Long And Low

And our third time working on head lowering. This slow, easy, boring session is brought to you by: apples! A very high value treat for him.
It was a long slow lazy sort of ride. For me. It gave me lots of time to think and ponder and listen to Rusty breath. I came to realizations that I knew already. Kind of. Things I realized in fully thought out ideas instead of half formulated feelings. I know Rusty has a high double whorl. That he has two personalities. A silly joker who’s not afraid of anything. Then there’s his more serious side. A very nervous hard worker who has great powers of concentration. I know he gets worried about things. That he’s an over achiever.
As we meandered slowly about I listened to him breath. Every time I asked for something that he even slightly didn’t understand his breath got shallow and noisy. I could hear it roaring in and out of his lungs. He was breathing like a horse under heavy exercise. At a walk. He wants so bad to be perfect to get what I am asking of him just right. Anything I ask for he does to the extreme. No simple getting the job done for him. He will do it then add more and more until he has himself tied into a knot.
We will see if he stops worrying so much about this and does start to relax eventually.
Until then, I saw lots that I did really like when I watched the video. I was afraid that teaching this would throw him onto his forequarters. Instead I saw many moments where he was lifting beautifully through the shoulders. Truly rounding while stretching long and low. I saw his tail swinging rhythmically, no swishing or wringing. I think it is starting to help him relax even through the worrying.
The other thing I’ve been working on along with this is riding without reins. Coyote will work completely from seat and legs. It’s something I’ve always installed in a horse. I’m not doing it with Rusty though. Not on purpose. Back when I used to start horses I was riding all the time. There’s been a long stretch inbetween where I was busy having children. A good deal of time where I was sick pf training horses. All I wanted to do was sit on Coyote bareback and plod around in a halter. Coming back to training there’s a lot I need to relearn, re-remember.
Rusty still hardly ever gets ridden. I’ve found as I make the effort to drop my reins that his over thinking, over reacting applies to this as well. No big surprise there. I’ve known he does that when I ask for turns on the quarters. I touch him with a leg and he shoots off. Then I try to ride him off and he spins on some quarter or other.
With no rein to aid in the guiding I touch him with a leg and he curls around that leg bracing hard in the opposite direction. He has trouble curving to the right anyway but this is a bit extreme. Here I am thinking hard, perhaps too hard about cuing him. I am concentrating intently on leg placement, weight shift, breathing. In the end I added rein to clarify my desire to him. I did find that if I quit looking at him and looked where I wanted to go it help an amazing amount.
I will stop now, droning on about tiny discoveries, rediscoveries, that are only of interest to me. Nobody is reading by this point anyway. Oh well, it’s my blog to help me remember these things anyway so 😝


Another Try At Head Lowering

I get videos I want to share here, things I want to talk about, but before I can get the video to a computer and have time to cut them down from ten, twenty minutes to a more watchable, less boring, time, I get new video! Then I have to decide if the first one is worth the effort of should we just skip to the next one where we’re doing better? I’m going to put this one up here to show the progression. He gets so much better every single time we work on something.
This is our second time working on lowering his head. The first time I cued it by touching the base of his neck. Our cue to graze. I wanted that to stay our grazing cue so I consulted the experts. They recommended using the reins as a cue. I hadn’t figured out the exact usage and wasn’t completely happy with my cuing. He easily switched cues though and was really getting the idea.


A Fall Ride

I got to go for a ride yesterday. It was wonderful. The youngest went off in the combine with his father. My daughter and I got to go play horses.
She is rebuilding her confidence on Coyote and they are wonderful to watch together. He is getting older and settling down but he still has a mind of his own and strong opinions about things. He prefers to stay next to me mostly. She gets frustrated and stops trying. They both do better once we get out and going though. We didn’t have any destination in mind starting out so we meandered a bit. Then it was East to the section line. Coyote started out trailing far behind. I worry so much about him and his eye. I’m always sure it’s bothering him, making him go slow, going to have to come out soon. By the time we turned into the corn to get to the section line he had mostly taken the lead though. Guess I worry too much.
We came to one horse eating pivot track. On a ride almost a month ago?! he nearly fell into a deep one hidden in the tall grass. This time he wasn’t going over the shallow dip in the ground for anything. Coyote and his little person lead the way crossing it multiple times before we found a place Rusty was willing to chance. Somehow he survived.
I begged my daughter to take Coyote and lead the way alongside the corn. It’s a path big enough for a fourwheeler, with tall corn on one side and a barbwire fence on the other. I was not only afraid of the dogs accompanying us or pheasants spooking the horses and sending Rusty through the fence but of Rusty spooking Coyote as he did so and sending them through the fence. Coyote knows better. I thought if they were in front Coyote could set a good example and be less likely to join Rusty in his idiocy should it happen. Coyote didn’t want to and she was not going to try to make him.
I walked.
We took turns leading up the section line, across the road and into the neighbors CRP ground on the other side. I love that little piece of grass with its big rolling hills and pink grasses. We are lucky to have permission to ride it.
In the distance we could see the combine stirring up dust. The day was beautiful warm but not hot. Only a light wind. My daughter was happy laughing and talking enjoying her time on a good horse. I hope we get to spend many more like this.

