Mounting Block

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Impromptu Session

Impromptu session today as I was just going up to check on progress of new channels Andy’s digging in the track to stop it being washed away by the torrential rain and the horses were both looking at me over the fence doing a good job of making me feel guilty that I hadn’t done anything with them today so I grabbed halters and took them both up with me. They both walked beautifully together and we went up the track further than the picadeiro and practised turning around where the track widens out which they also did beautifully and then I turned them out in the picadeiro where they munched the grass that is growing in all the rain, and had a roll while I chatted to Andy.

It’s interesting how things are going now that there are things we do that are new, but are not clicker training sessions, and other things that are clicker training sessions. The horses have surprised me by really taking it in their stride and not expecting to be clicked for everything. When we turned so beautifully on the track they both looked at me like ”are we not getting a click for that then?” but were totally cool when they didn’t get one. I’m not sure exactly how I’m deciding what is going to be a clicker session and what’s not, just intuition and what feels right at the moment. For example they both know how to lead, so they’re not getting clicked for the new behaviour of being led together. Frankie doesn’t (didn’t!) know how to line up at the mounting block so he’s being clicked for that. Will see how it goes …

As I didn’t want to lead them both down by myself and Andy wasn’t quite finished, I played with Frankie for a bit while I was waiting. Maurice instantly came over wanting to join in too, so I tied him outside with hay again which he was quite happy about ;)

We did lining up at the mounting block again but this time at liberty. Brilliant!  Frankie is now going ahead of me to line up and wait for me to get on the mounting block – fantastic that he’s so keen and obviously understands what we are doing, but I’d prefer he stayed with me and was less hurried in his walking.

The next time around I asked for whoa and calm halfway around the circle before walking on again and he objected to not getting a treat for that. Confirmation that I need to work more on click = treat, ”good” = well done but no treat. Interesting that he objects to not getting a treat when he thinks he deserves one IN a clicker session (and for behaviours that were taught with the clicker), but not when we were doing the leading with Maurice which he hasn’t ever been clicked for.

I’m now leaning right over him and putting weight on his back when he’s lined up and he is 100% calm about this, and I’m liking the ”click one get one free” training ;)

I led Frankie down the track and Andy followed behind with Maurice. Frankie was great, especially as there were now big channels dug across the track but they didn’t bother him at all. Very proud of our progress! He’s still not 100% calm emotionally going down the track but it’s a MASSIVE improvement on how he was, I can lead him on a loose rope and he stays with me, can’t believe we’ve come so far so quickly!

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Keeping it Real

I haven’t posted here for a while as I’ve been having some issues with Frankie and made the decision to use negative reinforcement to deal with his behaviour of pulling away from me when walking down the track.

It’s been a big decision, and one not easily made.  I’ve had long discussions with several people about it, as it was somewhere I really didn’t want to go.

It’s something I haven’t really wanted to write about or discuss publicly as it feels like a “failure” both on my part, and of clicker training in general (or at least the way I use clicker training).  However, when I started this blog it was with the intention of writing honestly about all our ups and downs – an honest account of our journey, so I’ve decided that I will post about this particular issue. Maybe not right now as I’m tired and I also want to share a lot of the discussion around the decision which will take some time to collate, but as a start I’ve shared two posts from today that I wasn’t initially going to.


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Fantastic Frankie

I’m totally in love with my super little horse again ;)

Just had two fabulous sessions with him.

First we went up the track a little further than the picadeiro and played in some big puddles, c/t for exploring the water with his nose, then with his feet, then for standing in it.

Going back down to the picadeiro he was fine but when I wanted to continue down past the picadeiro he tried a new tactic of barging into me to get what he wanted. I just backed him up and we started again.  Had to do this 3 times but then he was lovely and we went all the way down the track where he got lots of praise and then we went back up again to the picadeiro.

I started working on lining up at the mounting block with him which he got really quickly and after just a few times he had the idea of where to stand and I was c/t for him standing still and totally calm while I leaned over his back :)

I was doing the lining up by walking around in a circle with Frankie on the inside of the circle so he had to turn away from me which was great practise and for him not barging into me and he did it beautifully.  At one point I realised that I was totally focussed on where we were going and I was walking slightly into him and he was moving further to the inside of the circle away from me so I decided to be even more determined about walking into him – Frankie totally objected to this which was great learning for me to be softer, I just need to be clear and focussed about where we are going in partnership, not ”agressive” and make him move further away from me for no reason!

Then we walked down the track and it was taking quite a bit of effort to do it nicely but he did :)

I put him back in the field while I took Maurice out and then I took Frankie out again and we repeated lining up at the mounting block – did both sides this time and he was fantastic.  Then he walked down the track absolutely beautifully even with the dog walking in front of him – I am SOOOOOO pleased! ;)

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Puddles can be FUN!

Played with Maurice in the big puddles up the track today. He will normally avoid walking in puddles if at all possible, so with Hannah’s ”trotting is FUN!” in my head I decided that we would make puddles fun!  After a few minutes c/t for successive approximations, Maurice was walking into puddles, standing in puddles, backing up in puddles, and – AMAZING – turning around in quite a narrow puddle and staying in it – when it would have been much easier for him to turn if he stepped out of the puddle. YAY!!! :)

I then got on him and repeated ”puddles are FUN!” ridden – but apparently ridden they are definitely NOT so much fun and preferably still avoided … which I don’t think is puddles so much as being ridden by me :( He seemed quite happy to stand in a puddle with me on him, but didn’t really want to walk through which I think is a lot to do with my tension and over-riding/steering to try to get him to go in/through a puddle rather than around it, even though I was trying to be very soft and focussed. I think going through puddles will be a good riding lesson for me, as long as I make sure they continue to be fun with me on the ground.

