Friday, March 5, 2010

Spring on the Horizon

Storm: Is it Spring Yet?

Have I said this before? I don't mind the snow, it's the muck that comes after. Horses are not much fun in late winter/early spring, when you and they are covered to the knees and more in sucking, clinging mud.

But it's warming up! The last two weeks we've gotten back to short training sessions with three of the horses: Abbey, Jewel and Storm.

And a new way to train, too. I've discovered clicker training and I LOVE it (and the girls do too). Basically, it's the same way dolphins are trained. You encourage the behavior you want, and when you get it you use a marker signal (whistle for dolphins, a 'click' for a horse, or whatever you want) that says THAT is what I wanted, what you were doing right at that second. And then the animal knows that they can expect a reward for the correct behavior. You start with a tiny piece of the behavior you want, and work up to more complex strings of behaviors.

It works great in tandem with other training methods, and Parelli melds really well, in my opinion. To introduce the clicker, the first lesson is targeting: you pick an object (we chose a cone). At first if they touch it, they get a click and a treat. Abbey's gotten to where she will pick it up and hand it to me, even if I throw it. It's great fun and has practical applications I'll go into some other time.

I have three different 'horsenalities' I'm dealing with: Abbey shifted from RBI when I first got her and she was an only horse, to a definite what's in it for me LBI, sometimes very pushy and dominant, and food motivation gives spectacular results, so she is the perfect clicker horse. She loves her cone, way more than that pushing her around stuff I was doing with her before (which we are still doing... lessons this week included finding her 'go' button).

Jewel is busybusybusy LBE, mouthing everything, climbing up your pant leg, driving you crazy. For two weeks we've been working on "get out of my space" (click, treat) and oh man does she want to be trained and have her little mind kept busy. You can now point at her chest and she'll back up, but she has a long way to go on ground manners. She'll play with the cone as its own reward, no treat needed (in fact I sometimes have to wrestle it away from her). She's a lot of fun to train but she has to be locked out of the paddock if you DON'T want her.

Storm, I've had a really difficult time pinning down as far as her personality, because she's so sweet and cooperative, and I've finally decided that, despite all her 'go', she's RBI. She's a little shy and slow to bond, and not nearly as initially friendly/outgoing as the other two. She seems to have a comfort zone and the clicker thing is a tiny bit out of it, although she enjoys the carrots; the first time I clicked she threw her head up and went "What the heck? Go!?" No. Good girl. Have a carrot. We've started really slowly with her, and mixing it up with things she is already used to like lunging. She's so sensitive, she doesn't really like being groomed much, so I'm rewarding her for standing still for it, too.

We're looking forward to a nice weekend but busy. Russ and I are hoping to get to ride on Sunday.