Friday, May 25, 2012

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.

In which Rocky learns a good new skill, and I'm not very delicate

Rocky practices evading ferns.  Ferns are skeery.
Rocky is gradually gaining all the skills he will need to be a successful endurance horse. Walking and trotting on uneven terrain is no longer a gigantic challenge.  He's quite good at walking and trotting uphill, and at walking downhill without losing his balance and crashing onto his nose.
Looking like a real grown-up endurance pony!
 He's getting more graceful about trailer loading and un-loading.  But today, Rocky had a little problem:
"Mama?  I tells you something?"
 Rocky didn't quite know how to communicate the discomfort.
"Is something I gotta do, but maybe my clothes are inna way?"
 This is not a picture of Rocky's problem.
Pink flower:  not a problem.
 Endurance riders, as discussed in an earlier post, aren't very delicate in regards to bodily functions.
Lilacs.  Not problematic.
 In fact, endurance riders are not only comfortable talking about bodily functions, it's not unusual to return from an errand at a vetcheck to be told gleefully by the horse-holding-person, "He peed lemonade, you're good to go."   
Washington State flower:  the only problem with it
 is trying to remember how to spell "rhododendron."
 Or something along those lines.  
early strawberries!
 Talking about body functions is important in our sport.  Maintaining awareness of bodily functions of the horse (and sometimes the rider also) is essential to keeping track of the horse's wellbeing.
Chives and sage flowers

However, writing about bodily functions is something I don't normally do...but in this case, it was such a major training breakthrough that I really must share.

Lavender.  This is the last photo of flowers.  After this picture
is a picture of Rocky and his function.
 It took Rocky the better part of 15 minutes to finally figure out that he can pee under tack.  Urinating with a rider onboard would absolutely 'splode his brain, so Patty dismounted.

Even so, he circled and worried, and did a very good impression of a toddler doing the pee-pee dance.  Patty loosened his girth and held onto his nose so he had to stand still.  And, finally:

(last warning, this picture isn't a flower)
gallons and gallons and gallons
 Rocky peed.

And peed.

And peed, and peed, and peed, and peed.

I've seen less volume from fire hydrants.
Good boy, Rocky!

Good color, and he splashed all four feet simultaneously.

And then, we mounted up, and headed back to the trailer with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

Endurance riders <<---pathetically easy to entertain.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

In which we formally introduce Rocky, and he takes baby steps

I'd like y'all to meet Rocky.

 Rocky is a homebred Arab, born at Fish Creek Farm, and made from parts found hanging around the place.  He's five years old now, and starting to learn how to do his Real Job.

Steep learning curve:  Rocky can't eat and walk at the same time.  Yet.
Rocky has been handled his entire life, and his training has been very slow and gradual.  

Prior to starting endurance training with Patty, Rocky spent a bunch of time in the arena learning basic dressage.  In the arena, he learned to carry a rider, to walk/trot/canter, to turn, and to reverse.  He can collect himself a little bit, and he can extend a little bit.  He doesn't lose his cool when the rider swaps diagonals, or zips up a jacket.

But he had never seen bicycles before.
"Quick!" Patty said to the nice man on the bicycle.
"Hand him a cookie!"
 We didn't even make it out of the trailhead parking lot when Rocky's learning curve started shooting skyward.  First the bicycle, and then
The man in front is walking at least 7 dogs on leashes.  

Even Ariana gave all those descended-from-wolves people her full attention.  Rocky often sticks close to Ariana, who seems to know so much more than he does about the wild world.

Before we swing up into the saddle, Rocky needs to learn one more skill:
"Pony stays OUTSIDE!"
 the porta-potty.
"I stay outside."
 Porta-potty skills are actually pretty important, as Patty learned the hard way many years ago:  her old (now-retired) endurance horse spent his career in terror of porta-potties.  I can only imagine how inconvenient that must have been!

Finally, out on the trail:
Rocky is actually pretty brave about leading the parade
 It's good to let the baby horse set the pace; as long as he's willing to move forward, he can go slowly enough to see everything that he needs to see.
He's not very coordinated yet--his feet land sort of randomly when he trots.
 Rocky depends on his rider for reassurance, but he also checks in with Arianna pretty often.
"I'm doing this right, right?"  
 Besides, he thinks she's pretty coolio.
"Whoooo, mare germs!"
 Time to test the retention:  does he remember what the wheely things are all about?  YES!
"Hey...any of you guys gots a cookie?"
 Swampland horses also need water skills.
"Walk in the puddle.  Gotcha."
"Oh hey.  DRINK the puddle, too!"
 Rocky's only big bobble so far happened when Meagan's horse Rhythm farted.  We were trotting up a big hill, with Rhythm in front, Rocky on the inside, and Fiddle slightly behind on the outside.  When Rhythm made the noise with her bum, Rocky's brain froze up.  His back feet slid under him, his head went up, and he clocked Patty in the head, whiplashing her neck.  Yowch.

(I'm pleased to report that Fiddle did NOT react.  Not to Rhythm, and not to Rocky's bobble.  Can we credit the removal of hormones?  I think we can!!!)

We made sure Patty wasn't concussed, fed her a few ibuprofen, and finished the ride with the knowledge that muscle relaxers and a therapeutic laser were waiting at home.  She'll be fine.

Here's one more skill that baby horses need to learn:

Tripod horsey gets a snack break

Because otherwise, who will take pictures of Gigantor?


Good boy, baby horse!