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JayThis has been the “theme of the month” coming to me- “focus”.

First of all, I am getting a new puppy, and in eager anticipation of the arrival of “Talos” I have made some purchases. You know, bedding, lead, collar, feed and a CLICKER. I read some articles on clicker training, so I got myself on Amazon, and bought a clicker. And there I was, a new clicker and no Talos to play with.

Hmmmm, I wonder if Jay would like to play at clicker training? The clicker came on Monday, and on Monday evening I looked up a few videos on the internet for inspiration, then went into his stable to give it a try. Click and treat, click and treat. Hey, Jay liked this, and I did wonder as he has never been hand fed before, but he soon got it.

The videos showed horses being trained to touch a “target”, so I wrapped some Vetwrap around an old wooden spoon, and introduced “target training”. Jay is a good student, attentive, inventive and enthusiastic. Soon he would follow that target all over the stable, touch it with his nose, and listen for the “click”.

Hmmm, I like to train out of doors, with the horse loose to choose whether to join in or not, so we moved out to the school. Jay was right there with me, targeting the spoon high or low, he really seemed to get it. So, I threw the stick. Hmmm, that caused a delay, Jay tried to mug me direct for the treats, but I just rebutted his advances, and soon he went to investigate the stick, and CLICK, oh he got it first time.

Soon Jay picked the stick up. I was so pleased it sounded like a field of grasshoppers as I clicked. I then “shaped” this behaviour until he would fetch the stick back. Yes, really, about half an hour into his first clicker training, and he was fetching the stick. And, that is where I left it!

Over that week I told a few people that Jay had learned to fetch a stick in just half an hour, and some people thought I was joking. This being so, on the Friday evening I intended to go and video his second session. This was in fact delayed, as Jay has suddenly become a much more relaxed ride out and about, so we are riding more out and about. In fact on Friday we went out for so long we were barely back in daylight, so the video had to wait until Saturday morning.

On Saturday I reintroduced Jay back to the target and rewarding with a click and a treat, then we went back to the school, and shaped to return the stick again, and we DID take a video. The video shows us starting to “shape” that Jay has to hand the stick back to my hand, not just drop it or throw it in my general direction! The video is on Youtube... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LT1rlobBh9U&feature=youtu.be

It is funny, if you had asked me a month ago if I could train Jay to fetch a stick like a dog, I would have said “no, horses don’t think like that”. By focusing on shaping just one behaviour big changes were made, and as you can see from the video Jay was calm and concentrating. Shows how great it is to keep learning, where the impossible becomes possible!

The hacking is something else, when I got Jay he would not move laterally at all, in fact I was told that it was lateral work that had started the rearing. So, thinking laterally (pardon the pun!), I started his lateral work off bareback and in the loping halter. Jay was more confident when like this and we did start some lateral steps in the school. Just baby steps, but some lateral softening and thinking all the same. Then we started it out hacking on the green lanes.  On the school Jay had a release even if he did not really “try” as I would run out of school! On the green lanes I could ask him for half a mile, and reward the instant he would comply. It all started to make sense of the request, he learned how to find his “release”.

I then took this back to the arena environment, and in fact hired Sykehouse arena, as it is HUGE, so we had a long time to ask and have a response. I propped a video on the fence, and this is the first time I would say we achieved the three track offset. Not for long, not in a stable form. As I have said to people it is shoulder in- but not as you know it! It is a start though.
Also it was nice to see our canter improving, better even in counter canter :-)
A lovely sunny day, at a fantastic venue, and to top it all with a nice horse!!!!

...... getting there, slowly but with a smile!


Happy times!

The funny thing is the realisation that it is the lateral work that has provided more focus to our hacking, and that has made hacking more pleasurable for us both, as we have been working on a goal together.

Next on my month of discovery (as every month seems to be), was found in training another rider. This rider  rides to a good standard, but there are blocks, she sometimes has her internal self talk drown out the calm mind, and her adherence to an internal “list” of requirements can blind her to what is actually happening with her and the horse in “the now”.

The rider has entered for an exam, and so the pressure was adding to the self talk, and there were indeed some changes to be made. I found though that if I talked through the changes that needed to be made in real time while she was riding then she could not hear me for all the internal chatter and list following. There was progress, but it was slow.

Hmmmm, I thought on that, and thought about the little clicker, and the speed at which Jay had learned and shaped a new behaviour.........

I took that clicker to the next lesson, and asked the rider if she would mind working in a less than conventional way. I showed her the behaviour that I wanted, and said that whenever she got it then I would click the clicker. I made the deal that I would not talk or help, the clicker would be the only feedback, so any feedback would be a positive affirmation that the correct behaviour had been achieved.

The change I chose was the rider’s hand position, as the rider had a habit of holding their hands too low, and nagging at the horse’s mouth. This would visually have the effect of making the horse hold his head in, but in fact the horse was not going “on the bit” or in “self carriage”, in fact as the rider sawed the horse would sway his head, and resist back up as soon as the sawing ceased.

I found the first run of this exercise to be interesting to me, as I could see SO MANY corrections that COULD be made to improve the situation, but I was not allowed to say so. I could only click when things went right with the hands only. There were a few clicks, but it was not progressing as well as I hoped, so I swapped places with the rider, so we could each experience the exercise from the other perspective.

