When I shared the runway lesson with you in the June 2016 posts, I talked about constructional training. That’s where you teach the skills you’ll need for a particular task BEFORE you need to use them. Before you build a house – or even a birdhouse – you must first learn how to use a hammer.
That’s what we’re doing with the mounting block lesson. I’m going to use the “Why Would You Leave Me?” game to teach my horse the skills he’ll need to line himself up to the mounting block BEFORE I take him anywhere near the mounting block. (Refer to the previous installment of JOYFull Horses: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/07/27/ and Lesson 5 in the Click That Teaches DVD Lesson Series: “The Why Would You Leave Me?” Game)
In training we talk about breaking each lesson down into smaller steps so it becomes easier for your learner to understand what is wanted. Constructional training is another way of looking at this basic teaching strategy. What are the skills you need for the task at hand? Do you have those skills? Yes, then the task will be within your reach. No, then build the skills first.
When you build skills first, you find that each new thing you ask for is really just an easy step beyond what you already have. So before I play what I refer to as the “capture the saddle” game, I first build the skills I’ll need for this lesson via the “why would you leave me?” lesson.
Capture the Saddle – A Targeting Game
Why would you leave me? Answer: I can’t think of a single reason. I’m happy to stay right here by your side.
When that’s the answer, you have a horse who is ready to walk with you to the mounting block.
I’ve pulled some photos from a video of the “capture the saddle” lesson. The resolution isn’t the greatest since they come from a video, but they illustrate well how the lesson works. The horse I am working with is a young haflinger who didn’t know how to stand well for mounting.
His owner didn’t use mounting blocks so this was a new concept for him. When she asked him to stop with her beside the mounting block, he kept going. He ended up facing in the opposite direction. Previous experience had taught him that it was a good idea to keep the saddle well away from her. This is a very common scenario, one many riders have to deal with.
We can’t expect this horse to understand instantly what is wanted. Instead we went through the steps that would teach him how to line up next to a mounting block so his rider could easily get on.
We weren’t just teaching him to line up next to a mounting block. That could easily have been done with targeting. He was also learning how to soften and respond to rein cues. That’s an important extra that this lesson gives us. His owner reported that he was an incredibly wiggly horse who was very difficult to ride. BEFORE she gets back on, the mounting block lesson will help him to be better balanced and more connected to her.
Photos 6-8.) The three photos above show how I begin with the “Why would you leave me?” lesson. He’s learning to walk with me. Note, as I approach the mounting block, I am not holding onto the reins. I want him to stop with me as I step up onto the mounting block.
Photo 9.) He doesn’t know this part of the lesson. He’s not expecting to stop at the mounting block, so he over shoots the mark. That’s okay.
I could teach this part of the lesson in many different ways. I could use targets and mats to help him out, but remember, I want to prepare this horse for riding. Riding includes not just all those times when things are going great. It also includes the sudden scares that can send even the most solid of riding horses jumping to the side.
The mounting block lesson confirms that your horse understands how to respond to your rein cues. It provides an essential safety net for those times when things are going wrong, and it is also a core building block for creating the great performance we all dream of having when things are very right.
So in photos 10-12, I have taken the left rein, and I am asking this horse to soften and bend his nose towards me. That causes his hips to swing out away from me. Essentially his front end is stopping before his hind end. The extra momentum from his hind end causes him to swing around to the front side of the mounting block. In horse training language he is yielding his hips.
He has ended up facing in the opposite direction from the one in which we started. (Photo 13) That’s more than okay. I’ll first ask him to take a step or two back so I can easily reach the right rein.
Next I’ll have him soften and come around me on his right rein. (Photo 14) As he swings back to the opposite side of the mounting block, I’ll again ask him to take a step back. (Photo 15) This does two things. It helps him to rebalance, and it gives me access to the left rein. (Photo 16)
By the time I get on, I will know that he will soften and yield his hips to both reins. Many people get in a hurry with this lesson. They become too goal oriented. They are thinking only about getting on. I am thinking about the ride ahead. I want it to be safe. That’s first and foremost. And then I want it to be fun – for both the horse and the rider. That’s not going to happen if the horse is out of balance and disconnected from his rider. So the “capture the saddle” lesson is really one that should be process not goal driven. Yes, I want my horse to line up next to the mounting block, but it’s not a race to see who can teach this the fastest. Each time this horse swings wide, he’s giving me another opportunity to explain rein cues to him.
