Training Two Horses, One of Which Is Pie

I’ve taken a break from blogging because I was feeling a little unfriendly to the outside world. Blogging means that people that I’ve met once or twice now have the ability to find me and read what I have to say about. . .well. . .about whatever I say here. And I needed a break from that concept. 

However, my Facebook posts are getting longer and longer so I’m going to switch back to here. At some point, I guess I’ll have to copy from FB to here, but for now, I’m too lazy. This post is a follow up to something I wrote this morning in which I was meeting a friend’s daughter at the farm and was debating teaching her about clicker training horses.

(here we go)

Latest update on training the kids. As I mentioned this morning, a friend of mine’s daughter (Alayna) came by and I wanted to introduce her to clicker training for horses. I’m not a great instructor when it comes to teaching things step by step. I’m more of a This Is How I Do It demonstrator person. Since it was raining off and on and the only dry spot I have for working with my horses is in their run-in shed/stalls, we put Pie in his stall with lots of hay and then I worked on shaping Sioux to turn to the left without anyone touching/handling her.
Meanwhile, Pie was in his stall. Now, he’s had to be on the sidelines while I’ve worked with Sioux in the past. I’ve had Sioux for about 4 years now and it hasn’t always been about Pie. Pie first. Then Pie. Then Sioux, and then back to Pie. But still. . .Pie has allowed me to let Sioux be handled. Without him, even.
However when we went to work with Pie, he thought he had all the answers. He’d met Alayna last week. He did his list of party tricks for her and her father. Are you a smart horse? Yes. Do you get fed enough? No. Lift this foot, lift that foot, come to a whistle, put your head up, down, back up, go forward, etc. etc. ad nauseam. The thing was, I wasn’t going to ask him to do any of those things. I was going to try to train a new behavior. Before I could even get a grasp on how uptight Pie was, he was storming out of his stall. He went out of the dry lot. Went into Pasture One. Stormed off to Pasture Two. We watched him and tried to figure out what he was doing. He had a weird walk that looked like he was perpetually looking for a spot to roll. He started to whiny. I called him back. He started to run back. Then he changed his mind. I think this is when Alayna’s father pulled up with coffee and donuts. In hindsight, I think this must have put Overstimulated Pie into some sort of tail spin because we went into the hay shed to drink coffee and eat Krispy Kremes and Pie stood in his stall on the other side of the shed wall, just whinnying. Not screaming, mind you, but enough noise that we all left the shed and went to watch him wander around and be busy. 
I tried to connect with him by doing some sort of clicker training, but he just couldn’t manage it. 
It was cold and damp so it was a good time to come home, work on my resume and then head back to the barn to work with him before I gave them their dinner. It would give me time to try to think up something to do with him. I decided I’d put the lunging cavesson on him and take him to the sand ring on the hill. I grabbed a cooler to toss over him afterward, tossed the lunge line over his neck and had him walk with me up the hill. Sioux was a little upset about being left alone, but with the leaves off the trees, this ring is at least in her earshot. 
We just did a little walk/trot and walk/halt. But then I decided to incorporate a behavior that I’ve been working on getting on a more precise cue. Because that is really the thing about training. . .it is teaching behaviors that you can string together. I’ve been teaching them to be more responsive to coming to me when I whistle. I inserted that into the lungeing to have Pie do a change of direction. He’d trot in a circle, I’d whistle sharply, he’d come to me, I’d quickly reward, and then send him in the other direction while changing the lead from one hand to the other. At first I think he was a little bummed that the whistle didn’t mean, “hey come here and stop and hang out for a long time and eat a bunch of cookies.” But I gave him a lot of verbal praise as he continued past me and, of course, the first few times he went past me, I rewarded him with a click as soon as he was at the other side of the circle. 
After a few times of that, I pulled out the 10″ PVC pipe and was very pleased to see that he offered the trot just at the sight of it. Since it was very sloppy and wet, I rewarded him most heavily for being cautious as he went over it. If the footing is perfect, I reward him more for getting a nice spot for launching and clearing it well. But we aren’t all about doing things perfectly, I prefer a horse to be smart and I’ll reward cautious and smart any day. 
A few hops over the pipe and he got wrapped in his bathrobe and I took him back to get his dinner. Both horses seemed very happy to have spent a day working. I really hope to get better at managing my time so that I can spend more days of the week working with them while managing freelance projects. They love working so much. 
Remember, these posts are mostly for my training log, if you get something out of it, great! If you don’t, too bad for you. 
Happy New Year. Susan, Pie, and Sioux.

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