Monday, May 4, 2009

Getting Cody OK With Being Mounted and Saddled

This evening around 6:00, I went out after dinner to play with Cody. I fed everyone first and then they mosied about halfway down to the front field (all except for Guinness who stayed to hang out with me). Then Guinness accompanied me out to be with them. I spent some time scratching everyone and then casually put the halter on Cody and he willingly followed me back with a slack lead rope.

I locked Smokey & Guinness out of the back field and I put the 22' rope on Cody. I spent some more time scratching him (and found some really hard to get at itchy places). Then we practiced some of the techniques for Left-brain Introverts described in this month's Savvy Club DVD. (An excellent resource!!)

First, I very gently held the side of his halter and waited for him to relax and turn his head. It felt like it took forever, but he finally did and then licked his lips. We did a couple of those, and then I tried holding his halter gently and lightly touching his flank to get him to yield his hindquarters. Once he did this pretty well, I scratched him so more and he dropped his head down low to the ground.

Next, we walked to a flat area and I suggested that he circle which he did with lots of enthusiasm. His bring back kinda sucked - not that he didn't willingly come back but that he didn't really yield his hindquarters well. Plus, he kept looking past the gate to where baby & Smokey were watching us.

Several times he came in too boldly and I had to put a lot of energy into stopping him and backing him up. There was lots of lip licking and even several animated squeals as he leaped about as he circled! This was pretty funny considering I didn't even bring a stick out and barely swung the end of the rope.

Next, I walked in Zone 3 as we proceeded back to the barn, with a long pause to stare at the other horses. After a moment, Cody decided to continue back to the barn yard. Next I put on my helmet, loaded up on treats, and pulled out the bareback pad and carrot stick.

I set everything but the stick down in the middle of the paddock and went to sit on the fence. Cody knew that I had treats and was mugging me, so I asked him to sidle up to me in mounting position. When he was swung his hindquarters over, I clicked and then treated him. Soon he was getting into position and allowing me to lean over him to give him treats. (He did insist on biting my stick which was on the off side - he clearly has negative emotions associated with being mounted.)

We took a break and went over to the bareback pad. There we practiced saddling. I swung the pad toward his nose and when he touched it I clicked and treated him. Next I swung it up onto his back and then clicked and treated when he accepted it with a pleasant look on his face and no tail swishing. Then I moved him to the opposite side and clicked. Then I pulled the pad off and started the whole process over. After several cycles, he was pretty relaxed and pleasant. I abandoned the pad. Next session, I'll add cinching to our routine.

We returned to the fence (with the addition of a 12' rope for reins) and practiced getting into mounting position. This time, I swung my leg over and then removed it and clicked. Next I got all the way on his back taking care to be very polite, and I treated him when I flexed his neck sideways. I dismounted on the off side, and then repeated this process several times. He finally relaxed and we ended the session. I took his halter off and he walked beside me out to the front field.

I think that we made some very important (if not dramatic) progress this evening! It is certainly true that it is harder to overcome learned opposition reflexes and negative feelings than it is to start with a "clean slate." Cody really displays those when it comes to being saddled and mounted. I feel strongly that I don't want to ride any critter that has a sour look on its face as I get on. It just doesn't bode well and I'm getting too old to bounce!

I'm consciously using the clicker and treats to reprogram his feelings/expectations concerning being saddled and mounted. I did not use the clicker/treats at all when we were performing tasks that he already knows how to perform with a cheerful attitude, such as Circling Game and Touch-it.

I'm going to plan to do this again tomorrow evening in preparation for a Parelli Play Group playdate this weekend. I'm going to take Cody and then hopefully will also take him to the annual Trail Competition the following weekend to compete in the unmounted division. Wish us luck!

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