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You should make your horse responsive to fewer aids, not more. Above all, free the horse from the paralyzing effect of resistance.
As soon as the horse feels the rider’s distraction, he will promptly join in.
February 1, 2011,
I must say that I love all of our new adventures. I love that I get to see Bugs grow and become more confident, to be a part of that process. Even when it is at my expense.
A group of us decided that we were going to go on a group trail ride as opposed to riding in the ring today. We have had some rain this winter so there will be water to cross. I have taken Mint on this trail but I haven’t taken Bugs. I like facing new things with horses. I don’t avoid the things that horses are afraid of, but am drawn to them like a moth to a flame. Using positive reinforcement gives me a great tool for building their boldness around strange and “scary” situations.
I haven’t gone on the trail too often with Bugs yet. He is learning so much in the ring and around the farm that I tend to ride Mint when I go for a trail ride.
The trail ride starts out pretty normal. I have a clicker attached to my riding stick and a waist pack with treats for reinforcement. Bugs is alert, as he always is. He seems to be settling in as we go. The group environment definitely seems to add to his comfort. Horses are vicarious learners. This means that horses, especially in a new situation, will tend to learn from the other horses around them. Having an experienced group of horses certainly helps Bugs to relax. I click and reinforce as he moves along nice and soft. I can physically see him relaxing with each reinforcement.
About a half -hour in we come to our first water crossing. It was about 12 feet wide and about 10 inches deep with a little current running through it. The other horses were unfazed. I was hoping Bugs would just fall in line and follow the others. Yeah right! He was not going to go forward any longer, he instead decided hat reverse was the superior direction in which to head. I tried to keep him moving ahead but he was just getting more worried and was trying to spin away. I kept him facing the water as he tried to retreat. Marcy suggested that we pony him across with her horse. Knowing that there is a balance between traditional training and positive reinforcement training, I was thinking: “okay it might be a simple fix and I can still reinforce his decision to follow along”. Marcy takes ahold of Bugs’ reins and kind of pulled his head close to Brody’s hindquarters and proceeded. Bugs wasn’t falling for this maneuver. He resisted and pulled back. Jenn decided to lead him across and hops off and gets ahold of his reins. His suspicious nature was at full alert. He wouldn’t move forward. I realize that it is up to me. What I know that has worked for Bugs has been to allow him the freedom to make a choice.
So I get off and wade into the water in my paddock boots and half chaps. I could feel the water spilling over the top of my boots and invading the inner sanctum of my comfortable footwear. I was now committed to the process of getting Bugs across the water. I had the reins in my hand but they were loose. I resisted the urge to just tug on the reins and keep pulling until he relented. I gave him a gentle tug, to serve as a signal as opposed to an aversive. Then I presented him with an open hand target. He knows and recognizes that this is a signal to come touch my hand. He poked his head forward without moving his feet. I click and reinforce his effort but will expect more on the next attempt. On the next attempt I see him bend his knee. This tells me he is thinking of moving a foot. I click and reinforce. Next he takes a step forward. Click and reinforce. Next thing you know, we are walking through the water. When I get to the other side I think: “do I just get on and be thankful that we got to the other side? Or do I take him back through and make sure it wasn’t a one time thing?” The down side is, if he balks then I have started something that I need to finish. Hmmm, I decide the better choice is to ask him to go back and forth through the water a few times and hope he doesn’t resist. He was great! Phew! I reinforced Bugs as he would commit to entering the water and I stopped in the middle to reinforce in the midst of it all. See Bugs, water is good.
About an hour and a half later we came to another water crossing. Bugs and I were in the front and waited for the others before we crossed. I could see Bugs taking in the view ahead. His head raised for a moment. Uh Oh!! But then he lowered it. When the others were nearer we proceeded forward. He was relaxed and confident! I love that we made progress. That second water challenge was a real test and Bugs passed with flying colors!