept her busy enough that she certainly did not get bored. When they were weaned in early December, she seemed to transition into vacation time without too much trouble.

My focus with Zoe has been relaxation. Last winter I did a fair amount of work with her on head down. My daughter had taught that to her already but she would only go down to ankle height for me and then would "trampoline" back up. If you didn't click the instant her head went down, she'd bounce back up, then down and up etc. I felt like she would really benefit from the self-control of duration work. In addition, I think her body needs a lot of the stretching that comes with head down and her mind needs all the relaxation it can get. Basically, like a lot of moms, she needs yoga!

When Zoe gets very anxious, she chews on her tongue to calm herself down. Today I was working on Elly on her mat in the paddock next to Zoe and I happened to look up to see Zoe standing next to the fence chewing on her tongue. She loves to work, loves attention and really wanted to be the one I was working with. So when I was done with Elly, I took the doormat into Zoe's stall to work on the mat and head down. I had done some work with her on this mat before but it wasn't as solid as I'd hoped. The previous time I positioned her on the mat with a lead and she figured it out pretty quickly. This time I was hoping she would offer it by herself but it wasn't that solid yet. I did get her to put both feet on it by having her target my hand but she had only the toe of one foot on and the heel of the other. I probably should have gotten her halter but she was offering head down with her feet like that (as I said, I have done a LOT of HD with her!) so I decided to go with that.

I think the biggest lesson from working with her today is I need to decide exactly what criteria I'm working on and be clear in my own mind so I can be clear with her. I lumped too many things together: the mat, the head down and exactly what was I looking for in HD. It's been a while since I have really focused on her so I should have had some review of: nose to the floor, not just low, then add the duration to that and then bring the mat into it. As a result, we didn't get too far and it was dinner time so I decided to stop there and try again tomorrow when I was more mentally organized.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Stowaway at the beginning

Stowaway is the newest member of Bookends Farm
He arrived at the end of last summer. I purchased him for my lesson program as a solid citizen who would be safe for young kids. Stowaway is a 14 h POA about 12 years old. He has been used as a camp pony and is very quiet and absolutely wonderful for the kids. He introduces an interesting topic for clicker training. What makes him such a traditional "bombproof" horse is that he doesn't react to much of anything. He seems not to mind what kids do on his back. However, the object of clicker-training, or at least the way I see it, is to teach horses to respond well to the lightest of aids so that harsher aids aren't necessary. So Stowaway will be an interesting project for me to see if I can make his life better without making him too sensitive for beginning riders.

I chose not to begin clicker training him when he arrived because I wanted to be able to teach him the foundation lessons when kids would not be spending time with him. The foundation lessons are about Manners and include staying calm; and being polite about food and space. I knew there could be some questions in his mind at the beginning about just how to get the treats and how pushy he could be. I did not want him to make any innocent mistakes that could endanger or frighten a child. So I waited until winter, when my lesson season takes a long break, to begin. And then we had a very cold winter so I'm really just beginning with him now!

Targeting and charging the clicker are the place to start any horse new to clicker training. Charging the clicker is simply helping the pony to understand that click=treat always. You can do this by simply standing with the horse and clicking and treating until the horse begins to perk up every time he hears the click because he knows a treat will follow immediately. You can also begin by introducing very simple targeting and charge the clicker at the same time. This is what I did with Stowaway. I use a wooden dowel about 15" long with a tennis ball stuck on the end. The ball provides a bright large target to aim for so that the pony doesn't try to target the area right next to your hand. By putting the ball right in front of his nose, he couldn't avoid touching it and each time he did, I clicked and gave him 2 hay stretcher pellets.

Stowaway has reacted the way I expected: not too enthusiastic. I think he has been taught not to offer other words, not to do anything that he hasn't been told to do. This is generally considered the safest way for kid ponies to behave. But clicker-trained horses are far more active participants in life. This is where I am going to need to be careful. But so far, the other horses that I have clicker trained have exceptional manners.