Gosh, this was a bit frustrating for me at first! On the horse, I THOUGHT I had the correct hand placement, but if I did not get a click, I had to change something. I felt like I was searching, changing things, trying many different behaviours to elicit the coveted click (and I was not even being fed a hand- treat!).

That gave me a better perspective when we swapped back. I learned to click and reward any behaviour that was TOWARDS the correct behaviour. Sometimes the hand was better placed because of some random fiddle with the rein length, or perhaps the horse had just tossed his head, but either way, if the hand improved, I clicked.

You could see the searching of the rider. I could perceive the opening up of new opportunities to explore. There was no “help” from the trainer- I believe this particular student perceived "help" as “criticism”.

Such a simple exercise, and by allowing uncritical focus “things” started to happen. We had frequent rests and the rider would exclaim their new discoveries. “It’s hard to have the correct hand placement if the horse is not going correctly”. Yes, so the exercise was about hand placement, so the rider started to experiment on how to have the horse moving smoothly and softly into a contact. Another rest, another realisation “the problem is not solved by my hand when I have been pulling back, it is caused when the horse quits moving forward, the horse goes more correctly when I ride forward with my leg, not pulling with my hand”.

More and more discoveries. It was agreed that I had previously SAID these things to the rider, but it was by discovering them for herself, by having an open and enquiring mind, that it all made sense.

That rider made more progress in one half hour lesson than we had made over the past year. It was all due to focusing on just one thing, by allowing only a positive affirmation to “shape” the desired behaviour, and by the affirmation being due to a “click” rather than a dialogue. It was with the lack of dialogue that the rider could start to explore without destructive inner dialogue.

A discovery!

Much learning with a simple and cheap method. Smiles all round. At the time I thought that I had not realised that working on the “hands” of the rider would make such a stark difference to the way that the horse/ rider went. I put it down to a lucky guess!

We then had a pleasant interlude where Jay went to Dressage and won both of his Novice tests! Happy days indeed.

Today I have just returned from Auditing at Mark Rashid’s clinic in Scotland. Two wonderful days of learning and sharing discoveries with like minded folk. I find that at Mark’s clinics just the RIGHT thing is presented. As I arrived after a long drive a lady was learning to go faster, the idea was to canter, but even in a fast trot she was laughing and squeaking. At first she could not get a canter, and everyone, the rider, Mark, the whole audience, were all laughing together at the simple pleasure of the fun of learning something new, and the speed that this lady was not familiar with. It was just what I needed, not to take the whole thing too seriously, it is all meant to be fun after all!

At lunch I caught up with Mark, he asked what I was doing so I told him about my new horse, called “Jay”. Funny, when you tell someone like Mark about how things “are” it helps me to see my situation through new eyes. One of the things brought into focus was that, although Jay is possibly the most “serious” horse I have ever owned in terms of potential, he is also one who is teaching me not to take it all so seriously. If I lose the sense of discovery and fun then he can shut down.

I saw many session on the clinic, and many of the ideas have been presented to me by Mark before. It is always nice to have things brought back into focus though, as each time I re-focus I see new connections.

I remembered the importance of breathing, and saw one horse and rider combination transformed with just the rider paying attention to her breath. I saw some riders who were in an unhelpful pattern with their horses on a task, they were anticipating problems, and telling their horses, for example to canter, but not too sharply, not too fast, not crooked. Horses don’t get the “not” so it was confusing for them to be ridden from this place of “not in the now”. They were transformed when the riders could feel for what they DID want, and give clear requests, with the movement already initiated on the inside.

The same for canter to walk, if the rider felt for the walk the horse could understand that it was a walk that was wanted, not just “slow down”.

Some horses had bigger misunderstandings; I was reminded that you have to be as BIG as you have to be. In fact Mark got on one confused young horse, and he was as BIG as I have ever seen him, the horse was kicked and smacked with the rein, as this was how BIG it was needed to understand. It was not “Disney”, in some ways it was ugly.

It was apparent that horses do not understand the concept of “a little bit more”. For example if a horse is not moving fast enough if it is constantly asked for a bit more the goal is moveable and not reached. Mark asked for what he WANTED, then backed it up as BIG as was needed. The horse could find the response, and get the release. With the release came the understanding. By then end of the session the horse could understand and move forward. It became pretty. I am sure tomorrow it will be prettier still, and the horse can find a new peace with the new understanding.

One other rider did not know what to work on, she chopped and changed, and as auditors we could see that no goal was being reached. She realised this with the help of Mark, and she decided on Lateral Work. It was also apparent that it would not have mattered WHAT she chose to work on, as long as she was clear in her requests, and the horse could work it out, and be told he was doing the right thing. Then the horse/ rider team were communicating and working TOGETHER.

Several times the phrase working with the INSIDES of the horses and rider came up. It was stark when there was confusion or force as the movement became mechanical, but when the horse/ rider were communicating with their insides it became beautiful.

It made me think back to the exam student who had improved their hand placing with the clicker, and how the whole picture had changed.  Maybe, just maybe, choosing their hand placement and position was not just a “lucky guess”. Maybe I COULD have chosen ANY aspect to improve and shape, and in the relaxed and open working out of a solution, the horses and rider would have connected on the inside, with a request, a change and a reward given.

I can see that tomorrow Jay and I will “hit the school”, and I will choose a goal, any goal, and focus on finding the correct response together. From the Inside out!  

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  1. Gail Fazio

    Wonderful! What a fascinating discovery about giving a lesson on hand placement .... hmmmm.

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