Saturday, July 18, 2015

Expectations: Consistency in Training Routines

snuffling up the pellets
I've been amazed for a long time, and commented before on how much Percy seems to like his hay stretcher pellets that I use for training reinforcement. It's an extension of the way clicker trained horses feel about the training itself.  They will leave amazing reinforcers such as grass to come and work for a couple pellets.  Today he showed me again how powerful the training is, and how much that transfers to everything involved with it. 

In getting ready for our Training Intensive Practical Clinic with Cindy Martin and Katie Bartlett in two weeks, I am trying to work with each of my horses (it's been a busy Spring and early Summer so they haven't gotten the attention I'd hoped and I need to decide the best projects for our clinic participants). The last one I got out to play this afternoon was Ande. When we were done, I realized it was turnout time so I led him to the paddock they are currently grazing and turned him out.  Percy is usually the first one out because most days they go out through his paddock so it makes sense to let him out first. So this was unusual and he became very animated seeing Ande go out first. He galloped the fence line, did some bucking and squealing, ran back into his stall and back out again.

I opened his stall door with his halter in hand, and he came running to stuff his head into it, but then pulled it back out and ran back outside again. Choice is important.
I stepped into the aisle, closed the door and put Stowaway out instead. This got Percy more excited and I felt stupid for doing it.  Thank goodness Mariah was still in and though she was whickering to go out, she didn't do anything to further exacerbate the situation. 

I stepped into Percy's stall again and this time he managed to put his head in the halter and hold still while I pulled it over his ears and buckled it. This is always a difficult moment for him because even when the situation is calm, he gets excited about training and has a hard time being patient about leaving his stall but we've developed a routine that works.  I don't ask for anything in the stall, but immediately take him out to explore the aisle (thank you to Katie for this process!). But today I knew he wanted to go out to pasture, not explore the aisle, and I felt he needed help with calming before we stepped out. 

We worked on head down and targeting for a while until we got up to a quiet 20 seconds of head down with no fidgeting. Then I stepped into the aisle and repeated it.  The head down exercise was working its magic; when I clicked, his head only came up about 12 inches from the ground for the treat, compared to when it had been way over my head initially. 

We stepped outside the barn and he eagerly looked to Stow and Ande in the paddock, but willingly repeated the head downs again; this time he was able to immediately go the full 20 seconds so I walked him to the gate. He was polite while I opened it, he turned carefully and quietly, and did another nice head down. Here by the gate, the grass had been chewed short. I had opened an additional gate for Ande and Stow where the grass was ankle and knee deep. But Percy was quiet and I carefully slipped his halter off over his ears, expecting him to spin and gallop to his buddies.  But he stood and looked at me expectantly.

The routine.  There are rules we follow.  End of session means he gets a handful of hay stretcher pellets on the ground before I leave. He wanted them. I dug a handful out of my treat apron and dropped them in front of him. Rather than running off to fresh grass and buddies, he began lipping up the pellets from the ground.

When I returned with Mariah, he was still vacuuming and I had to wait for him to find the last one or two before I could go in with Mariah (she was happy to be kept busy with some targeting). When he did finish, he stepped back so Mariah could come in and it was then he remembered what he was out there for.  He turned quietly and trotted toward his friends, then broke into a canter as he reached them and instigated some play before settling down to graze. 

It's always nice to see the results of our training!