In any case, I am spending my time with Stowaway doing a lot of targeting so that with luck, he will become more confident that this is something he can do and will be reinforced for. He will gladly touch the target, will reach up, down and to both sides for it, and will walk forward a few steps to touch it. If there is hay in the paddock, he would rather go eat that (unlike the other horses who prefer to play and interact than just eat hay) so I do keep him on a halter and lead so he can't walk away from me. He shows typical one-sided behavior. I started teaching him by standing on his left and he is much more hesitant when I move to his right. He tries to walk around behind me to put me back on his left....which technically is OK since he is touching the target and in fact is putting a lot of effort to get to it. But I want him to learn that he can work off both sides so that it will transfer over to other parts of working with him including riding.

He also likes to conserve his energy and so backing up to take his treat is not something he does willingly. I do think that will be important to teach him because if a child has a treat, I want him to back away to get it, not reach for it. He will also really benefit from the muscle building which will occur with the "rebalancing" of his weight to back up. Today he was very unwilling to back but I realized that he was a little concerned about the footing (slushy ice) and if I positioned him so that he was backing on the level or slightly downhill, he would back; it was only if he had to back up a slight incline that he refused (and so would abandon the treat rather than back up to get it.) Hopefully that shows that I am learning to problem solve!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Smarty and Microshaping

Smarty is a 23 year old TB who I have had for 4 1/2 years. Before that, he carried many people through the world of eventing. His name is perfect for him as he is almost too clever. He loves a good joke :).

Smarty loves clicker training and is very vocal when we work on things- nickering happily each time I click. He's great at totally new behaviors (targeting, mat work, etc), but being a 23 year old who has been around, I've had some trouble getting him to trust me through some traditional type experiences. Like scary things we meet when out riding- head down just is not an option in his mind. When he gets worried, he head goes so high I can almost not see around it! I tried over the years to work backwards: continuing to ride and just asking for head down when necesary. But that didn't seem to work- and I think now it's because my mind was not in the right place. I was "commanding" him to put his head down, even though I was doing it with my usual cue. So this winter I have tried to back off those kinds of things and work more on new behaviors until I build his trust enough that we can transition over, from the bottom up.

So I decided he would be a great candidate for microshaping. Microshaping involves looking for teeny movements, for instance just the twitch of a muscle- to reinforce and then build on. Others have experienced amazing physical results in their horses by building muscle, keeping laid up horses toned, bringing back horses who have been injured etc. I decided it would be good for Smarty since he has been incredibly fit at times in his life and as he ages, I'd like to help him maintain some condition without putting too much wear and tear on his aging structure.

So I began with Smarty in his stall and with just the stall guard across his door. He, of course, stuck his head out, then reached for me, then leaned on the stall guard, etc which were all perfect because I knew he would eventually rock his weight back and that was what I was looking for. As soon as he did, I clicked. That's all it took and he was figuring it out. So then I had to decide exactly what I was looking for. In Alex Kurland's microshaping DVD, she points out various muscles to watch and reinforce. But it's winter in Vermont and even though I take his blanket off to do this, he's so fuzzy that individual muscles are hard to identify! I plan to watch her DVD again and try to get some ideas.

At this point, he knows it is about shifting his weight back but not sure how much or how far. Smarty has perfected the "air paw". He lifts his right front up high in front of him and paws without touching the ground. I can only imagine he figured out in some previous time in his life that he could express his impatience this way without getting in trouble for the noise of pawing! But I do occasionally get that when I'm microshaping because to do it, he shifts his weight to his hind end. So I'm trying to see if I can distinguish before he does it whether he is going to air paw or just shift.

Yesterday I was working on seeing if I could get him to stand square with microshaping. Since he always does the air paw with his RF, he usually is supporting himself on the LF. I thought it would be important to work both sides and ask him sometimes to support with the RF and lift the LF. So sometimes I wouldn't click until he took a full step back- but if he was supporting with his RF and beginning to take the weight off the LF, I would click for just a muscle flex.

Boggles the mind how they figure this out and are SO aware of what they are doing!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kizzy and targeting cones

Today I will introduce you to Kizzy. Kizzy holds a special place in my heart; perhaps it is because she is the littlest, perhaps because she was the pony who started me off giving Jr Pony Club lessons here or perhaps because she was a rescue who was a challenge to even catch when I first got her. The littlest lesson kids love her (and so do their moms!). She is not at all a laid back pony- and kids who learn to post on Kizzy have really accomplished something as her trot steps are rapid-fire! Kizzy is also Rumer's mom :) She is about 12 hands and in her early teens. I have had her about 3 years.