 


Head Lowering

Rusty is naturally fierce and intent. His concentration is great and when working on a task he is totally focused on that task. That said he is also silly and fun and can be totally relaxed. One friend here has been recommending it to me for ages. Watching another friend of mine use it to do a wonderful job of helping horses she is working with learn to relax made me think. It’s so much fun watching people who are out there working and helping horses and their people. Reading others opinions on how things should be done and going on about ideal working conditions, not so much.
The goal is to help horses calm down by teaching them to lower their heads. From this naturally calm position they take on the calmness implied by the position and relax. I understand it works for people too, you will be happier if you pretend to smile. Might be worth a try.
My problem with it comes from my strong dislike of head dragging western pleasure horses and my hatred of the recent trend in reining of horses dragging their noses on the ground. I like a Baroque style, up hill horse, working from behind with their hind ends under them. I didn’t want to throw my horse onto his fore quarters.
On the other hand. Collection doesn’t come from head position. I’ve long since stopped any attempt to set heads. Rusty curls way under at the slightest touch of halter or bit. Before we can round he needs to relax, calm down and not be so intense. We were seeing what he could do without reins. Not bridleless, his occasional tendency to throw in a buck rules that one out. We were mostly meandering aimlessly asking him to go one way or the other with my legs, he wanted to leave the arena and go run. It was turning into a particularly, and unusually, upset riding session I decided to finally put her example into play.
My horses all learn a grazing cue. They have for years, long before any +R stuff. I like them to be able to eat when we’re out riding but don’t want them pulling on the reins all the time. We started from the ground touching my hand to the base of his neck and clicking when he dropped his head. Then moved to the saddle, same thing. Touch his neck, click when he drops his head. First at a stop, then walk, finally a couple times at the trot. The cue will need to be changed to something that is not my grazing cue. I’ll have to ask if and what other people are using. It will be fun to practice this some more and see if this helps him not to be so fierce.

 


At Liberty

Harvey had his first out of the corral, completely at liberty lesson today! Of course there is no video. It was another of those unintended lessons that seem to fall into place once in awhile. I had put Coyote away after a dress up photo taking ride, and Rusty after he decided to stop his grazing to join our dress up picture taking ride. Sometimes I’m not quite so fond of that horse 😉 It was Harvey’s turn to go eat grass.
I was still holding my treat bag and was reminded of his not so stellar leading from the day before. I still need to get that part written about. His nose was glued to my shoulder just where I like it. So I clicked. We ended up going for a walk around the stacks of hay that he found to be dreadfully disturbing yesterday. He would get in front of me and start to cross my path, blocking me with his body. I would turn and go the other way. A perverse version of Parrellie’s “Hide Your Hiney” game. Instead of a whack on the butt he got a cookie when he caught up with me and put himself back in position.
He is starting to get it figured out. I don’t care what side they walk on as long as they aren’t directly behind me and don’t pass. He picked it up so quick and easy. He’s such a good boy. Getting him to go graze instead of following me so I could go finish putting stuff away was a little more difficult 😏


Fence Training

My crush on Harvey keeps getting stronger the more I work with him. Today ended up being a much longer lesson than I had meant to do. I offered to saddle Coyote for my daughter so she could ride around while I worked Harvey. She wanted to but was very disappointed that I wasn’t getting on to ride with her. So we all went for a walk. Out through the hay bales and around the quanset then back. My daughter hopped off and Coyote went back inside. Finally we could start for real.
I can’t wait to get on him. I have to keep reminding myself that he needs to know more first. More like how to step up to a fence to let me on. I crawled up on the hitching post and we had our second ever lesson on stepping over to the fence.
As he overcomes his fear of people his natural desire to cuddle and be sweet is shining through. This is almost two minutes of an eight minute session. We spent most of it nuzzling on the fence.