I was riding bareback and with two lead ropes attached as reins to the rope halter (haven’t used this before with Maurice but I’d only brought that one up with me as had been using it with Frankie).  After playing at riding through puddles which was OK but nothing like we’d had from the ground, we went up the track as I wanted to work on verbal walk on and whoa cues while ridden.  Maurice did his spinning around and going for home a few times and I reverted to my bad habit of hauling on the reins to stop him.  When I got off I noticed that using the rope halter I’d exerted enough force to leave a depression in the hairs on his nose – omg not good :( This worried me so much that I think I am going to continue with the rope halter as it will make me much more aware of the need to be softer with my hands. Using a bit or normal halter there’s no physical evidence of the pressure I am using, so it’s easier to not realise just how hard I am pulling.

So … after he tried his spinning around to go for home we did lots of work of walking the way I wanted to go for a few steps – lots of praise for that, c/t for verbal whoa (he’s got this really well), c/t for flexion away from direction he wanted to go, then taking one step in the direction of the flexion rewarded with c/t and then we turned around to go the way he wanted.  We repeated this quite a few times and it was lovely.

I’ve been really disheartened that Maurice who used to be my ”go anywhere, do anything I ask” horse has now got some anxiety about leaving home and I really really didn’t want to give up hacking – to the point where I’d even thought about just pushing him through his protests.  After all, it worked when he first came here and he would spin around for home, I’d just be forceful with him and he didn’t do it anymore after our first few rides together. Behind my desire to get this fixed quick is that I’m horribly aware that at 23, Maurice may not have so many hacking years ahead of him and it’s something I really love and we’ve always both really enjoyed our ambles (and gallops!) around the countryside.

However, Im not the same person I was then and after today I feel very happy to just work up and down the track on us both being softer and more responsive, gradually increasing the distance until we can go for lovely hacks again without getting into any major discussions about which way we’re going ;)


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Pulling Away

Not a planned training session, but just a note to say that yesterday Frankie escaped again – and got ratted out by Maurice again ;) – yesterday.  I put Frankie back in the top gate – he was leading pretty nicely but wanting to eat grass so every time he offered to stop eating I asked him to walk on a few paces and then I introduced what will be my ”graze” cue of sweeping hand gesture to the grass and let him graze until he gave the slightest offer of stopping when I asked him to walk on again a few paces before giving grazing cue – each time we did this he offered sooner to stop grazing :)

Due to a miscommunication between me and Andy – he was leading Maurice up the track to the top gate (I’d meant him to lead him up through the field so the horses would find each other on their way up/down).  As I’d expected Frankie went galloping down to find Maurice – who wasn’t there as Andy had put him in the top gate already – and then Frankie came galloping up the track (he obviously knows exactly where to escape from the field but we have not discovered how he does it yet – gah!)

So Frankie was loose and eating grass and I needed to catch him to put him back in and after all that galloping he was pretty high energy too.  I went to catch him and put his headcollar on which he wasn’t happy about but I held a chunk of juicy pear under the nose loop to bribe him to put his head in which he did. We then walked off and he tried for an instant to pull away, felt the headcollar (normal one, not the rope one) and came back to me.  When I felt him getting too high energy down the short bit of track we had to negotiate to get him back in I just asked verbal ”whoa” and he responded instantly :) I’m really hoping this means we are making some progress!

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Riding Out

Went for a short hack on Maurice today.  He’s not been ridden out for so long he’s started his old ”trick” of turning around for home when I’m just ambling along not really focussed on anything.  Today when I felt him about to do this (he’s very gentle about it) I just asked him to keep going and he did :)

Then we got to a turn-off on the track which we normally take to make a circuit back home but he was adamant he wasn’t going that way.  I managed to persuade him to at least go to the corner of the turn-off and let him graze there.  But he still wouldn’t go down that track. It was turning into a bit of a fight – old habits die hard :( – so I ”reset” and clicked him for some flexions in the direction I wanted to go and for responding to verbal ”walk on” but got more planting and backing up than walking on and it wasn’t fun for either of us and I didn’t want to push it but also didn’t want to reinforce him by turning for home … so I decided to turn for home but asked for quite a few ”whoas” after each few paces and he responded beautifully to that and wasn’t trying to rush home at all so that was good.

He was LOVELY on the way home.  He started jogging a couple of times but I remembered to not tense up and not tighten the reins and just asked ”whoa” (really need a ”steady” cue instead of using whoa for that aswell) and he was great.  We even had a few little trots and a canter on the way home and although they were a bit fast he slowed back to walk immediately when I asked just with verbal cue :)

We also have ”trot” on verbal cue when ridden but I only asked it when I could feel he wanted to trot anyway.

When we got back he wanted to go into the picadeiro – for a roll I thought as we usually do this after riding, but what he actually did when I took his tack off and let him free was go and start walking around the round pen!!!

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