I began using her as a lesson pony the first year I had her even though I knew very little about her background. My daughter, who is a perfect pony rider because even as an adult, she fits on ponies just fine, had ridden her and she was a little wiggly but didn't object to being ridden. I was only planning on using her for one beginner on a longe line anyway... little did I know how that would grow!

I knew she had been treated harshly and she was very head shy; and very quick to jump and react around people. Initially, I just gave her time to get used to us and tried to reward her with treats and pleasant experiences whenever people approached.

Fast forward to today. I have used her in lessons with many children and she has come along nicely. It is great to introduce new kids to her because they can easily see how they need to move slowly around her so she doesn't get worried. Because of her size being perfect for very young children, I am trying to find ways to make her job enjoyable and be a good mount for small children as they become more independent and go off lead. My current project with her is teaching her to go to a cone even if it means going away from me. Now that she feels safe with me, she'd rather stick close to me when kids are on her than go off around the arena. As long as the kids use proper rein aids, she does go along, but sometimes it requires stronger aids than I'd like and I'd rather she was happy with her job of going where a child "suggests". I'm hoping to use targeting cones to teach her to go around the arena, to go over a line of ground poles or a small jump and go straight to the end, etc. without needing a lot of direction from her tiny riders.

Now Alex Kurland has filled my head with fantasies of teaching a pony to identify colors and be able to direct them around a whole course from a distance. I'm sure she is very capable of doing that but right now, I need to start at the beginning! So after teaching her to target cones, it took some time to teach her that she could walk away from me to go to a cone. As soon as I tried to stop and just have her go a step beyond me, she would stop dead. Good pony! I can't fault her for that!

So I needed a cue to tell her it was OK to keep going beyond me. Today was the first day we really achieved that. What I do is slide down the leadrope as we arrive at the cone and invite her to continue going forward by extending my hand out in front of her nose in a gently sweeping motion. At first I hung back just a hair as we approached the cone and made sure not to put any pressure on the leadrope that she would interpret as a request to stop. I do want this pony to halt at the slightest request from a small person. I felt it was a huge success when she took this tiny initiative to go beyond me. Even though she is VERY food motivated, she is more concerned about getting in trouble. I repeated that several times to make sure she was confident in stepping ahead of me and to try to be sure that both she and I were clear on the cue: I need to be very consistent with the cue I am giving her and I wanted several repetitions so I was sure she really understood it. Then I began to ask for a little more- a full step ahead of me, then a step-and-a-half, etc but with many repetitions at each new distance. I had put out two cones about 6 feet apart. At first I had her target one cone, then just led her to the next one to target, then led her beyond the cone and turned and came back to both cones again. When we had built up to her going the length of the (short) leadrope from me, I moved the cones further apart and laid the leadrope over her neck so I could let go of her and have her go further from me. At the end of our session for today, the cones were about 15 feet apart and I could send her from one to the other! She isn't enthusiastic about it and so I want to work on this more so she will do it without hesitation and worry. But I hope we are on our way!

You can see a couple photos of Kizzy on my website:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Rumer goes for a walk

Today I spent some time with Rumer. Rumer will be two years old on April 23 of this year. She is a medium pony with paint markings. As the only filly of the three foals who have been born here, she is interesting in her differences: not sure how much is personality and how much is filly, but she's more about heels than teeth! She has gotten much much better with clicker training- more interested in interacting (almost to a fault- right at the gate when I try to go in!) and hopeful that there will be fun games to play.

I would like to teach her to drive this summer as I think she will be very cute in harness and it will give her a job and me a reason to be consistent with her training. I told my farrier I was looking for a good used cart to start her on and within a week, I got an email....farriers are great grapevines. So today I went and looked at it and it looks in very good shape but I need to be sure it is the right size as the pony who it was used with was only 10 h.

So when I got home, I took her out so I could get some measurements- not only height but length for shafts. This time I got her at 12.2 when I thought I had taped her at 13 h previously- it's tough when I don't have a good level spot to measure them. It was a sunny and warm day but with a cool stiff breeze so the tape was fluttering around her as I used it. A perfect experience for her and she did quite well.

