Thursday, March 12, 2009

Starting Clicker Training

Ok, I promised that I'd write a little about my recent "clicker training" experiences with my horses. I'm currently reading the newest Temple Grandin book called, Animals Make Us Human, and it recommends clicker training for both horses and cats. Click here to view a short video clip by the author about the book.

Most of you are probably familiar with clicker training dogs, but just in case, here is a photo of the kind of "clicker" that I'm referring to:
You know, the cheap little noise makers that you can get from the party store. Well, it turns out that they make a really distinctive noise that is easy for a horse to recognize and associate with a reward. Some folks can use their mouths to make a similar noise, which would free your hands up for other things..

Temple Grandin recommends the book,
Clicker Training for Your Horse by Alexandra Kurland.

Click here to watch a short tutorial on clicker training by Alexandra Kurland.

OMG, I just found a great video clip on YouTube of a Rocky Mtn. Horse learning to retrieve. Click here to view. Click here for another cute video of a girl teaching her horse to nod and roll a ball (and her dog offers to act as a "rival" modeling the behavior, which adds extra incentive for the horse)! Click here to watch the same girl (I think) riding a green pony bareback. I'm going to use these ideas when I start mounting Guinness!

Well, I started clicker training for the first time the other day with all three horses. It was very interesting and highly successful! Cody volunteered to play first, so I brought him into my little paddock alone with a small traffic cone as a target. It took him a little bit to figure things out but as he was exploring, he was SO intent and happy about it. (OK, this sounds weird, but he was so happy that he had an erection - something that he only does when returning home after being hauled somewhere, or when he is standing in the morning sun after a cold night!!)

Next, I played with Smokey, while Cody stared at us over the fence. Smokey is normally pretty slow to respond (he is an introvert), but when he did the behaviors that he knew how to do and got a click and then a reward, he was thrilled and started making his relaxed snuffling noises and responding very eagerly.

Finally, I brought Guinness in, while both Cody & Smokey watched us intently from across the fence. He immediately walked to the cone and started to explore it, even before I was ready to click. ;-) He caught on so quickly that I advanced to giving several clicks for more complex behaviours, followed by a reward. I could even get him to back a specific leg at a time, and also to yield his hindquarters by crossing his back legs. Wow.

The best things that I've discovered about clicker training so far are:
- I give out much fewer treats!
- I can keep them performing the behaviour while I tell them "yes, that is correct" with the clicker, instead of stopping everything to dispense a treat.
- I can click on a tiny, specific behaviour and they totally understand what I mean and can replicate it.
- I'm not using negative pressure to "force" the horse to perform. (Negative pressure tends to shut Smokey down.)
- The horses *obviously* enjoy it - so much so that they ran to meet me at the gate the following morning!!

I plan to keep using the clicker training along with the usual Parelli signals and I'll keep you posted in how it goes. :-)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kissy face

My husband took this photo this evening of Guinness & me having a snuggle.

My next post will be about the wonders of clicker training! :-)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

On the Road Again!

Well, as you may have read in my initial post, as of the day that I purchased Guinness, he had only been on a trailer once in his life - as a foal on a stock trailer with his momma when she was taken to a stud to be bred.

The next day, my husband and I loaded him onto our 2 horse, bumper pull, open-backed trailer for the 8+ hour long trip from KY to VA! A dose of Quietex really helped Guinness to settle down and cope with his fear, but by the end of the trip my nerves were shot from worrying about how he was handling things back there! Poor baby. What a reintroduction to trailering.. At least we made it safely home.

With that in mind, and with spring on it's way, I decided a couple of weeks ago that we needed to reapproach the trailer. After hemming and hawing around it for a bit, I decided to try practice loading the baby with my PNH friend, Alyssa, around for moral support.

In one of Temple Grandin's books that I've read recently, she commented that "horses acquire phobias really easily" and reiterated how important that it is for the first exposure to something to go well. I've come to realize that I, too, acquire phobias very easily. That trailer ride home with Guinness in tow was enough to cause me to feel low-level anxiety whenever I contemplated loading the baby back onto the trailer. That is why I was avoiding it. How interesting!

