Mystery Revealed

The barrier outside Mathilda’s pen. The endpoint of all panic attacks.

Back in the summer [Salt Mines], I gave vague hints about a new exercise. All will now be explained. The goal is to hand-walk Rodney around the pasture, for companionship, leading to running/trotting around the pasture, for dual exercise, leading to long walks under saddle, for fitness, leading to galloping heedlessly, um, conditioning work. A simple walk around his own field shouldn’t be a problem, right? Pfft [Thing].

The plan was to walk him with a leadrope around his neck (the hint) rather than a halter over his head. When he stressed, I would slip the rope off, let him go, finish the lap on my own, & retry with the next lap. I wanted him to work – to the extent that a stroll around the field is work – but not feel pressured. Forcing him to behave just tightens the tension spiral. If he was upset, I would give him space, thereby diffusing the stress level. It worked a bit. He was going farther from the barn and often grazing where I left him rather than running back.

Unfortunately, the plan had two fatal flaws. The first was identified by Hubby immediately. Rodney needs successes. He needs to know that he has done the right thing and thereby develop confidence in making his own decisions. (So he can save my amateur a** when I freeze mid-course.) Achieving a lap around the field would be a lack of negative (panicking, running) rather than a defined positive (negotiating the cones well [Somewhat]). A subtle but telling distinction.

What I have come to realize is that I need successes also, perhaps more. Rodney is satisfied with the status quo. He could be a fat & happy lawn ornament for the rest of his days. I think he’d be even more content with a job and the spoiling that would follow, but he doesn’t know that. If change is to occur, I must be the one to instigate it. Therefore, I require positive reinforcement to motivate me to haul my sorry self off the couch and out to the barn.

I was able to approach the exercise with utmost calm and patience. Really, if you knew me, you’d hardly recognize me. As we walked, I could observe but not place value judgments on his behavior. Today, he is tense in this spot. Okay. Yesterday, he made twice that distance, or half. Noted. Then I would inevitably push the envelope and he would go tearing back to the barn.

This I could not accept with equanimity. I took it far too personally. Whatever his reasons, barn sour, panic, or lack of training, watching him fly back to the barn was depressing, deflating, & demoralizing. It would take me weeks of wallowing to work up the reserves of Zen-like patience to try again.

I still think my reasoning is sound. If I could have maintained a Budda-level of detachment from the results, he would have gradually desensitized to the idea. Or I would have accumulated data on the parameters of what he will do and what causes him stress. Either way, beneficial. But no, all we accumulated were small steps of progress and gloomy, hair-tearing days of failure.

Enough. Even I can see that I have over-thought this to a standstill.

What non-traditional (but safe & humane) training techniques have worked for you?
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Gratuitous Kitten Pic

File under K for
kute.

Categories: Groundwork, Horse Behavior, Horses

6 replies »

  1. This sounds simplistic at the start, but really works to get them relaxed and watching you for cues and ends up being an awful lot of fun for you both. Eventually he can learn to heel, stand, and follow your every movement, speed change, and directional cue, all at liberty just like a foal with its momma. Starting with the halter and lead rope in a familiar area: 5 steps forward, stop and stand for a specific length of time (5 seconds, 10 seconds, whatever, but not long enough for him to get bored and start to ignore you). Pet him. Repeat, repeat, and repeat until he just follows your body language, not the rope or pressure–5 minutes or 5 days or until he shows that he’s at least trying to understand. Then 5 steps forward, back up, come forward, stop, and stand. When that is established, add some sort of turn–on the forehand, on the haunches, or anything else that requires a modicum of effort that he needs work on. You will ask for this any time he gets puffy, on the ground or in the saddle. Walk and do that turn over and over again until he wants to just walk and/or stand. You are establishing that as long as he follows your cue he will find a relaxed and happy place. Always, always, always end with him more relaxed than when you started. Then do the same exercise, starting from the beginning, in unfamiliar surrounds, over obstacles (including tarps on the ground). Reward any indication that he is even thinking about going forward.

    • I’ll give it a try. It sounds simple enough for the two of us to wrap our minds around. I’ve always thought he would do well with liberty work. Attentive he is. Too much so.

  2. I would have tried again for an ears up shot but the flash was sending Mathilda into spasms. If trotting around her pen wasn’t bad enough, she kept eyeing the barrier as if she might try jumping out. NOT a desirable result.

  3. I think I’ve said it before a while ago, but he’s a prime candidate for clicker type work. It’s all about working for that positive reward. I like what it does with my dogs and with those I’ve worked with – they want to work and they want to figure out what it is that they can do that will get them the reward. It gets them thinking and offering behaviors. It fosters a good relationship and feeling between you and the animal you are working with. Behaviors you don’t want, you ignore and just reward what you do want. I spend a few days working with a friend’s horse when I was visiting her – and she’s a dog trainer. She just never thought to apply it to her horse – and in a few days, I had him cross tying and standing in close areas that he wouldn’t readily do before and starting on trailer work. Wish we lived closer – I’d love to spend time trying to apply some of this!

    • I’ve certainly read about it. I force *Don’t Shoot the Dog* on anyone who stands still long enough. Unf, my perfectionism is such that I get overwhelmed about getting all the steps right. I know, I know, it’s simple. Tell that to the chattering monkeys in my head. The plan has been to play with this with M. She got the clicker-carrot connection right away. Okay, I’ll do Tracey’s suggestion with R & this with M. Soon.

      • It would help to have someone a time or 2 that knows what it’s about *but* people do get too wrapped up in the steps and getting it right. One of the really nice things about it, is that since there’s no punishment (positive or negative) involved, if you mess up, it’s not a big deal at all!! The worst that would happen is that you don’t accomplish what you set out to do. I’ve taught it to lots of newbies, NP.

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