Monday, August 31, 2009

A Visit to Eden

Last Thursday, my friend Sara & I took a road trip to meet Eden, her mom, Anne, and their critters at their farm.

We've been following Eden's blog and wanted to meet them all in person!

We spent most of our time hanging out in the pasture talking about various Natural Horsemanship clinicians, the upcoming Harry Whitney clinic, and saddle fitting.

It was wonderful meeting new friends and we look forward to seeing them at the clinic. :-)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Give Your Horse a "Yes"!

Pat and Linda have often recently said, "Don't become the 'Minister of NO' to your horse."

In Natural Horsemanship, people are taught to use pressure to indicate "no" to a horse, but the release of pressure to indicate "yes." This is like saying "not no" to your horse and expecting them to get it.

It can be very tricky to time the release of pressure to coordinate with "the slightest try" and it is sometimes very easy to release at the wrong time and inadvertently say "yes" when you don't mean it. (See Issue 24 of the Savvy Times "Wash Those Fears Away" about bathing and how a horse can easily misinterpret the water as Driving Game and move their feet, when you mean it to be Friendly Game.)

When you misuse pressure, it is easy for a horse to feel that you are being critical when you are just trying to be particular. It is tricky to communicate without having a "yes" response in our quiver.

Treats can be an easily understood was of saying "yes" to your horse. However, it is difficult to always time the giving of the treat to the performance of a behavior. And, it is easy to find yourself in the cycle of giving a treat for every little thing. Other drawbacks include: needing to carry around loads of treats, the horse feeling a sense of entitlement (or frustration when he doesn't get one that he feels that he has earned), and other horse folk snickering as they watch you dole out the goodies..

I've discovered a simple way around this dilemma! I've taught my horse that a "cluck" noise (made with my tongue on the roof of my mouth) means "yes." I did this by making this noise immediately when he did something correctly, and then rewarding him with a treat. Once he had the idea, I stretched out the number of clucks that I make before he earns his reward. (Psychological studies show that intermittent reinforcement of a behavior is stronger than regular reinforcement.) This allows me to get more bang from each treat while he gets the message that he is on the right track.

The ability to communicate "yes" to my horses has been a huge breakthrough for us. It works especially well for reinforcing passive behaviors such as standing still while bathing (or fly spray application), or ground tying. It is also wonderful for immediately changing the attitude of a horse from frustration to curiosity & hope!

It took me a week or so to get my clucks sorted out from my smooch (my cue to pay attention or move your feet), since I previously used them interchangeably. The horses caught on to it before I did. :-)

This really is ok. When I have inadvertently used the wrong cue, it often worked out anyway. Turns out that if I clucked (yes) when I meant "move your feet" the horse started to pay more attention and move faster anyway. If I smooched when I meant to cluck, I added a slight bit of pressure and sometimes got more "try" for the behavior already being performed.

The response to my cluck/yes cue has differed slightly depending on horsenality. While treats work well for my LBI/LBE, my RBI guy isn't that food-motivated even when calm. In fact, he will often spit out a treat once he takes it. However, he LOVES to hear a "cluck" and will exert himself just to earn it!

Perhaps praise really does work for horses? It just has to be in a way that the horse can understand and appreciate. I believe that having a clear "yes" cue (cluck) actually increases trust between human and horse due to increased clarity of communication.

Please give this idea a try. What do you have to lose? Trust me, your horse will thank you!

PS - For more about using a cue for "yes, " please read "Clicker Training: Colt Starting the Natural Horse" by Leslie Pavlich.

Click here to see a previous post about Clicker Training.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Guinness & Me

This morning, Sierra came back over to play. We took turns playing with Guinness and eventually riding him around the roundpen - mostly in search of cookies.

Here are some photos that Sierra took of me riding Guinness! Yippee!!

He was a bit skeptical about having someone on board at first, but soon warmed up to the idea. He thought quite a lot about chewing on our shoes (looking for treats), but wasn't bothered at all when we swing the leadrope over his head to the opposite side to redirect him.

We have been riding him using a bareback pad, halter and leadrope. He is responding well to smooches (his cue to go), lightly bouncing the rope with the word "whoa" to stop, and to directing his nose a little with the rope to guide him toward a treat.

Slow and steady wins the race. :-)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Going to the Fair

On August 8th, my horse-girls and I took Cody to the local fair. This was a new experience for them and also for Cody and they all did great!

The 10 year old girl showed him in the Model Western class where they placed 6th (and got a lovely pink ribbon).

The 16 year old showed him in the Unmounted Trail class where they took 5th out of 12 participants.

I rode him in the Mounted Trail class where we won first out of 11 participants. :-)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Another Milestone!

Guess what? Today, with my friend Sierra's help, Guinness took his first steps while mounted!

We started out by tacking him up with a bareback pad and then taking turns playing with him on the 22' line and at liberty in the roundpen. (Even after years of fooling with the 22' line, I still struggle with managing it and do much better at liberty!)

After that, we asked him to show us his "saddle up" trick (see the video on my last blog post). He did this happily, even though it was in a different place and with our new mounting block. (Thank you to my "horse girls" for sponsoring it for us!)

Next, Sierra leaned over him while I held him on a loose 12' lead. He oinked a bit, so I sent him off and asked him to do a few hard things like moving his shoulder, backing, and hiding his hiney. Then I brought him back and she swung her leg over just as I have been doing. He was totally fine with it.

Then, I beckoned him forward while Sierra balanced on his back without gripping with her legs. He was tentative at first, but I clicked him and gave him treats and soon he was very enthusiastic. :-) I used words like "walk" and "whoa" to reinforce what he already knows how to do.

Sierra also asked him to bend his nose around to her knee on both sides, in exchange for a treat of course.

I was thinking of getting on him myself, but by this time it was hot and he was sweaty, so we decided to end on a high note.

I gave him a good rinse which he loved and then turned him out. I went with him and invited him to roll which he did 3 times with me clicking & treating each time. Hopefully, he will soon have a cue to lay down.

Thank you so much for your help, Sierra!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Milestone!

Here is some video footage showing Guinness' latest skill:

This footage was taken yesterday afternoon by a visiting friend (thanks, Amy!).

It was only about the 3rd time that I've allowed my full weight to rest on Guinness - even for a moment.

It was hot, humid, and the flies abounded, so he is wiggling around much more than previously. I'm also struggling to get the treats out of my pocket.. Anyway, it is progress! And, I'm thrilled that he is doing all of this at liberty!!

Just getting this far with him is breaking through my mental barriers. Now I'm fantasizing about trying my Level 2 assessments (online & freestyle riding) with him instead of Smokey.

I just love this little guy. :-)