Thursday, July 29, 2010

Leaving the Sunshine State

Bodhi left Florida at 6 am this morning with the help of Kathy, the barn manager and my mom. Kathy said he loaded without hesitation. Good thing we worked hard on trailer loading in the beginning because seeing the pictures I would have had reservations if I were him!

Come on Bodhi! Get home soon!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Want My Pony!!!

My 100th post and in Canada!

All is well. We have made our journey from Florida to Manitoba with the two cats, husband, and dog. It was actually pretty painless and kinda fun to see the country. I enjoy car trips.

We are now living at Meadow Green Stables in the guest bedroom of the Barn Manager's house waiting on our house to be vacated. We are content here and I am just trying to stay out of the way and lend a hand with the barn as much as I can as thanks. I am so grateful that she took us in!

My dog is in heaven. She has already made friends with the other dogs in residence and is enjoying the space and new smells. The cats on the other hand are wondering why in the heck they are in this strange house with strange people and even stranger animals.

Bodhi's departure has been changed to next week, and they don't even know when he will get to Winnipeg. I am miserable! I just want my horse safe and sound at his new farm. Why all the delays? I hate transporting horses. I am going to try and train Bodhi to teleport when he finally gets here so we don't have to deal with this again in a few years.

I missssssss myyyyyyyyy ponnnnnnnnnyyyyyyyyyy!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Off to Canada!

We are leaving tomorrow morning veeeery early to begin our three day journey to Manitoba. Wish us luck. We are setting off with so many things unsettled. Bodhi's leave date, our housing situation etc etc. We just can't wait any longer. Everything in Florida here is closed up, boxed, and stored. Ready or not Canada here we come!

On a completely unrelated note. I wanted to share some links with you on my last post in the US!
This has been going around so you have probably seen it, but if you have not I would say it is worth your thoughts.
Disclaimer: I am not an anti, or a pro of any one training method. I feel like everyone has something to learn from everyone. You should be an open minded skeptic and not rule out any person from sharing their knowledge but you should also take everything people say with a grain of salt. It is a balance. I have learned so much from so many different trainers I am constantly gleaning useful tidbits off of everyone. That being said I am not going to financially support a trainer that uses an abusive technique. Period. He may have some good things to say, and I am still willing to learn but I am not willing to pay. I hope others feel the same. My feelings are that these methods are not appropriate. Not in any context. You should never gum line a horse as a training method.
Catwalk and Pat
Now let's focus on the positive side of horse training I have this to recommend as well!
How to Halter train a head shy horse
This is a great explanation of how to work with a head shy horse correctly with a video. Dealing with horse issues takes time and patience. When you turn them into commodities like in the show world, or the fix-a-horse in an hour clinic world, you sacrifice the horse.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Break it Down

I have been chewing on the request made by you guys on how I trained Bodhi to work at liberty. My husband summed it up best I think: he said
"Trial and error, positive reinforcement, and persistence."
So that is the short answer! I am going to attempt and break down the behaviors and talk about how I shaped each piece as I think that will be most helpful. There will be a bonus golden blooper at the bottom so please read on... :) I tried reeeeally hard!

The key for any behavior you want to teach is to break it down: Things Bodhi could do before I unsnapped the lead:

  1. Bodhi was classically conditioned to a tongue click. To me this is crucial for liberty work. I can communicate to my horse from a distance that he has completed the behavior I want. A "click" is also a natural pause button in the session. This means if all else fails you have a whoa when your horse understands that a click means "good job stop and get your reward"**
  2. -Bodhi understood basic commands on the lunge through voice and body language. He would move off, stop, and turn while maintaining slack in the line. Keeping your horse on a line while perfecting your, whoa, go, and turn supplies you with a safety net in case your horse gets excited overstimulated or distracted. Which cues you use is up to you. I started Bodhi as a two year old with NH. So he yields his shoulders and hind end when you point with a whip or hand. He also takes cues from whether my hips are "open" (facing him) or "closed"(parallel to him). Facing him means stop. Parallel means to travel parallel to me and when I angle my hips in he knows to circle me. The positive side for body cues of course is that it is not dependent on pressure from a line. So it translates well for liberty. I also have a verbal whoa. Used more undersaddle but it works at liberty too.
  3. -Bodhi knew how to target- Targeting is one of the basic lessons many positive reinforcement trainers use. It is a great tool in your tool box and can be used for a variety of tasks once trained. It is a way to ask for movement and direction without using driving aids like a lunge whip from behind which may be too much for the sensitive horse at liberty causing a horse to break the connection and leave. I found targeting put Bodhi in the habit to looking to me for directions on where to go to get rewarded. **

