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July 23, 2014: Lessons Learned: Putting Cognitive Theory to Practice

There was no groundwork today, so the one day’s lesson went quite well. Raudi and I really need equitation training. It has not materialized yet, so we are instead getting jumping training, both in our twice-weekly lessons and at this clinic. And we are enjoying jumping. Being on the move suits us well since we are both impatient, willful, and like direct challenges. Also, we like learning that which is tangible; in this case we have to get over a fence, in a proper fashion. Some might say that I’m projecting my own personality characteristics onto my horse. I don’t think so. I know me, and I know my horse.

Raudi's first vertical jump

In the future we’ll need to find an instructor who can focus exclusively on us and what we most need to learn while riding on the flats since this will best translate to trail work. I’d like to find someone who uses positive reinforcement techniques, this including clickers and treats. For example, I’d like to try having this individual click when Raudi and I go over a jump in perfect form. I’d then reward the horse, and the instructor would reward me. The clicker could also be used say, when immediately after jumping, that Raudi and I do a canter departure. This would (at least for Raudi) answer the question, “What’s in this for me?”

I now understand that humans, who have a frontal cortex, are the goal driven animals. And I understand that horses, who do not, carry out the human’s dictates. To this end, it’s important to give them tasks that they can accomplish in short order, so as to keep them motivated.

Today we trotted over ground poles, repeatedly, the physical movement reinforcing the concept of trot. Jessica Dryden, who organized this clinic, later told me that trotting horses over jumps isn’t really jumping – it’s using the jump as a cavalletti, or small raised pole, to which I said that I’d presumed that I’d been jumping, but actually had not.

We next jumped over a single cross pole several times. Things that were reinforced were, heels down, approach jump, shortening reins and grabbing mane, go into two point, stay upright, and look ahead, not down. (Clinician reinforced this by standing in front of me, and asking me how many fingers he was holding up.) It was then that Raudi and I did our first vertical jump, clearing it nicely. We did this again, repeatedly. Raudi only refused once, this was when I inadvertently looked down.

I realized, in going over this bright yellow cross rail, that it wasn’t really all that dangerous. In fact, the cross rails, which are at the center, together, might be even more dangerous.

Our going over this vertical jump is indicative of the fact that, yes, we are making progress. I don’t have jumping-related aspirations. Rather, I see jumping as a means by which I might as a rider better communicate with Raudi. In other words, I must know exactly what clues to give my horse, using my aids, so that she might respond accordingly. And so, the more consistent and straightforward I am, the less confused she will be.

It is going to be up to me to pull things together, maybe by getting those who have an interest in positive reinforcement together, and working with Raudi and me. I have an idea. I just need to make this happen.

Next: 203. 7/25/14: Lessons Learned: Horse as soul mate