Wednesday, February 02, 2011

I feel like I've been held hostage in my house this week. Liam is sick, poor kid. He got up at 4:45am on Monday with a fever of 103. Needless to say he didn't feel good and would be staying home from school.

Tuesday morning was another early one. Huck had an odd potty emergency at 5:30, and then Liam woke up and needed some ibuprofen, and I went to wash my hands and found that we had no water. The pumphouse door had been left open and the pipes were frozen. So I went on a journey outside in the cold to find a heater, didn't find it, went into the attic, found one, and plugged it in. By then I was awake. The pipes thawed eventually.

Today Liam stayed home again, but he wasn't feeling too terrible. I let him play outside for a while. That might have been stupid. But I did insist that he wore a coat, and it was about 32 degrees, which seemed warm after the last couple days. And I know how I feel after being sick for a couple days - I want out of the house! So he played by himself, then we played a good game of catch together. He watched me work in the round pen with Scout for a while, but he asks so many questions when I need to be paying attention to what I'm doing, and Scout was being rude to Liam, who was sitting on the top rail of the round pen, so I asked him to find something else to do.

I had a good day with my boys. I should probably say now that I've decided not to do the clicker training. It just isn't for me right now. I don't want to learn a whole new method and retrain all of my horses at this time. I'm already not sure how I'll have time for what I have to do with the horses this year. Clicker people may judge me for quitting and using the dreaded natural horsemanship, but that's okay. I know I'm not beating or otherwise abusing my horses into submission.

Scout got some refresher work in the round pen. We worked on consistent inside turns, gait changes, coming to me, and staying with me as we move around. He has a hard time with that on his right. That's his bad eye (if it's bad - some things he does better on that side). By the end we had made progress but not a lot. He'd eventually drift too far away or get ahead of me. I decided to call what we had good and let him "soak" until tomorrow. When he was drifting, I wondered if maybe he could see me better from a little farther away. I wish I could see how he sees! But I've decided not to make allowances for his eye, other than taking the time it takes to make him comfortable with doing things correctly.

With Tonka I asked him to relax and walk around the round pen, as a warm-up. He has a hard time walking, he'd prefer to trot. So we worked on turns and eventually transitions. He was also cutting away from the rail on the side away from Scout, and getting right on the rail by Scout. He's a little herd-bound to that baby.

Here are my boys. I had to take the picture toward the sun or it wouldn't have had both boys in it. Scout needs to learn patience. :)

I am reading "Countdown to Broke" which at first I didn't like because of the emphasis on the round pen. But lately I've realized that my aversion to circle work has caused me to be kind of half-assed in some areas. So I'm going to do it this way, slowly and carefully, being very sure that I don't progress too quickly or overwhelm my horses.

Speaking of progressing too quickly, I had a lightbulb moment recently. Blogging has been detrimental to my horsemanship. I think it's probably normal to want to get to the next step and be super proud that my horse has done something new, and take pictures to document and share on my blog, but I need to suppress that urge. It's not about me and what I can do with my horses. It's not a race and I don't need to prove myself by hurrying. The only thing I need to keep in mind is my horse, and how he feels about what we're doing, and whether he's ready for the next step.

Which doesn't mean I'll baby them. They have a job to do and lessons to learn in a timely manner. There's a balance that's sometimes hard to find - between making allowances and requiring that they "man up." Because to try to make them comfortable all the time is not going to be good for them at all in the long run. They have to become uncomfortable (in a safe way) and realize that they can come back from that and be okay. Preferably with the human coming out looking pretty smart in the end, so we can gain their trust. :)

I'm babbling, and I'm sure none of this is ground-shaking information to any of you. I just had some humbling realizations lately that made me step back and re-think how I do things with my horses.