Our Liberty Work- a Progression:
What you need: enclosed area-We have a smaller riding ring which I worked in to teach all of the initial pieces. A small simple environment is the best place to train liberty work. I find round pens are too small. I like my horse to be able to "leave". It shows me where the holes are in the commands. I think it makes them feel less chased and more playful when it is actually their idea to participate.
A target stick -dressage whip, carrot stick your hand etc. whatever you train your horse to target can then be generalized to give direction at liberty.
A marker: A marker is what signal you condition your horse to respond to. I use a tongue click because it is unique sounding, easy to produce and sharp. You could use a phrase like "good" or "Yes" but you have to be careful to say it the same way each time and not use it in other contexts**
Rewards I trained all the behaviors by reinforcing them positively. I use a portion of Bodhi's grain for rewards with pieces of carrot as a "jackpot". I carry them in a pouch designed for dog training. You can also use a cloth tool bag or fishing vest.**
Control of gaits and Whoa I trained Bodhi first to walk trot and canter and whoa around the ring on command. I found for a lazy pony it helped for me to travel around in a smaller tract with him which then evolved into body cues for Bodhi on which gate I want. I trot for trot, and I skip for canter. I stop my feet, he stops his feet. It is simple and easy for me to remember. Keep in mind these behaviors, as he responds correctly, are being reinforced by a tongue click and a reward. As Bodhi was trained to yield his hind end at the whoa I then reinforced direction changes as well from the halt by indicating which shoulder I wanted him to yield and reinforcing when he picked correctly.
Targeting- I then practiced targeting around the ring at liberty. I gradually faded out the clicks and rewards and had him following the target for longer and longer periods of time without a click. This helped him to generalize that the target was indicating direction not just an immediate touch. I then practiced weaving, serpentines and circles as he followed the target. He eventually generalized that the outstretched dressage whip was indicating his trajectory and I was able to phase out the touching of the target completely. My body language cues from our previous ground work then filled in the gaps and I was able to "control" him at liberty.
Jumping I think this is the most simplistic part. At liberty I set up ground poles around the arena and reinforced him for walking and then trotting over them. He quickly caught on to the game and we diversified by setting up cross rails combinations of ground poles and jumps, tiny oxers and the like. Bodhi was learning how to jump so we went slowly. Teaching a horse at liberty is just like teaching a horse to jump on the lunge only he was never forced to go over any object by jump shoots and never punished for dodging or refusing. In this way I knew when the obstacle was too difficult or we had progressed too fast. If he went around or refused an object I just brought it down to something he had already mastered and began again. By earning a click and treat he had incentive to try hard and be persistent.
The result is what you saw. A horse that is happy to travel around a course of jumps, and turns, stops changes directions and gates by body language. It took a lot of hours to learn but we did not notice we were having too much fun!

There are many means to an end. There is probably a million ways to train a horse to work at liberty. There is no one right way to do it. I can only attest to what worked for us.

Some things were a surprise to me. I had no idea that Bodhi would generalize so quickly to my body language. That was a very happy accident. I was also so surprised at how tenacious and happy he became. He really likes to jump and to run around with me a liberty. Who knows why?!

Each horse is different. What I will say about this sort of work though is that it will teach you a great deal about your relationship with your horse. It will show you what needs to be worked on and what has been reinforced well in your training. You will see more of your horse's personality at liberty too. As you express yourself without the aide of tack don't be surprised when your horse expresses himself right back!
I hope this little narrative is helpful. Go out and play with those ponies!
**As I am writing this post I feel like each of these points could use a whole new blog entry. Food is a touchy subject among horse people. Also targeting and classical conditioning are basic concepts used by animal trainers but may be novel to some of you. I know I have a mixed audience from different disciplines and backgrounds so if you guys would like any of these techniques explained yell out and I will be happy to give it my best.*

Ok on to the promised blooper video. Below is what happens when you have an agility trained dog and horse. You get a dog in pony show.
Disclaimer: This was not planned. I thought Stella was distracted with a ball but apparently not. Don't try this at home it could have ended with a squished dog. I was lucky so now we can all laugh.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Liberty Photos and videos

Reasons I love Liberty work for hot summer days.
  • You can wear shorts and sneakers
  • Your horse is also working without tack
  • They can be freshly hosed
  • It is great exercise for you and your horse
  • If you are like me you don't have a chance of over heating your horse because running around with him makes you overheat before he even starts to sweat.

At last I have some photos of Bodhi and I working at liberty over fences in the pasture together. Yesterday was actually not as fantastic as the other day(but still so fun!). Bodhi was responding well of course but I felt like I was not cuing him as clearly and I think he had better form over the fences the other day as well. I should be changing the jumps around every session but I was lazy. Also don't worry when you see some of the early photos. I hosed him off before our session so that is not sweat! So enough talk...
Golden Moments...
Backing up during our warm up.

Start off with some cross rails

With a hop over the small vertical

Moving on to a larger vertical

Over one of our natural jumps.
Praise for a job well done.

