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?
Gratuitous Kitten Pic