Right now I have four ponies at four differing ages, which means (for me) that I having to use age-appropriate training techniques. Sometimes, like today, I can’t believe how lucky I am. I so enjoy working with Tinni, 28, Raudi, 14, Hrimmi, 5, and Tyra, 3.
More and more I’m coming up with options for behavior that in the past I would have dealt with by hitting the pony with a crop or slapping the pony with a rope. As I learned, I momentarily felt good when I did this, but I in no way changed the given behavior. I feel now as though when I’m stymied, I throw a switch – one in which I now consider what is a growing list of options.
And I realize that the ponies and I learn something new every time we have an extended interaction. Clinics are good in that one is presented with new training options. However, the catch is that you have to put what you have learned to use in a near daily basis in order to make progress. I really believe this. Sporadic training works, but getting the job done takes longer than it would otherwise.
Today is a good example of the above. I first worked with Tyra, doing ground training. She’d regressed some – had resumed mugging me – so we went back to clicker training kindergarten. I began by turning my back to her when she mugged me – now standard procedure – she walked away. Turning my back to the horses has been useful with all the horses when getting hay out of barn. I next put her in the enclosure by herself and used the target stick, focusing on having her first touch it, and then back in order to get her treat. This worked. I also worked with her on standing quietly – otherwise she does not get reinforcement. I did this in the pen, in the driveway, and out on the road. This worked.
While working with her, I had this major training revelation, which was that if I stopped before she stopped, she might walk on more readily. I combined this with having her stop and having me walk and lead her from the other side. This worked.
Next, Pete and I took Raudi and Hrimmi out for a road ride. It was extremely windy. Both ponies were energized. I focused at first on me and doing Feldenkrais/Centered Riding exercises. Raudi and I had some really nice walk/trot transitions. On the ride home, she was not as eager to trot, I think because the road surface was not to her liking. So I got off of her and ran beside her. We had a good time, as did Pete on Hrimmi. He too worked on asking her to halt, making it his idea instead of hers. This worked.
I next got Tinni out – Pete walked Ryder. We went around the loop. I focused exclusively on my own form, doing exercises such as extending both arms outward and also windmilling them. I then did rotations – and had yet another revelation, which was that I should start these rotations as I do when doing my in-house Feldenkrais work, which is first focusing on turning my eyes to the side rather than my hips. So the pattern (which energized Tinni) was eyes, head, shoulders, pelvis, knees, feet, toes).
The best of the training sessions was yet to come. It was getting late, but I decided to do some short agility sessions with Raudi and Hrimmi. First Raudi – by now it was very windy. The curtain strands were blowing sideways, the tarp was in a wad, and the flags on the flag string in the scary corner were flapping wildly. Raudi, seeing all this was wide eyed. I had her lower her head, using the clicker and treats.
She willingly went over the tarp, around the buckets – now that I think about it, I forgot to put out the umbrella – I could have put it out without opening it. We then came to the scary corner. It was, I must say, somewhat scary – there was a whole lot of movement going on. I walked her into it. I thought we might be able to step over the string of flag that was on the ground. Stupid me, it immediately got tangled around Raudi’s right front and both rear legs. The string was attached to the flag poles. Oh oh, I thought – this is going to be a problem. I clicked, rewarded, clicked, rewarded, bent over, unwound the pennant on the front, clicked, rewarded, unwound the pennant on both rear legs. I praised the hell out of my horse, and we moved on.
This was good training – I could imagine her getting tangled in barbed wire and having to stand still. Raudi, unfazed, went through the streamers, but dodged the fun noodle obstacle, going around the saw horses. Then, she who had had enough, pulled away from me and ran part way down the trail back to the barn.
I called to her. She stood for a few seconds, thinking about what to do, then she came trotting back in my direction. I stood on the far side of the noodle obstacle – she walked right through it, and came directly to me. I of course made a big deal about this and gave her a two-fer, which is two treats.
Lastly, I did some agility with Hrimmi. There was a slight lull in the wind, which made the obstacle course a bit less challenging than it had been for Raudi. There were, for instance, no downed flags. Hrimmi did as asked, and in a very relaxed fashion. She did balk when we headed back down trail, so I turned her around and had her back half the length of it. Then I turned her around and she returned to the pen in a willing fashion. She also balked when I went to lead her in the pen. (Raudi was by the gate.) Again, I turned Hrimmi and backed her into the enclosure. Raudi, confronted by Hrimmi’s huge butt, moved out of the way. No problem, either time. Nice to know Hrimmi and I have the backing default option down.
I was very pleased with what the ponies, and I accomplished today. Not all days are as momentous as today, which is what made today rather special. Most importantly, today verified two things that I previously thought to be truisms: The first is that interacting with horses on a daily basis is central to behavioral changes. The second is that the more one interacts with their equines, the more options become available training-wise.
I am fortunate in that (right now) I’m able to spend so much time with my ponies. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think this. I cannot (right now) think of any other way in which I’d rather spend my outdoor time. Some would say that I’m living the dream. Indeed, I am. Lucky, lucky me.
Next: 94. 4/4/17: The Writing Life/The Horse Life: Striking a Balance