Sunday, February 15, 2009

It Works, or It Don't

"I must not forget to thank the difficult horses, who made my life miserable, but were better teachers than the well-behaved school horses who raised no problems."
— Alois Podhaisky, Director of the Spanish Riding School (1939)

I found that quote over at All Horse Stuff.

I don't know much, but I have learned this: there is no one, right, best way to work with a horse. They are no more one-size-fits-all than we humans. You have to figure out what works for you as a team, according to both of your abilities and sensibilities. Or what don't.
  • I read about clicker training over at one of McKinna's blogs, where she posted a couple links to check out. Poco is very food-driven, so at first it seemed to make sense. But, Poco is also pushy, and tends to be a bit mouthy (let me count the posts ...). Clicker training would work for him, in the sense that food is a powerful incentive — Will Tap Dance For Food — but it would also, literally, feed his vices. I can see where this might work on some horses, but it's definitely not for this horse.
  • I bought the Parelli "7 Games" DVD to play with Poco. No joke, my horse looked at me like, "are you f*cking kidding me?" (or, "you paid how much for that DVD?"). I did learn some useful things from the DVD, but as far as my horse finding it engaging, uh, not in the least.
  • My suckiness at longeing could be the stuff of comedy legend. I don't have the human body dynamics of longeing right; it's me, not the horse. I have tried and failed to read my way through this one; I need to be taught by an actual human. Nita tried to show me once, but I guess I'm not a quick study in this particular area. In any event, get Poco in the round pen for ground work, and you'll get a look that clearly asks, "And we're doing this ... why?" He doesn't really like being ridden in the round pen, but he'll do it with little more than his usual amount of "what's in it for me?"
Except for the occasional reminder of how I expect him to conduct himself when walking on a lead, I feel as though we make the most progress together when we just ride. Would this approach work for everyone? Goodness, no. Poco is neither young nor green. He was a working ranch horse. He's been there, done that. My issues with him are in the saddle, and have been from the very first time I climbed on. That's because I am not a great rider — wait, let me rephrase that: I SUCK — therefore, I am less confident in the saddle. Since Heather has taught me how to relax, no matter how hairy it gets, and redirect his energy, I've gotten more confident in my ability to ride through his shenanigans. He'll test me every single time, but more often than not, after a few bouts of nonsense, I get the sigh that says, "Okay, I give up." The other part of it is my learning to communicate with him in a way that I am able to both understand and execute, and that he understands.

I'd still like to learn how to longe, if only to reaffirm that I am not abysmally dense. Until I do, I have to figure out other ways of dealing with issues where longeing might be an option. I want and need more riding lessons, but that is financially out of the question right now. I have to do what I can with what I have. And I'll be the better for it.

Jaz, being impeccably trained, needs no such silliness. Thanks to being raised from the age of 6 months by Heather and Nita, my "Little Man" is always a good, sweet boy. I still make him give me lessons in the round pen, which helps keep him humble, but it's for my sake, not his.

By the way, I had been noticing both horses (even Mr. Perfect) being really pushy and mouthy lately. At first I thought it was because I haven't been spending a lot of time with them. I discovered the reason quite by accident: none other than Mr. Fry! I had to have a Herd Behavior 101 talk with him, explaining why we can't play with the horsies like we play with the doggies. I still don't think he gets it. To him, all animals are just different incarnations of dogs.


Rising Rainbow said...

I had that problem with my husband. He just wouldn't listen until one day his beloved gelding bit him. Boy, did that change his perspective. LOL

Paint Girl said...

My other half is the same way with my horses, he thinks they are 1200 lb dogs and I am always explaining why he can't treat them like a dog, one of the girls is very pushy and an in your pocket horse and some of the stuff the other half does makes it worse. I have told him over and over "NO handfeeding!" I think he sneeks treats by hand when I have to work the late shift. He'll never learn!

Anonymous said...

Glad to read your blog again. Always happy to hear the progress of the Boy's. Good luck and happy riding. Bev. in Fl.

Mary @ StaleCheerios said...

