Sunday, August 8, 2010

Learning Together

This afternoon, I found a little time to play with Guinness. It started off with my husband climbing onto the roof of the run-in to clean out the gutter. Guinness stood in absolute amazement as my husband scaled the ladder and began to walk on the tin roof (with associated bangs and thumps). Guinness took turns standing just behind be and staring, or nonchalantly hanging out inside the run-in as I groomed & scratched him. It was *very* interesting to observe his reactions. I wish that I'd had a camera..

This morphed into a liberty clicker training session in the paddock where we mostly played with posing, and turns on the forehand. "Posing" is when Guinness parks-out and holds his neck arched, head lowered, and lips away from me! He is totally getting the hang of this and is very proud of himself.

For "turns on the forehand" I decided to try break the task down into parts that I could more easily convey to him. He has the idea to yield his HQ down pat, but doesn't get that he needs to keep his inside front foot still. I found a piece of rubber mat and asked him to put his foot on it. Then I asked for his HQ to move over one step while keeping his foot on the mat (I stood in zone 3 with my stick in my inside hand pointed toward his nose, while my outside hand reached around to press gently on his side and I looked at his HQ. It worked really well! We played with me on his left side today. For the Fair next weekend, he is supposed to be able to keep one foot in a hula-hoop for this task. I don't know if I can get him ready in time for that or not..

After a while, I was getting tired of playing in the paddock, but he was still happy to be with me, so I tacked him up with his bareback pad and halter/lead rope. I brought him out of the paddock and into the front yard, where I pulled up a plastic chair to mount and then allowed him to graze. (Smokey called and called to him, but thankfully Guinness didn't seem to pay him much attention.)

Eventually, I directed him to a recently mowed path through the woods. I practiced asking him to walk by lifting my reins, bringing up my life, moving my rear to suggest a walk, and then clicking him when he was on the right track. I was careful not to escalate my cues and not to use my lower leg except to steer him. Once he'd willingly walked several paces, I would halt him with my seat and then cue him to eat (by pressing on his main near his withers). We also played with trotting and cantering in the same manner.

I love the idea of using grass as the "green carpet of motivation" and it really works! Plus, by putting his grazing under saddle on a cue, it seems to have reduced his determination to argue with me about it and instead to seek to gain it as a reward. I used almost no rein during this ride except for a few times to rate his speed by lifting one rein or to reinforce a halt cue (again using one rein). This was really the first time that I have consciously used CT to reinforce gait and speed cues. For this (and other tasks) I click with my tongue periodically to signal that he is doing the correct thing (when he seems to be hesitant), and then I multi-click when he has earned a treat. It is working great - no resistance from him at all.

One of the most important things to me about today's session was that I played approach and retreat with my OWN anxiety about riding at home! I know that this sounds silly, but I'm way more comfortable and have had much more practice riding Guinness elsewhere. At home, things tend to get in the way of my riding, plus I have baggage associated with Smokey getting herdbound and going RBE (my least favorite state of horse brain). (See previous post "Backyard Bravery" - I haven't ridden at home since I posted it on May 31st..) Guinness was actually more comfortable with this than I was and we had a great time looping around out in the woods for about a half hour.

Afterward, I slid off over his rump and sat on the ground as he grazed on tender grass behind the barn. Eventually, I lay down and dozed and looked at the clouds & trees as he munched and stood guard several feet away. At the time it occurred to me that this was a very herdmate-like thing to do together. I often see one horse laying down on the field while a buddy acts as a lookout. I even crawled UNDER him for the first time. :-)

When I returned him to his pasture, I went with him to the dusty spot and suggested that he roll, which I did with him. What a fun afternoon!


PS - I'm reading a new book: Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor (author of "Don't Shoot the Dog" - recently recommended reading by Pat Parelli). I'm sure that I will be posting more about it soon. So far, it is totally fascinating.

PPS - Guinness won 2nd in that little trail class competition last week and we took home a basket of *wonderful* homegrown tomatoes for our efforts.

PPPS - Just watched this clip and loved it. Especially that last part with the bowing and laying down!


Lisa said...

How fun! If we ever catch a break in this god-forsaken heat I may get to ride again.

inchwormwv said...

Hey Clare, What you are doing with Guinness sounds a lot like fun, real FUN, with excellent communication in a safe, sane atmosphere. I so wish you were closer, I know I would benefit from your example (I am too serious) LOL.

Parelli Central said...

Sounds like you had a great play session with your horse!

Petra Christensen
Parelli 1Star Junior Instructor
Parelli Central