Sunday, November 15, 2009

WHOA dammit!

OK, so the ground is really REALLY slippery when wet out at the barn. I don't know if it's some kind of clay or what, but even just walking around your feet slide a little. I feel sorry for all the horses that have paddocks on the hillside- how do they not slide down like skiiers?

My friend Janaira loaned me an older dressage saddle to try on Jasper. It's a Crosby and has short billets- weird! Great shape, though. So for the first time since they've been in the big pasture, I brought Jasper up (without his fearless leader Alexandre) to the tack room, groomed him, yelled at him for standing sideways, pawing, and pulling, and tried on the saddle. It appears to fit him great. Took him to the arena and walked around looking for non-slippery ground. Found a little section and rode around without much success as he was still sliding. Decided to go ride in a small field by the arena, it had grass and weeds growing in it so the footing was better. There wasn't really anything we could do besides walk around, so I decided we'd work on stopping. And standing still. And thus began a 2+ hour battle.

I'm out of ideas. Help anyone? What would you do? Is he too young/ is he too hyper/ too stubborn? It's not just under saddle. He can't stand still while tied either. He paces from side to side, paws, and dolphin kicks out with his hind legs.

I would sit deep in the saddle, he would sort of stop for a microsecond, and then would do a myriad of other things involving moving of body parts. First I tried circling. When he refused to stand still I let him walk in circles and he got to pick when he stopped. I was hoping he would realize it's easier to stand than walk in circles. Nope. After a while I would pull him in a circle and he would stand still with his nose to my stirrup. He would stay still until he got his neck straightened out and then would begin moving again. I also tried an assortment of other tactics. He would back up (got nudged forward) go sideways (got nudged on one side until he was back where he started), go forwards, (got pulled back), pawed (got a quick tug on a rein), bobbed, shook, and threw his head (um, usually nothing- I just wanted his feet still). The instant he stood still he got rewarded, got praised and stroked on his neck, all was calm, and then after a few seconds got to walk forward. Usually he stopped moving because he saw something in the distance and was focusing on it. Obviously by the end I was frustrated. Usually the instant reward works after a while. They realize, hey, when I just stand here everything is good! When I move my feet everything is bad. Choices, choices. It's like he doesn't have it within himself to keep all four feet in one place. Maybe I just shouldn't ask him to stand still at this point, it just seems like kind of an important thing to be able to do.

What would you do?


achieve1dream said...

I think you need to look into clicker training. Focusing on the positive (that microsecond when he isn't moving) as opposed to focusing on the negative (his moving around) can bring about amazing results! The clicker is a tool used to pinpoint that microsecond to tell him YES that's what I want! You build duration gradually, but for a smart horse (which he sounds like) it doesn't take long. All of the ways you were punishing him only makes things worse. If you want a horse that stands still relaxed you can't go about it that way. That creates tension. I don't want to sound like a know it all, but I think it can help you!

Here is a quick introduction video to clicker training:

And here is a video of a woman teaching her horse to stand still using clicker training. Pay close attention to when she clicks. Watch what the horse is doing at the moment she clicks. It's very important. Just don't forget to "charge" the clicker. Get your horse's favorite treat and just stand there, click, treat, click, treat, click, treat. Do this until your horse perks up at the sound of the click and expects a treat. Just remember to take it slow. When the horse is doing something you don't like don't react in any way, don't even look at him. When he does what you want click and treat.

Good luck and please let us know how it goes! I know how frustrating it can be when you hit roadblocks. Just remember to have fun!

juliette said...

Hi! I just found your blog and I really identify with so much that you are doing. I am having the same trouble with Pie (a 4 year old OTTB). Yesterday we worked on stopping. I reach down and love him up like crazy when I get anything remotely like a stop. He fidgets and acts like he is chomping a bit (we are bitless). I started counting out loud so we could "time" our quiet stops. He does seem interested in the counting. I don't work on it more than a few times a ride, though, because he is so young with such a tiny attention span. I want to keep him interested and joyful - not dull.

Anonymous said...

Clicker might work. I don't do clicker much from the saddle as it's so hard for me to reach!

I'd start the standing still thing with ground tying, rather than when you're riding. That way he'll have the idea before you're on board and it'll translate more easily. You may have to be very patient and do several sessions. Here's what I do: lead the horse to a spot and drop the lead. If the horse moves an inch, have the horse circle you until the horse offers to stop - it may take a few circles and watch very closely for that moment of hesitation, then allow the horse to stop and drop the lead. Repeat, and repeat and repeat. As the horse is learning, be aware of his "time limits" - if he's going to get fretful after standing for 3 minutes, lead him off for a walk after 2.5 minutes and then come back and try again - you want to set him up to succeed. It's a great exercise to teach young/fretful horses to self-calm. If you start to get frustrated, stop working because the horse will feel your heightened energy level and it'll make it harder for him to stand. Do this until it's "baked In" and then do the same thing mounted. The important thing is for the horse to choose to stand and learn that it can.

Good luck!

Albigears said...

I just want to thank you guys for your thoughtful responses. I really appreciate it!

a1d- Yes, I believe in clicker training (at least on the ground) although I've never tried it. I use the same principles, but the 'instant' reward (instead of a click and a treat) is lack of stimulus- loose reins, soft legs... I've heard of people that 'click' with their tongue so they don't have to deal with the clicker, 2 reins, and a dancing horse.

juliette- hello! Counting sounds like an interesting idea. Do you count forwards or backwards? I appreciate your comment about keeping him interested and joyful.

Kate- Yes! Exactly- he needs to learn to self-calm. He definitely needs to learn to stand without me on him. I think his 'standing' time would be more like 1.5 seconds, nowhere near a minute or even half a minute. It's a technique worth trying, though. It actually occurred to me last night that maybe NO ONE ever taught him to be tied at the track? Maybe the first time I tied him up was the first time period. Which would explain a lot.

achieve1dream said...

It's true, racehorses are never tied (even the jockeys mount while they're walking!) unless things have changed recently.

One of the bloggers I follow has her clicker tired around her arm so she isn't holding it and can reach up to click. And like Kate said regardless of which method you use you'd teach it on the ground first so you wouldn't be juggling so much.

You can click with your tongue I just have trouble making the sound the same every time. Good luck with whichever method you use!

Jenn said...

Nope, racehorses are never taught to stand tied. They are even tacked up on the go or being held in their stalls.

As for standing still...small increments do big wonders. Start on the ground and when you say whoa, mean whoa. As soon as all four stop moving, count to one or two and walk on. Increase the standing still time slowly. You'll be surprised by how fast he figures it out...and it will transfer to the saddle using the same method.

Halt, as soon as all four are still, praise, count, move on. Rinse. Repeat. The moving on is the reward for standing nicely because moving is what he WANTS to do so you reward him for doing what he doesn't want to do with something he DOES want to do.

When I first started riding Gabe he also behaved very badly about standing still and this was the method I used. Now, we can stand for as long as I want him to because he knows, eventually, we'll move forward again.

Albigears said...

Well, I've learned quite a bit from this posting. It never occurred to me he didn't know how to be tied up, which would certainly explain all the pulling back issues we had. Jeesh, poor guy! And having said that what are they THINKING? Race horse trainers KNOW their horses aren't going to be there forever. Teaching a 16.2h 4-year-old to tie is a hell of a lot harder than teaching a baby.

From your suggestions I have also decided I need to do a LOT more work with halting on the ground. Having said that, when he's relaxed and focused we do great things. He walks, halts, backs, and turns both directions on a loose lead- I don't have to put any pressure on it at all! Enter any type of stimulus and it all goes out the window.