You should look more into clicker training. I've found clicker training works GREAT with mouthy, pushy, food-loving horses.

This is because if you study it a bit and do it right, it's a really effective way to teach good manners and to help your horse learn a bit of self-control. I use clicker training/operant conditioning with my dog, the horses I work with, and with my goldfish.

I started with a friend's horses last fall, and in particular, with a pushy, mouthy QH mare. When we started clicker training, I could barely have treats on me because she was constantly trying to mug me for treats.

Because the horse learns to associate the click with a treat, my mare soon learned that she was never going to get a treat without the click (except for the rare special occasion). So, she stopped begging and mugging me for treats because she knew exactly when to expect one. As well, clicker training teaches concepts like delivering treats out away from your body and other techniques to teach good manners. Horses are smart. Mine quickly learned how they were expected to behave if they wanted treats.

Alexandra Kurland has some really great resources on clicker training. As well, there's several good websites. Karen Pryor's "Don't Shoot the Dog" is also the best introduction to the science behind clicker training.

You should try it!


Pony Girl said...

Great post. You seem to have a grasp of where you are, where your horses are, and where you want to be. That is half the battle! ;)
Funny your horse didn't like the horse loved them and picked them up really fast. I don't do much of them anymore, I kind of make variations now.
Can't wait to see Paint Girl's new bridle!!

ezra_pandora said...

I LOVE that quote. I think I may have to borrow it for a scrapbook page for my girl :))

"relax, no matter how hairy it gets, and redirect his energy" - that was probably one of the best thing she could have told you. Honestly, i was ALWAYS tense when my girl first was getting trained and when my trainer finally pounded that very advice into my head (the redirect energy came after we rolled over backwards, could have come sooner in my opinion, lol) that we really started making good progress. My mare totally feeds off me and with me being goofy, she was being goofy. She's not quite as goofy anymore if there isn't a reason.

Poor Mr. Fry. He was probably trying to interact with them in a way that made sense to him. I hope your little 101 works :)

Unknown said...

Sounds like maybe a clinic would work better than a DVD for you?

Don't know who's in your area or cruzin through you area this year, but maybe you could hit a clinic on longeing? Don't worry though not everyone is good at it. Maybe just work toward getting to the point where you consider yourself well-educated in the art longeing and not worry about being a pro.

I know lots of people who aren't super at it - they have gotten to the point where they can go out there and competently longe their horses in the morning and leave it at that. They leave the advanced maneuvers alone and just stick to the basics - and that's perfectly ok.

I was taught by a naughty horse who needed ALOT of longeing - and it took along time....but I can see where a clinic would've helped me...

Anonymous said...

One should also think about the confidence required to do certain things with the pony. A trainer without confidence can cause confusion, creating a frustration with pony and trainer.

Anonymous said...

I read my own thoughts in so much so of this post! I learned to ride at the age of eighteen and my teacher was a nasty stallion whose desire was non else than to have me off his back. I remember having to jump off in a trot while he suddenly stopped and dropped down on the ground to scratch his back - saddle and all. At that time, I did not even think of what could have gone wrong with the horse's training as I was just trying to deal with not being intimidated by him. Years later, I bought my wonderful mare Arwen, and decided to try longeing. She gave me one indignant look as in "Why are you doing this to me?" and that was it. It is only now that we have two fillies over at our place (who are in constant need of training and stimulation) that I have thought of longeing again. I think it's time to start reading up on the subject again!

Leah Fry said...

Hey, I'm perfectly willing to concede "operator error," at least 50% of the time. Longeing, however, is totally my doing, or undoing, as it were.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

lol! My hubby likes to think of Baby Doll as being a big floppy slow puppy. When she's laying down she sure looks the part..and she is rather lazy..but she sure can move fast in spurts if she wants to. gah!

I find the round pen boring, too. But I'm sure going to be spending quite a bit of time in there one I get the go ahead to ride and work with my mare. I need to get my confidance back, of course.

Maybe I can velcro my butt to the saddle? lol!


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