How about some video!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Give me Liberty or give me carrots

Pony rides...
I invited two of my friends over for pony rides on Monday. Both were novice riders, and one had never ridden a horse before. Bodhi is very tolerant of bouncing and unbalanced riders and sticks to his slow walk and shuffle trot with the occasional un-cued Spanish walk to illustrate just how *bored* he is.
Bodhi does fine for the "pony ride" style of riding. He follows me around nicely and trots when I trot and halts when I halt. If my guests want any control over their mount though they really have to work for it. Bodhi turns into a little stubborn grump if I try to do the instructor styled ride with the guest on the rail and me sitting in the middle. He swerves and they manage to correct and he just turns again. He refuses to move his feet. He looks drunk and my poor friends look flustered. They both eventually got it and they are now both better riders for it but it is frustrating having my lovely soft willing pony turn into a two year old throwing a tantrum. If I leave the ring entirely that helps but I am worried about Canada and how he will act in lessons up there. He is obviously not dangerous and just throwing a pony-tude but I have a hard time figuring out how to fix it since I am not in the saddle. Any of you folks out there have a lesson program and deal with the middle of the ring sour pony? Any advise?

Bodhi's Liberation
Yesterday, since Monday was not a fun day, I decided to keep it fun but challenging. I look him into the bigger pasture with all the jumps set up with the plan to just see what Bodhi was made of. First I played all of the old games from my Parelli days. We did the circle game, yo yo game, and the squeeze game through standards, with a tree and a fence line. I then did figure eights over a jump and a log as I have seen on several blogs lately including Stale Cheerios. It was so neat to see how well he responds at liberty to questions he has either never had or has not done in a long time. It was good for us to take our established cues and apply them to different exercises. He was light and energetic. I could control both his direction and his speed during the games at a walk, then trot, then canter.

We moved on to the rest of the pasture where I set up several jump lines of various distances. I asked him to jump them at the trot and then the canter. . It was fun to see the different ways I could ask: running beside him, calling him over from the landing side and sending him over at the take off side. At one point he went in crooked and missed the second jump in the line. Without prompt and with a look of determination on his face he cantered a wide circle around me and set himself up correctly for the line and executed it perfectly. He then dropped to a trot, turned and stopped at my feet.
"Now I deserve a carrot piece"
I think my mouth was hanging open a bit.

He was loving the fences! He seemed to be beaming with confidence and pride over each jump, much better than the clumsy and unsure baby I was not sure even had a talent for jumping. His knees are tucked up and his back is rounding and he looks great. He jumped every single jump in the pasture even the natural jumps we have set up for crosscountry practice like the logs and tire. It was so fun to see my draft pony so liberated.

In between these bouts of gallopy goodness I worked on calm and connected walking at liberty to keep both of us cool in the heat. He would immediately fall in line next to my shoulder and stretch his neck down when I dipped my shoulder. He would cross in front and give laterally at the walk when I swung my hips towards him and crossed my legs walking diagonally. It was nice to have these calm connected moments in between our revved up play. I feel like I need to work more on the little subtle parts of liberty work. We both prefer the exciting stuff but I really need to slow down and make sure he understands all of my cues and body language and does not just leap to conclusions. At the very end I called him up to a stump and rode him back to the gate bridless asking for halts all the way up.

Each day seems to get better leading me to think what will be our next challenge? With all these glowing reports we know it is coming!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A lesson at last!

Well I finally had a lesson with my favorite instructor. She has stopped riding and training due to an unrelated and unfortunate injury and now works in a different field. I really miss having her as an instructor. She is amazingly observant and well educated in both dressage, and the bio mechanics of horse and rider. She is also good at explaining her insights and observations to the rider. To top it all off she is positive and encouraging and I have accomplished more with her than any other instructor. I started training with her when I decided to switch over from hunters to dressage with that 2 year old haflinger I bought. She was there as my support during the initial training process and I don't think I could have done it without her sage advise at the key points in our training.

So yesterday she came out and gave me one last lesson for old times sake. I was nervous because I felt like I had gone back to a lot of my old habits and I also did not know what she would think of riding without a bit.

The lesson was amazing and afirming. She was really impressed with Bodhi's canter work-- it was much more balanced and off the forehand than last she saw. He also could not get his left lead last time so I was happy to show we now had both leads!

We worked on flying changes and lateral work at the canter. To my suprise Bodhi executed both of those tasks effortlessly. She says he looks very happy and balanced and forward in the new bridle but did admit she wished to see him a bit more round. So for the remainder of the lesson we worked on my position at the sitting trot to see if we could get a more round frame. Like magic when I fixed my position Bodhi was happy to give to the bitless! Yay! I am so happy that my trainer came out. She always pushes us just a little bit and shows me that Bodhi is always ready for more than I think he is.

I am having such a proud moment with recpect to Bodhi's training. No horse is finished but he is definitely close to where I wanted him to be to feel satisfied that he has the basics. He has a balanced walk, trot, and canter both directions with an abulity to regulate the tempo in each gate. He has a firm grasp on lateral movements and will stretch and collect his frame on cue. He works well in a snaffle and in a bitless bridle. He is now comfortable and balanced over fences. He is an amazing liberty partner. He is safe enough for children and beginners but is still a little squirt on the trail. I love that pony.

I am a different story of course... I have a lot to work on:
  • Elbows! I need to keep my elbows bent and not throw my reins away in transitions
  • not to drop my hip when asking for lateral movement
  • Ask him to come to me into the bridle not go to him
  • Keep my upper body still durring the canter and give through the pelivs
  • Keep my shoulders open and upright
  • Not lock the small of my back but support my upper bodyi instead with an engaged core.