Oh - but going back to "Countdown to Broke." This is what I meant to say: he trains the horse to move its hip away when he pulls the rein toward himself (on the ground). Which really confused me at first, having been a "lateral flexion" person who expects the feet to stand still while they bend their neck around. But eventually I came to like the idea. A lot. Rather than training the horse to have a rubber neck that bends around all the way, you're going more with their natural inclination to follow their nose. Which would be much safer than a horse that will put its nose on your boot while you ride, but continue on in the other direction. In a panic situation, mind you. Not that Tonka would do that, but Cisco has.

So, what Tonka and I worked on was connecting his nose to his hip - meaning that when I picked up the left rein his hip would move to the right, and vice versa. Making sure he fully committed, with the left hind hoof crossing in front of the right hind hoof (or vice versa), as we're taught to look for when "disengaging the hindquarters." In the process I realized I've really let a lot of stuff slide. We had a quiet little tune-up session.

Then we rode out of Scout's sight, and back where he could see us, changing up the duration, while he stood tied. He wasn't happy, but he got quieter with each repetition.

I think he's a handsome boy, even if he is naughty.

Tonka waited half untacked without moving an inch while I took a picture of Scout.

Before I went to Scout to untie him (he was on a Blocker ring, but he'd tied a knot somehow anyway) I thought about how horses often become more fidgety as you approach them to untie them, looking forward to being untied. I worried that I'd have to leave him tied longer, and I wanted to be done. But as I approached, he'd fidget or paw and I'd stop approaching. He'd stop fidgeting. I'd approach, he'd fidget, I'd stop, he'd stop. I think I only had to stop two or three times before he realized I wasn't coming if he wasn't standing still. He really is smart.
So - What are your thoughts on connecting the nose to the hip, if you know what I mean? I may not have made sense of it here. I'd like to know who already does this and why, or who thinks it's a bad idea and why. Thank you!


Mary Hunter said...

"Clicker people may judge me for quitting and using the dreaded natural horsemanship, but that's okay"

I really hope people don't judge you for stopping clicker training!

Horsemanship is a journey. And a lot of that journey is exploring new ideas and trying out new tools. Some of which we keep, some of which we throw out, and some of which we decide not to use, but still keep in the tool box for later.

At least you tried it, to see how it works. And who knows? You might find a training task that it would be useful for sometime later down the road.


Andrea -Mustang Saga said...

Mary, thanks for understanding. I look at it the same way. I think different things work for different people, and that's okay. And I will definitely keep the clicker in the tool box for later. It has helped me out quite a bit in the past. I'm not quitting it completely, just not incorporating it into all of my training.

Kim Wilson said...

I am learning clicker to teach the dog. I have never tried it for the horses.

As for blogging I can understand. I have tried at it several different times over the past year and found I'm much too private of a person to keep it up. I think I may give it up eventually. I really enjoy just reading other people's blogs. I end up setting most of my blogs as private so I can think about my ideas later. I started making it more of a personal journal than a blog. It's just not my forte. I think I will stick to expressing myself with paint.

I like the idea of connecting the hip to the nose. That is a great addition to training. I personally am going to add it, but I'll also include the lateral flextion esp. in the beginning stages of training and starting for safety. They seem to learn it fast, so I will only brush up on it every now and then as their training goes along.

Andrea -Mustang Saga said...

I don't think I'll ever give up blogging, I really do enjoy it when I'm doing things with my horses. Not much to talk about when I'm not, because the rest of my life is kinda personal.

I'm not sure you can teach both lateral flexion and connect the nose to the hip, at least not the way this book explains it. He wants the hip to move every time you pick up the rein, and if there are two different things you might be asking for when you pick up the rein, they wouldn't know which to do, unless you add another cue to make it clear.

I think, the way it's taught in the book, you wouldn't need lateral flexion to get an "emergency stop." The rein is picked up, the nose moves a bit but not all the way around, as the hip moves over. That hip moving over is the key part of an emergency stop, and you have it without bringing the neck around. Seems a lot safer to me.

Andrea -Mustang Saga said...

Oh, and Kim, I was going to say I hope you keep blogging sometimes, about your horses and your work with them. I really like your curlies! It would be fun to follow progress as you train your project horse and I start mine.

