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Harley's Re-Training Diary

Day One (Sept.10, 1999)

We began our first day of "re-training" by using the Parelli Friendly Game and incorporating the clicker into it. I accumulated a few objects that he has not seen before; a childís plastic rifle, an empty plastic bottle, steer horn wraps and a large plastic steer head. Before I introduced him to these new objects I walked out into the middle of the large arena to ascertain Harleyís mental focus. We walked for a few steps and I would say "whoa" and C/T with each perfect stop. Normally, he would not walk out into the arena with me because he would prefer eating the grass which grows along the edges. He also is a bit "gate sour" and hangs around that area predominately. He loves playing with the clicker so I knew that he would begin focusing on what I wanted him to do. We also walked in tight circles, with me working on him not getting into my space. He quickly picked up our dance routine and I went on to something which I know is more of a challenge for him; backing. I stood in front of him and touched his chest and asked verbally for him to "back". He would do this, but without much enthusiasm and only one step. After a few minutes he picked up the pace a bit and was backing a few steps and with much more life. The next step I tried was to get him to back with just a verbal command and my hands raised (but not touching) with a backward motion. This did not compute (or he didnít want it to). Several times he walked away (but not too far) and returned to me. Sometimes he would lift one of his front feet and inquiringly look at me as to say "will this do instead?". I would back up and ask him to back by touching his chest and then revert to the "non touching" back command, even going as far as walking toward him to give him an extra cue. After a couple of minutes I could see that I was losing him, so we did the touching back a few more times and did our c/t dance/walk back to the front of the arena where our pile of friendly objects lay.

I let Harley go to the toys and check them out before I picked each one up and had him "target" the object before I rubbed it all over him. Nothing bothered him even though things were flying up above his head and under his belly. We then went on to the mounting block to see if he remembered what I had worked on with him a few days before.

I am in the process of getting a new saddle and have ridden him bareback twice before realizing that this was not the hill I wanted to die on and I better work on Harleyís foundation training. When I tried to get on him bareback, I walked him to the mounting block and as soon as I tried to get on him he would move his hindquarters away from me. I eventually accomplished getting on his back by having another horse stand beside him and the second time I moved the mounting block near a rail and squeezed him into the space. This was only a Band-Aid approach and I knew that we would have to work on getting him to stand still and square without horses and rails. I did this (with Judyís help) by walking him to the mounting block and c/t when he would stand still. I eventually moved farther and farther away from him and he began standing for longer periods of time. Each time he would move I would take him away from the mounting block and start over. During this lesson, we found out the Harley does not like when I am in a position to mount. He would lay back his ears as if anticipating a whipping. I surmise this is due to being ridden in a saddle which did not fit him properly. This is going to be another area I work on. After a while he obviously became bored so we quit that lesson for the day.

When we went over to the mounting block today, he was giving me his full attention and easily stood still when I positioned him. I was able to walk away from the front of him and climb the two steps to the mounting block without him moving away, although I stay received the very direct "ugh!" his ears told me when I was at the top of the second stair. I would lean over him, pet him, then walk back in front of him and c/t. After a bit, I got lazy and was c/t from the top stair, where Harley had to arch his neck around to receive his treat. After about four times, he reached around and clamped his teeth around my left hand. Immediately he let go and I did the John Lyons three seconds of acting like a maniac. Harley backed off, but did not run away (he knows that I wonít hurt him, but was sure I had lost my mind!). I then walked into an enclosed area and turned my back on him. He paced around behind me, obviously distressed, then realized that he could get into my area if he walked around the back and came through a small opening. When he came into the enclosed area his nose was almost dragging the ground, his head was so low. He paced quietly up to me and started nibbling on my water bottle and looking at me pitifully with his beautiful liquid eyes. I didnít say anything yet, but I put some water in my hand for him to lick. After about a minute or two, I patted his neck and asked him if he wanted to play again. His eyes told me he did (please oh please) so we walked back to the mounting block (the scene of the crime). This time, when he stood still while I was on the mounting block, I went back in front of him BEFORE I c/t. I also worked from both sides on the ground, moving farther and farther away each time. He didnít move a muscle. I wanted to end our session on a positive and was very please with his progress so after the last c/t, I patted his neck and told him he had done very well and walked away saying "Címon Harley". I took about 10-15 steps before I realized that I was walking alone. I looked back to see Harley STILL standing by the mounting block at perfect attention, facing the opposite direction. He was trying so hard to be good, I just had to laugh. I went back and told him that he was absolutely brilliant, but it was time to go back up to the barn and have some carrots and apples. This time, he followed me as he normally does.

