Thursday, October 28, 2010

Preparing for L3 Riding

It is time for me to become more conscious of the cues that I'm using while mounted.

I tend to ride intuitively - more from 15+ years of pre-PNH muscle memory and reflex then from any systematic awareness of what I trying to achieve and how to go about helping my horse to succeed. This has been ok for puttering on little trail rides in L2 style, however Guinness & I seem to be progressing past this despite ourselves.

This evening, after playing liberty porcupine & driving, I decided to tack G. up with a bareback pad and halter/rope. We played with trying to figure out what I was asking him to do with just my shifting focus, my weight, and using my thighs to cue him. (I didn't pick up the reins at all except when I needed to help him to figure out that I was asking him to back up.) Wow, how revealing..

He was very eager to earn his treats (Blue Seal hay stretcher pellets) and acted just like a kid playing charades. Turns out that when I stop to think about it, I'm not all that clear about the cues that I'd like to teach him for certain behaviors. I intend to use the Parelli system, especially since one step builds upon another to form a comprehensive, well-thought-out whole. I've absorbed most of the overt cues over my years stuck in L1/2 limbo, but my vision of how to progress from here is muddy!

My intent is to go back to the pocket guides for the old PNH video packs to get clear about what I am trying to achieve. (I realize that some of this information has been updated, however they are still excellent well-written resources.) I'm going to aim to teach 1 or 2 behaviors at a time as a continuation of what we are playing with on the ground in short, sweet sessions. I'm also going have some L3/4 friends watch me ride in order to help me sort things out.

Tonight, my homework is to read "Chapter 12: Working Under Saddle" in the clicker training book, Getting to Yes by Sharon Foley!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

4/4 Time

Over the last four days, I've somehow managed to play with Guinness a little on the ground four times in a row. This is truly amazing since it has been months since we've had time together. During one recent stretch, I sat on him twice (once on a trail ride, and once bareback for 15 min. in the rain) during a 5 WEEK stretch of time.. I'm pleased that we made it to the ACTHA ride last weekend and survived. ;-)

Here is a little of what we've done over the past few days:

10/21: Intended to play with Fig 8s, and instead played with circles on & off line. Once at liberty, Guinness left on the send, but I waited and he came around as if nothing had happened. ;-) Walking was good. Tried changing directions with he broke gait at a trot and darned if it didn't improve his motivation! Also played with sideways toward & away, the pedestal, and jumping. It was a good session.

10/22: I visited with two friends, and then arrived home around 9:30 pm. Played with Guinness' "energy bubble" while we watched Smokey finish his dinner. I can see the wheels in his brain turn as he works out how to move his body sideways toward me from either side. He can easily do it when I'm to his left, but has to flip everything mentally when I'm on his right and it shows! Too funny. We also played with spins at liberty while in the run-in (close quarters).

10/23: Went out into the back field (more like a dry lot) to goof off for a few minutes. No halter or rope. Just a stick & treat pouch. Played with gesturing and then waiting for G. to figure out what I was asking for - with treats to reinforce "yes." Oh what fun!! He circled at a brisk walk with changes of direction. He sidepassed over objects both toward and away from me, with just a gesture of my near hand over his back. He backed up like a champ with me 20 ft away in Zone 5 with me lifting my hands high to wave him back. Slow spins are merely an extension of what he already knows..

Afterward, when handling Smokey & Cody, I really realized how differently Guinness responds to me. There is almost no resistance to my requests to change direction, to move specific parts of his body, or to slow down or stop. Plus, only one time *ever* has he offered to walk a few steps away from me as I approached him (when Smokey was telling him to avoid me in order to keep eating some yummy grass in my front yard). However, he does sometimes think twice before following me into "danger" (ie; the river) and he doesn't respond much when I ask him to go faster (probably due to operator error).

My level 3/4 buddy Alyssa has agreed to play with us to give us some feedback in these areas and to help me to progress my riding. I am now officially in uncharted territory in terms of my knowledge and skills. It is simultaneously intimidating & liberating..

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our 2nd ACTHA ride & sideways toward!

Hi folks. I'm so happy to have a chance for a blog update! Life has been NUTS for me since starting my new job full time..

Last Saturday, Guinness and I participated in our first *judged* American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) ride at the Horse Center in Lexington, VA. (The first time that we rode in an ACTHA ride, it was an unjudged "buddy ride.") We rode with our friends Diane & Ivan and Joanne & Noble.

Here is a list of obstacles & how we did:
  • cross a deadfall of logs & pause straddling the last one - G did great!
  • dismount on the off-side and remount from the off-side using a bench - great!
  • cross a small shallow pond - per the rules, I didn't allow him to nose the water, so he said "forget it" and we maxed out our time without him setting one foot into it..
  • walk up an embankment and then down again - G went RBE over the sight of some horses on a ridge line about 1/4 mile away. I still got him up the embankment, but had to dismount after that to help him work through his feelings.
  • weave at a gait through a line of pumpkins and halt at the last one - G did fine, but I forgot to halt until a horse length past - oops.
He nicely trotted in-hand for the final lameness check. Then I gave him some "tea", brushed him, and put him loose in the trailer to munch hay while looking out of the windows.

After lunch, I put him on a 22' line and reapproached the water obstacle. This time, I clicked/treated (with mints - a first) as he neared the water and within 5 minutes he was willingly cantering circles through it to earn a mint! He was energetic but didn't spook at anything (seemed more LBE at the time). I allowed him to graze a while, then we loaded up and headed home without incident. Loading is a complete non-issue. :-)

I've inserted some photos of the event. Plus, click here for a slideshow! (Photos 269-273+ depict Guinness refusing the water obstacle.)

Almost as fun, was the opportunity to play horsey in my own backyard this evening before dark. It has been MONTHS since I've done this..

I went out to the roundpen with a fanny pack filled with Guinness' dinner. I stood in neutral until Guinness "found" me, than I closed the rope gates to keep the other horses out. Guinness looked hard at me and looked as though he wanted to play circling game, so I gestured for him to circle. He eagerly walked around and I strategically clicked to tell him that he was on the right track. Once he passed my shoulder on the 2nd lap, I brought him in and fed him a little feed from my hand. We repeated this on the other side. I was *really* impressed because it has been almost 3 MONTHS since we played with this at liberty!! Click here to read about the last time.

Next, I decided to play with a very light driving game - more like gesturing to him and him interpreting what I meant and earning periodic treats after a series of multiple clicks. So awesome!

I decided that it was time to try something new: Sideways toward me. Easy as pie with clicker training; it took all of about 5 minutes!! All I did was to stand parallel to him facing the same direction as him. I started by crossing my legs and stepping sideways toward him, as he moved sideways away from me.

Next, I draped the string over his back near his flank, and stepped away from him in the exact manner as before. I could see the wheels turning in his brain. As his front end moved toward me, I clicked/treated. Then I gestured a tiny bit with the stick on the off-side at the flank and his rear stepped toward me - click/treat. After about 3 tries, his whole body was moving sideways toward me! We repeated this about 5 times and ended with a jackpot in his food bowl.

Guinness was very pleased with himself. I will be sure to never reward this behavior without my having cued it first, since I don't want to teach him to crowd me. This is why I've waited until he was really responsive to teach it. Yippee!

Guinness has now been seriously "under saddle" for about six and 1/2 months. It is so easy to take it for granted now that we are riding.

I am so grateful to have him in my life. Rockies Rule!!