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Miro--Partner of Andrea

Andrea and Miro
Andrea and Miro


Funny thing, this clicker training. Once the horse gets what your asking, they don't stop offering it, do they?

Up until now Miró's fallback behavior when I'm not being clear (more often than I care to admit) or too slow in asking for something has been a bow. Sometimes she uses it just to get attention. I'll stand next to her in her stall prior to feeding time speaking to a friend, and the friend will start laughing because guess who starts playing circus pony?

Now, with all the mounted work we've been doing, it's the canter she offers. This horse LOVES canter departs. Not necessarily cantering itself (because she doesn't get treats for that yet), but now she's offering the canter from a walk, trot, even from a standstill. And she's REALLY good at sliding stops at the sound of the click after that first stride or two (forcing me to sit very deep!)

I've had to really adjust myself to this new responsiveness. We've worked on these departs for two or three months now, but all of a sudden over the last week she suddenly "got it." By "got it" I mean push button. Cue=depart. No head tossing, no strung out trot, just a nice uphill depart. But I have never ridden a horse that would do this, so half the battle has been for me to get ready for her and get used to the feeling. I'm so used to trotting half the length of the arena, struggling, etc. that sometimes I'm surprised to find that she's actually in the canter. She goes into it so easily now. In some ways, she's more advanced at this than I am! (Of course, being a horse, she is.) In case your wondering, she's six, I got her when she was four, and she did NOT have much training, plus she's off-the-track.

I find myself having to switch what we're working on, however, after 3 or 4 departs because she does start anticipating and cantering on her own to get that click. But unlike a situation where the horse is just so nervous from all the cantering and stopping that it just bolts randomly trying to please, her departs, even when uncued, are calm and "uphill." Very deliberate, almost thoughtful. But most enthusiastic.

A few people around my barn are starting to notice. I am not an experienced rider, and I've had very few lessons in my life. But some people have been commenting on my seat lately and asking where I learned to ride so well. What a shock! The reality is that I'm not a particularly good or elegant rider. But I guess I HAVE been able to train my horse make me look somewhat good. Over the last few months she's become very responsive, her canter is now rocking horse smooth (in that my butt's in constant contact with the saddle now :), and I've actually been able to sit her trot for longer periods of time without bouncing all over the place. I have not ridden all that much in the last few months but HAVE put in lots of groundwork (rewarding for relaxing, head lowering, etc.) It's paid off. I think it's made her a smoother horse (lifting her back, etc.) that ALLOWS me to sit the trot without bouncing. Plus, her responsiveness to my cues (which I'm able to make more subtle as she learns them) makes it look like I'm not doing anything to get her to change gaits, etc.

I'll KNOW we've come a long way if someday someone asks me where my HORSE received her training :)

Hoola Hoop

No, I have not taught my horse to hula hoop, although the visual is quiet intriguing...

But, I HAVE added a hoola hoop to Miró's repertoire of objects to target. I also taught her to stick her head through it all the way to her shoulders. This hoop has the little pellets that rattle. In a 150 X 150 foot arena without a halter--she CHOSE to stick around play with me and this strange object, which she had seen only briefly the night before as I walked it though her paddock and placed it in the tackroom. She snorted at it and pranced a bit then.

It took ten minutes.

Yep. At first, she just touched it. Click. Then she mouthed it. Click. When she occasionally just stuck her nose past the "plane" of the hoop, I clicked and said "Good girl!" Soon she was mouthing less and pushing her nose forward more. When she went all the way through to her ears, click and even bigger fuss with two carrot pieces.

Then she seemed to get stuck at that point. Up to the ears--stop. My goal was up to the shoulders so I could just let it rest on her withers. She didn't seem to be offering any more forward movement (I was placing the hoop about 2 feet in front of her, allowing her to walk up to it herself.) What could I do to get her to do more?

This is the problem solving point that I LOVE about clicker training. There were probably several options at this point. I could coax her with a piece of food on the other side (bribery--not very desirable), urge her through by tapping on her side or hindquarters (moving away from pressure). I could simply move the hoop over her head and onto her shoulders, which wouldn't teach her anything about what SHE was supposed to do. But these options were not letting HER offer the behavior.

AH HA! (notice lightbulb). I moved the hoop about 10 feet away from her. By having to walk ten feet, Miró had built some momentum by the time she got to the hoop, so when she realized that she had stuck her head in and it was time to stop, she put on the breaks BUT WAS ALREADY IN IT UP TO HER SHOULDERS, actually touching it with her chest!

Click and HANDFUL of carrots. I LOVE the look on her face (even prior to the reward) when she figures things out.

We went on to play with a cone, but I left the hoop resting on her withers. It rattled, it moved around, but the biggest reaction to it she gave was occasionally stopping to bend her neck and try to look at it. It was not a big deal to her. I even used it to back her up and turn her left and right (pressure on chest and either side of neck).

Ah, what a wonderful way to sack out a horse.

Line-less Lunging

Okay, so Miró and I are on a roll. Last night, our second session with The Hoop, I experimented with something. I ran and trotted Miró around by having her target on a dressage whip with a white bag tied to the end (using the cue "TRRROTTT, too, to help her motivation). Then I switched to the hoop and had her follow that. With only two legs to her four and the footing being way-too-deep sand, I got rather tired. I then started standing in place and just stuck the hoop out about an arms length and had her target it at the walk in a complete circle around me. She seemed enthusiastic about this, so, on a whim, I said "TRRROTTT."

This horse went out a distance of about 10 feet and started trotting AROUND me (eyes on the hoop) in the prettiest, arched-neck, springy-strided trot I've ever seen her do.

And, no, this was not in the roundpen. This was in a 150x150 foot arena. No halter or anything. She could go anywhere she wanted.

She earned LOTS of clicks for this of course, and we worked toward a full circle, then two times around, etc. We were even able to get a full circle AT THE CANTER. I didn't want to take it too far because actually I was not really comfortable with the distance between herself and me. Sometimes she came it a bit too close and I had to wave the hoop at her. Sometimes she threw in a bit of a buck and bounce in her enthusiasm--which was wonderful is a small sense because it definitely wasn't out of anger or frustration. Overall, though, she was uncannily consistent in the distance she kept between herself and me, perhaps from all the roundpen work? She certainly acted like she had done this before or that it was somehow familiar to her in some way.

But, it did get the ideas rolling. First thing to solve is the safety issue. I'm going to take a nice long longe whip and tie a small white bag to it and get her to target on it, hopefully getting her out to a comfortable distance and on a circle on which she can balance nicely. So, in other words, I'm actually I'm going to literally shape the radius of the circle first. If that is successful, I'll work on gait transitions just like we do in the roundpen.

The most important thing about this little event was her attitude. Okay, yes, I admit I was tickled when two people walked by with their jaws hanging and one even gave me the thumbs up signal (hey, we humans need our clicks too, eh?). But Mirós body language, the arch in her neck, and the spring in her trot was SO different that the way she moved when actually attached to a longe line or in the round pen. Everything about her said "this is not work, I am having fun, let's do more..."

Well, we ARE going to do more. I'll report on "Stage Two" of this little experiment after we try it next week.

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