Reclaiming Andi - day four

She’s asks for the halter, stands easily to have it put on, and appears totally comfortable about wearing it. She still gets a little tense if you approach her instead of letting her approach you. That's a training hole that cannot go unaddressed because it will be a huge issue later if she doesn't get over it. At this point, we're going to keep a very close and concerned eye on this behavior, but we’re going to move along because I think this is something she's going to get over with time.

To recap, she's approaching the person, asking to wear her halter, standing quietly while it's buckled on, and following the person around the stall.

The next step is leading (leading being the obvious external goal, the bigger goal being to get her to learn to give to pressure). Leading, as I see it, mainly involves moving forward beside the handler. I want her to walk beside me, stop, back up, turn left and right, and eventually turn on the fore or the quarter or bend her spine up or to the left or right without moving her feet.

I have an odd bit of failure here. Once I attach a lead rope to her halter, I can't apply pressure to her poll because when I step away with the intention of applying pressure via the lead rope, she follows me.

Smart girl . . . she's already leading, turning left and right, and stopping beside me when I stop (of course!! how would she get a treat if she kept walking past the treat pocket). While a lot of trainers would take this and shout it to the rooftops, it raises a red flag with me because unless we back up and find a way to apply pressure so she can learn to give, this will create huge (extremely dangerous) triggers and behaviors in the adult horse.

This means I have to find a couple of creative ways to cheat. I step away quickly and tug. I extend my arm out and pull the rope without moving my feet. A horse’s natural inclination to put pressure on the poll is to throw their head up and back. I use a heavy bungie leadline so there isn't a hard set for her to hit, just a gradual pressure that she applies herself and can release herself. I'm able to get her to apply pressure a few times, and the INSTANT she comes forward, click treat.

Andi's doing so well! I open the stall door, and we walk and stop and turn up and down the alley a few times. A few minutes later, we go down to the end to chill for a few minutes near the older mares, and I get a mind-boggling example of how smart this girl is.

She chills with me for a few minutes, but her baby attention span is short enough that she's soon mugging for treats. Mine aren't allowed to mug, so while I scratch and pet when she comes closer to nuzzle me, I gently dissuade her from sniffing around and trying to get in the treat pocket.

After thinking about this for a couple of minutes, she steps away, one step sideways and a step back, taking the slack out of the lead and raises her head, applying pressure to her poll. Her ears fly forward, and her sassy little bright eyes sparkle as she comes forward so I can treat her for the release. I'm dumbfounded, and while my brain is trying to deny or at least process her behavior, she does it again and then again! She's experimenting, trying to figure out why she didn't get the click treat. She steps right instead of left or maybe two steps back the next time.

She's figured out that her behavior (in this case, pressure on the poll and release) causes the click, and she's trying to get me to click and treat.

I shouldn't be surprised. You'd think that after all these years, I'd expect that from these horses, especially given her sire, but she hadn't shown me anything at all like this before.

Today has been a huge success, a moon-leap kind of step forward. The lines of communication are most definitely open. She's answering my simple requests with questions on top of questions, and she's expecting answers.

I've always liked this filly and thought she had huge potential, but she really blew my socks off today.


Val said...

Ha ha - but remember, the optimal route for conditioning is w/intermittent reinforcement ;-)
[That means she DOESN'T get a treat every time she figures it out; takes the strain off us being "perfect"...]

Becky Burkheart said...

Right!! LOL! You're getting ahead of me. :) She gets a treat each time I click, but I don't click every time - but that's down the road!