We pulled my trailer up into my front yard, where the other horses could be near but separated from us by a fence. We opened up both doors and Guinness basically leaped on board, only to discover some forage cubes that I'd previously left in the manger and forgotten about. He was content - and I was shocked that it had gone so well. I had expected that it was going to take hours from him to be willing to go near the trailer..

A couple of days after that, I was feeling more confident, so I hooked up the trailer and pulled it out onto the driveway. I did put some more cubes into the manger (not as a "bribe" merely as "incentive"). Then I got both Smokey and Guinness from the pasture and tied them to the sides of the trailer. I brushed them and put on velcro leg wraps, while they settled down. Then I took turns loading Smokey, then baby, then both of them at time. I also took turns backing them off or asking them to turn around and then wait calmly to step off. (I had removed the dangerous divider when I first got the trailer 5 years ago, and have never replaced it.)

By the end of the session, I was rocking the trailer by jumping on the tongue, standing in the truck bed, opening and closing all of the doors, etc. I eventually pulled forward about 6 feet and then called it a day. No problems. Guinness will even back off of the trailer! (My former horse, Parlay, was never willing to back off, even with weeks of practice exercises.) I was impressed. These photos are from that session.

Several days later, I decided to haul Guinness and Smokey over to Pandapas Pond, a park in the national forest about 4 miles from my house, but on the other side of a mountain. I hauled them over by myself, but didn't unload them. We just parked and hung out there with the front door open for about 15 minutes while I fed them cubes and hung out. Then we turned around and came home. I have a very steep driveway, and have to put the truck into 4WD and 1st gear to avoid slipping. When we got back to the barn, Guinness was a little sweaty. I left the two of them on the trailer for another 15 minutes or so with the doors open, while I fed them dinner.

The next trip was a few days later. I loaded Guinness up alone and took him back to Pandapas. Again, we parked in the lot and waited to calm down. As we looked out the window together, I realized that Guinness has yet to be desensitized to bikes. (Pandapas Pond is a popular destination for hikers, bikers and horse riders.) We turned around and came home. He was just a little sweaty again from the ride home.

So, this morning I decided to get a little more adventurous. I loaded Guinness and fed him breakfast on the trailer. Then I unloaded him and tied him to the trailer to hang out for a bit while I fetched Smokey. I tied Smokey too, and then wrapped tails and legs. I put them on together (no hesitation at all) and then we headed to my friend Sierra's house in Pearisburg (about 20 miles away, but not too curvy).

We unloaded when we got there, which surprised Guinness. He was right-brained and staring (mostly at a large, loose dog), but not jumping on top of me or acting frantic. My friends and I walked the horses to a round pen and then visited while the horses grazed. We left the horses by themselves, and then returned with Parlay. (It has been a year and a half since Sierra bought her, but I still didn't know how Smokey would react to seeing his girlfriend again. Surprisingly, the fireworks were minimal.)

Here is one of my favorite photos of Parlay & me:

I took a little time to play with Guinness in the roundpen at Liberty (another first). He did great. Then played at desensitizing him to having a large trashcan on and over his back. No problem. We even exited the roundpen by backing through the gate!

The only exciting moment during loading came when Guinness decided to turn around in the trailer before I got his head tied. Fortunately, neither horse is very large and this wasn't a problem. I just led him off and then sent him on again, while Sierra held the end of his leadrope to prevent his turning around again.

We made it home just fine, and once more I let them stand on the trailer for about 15 minutes before unloading.

I was going to take them on another foray tomorrow, but have decided to give them a break and instead give Guinness his first bath, since it will be 76 degrees. This should be fun! :-)

Monday, March 2, 2009

20 Questions

Here are a series of 20 great questions posed on the Daily Parelli blog from 2/18/09. I discovered them on the Horsegirl on a Journey blog where the author had taken the time to answer them. I thought that I ought to give it a whirl myself! Here goes:

What is your Ultimate Goal with horses?
(hint: Write it down; extra-credit hint: write down answers to all of these questions)

My Ultimate Goal is to develop a seamless relationship with my horse partner, Guinness. I want him to trust that I'll cover his back, and I want to trust that he will cover mine. I want to finally get past "developing a relationship" (where I've been stuck with Smokey, my RBI) and move forward into exploring the world together, challenging ourselves, and having fun. I would love us to try things like distance riding/camping, Ride & Tie, endurance, and competitive trail. We'll have to find out what we enjoy best!

