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March 2, 2015: Raudi’s Thinking Cap

The other day, when Raudi and were practicing agility, I put a green wool neck warmer on Raudi’s head. She shook it off; however, the image of that silly thing tucked between her ears and under her halter stuck with me. Today, I realized that it’s her thinking cap.

We had a breakthrough – it’s always hard to say what we perceive to be real is actually real, so I might be off in my assessment of this situation. Our work day began with a ride. I mounte up and Raudi moved ridiculously slow which is often the case in the winter. We can’t go far, so our trails are the same old same old. I usually get on her case when she does this, by repeatedly squeezing on

Dick on Jokla

her with my legs. Then, when she ignores this, I slap her a few times with my crop. This had been going on for a long time, and I don’t know who is more tired of it, me or her.

I decided to try something different today. I opted to reinforce her when she moved on after stopping, by giving her more positive cues. I exhaled and then squeezed with my legs—and when she moved on, I clicked and gave her a treat. Of course, she stopped in order to take the treat, which was okay because she had just done what I’d asked. I then did this again. The same thing happened again, so I increased the distance. This time, she moved faster.

I’d previously been giving her a treat for holding still. It might very well be that this is what she’d come to expect. What she was slowly figuring out is that she had to move in order to get a treat. I’d been slapping her with the crop because I’d read that the horse will respond to the leg cue, well knowing that if they don’t, that they’ll get wacked with the crop. This wasn’t working, and the reason was that oh so smart Raudi was asking herself, what’s in this for me? This is the question that she’s asked since the day I got her, which at times has made her a challenge to work with.

Later on, we did a short agility session. The first was the pole and the second was the hula hoop. It was as we were doing this that the most amazing thing happened. I knew that she was thinking about what she had to do in order to get the treat. If she could talk, she would have said “I guess I need to first move one foot back and keep from hitting the pole, and then the second foot back.” This is because this worked a few minutes ago.

We are now talking minor movements. I am pleased – I’m also thinking that I might teach her to step forwards and backwards by responding to my pointing at one foot or the other. When we were done, I removed her figurative thinking cap because, well, horses do need time to be horses.

Later in the day, Dick arrived with Karmen and Jokla. My initial thinking was that Dick would first take Karmen for a ride around the loop while ponying Jokla. He wisely suggested that we instead first work in the paddock. We worked on separation anxiety issues by repeatedly leading Jokla away from Karmen, and then bringing her back, each time increasing the distance.

Working in the pen with Karmen and Jokla worked so well that he next took her out on the road. What Dick subsequently discovered was that Karmen was more relaxed when he rode on a light rein.

Dick next worked with Jokla in the pen. This didn’t go so well. Something is amiss – Jokla, when under saddle, kicks her belly and shakes her head. I think the problem is equipment-related. For sure, I’m going to need to put on my thinking cap. Rather than beat around the bush, I’m going to ask Jokla what she thinks might be the problem.

Next: 61. 3/3/15: Happy Trails to You

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