Laura said...

Andrea - agree about the clicker training - a useful tool for some things, but horsemanship to me is such a journey that you need a lot of tools in that toolbox, as Mary said.

As for the lateral flexion - I trained my QH Danny by doing clinis and learning from Ann Kirk, who is a John and Josh Lyons student. They also agree that you want rein cues to be connected to their feet - and they don't do lateral flexion just for it's sake. Mark Rashid and Kyya are also not fans of lateral flexion in and of itself, but teach the horse to follow its nose. So, I think you're on the right track there.

Danny was trained by doing a ton of bridle work from the ground before I ever got on him, and he knew how to yield his hip (and stop) and move his shoulder with rein cues. It was ever so easy to transfer that knowledge from up on his back.

Linda said...

That's interesting, Andrea, but I've done both--or I should say, I do both. When I want them to flex laterally, but not move, I hold on to the bridge of their nose and bring it in---when I want them to circle and move their hind, I pull their head in with the rope or reins. That's what worked for me, so that's what I do.

I've never done clicker--I don't feel like I need it. I've never encountered an issue with my horses or dogs that I thought I needed anything more than consistent communication.

I agree that blogging can become a detriment if you feel you need to hurry for the story to progress. That's why I so rarely speak about Beautiful's training--though the title of my blog is Beautiful Mustang. I used to feel bad about that since I started the blog to chronicle her gentling--but now I add filler and my work with her comes when it comes.

I'm reading Coundown, too, at your recommendation. I don't like prescriptive training, but it gives me good ideas.

BTW, Scout sure looks like Beautiful pawing the ground! I think it's always good to mix it up--sometimes you walk over and untie them--sometimes you walk over and don't untie them. But the retreat and withdraw is great, too. Horses are clever!

Andrea -Mustang Saga said...

So Linda, does that mean you won't be blogging about Beautiful's progress? I was really looking forward to reading about that.

I'm not going to stop blogging about my work with my horses. It's a good chronicle of what's going on and it's a good review of the day for me. Plus, I do like bragging about my boys! But I'm not going to hurry things along.

froglander said...

Glad to see you are having fun with your ponies :)

With Cody, I have been asking him to give his face while standing still under saddle, if I want his hip to move also, I pick up the rein and put my leg on, if I take my leg off but not let go of the rein, he'll then stop. I also want him to be able to give his face and bend in a circle without his hip drifting to the outside, so I'm not sure how that would work if picking up a rein meant to move the hip away.

But that's the fun thing with horses, as long as you are consistent, they'll learn and as long as it makes sense to you, then it's all good :)

Tina said...

I think one thing I have learned from being around clicker people is that they are rarely judgemental and generally are open to adding many other tools to their kits, just so long as the tools match their philosophy of training without force. I'm sure no-one would judge you for doing what suits you best, with your horses' wellbeing and happiness in mind, as you always do. :)

I always had nice horses and dogs, but the clicker just adds a new dimension and you can't beat it for teaching complex behaviours with a willing participant. But, I pull it out or leave in the drawer, depending on what I am up to. I must say it would be a rare day I wasn't at least tongue clicking and treating around my horses for things I like, though!

Judi said...

Don't throw your clicker away. There is another way to look at clicker (and here is where the clicker people will judge me), and that is, instead of signing up for the whole program, just use it when you have a problem to solve.

Once your horses understand the theory of clicking from simple target work, only use it when you think it might help.

My sister was having trouble with her horse holding his back feet up for the farrier due to arthritis. He kept trying to pull them away. She spent a few sessions teaching him to relax his leg when she held it. It worked beautifully. We think that he also learned it hurt less when he didn't pull. We never told our farrier what she did, but when he trims, her horse hardly pulls his foot away, now.

Even though I use clicker all the time with my new horse, I never did do it the way they say I should. It was all too involved for me. I just train like I always did, but when we are learning something new or he does something exceptional, I click him for it. He learns much quicker than any other horse I have trained.