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January 15, 2018: The Horse Life: Chunking things Down

I was first exposed to the concept of chunking things down when I was doing my TTeam training at the Icelandic Horse Farm in Vernon, BC. There I learned that if a task seemed overwhelming to a horse, break it into smaller pieces. I understood in theory – it took me longer in practice.

Humans have a very large prefrontal cortex, and horses have a very small prefrontal cortex. This means that they can’t plan or figure out things to the degree we do. And they are not, as we are, goal oriented. We forget this, in our overwhelming desire to get them to do what we want them to do.

I am very much aware that I have a pea brain and that my horses have even more miniscule pea brains. Sometimes I forget, but less and less often.

A few days ago, I decided to teach Tyra to walk, trot, run alongside Hestar, my fat tire(d)! bicycle. I got her out and we went around the loop. She sort of understood what I was asking, which was to move along nicely, while at the same time staying out of my space. We both made it around the mile loop, none the worse for wear. When she veered towards me, I turned my big fat front tire on in her direction. She then moved out and to the side of me.

Last night, as I lay awake, I decided that there was most likely a safer way to train her to stay to the side. I then began thinking that I could use the barrels and poles in the playground, and construct a pentagon. I’d stay on the inside and have her walk beside me on the outside.

I set it up using five barrels and five jump rails. I then set five five-gallon buckets (yellow and blue, the color horses can see) under each pole. I then went and got Tyra who was eager to be out and about. I first had her walk off lead, both ways, around the outside of the pentagon. When she did as asked, she got a treat.

Her interest wavered, so I worked with on carrot stretches on the mat. Then we resumed working on the out of my space exercise. First I had her trot. Then I had her do the panther walk, using the noodle. Then, I began knocking down the poles, one by one, so that the perimeter of the circle was primarily buckets. Tyra did not attempt to enter the circle. I was proud of her, and she was quite obviously proud of herself. It was a successful attempt at chunking things down, and also autonomous training, since she did what I asked, of her own volition.

After, I took her for a ride, and at the same time ponied Raudi. I gave Raudi’s lead line to Pete (on Hrimmi) after a bit because Tyra’s focus was such that she was rushing down hills. She became increasingly more focused as the ride progressed.

I could, tomorrow, take Tyra out on the road with Hestar, but I am going to play around with the barrels and poles again, maybe putting them in a differing configuration. I am thinking of perhaps having her go in a straight line, and then at the end of the line, turn. I might also use the bicycle in the playground.

I get to do the planning, which is a privilege, not a right. This means that I owe it to my horse to think things out before I attempt to teach them new things.

Next: 16. 1/16/18: A Conversation with Hrimfara

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