Then we took a walk down the driveway, which meant passing flapping metal roofing, a truck, trailer and woodsplitter in new place, a huge new pile of round bales, etc. She was quite fine with all of that but was concerned about the footing. We encountered water running right over the top of the ground from the melting snow, mud where the snow was gone, slush, and ice! It was interesting to see her hesitate at each change of footing. She would stop and look down at it and want to get behind me rather than next to me. I did a lot of positioning her next to me, trying to be aware of what training tools I was using so I didn't get caught in a shoving match with her. She can be quite pushy with the others in her paddock and tries to do that with me as well: using her shoulders to push others around.

I think it went like this: I would let her stop and look, but when she picked up her head, she would try to push behind me. I slid down the rein and tried to reposition her, but then she'd get pushier so I'd use the Tai Chi wall to stop her. Then the hard part for me was to release when she softened a bit, rather than continuing to push back. We would do this a couple times until she set foot on the changed footing, at which point I'd click and treat; and let her drop her head to investigate again. Then she was fine until we came to another change and we'd do it all over again. If repetition builds progress, then I hope we made some good progress today! She only had one little scoot on the way back to the barn when the truck started up behind her. I think it was a good excuse to blow off a little steam. I had to give her credit for paying close attention to me when her buddies were calling her from the paddock- she never called back or seemed to miss them.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Elly and mat work

By way of an introduction, I will try to post something about each of the various animals (mostly horses but I may occasionally throw in a dog) in the beginning and explain what I am working on with each one and why. I'll try to post pictures too but this is a horrid time of year for photos in northern New England because we have shaggy horses and ice or mud to show....and then when you combine mud AND shaggy horses, well, yuck.

Today I'll focus on Elly. Elly does not actually belong to me but is on loan from a wonderful family who outgrew her and wanted her to go somewhere she could enjoy and be enjoyed by other children. She is a 14.3 hand Morgan mare. She is a funny combination of the Morgan and the mare. She's pretty unflappable, rugged and brave, like Morgans should be. But she is also sensitive and worries about some things- too much rein aid, whether it's safe to put her feet somewhere, etc. She freely moves her body around, but her feet worry her.

So my focus with Elly right now is mat work. I did some of this with her last winter and it helped a lot and I think more will be better! Last winter I used a cheap doormat and that transferred nicely to stepping on plastic and other scary, flappy things. Right now I'm using a piece of plywood about 2' x 3' as I've read that horses like the solidity and sound of their feet on the wood. I also hope this will help her be more comfortable with the trailer ramp.

Today I was hoping to get a photo of her standing on the mat, but when I tried to progress to walking away from her, I realized I did not have enough duration built up even when I was standing next to her. Duration is a very difficult thing for ME and I'll take all the excuses I can to force me to do more with it. There are lots of subtleties involved and I also noticed I could use my microshaping observations to help time my clicks...if she was leaning forward in the slightest, I had waited too long to click. I tried to click when she was standing solidly. I only got up to a count of about 12 before I started running out of treats, so I quit there.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Percy plays with a loopie

Yesterday I found a "loopies" dog toy to use for Percy to learn to play fetch with. It's very easy for him to pick up and looks like nothing else around the farm so I'm hoping he won't confuse it with anything else.
Several days ago, he voluntarily picked up my glove off the stall wall and handed it to me- it was so clever of him that I automatically clicked and then worried that I was creating a 8 month old colt (even castrated) is not one you generally want to encourage to grab and bite things! But he had learned to keep his teeth to himself and since that age does love to grab and bite, I thought it might be good for his education to have something to grab and bite and also learn that behavior is not acceptable for just any glove, toy, etc!
I introduced it yesterday- first in the paddock which was fine and got him biting it. Then we moved to the stall (for some privacy from the other horse in his paddock) and he wouldn't even look at it! I realized that all my work with getting him to leave me alone in the stall has been well learned! So again, hopefully the loopie will be a cue for him to play. I may have to remind him of previous lessons about biting etc as we go, but I might as well get that over with while I'm still wearing several layers of winter clothing!!