In which there are breakthroughs, big and small, and rewards for good behavior

Excellent riding lesson today!

reins wide, engaged rear engine, lifted back, lots of impulsion!
 The most important new thing (for me) is our training breakthrough:  the value of excessive positive reinforcement.
 Fee has always responded best to physical feedback, rather than verbal praise.  I can tell her she's a good girl, and she understands that she's done something well.  
Shoulder-in.  Working on flexibility, gently stretching and
using muscles that got impacted by the surgery

However, if I actually want to motivate her to repeat the good behavior, I have to praise her and touch her at the same time.  I've known that for a long time.  But today, I tried something new.

Shoulder-in, notice the hind feet crossing nicely!
In the past, when Fee got frustrated, or just felt snarky for some reason, she would plant her front feet and threw a tantrum.  You can see video footage of a typical tantrum HERE

In the video, you can see typical behavior leading up to a tantrum:  the swishing tail, the braced front end, and eventually, the back feet shooting off in all directions before I am able to get her moving forward again.   

Notice in the video when she is finished with the badness and does move forward, she does it with a light step and perked-up ears:  she threw the tantrum, and then moved out of it without a grudge.

As soon as I mounted up this morning, I could feel a lot of snarkiness under the saddle, so this time I decided to see if I could get her moving with that no-grudge attitude before she got to the plant-feet-and-buck stage.

We practiced halt-to-trot transitions, which she doesn't like. 

Today, instead of correcting her for walking a stride or two before picking up the trot, I waited until she trotted the first stride or two, and then gave her copious praise and petting for moving forward into the trot.  No praise for the walk, but tons of praise and petting for trot.

Hmmm.  This was new.  She had to think about it. Moving forward, even badly, is super-praise-worthy?   Hmmmm.  She started moving forward out of the halt with fewer walk-steps.  Hmmmm.

We did that for about 20 minutes during the warm-up, when nobody else was around.  

And you know what?


In the lesson, when I asked for something difficult, she started to brace herself to refuse, but instead of pushing her forward, I collected her and then asked for the same kind of trot departure that earned her so much praise in the warm-up...and SHE DID IT! 

Okay, she still threw her feet around. 

But she didn't plant the front feet at all--she pinned her ears and threw up a foot so that I would understand that she didn't like my request, BUT then she moved forward and did what I asked!

This is huge for her, and I'm so happy. I praised her copiously every time she moved forward after throwing out a back foot, and she got better and better about not getting stuck in tantrum-mode.

>>happy face<<

In other breakthrough news, Duana and Hana are working really well together now:
Hana: soft through the bridle, using her rear engine
 Hana's "pirate name" is BAD RADISH, and when she is feeling naughty you understand why we call her something hot and red and round!

But Du is learning how to establish firm boundaries with Hana Banana Wanna Cookie, and Hana is learning that Du really will enforce the rules!
Huge improvement for both of them.  Hooray!
 There's more than one way to reward good behavior.  
Saddling up, almost ready to head out
How about following a really good, strenuous riding lesson with a nice, quiet, laid-back walking trail ride with a bunch of friends?

Blue skies above:  nothing prettier!
 Yes, I think that's a nice reward.
Lots of babies and green horses in the group,
so we just strolled along and enjoyed the day.

I never get tired of this view:  blue skies seen through happy ears.
For those who are counting, today is Spay Day + 29, and she's looking fine!
left side incision site: Spay Day + 29
right side incision site:  Spay Day + 29

Of course, we all know what Fiddle's very favorite reward is:

 Good girl, Fiddle-i-fee.  Very, very, good girl.


  1. Fee and Ozzy have sooo much in common. He's like that when it comes to praise... excessive, physical, positive reinforcement is the only thing that gets through to him.

  2. Yay! Life is good. Or is that too repetitive? Or derivative?

  3. I am a firm believer in positive reinforcement. Many riders (myself included) are quick to correct elements of bad behavior, but often times they forget they need to tell the horse when they're being good too.

    Griffin also responds incrediably favorable to BOTH verbal and physical praise. It may sound funny, but it's one reason I've never worn riding gloves. I want my horse to feel the connection and warmth from my hands when they have done's just not the same with gloves on.

    It's great to see that Duana and Hana are getting along well. I get the feeling they are good for each other....and I love The Radish nickname -- so comical! :)

  4. you know the german way to reward your horse? you lean down and slap your hand as hard as you can on the neck of the horse, saying "good horse" as you do this. the sound of this slapping echoes off the walls, and if more than one person does it at once, it's scary.

    this is one german behavior i will not be adopting.

  5. Awesome news from both horses!


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