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December 8, 2017: Autonomy and the Spirit of Play

Good weather today, the sun was out most of the day. I was out when the sun was out. Yesterday, the sun wasn’t out and neither was I. I was overdue for a horse day. Josh, our farrier came and trimmed Tyra, took shoes off Tinni, and trimmed and reset Raudi and Hrimmi’s shoes. It was an uneventful visit. Once in a while one of the gang of four would shift around a bit or would look at what Josh was doing. That is par for the course. We haven’t had a horse act out since I can remember. If a horse did, it would be because they were sore or upset. Come to think of it, Signy didn’t take well to a farrier in Wyoming, turned out she had a cyst just above her tail bone. Most likely having her rear leg lifted hurt.

Pete and I took Raudi and Hrimmi out for a ride after Josh left. Then I took Tyra and Tinni for a walk. Tyra was bugging Tinni – she wanted him to play. I let him off lead and he followed along; he didn’t as he has done in the past, run home. He seemed happy, being barefoot.

While Josh was here, I got out some of my equipment, the large blue ball, the mat, a fun noodle target, and a bucket. I played with Hrimmi, she chased the ball (l am teaching her to stay out of my space), did panther walk going up and downhill, and carrot stretches on the mat facing downhill and sideways. We were just . . . playing. I wasn’t forcing her to do anything. But she did everything I wanted her to do – when she got bored with one thing, I presented other options to her, which she acted upon of her own volition.

Play is underrated particularly when it comes to working with animals. At least this is so on the part of traditional horse trainers and clinicians. Most have a lot of horses to work with, and therefore they have to (they think) do tasks in a quick and expedient fashion. And the quicker the horse learns the task, presumably the smarter that horse is. I suspect that those horses that figure out that the sooner they get the task over, the better off they are, are pretty dang smart. The problem is that their trainers believe that these animals are doing what they’re doing because they enjoy it. Put most horses in an arena with jumps and they won’t do anything. They jump when told to. Doing something because you’re told to do it is compliance. Habitual movement patterns go hand-in-hand with compliance. A horse that has more movement options to draw upon is going to enjoy jumping more than one that does not.

It’s all about expedience. There is nothing expedient about autonomous training. This is because the one playing with the horse is on horse time, which is the horse version of horse time.

I am now exclusively reinforcing movement-related activities – a huge change for this die-hard clicker trainer. No more micro-shaping. I want movement competency, which is agility, stability, balance. So this exclusively is what I’m rewarding. For instance, today on the trail – Tyra threw in a few bucks and sidewinders as she was racing up to me. I clicked and rewarded this because she was owning her own movement. She does not do these things when being ridden – she, as do the others, knows the difference.

The oddest thing about playing with horses (for me) is that time goes by so fast. I am also totally in the moment. Go figure. Could it be that autonomous play is in the moment of play? I am thinking that because I am enjoying it, so are the horses. If I had to forego riding and could only engage in play, I would not be unduly upset.

All in all, another great day that culminated with Pete’s packing down the snow in the playground with the tractor. Now I can set up the Christmas agility course. Agility used to be a compliance-based activity, but no more. I now find more imaginative ways to do things, and work with them all off-lead, putting the lead on for the video-taping. The only thing I am now lacking is for someone to ride with and share my ideas with. And someone who also thinks as I do, that play is the best thing of all for horses because it builds movement competency.

Next: 340. 12/9/17: Maybe on the Move

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