What is a step toward that goal that you could achieve within ten years?

Possibly all of this..

What is a step toward that goal that you could achieve within five years?

I'd like us to get through the Level 4 tasks in all four Savvys, to be sure that there are no "gaps" on our training, and to be prepared for whatever the wide world offers us.

What is a step toward that goal or a lesser goal that you could achieve within two years?

I would love to attend a Carol Coppinger camp, and be priveleged to spend more than a two-day stretch of time "alone" with my horse.

What is a step toward that goal that you could achieve within one year?

I would like Guinness and I to fully participate in Carol's advanced L1/2 clinic in Bristol next spring (just a bit over a year from now). He will be three years old then. Is this realistic? I believe so..

What is a step toward that goal or a lesser goal that you could achieve within six months?

To get Guinness "under saddle." I'd like him to feel confident about being tacked up and mounted. And I'd like us to feel good about walking forward, backing, lateral flexion, and sideways.

What is a step toward that goal that you could achieve within three months?

Continue to develop his trust and confidence in me. Play with all of the L1/L2 patterns. Play extreme Friendly Game. Be comfortable laying all over him without restraining him except with a slack lead rope/halter (in a confined area). Get our new permanent "play pen" installed. Be confident hauling short distances alone in the trailer. Attend play dates with other horses, but without his herdmates. I'd like to be in condition to run in a 5K. Ride Cody and/or Smokey enough to feel confidence in my seat. (June 1)

What is a step toward that goal or a lesser goal that you could achieve within one month?

Diligently play all of the L1 patterns to get them in our heads. Play the Seven Games with various objects. Desensitive Guinness to bikes. Work on getting myself back into shape (minimize carbs, strength & balance training)! Return to regular gym attendance. Ride Cody &/or Smokey at a walk around the farm. (April 1)

What is a step toward that goal that you could achieve within two weeks?

Haul Guinness over to Canterbury Farm along with Smokey for companionship. Play whatever games we can while there. Sit on Cody &/or Smokey. (March 15)

What is a step toward that goal or a lesser goal that you could achieve within one week?

Practice the L1 patterns during three sessions. Breeze through all of the Seven Games while attentively feeling and manipulating the energy between us. Practice Friendly Game with the trailer. Load Cody with Guinness. Trim Guinness' hooves for the first time myself. Attend a Weight Watchers meeting next weekend.

What action could you take toward that goal within three days?

At least one practice session, plus undemanding time. Continue to implement bits of the Seven Games at feeding time. Load him onto and off of the trailer without moving it. Hit the gym!

What action could you take toward that goal tomorrow?

Take the time to go hang out and perhaps to play a bit. Do my new ball workout in my living room.

What action could you take toward that goal today?

Finish up this blog and get to sleep. :-)

What action could you take toward that goal right now?

Answer the remaining questions.

What information could you acquire that would improve your chances of achieving your goal?

I need to watch the first ride segments on the Savvy Club website. Otherwise, I have loads of resources.

What's stopping you?

Time (overly busy schedule), other committments and priorities (schooling my child, keeping up with our business), history of "feeling like a failure" and "lack of fun" with Smokey over the past five years. A hesitation to put things that I "should be doing" down and to allow myself to head down to the barn. A little bit of fear of getting dumped (from my wreck with Parlay over a year ago) - even though I'm hardly ever riding!


Yes. Mostly hesitation born of fear, and lack of time as a result of inadequate time management and commitment. To overcome this hesitation (a brace in *my* body), we need to focus on developing our trust, confidence and fun together. And, I need to implement more patterns (routines) in my daily life!!

Do you see how easy it is to make a plan? Now, here's the toughest question of all: Once you have a plan...Are you willing to change it if you need to?

Changing is easy. Sticking with it is difficult! Adaptation without abandonment is what is needed..

Did you count to see if there were actually 20 questions?
Nope. :-)