Harley can put his own halter on (thanks Holly!) so I opened the nose area and told him "halter", he immediately dived nose-first into the opening and dropped his head. We walked out of the arena and I through the lead rope over his back and he walked with me up the hill to the barn at liberty. He didnít even stop to munch on the yummy grass! After we got to the rail, I picked up the lead rope and walked him over to an area that has a favorite patch of grass and a buddy named Blue Duck. The guys nuzzled (rather roughly) for a minute or two then Harley went about with his landscaping duties. I left him there (dragging the lead rope as he went) while I put away my things and prepared the noon feeding. After about 5 minutes I went back to get him and decided to test his "focus" while he was pre-occupied with the grass and Blue Duck. I stood about 50 feet away from him and called his name. When he looked at me, I clicked. I called him again, and with plenty of green grass and his biting buddy behind him, he walked up to me at liberty. Of course, he received a "jack pot".

What a great first day!!!

Day Two (Sept. 11, 1999)

The arena was being used for roping, so I decided to work on his "ears back" problem when I get into the mounting position. After going through some of his favorite clicker games (picking up his feet, saying "yes", letting me put my fingers in his ears), I had him target a milk crate. He did this easily, so I placed it beside him and slowly stepped up on it. Immediately, his ears went back, and as soon as he relaxed I clicked and treated him (I had learned my lesson the day before and did not treat while still on the milk crate). I did this several times on both sides with no real improvement in regard to his ears. At one point the crate fell over with me on it (I am no ballerina), but he really didnít care. I also picked up the crate over my head to have him target and he did it with no anxiety. As we were working on this, a long piece of tissue paper blew into our general area. Harley was keeping a steady eye on it, but was not spooking. I retrieved the paper monster and had him target it, which he again did easily. I even put the paper at a height just above his eyes and allowed the wind to blow it , with no undue response. I did this on both sides and he knew it was just part of our clicker games.

Day Three (September 13, 1999)

Since my being in a position to mount is such an issue for Harley, I am focusing on this problem. He easily stood by the mounting block, but continued to raise his head and pin his ears whenever I stood on it. Sometimes he would try to back up to get me away from that uncomfortable spot. As soon as I mounted the block I would stand very still until I was sure he was not going to move. Then I would either touch and rub his back lightly, or scratch the spot on his neck that he loves. I would then click, dismount, and treat. I was able to do this on both sides many times, but I could not get his ears un-pinned. All in all, it was a good session and he did show improvement.

Day Four (September 17, 1999)

Holly and Judy came out to observe and help me decide what I needed to work on at this point. It was obvious that Harley had an issue with anyone or anything touching him behind his shoulder, so we started there. With a medium length crop, Judy and I took turns standing in front of him and touching him behind his should with the crop. When he kept his ears in a forward position throughout the whole exercise, we c/t. He caught on fairly quickly, but when I stood next to him and tried to take it a step further, it didnít work as well, so I back tracked to standing in front of him.

Judy and I also "danced" with Harley by standing next to him and staying in a position next to his shoulder until he stopped backing/stepping forward to try to get us out of that "uncomfortable" place. He did catch on to what we wanted him to do, but was obviously not happy about it.

Before we ended our session, I showed Judy and Holly the behavior he had been displaying at the mounting block (pinned ears, tense body posture). This time he showed the most aggressive stance yet and Judy and Holly advised me to remove myself from the mounting block before I was injured. We decided I needed to "chunk it down" before I stood on the mounting block again.

Day Five (September 18, 1999)

Judy and I attended a "Relationship Training Gathering" by GaWaNi Pony Boy. This all day session gave me truck loads of common sense information to start Harley from the ground up.

See Judyís notes on the seminar at Gawani Pony Boy

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