 


Tarp Games

Rusty already knows how to play fetch now we are adding a different toy for him to fetch. My end goal is to have him hand it to me while I sit on his back and be able to ride carrying it. Why desensitize a horse when you can teach them to play instead?
Unfortunitally the video that goes with this is too long. If you follow the link you can watch it on facebook though. yay. https://www.facebook.com/309985332692651/videos/1877034509044625/https://www.facebook.com/309985332692651/videos/1877034509044625/


Self Leading

The horses take turns being turned out, one at a time, in the yard to graze. Always starting with Coyote of course! It’s good to be king of the world. He has the routine down and when I drive out with the car to get him, when he’s so far away I don’t have time to walk clear out there, he comes to meet me.
He’s always lead from a vehicle, a very handy talent to have when pastures are big. Now he’s reached a point where he doesn’t even need a halter. A call from the car with the window down. He comes for his treat then follows nicely back to the gate. He’s such a good pony.

 


Harvey 10th Go, Yielding To The Rein

Almost done with the videos from this particular time. When I went to put a foot in the stirrup it occurred to me that he should probably know how to give his head to rein pressure first. It’s too easy for them to spook and kick your legs out from under you. If they are looking at you it makes that a little harder for them to do. I didn’t have any reason to think that it would bother him, the reason I was going to start on it in the first place, but better safe than sorry.
I started a little Quarab mare once for my riding instructor, an own daughter of Smart Little Lena I think she was? A very athletic and slightly crazy little mare who could kick the saddle out of your hand as you placed it on her back. After that I no longer think anything is impossible when starting horses and go a little overboard with safety precautions.
She is one of the many horse that I wish I could go back and have a do over with. At the time I had tried “everything”. Now I know how much I didn’t know. My everything was just the tip of the iceberg. I can’t wait for another twenty years to pass and to look back and see how very much I don’t know right now. It’s awe inspiring to think how much there always is to learn.

 


Harvey 10th Go, Using -Reinforcement

Another clip from my last time working with Harvey. This one is of great interest to me because it shows the use of negative reinforcement coupled with positive reinforcement for a dual reinforcement of the behavior. He learns from both the release of pressure and the click and treat at the end.
I move the stirrup to approximately where my leg would be when asking for his haunches to move and apply slight pressure. This is his first time doing this, with me at least, we have no idea what he did before but he doesn’t seem to know what I’m talking about. I hold the pressure waiting to see if he will offer a response. He doesn’t. So I escalate pressure. I take a step towards his hindquarters applying pressure with my presence. I have a hold of the lead, not pulling on it but by lifting it at all, asking his head to come towards me escalating pressure further. In turn he takes a step away from me with his hind end.
I drop the stirrup releasing all pressure while clicking and offering lots of treats.
This is of great interest of me because of the general stance in the much of the clicker/+R world that any pressure or use of -R (negative reinforcement) is bad. That combining the two will only create poisoned cues. Here I combined the two, with escalation of pressure, to make my request very clear to my horse in, what for me is, the simplest, clearest way possible. I am using -R which by definition does require the use of +P (positive punishment). For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Applying pressure of any kind counts as +P, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. I’m not saying that it’s ok to go beat our horses or go after them in a clinton anderson style fit of rage. I am saying that we need to work on how we apply our aids and learn to work in the calmest kindest way possible speaking to and listening to the horse instead of casting blanket statements over entire communication methods.
Would it be possible to teach this same thing using only +R methods? Possibly. There is the whole thing where I don’t believe it is possible to apply +R without using -P. The whole equal and opposite thing. In order to offer +R we have to first not have the reward there. If working with a horse he gets upset with ears pinned and/ starts mugging you’ve taken the -P too far and they are showing you how they feel about it. As with the +P involved in offering -R it is possible to do it kindly and well or to mess it up and end up with a very upset horse.
I’m sure many people will disagree with me and I am, as always, happy to hear your opinions!