As he comes past me again on his left side, I let go of the rein and reach out towards the saddle. (Photo 17) He’s not ready to let me get to the saddle. In the photos below you see that he swings wide again. (Photos 18-19) That just gives me another opportunity to ask him to soften to the right rein. (Photo 20)
At no point in this do I want the horse to feel as though I am punishing any of his responses. This is about teaching him WHAT TO DO. It is not about blocking or stopping unwanted reactions.
As he swings past the mounting block, I can again ask him to take a step or two back. (Photo 21) This helps him to rebalance, and it also gives me access to the left rein. I’ll ask him to step forward to line up along side the mounting block. (Photo 22)
As he comes past me again on his left side, I LET GO OF THE REIN. (Photo 23)
This is very important. I don’t want to block him to make him stand still. Remember always – you want energy. You want your horse to move his feet. This lesson redirects his energy. It doesn’t block it. You are releasing him into a halt, not stopping him from moving. There is a huge difference. (I’ll refer you again to my books and DVDs for a more in depth discussion of this very important concept. Visit theclickercenter.com)
As I release the rein, I am reaching up to touch the saddle. (Photo 23) Click and treat. (Photo 24.) The clickable moment for this phase of the lesson occurs as my hand makes contact with the saddle. So this lesson begins with rope handling and ends with targeting.
I’d like him to come forward half a step so he is in a better position for me to get on. I use the left rein to ask for this step. (Photo 25.) As he begins to respond, I again release the rein and touch the saddle. (Photo 26.) Click and treat. (Photo 27.) We’re making progress. This time he doesn’t swing away.
Photos 28-30.) I ask him for another small step forward. (28.) This time when I reach out for the saddle, he’s in perfect position. (29.) Click and treat. (30.)
Remember though, it isn’t so much about the goal of lining up next to the mounting block as it is about his response to the reins.
So far I have clicked and reinforced him just for letting me make contact with the saddle. Now I am making it harder. I have stepped all the way up onto the mounting block so I can lean down onto the saddle and add some weight. I’m really seeing if I can “capture it”. (Photo 31.)
(Photo 32.) The answer is – not yet.
He swings wide out from under my hands. Again, this is okay. It gives me another opportunity to ask him to soften and yield his hips. All of this bending and connecting to the rein helps him to become more supple and better balanced. That’s going to help him be more connected to his rider.
So as he swings around past me on the left rein, I’ll again ask him to rebalance by taking a step or two back, and then I’ll bring him back in front of me first on the right rein, and then on the left. (Photos 33-36.)
As he passes the mounting block, I again let go of the rein and reach for the saddle. (Photo 36.) He’s better balanced than he was in the first couple of passes, and he’s in a much better position. It’s easy for me to touch the saddle. This time I can really grab the saddle. (Photo 37.) Click and treat. (Photo 38.)
I use the word grab because I don’t want to be delicate in this. I want this horse to really feel me taking the saddle in my hands. This is the target position. As soon as I have both hands on the saddle – Click!
I’ve asked him to go forward another step (Photo 39.) and this time he swings a little too wide so I can’t reach the saddle. (Photo 40.) The pattern should be familiar by now. I ask him to swing back around via the right rein, (Photo 41.) then I bring him forward past me on the left rein. (Photo 42.)
He comes in really close to the mounting block. It’s easy to capture the saddle. (Photo 43.) Click and treat. (Photo 44.) This isn’t an ideal orientation for getting on, but we’re making good progress.
I ask him to come forward one small step. This adjustment puts him into a great position for me to get on. Click and treat. (Photos 45-47.)
He’s made great progress. We’ve gone from the photo on the left (48) to the one on the right (49) in just a couple of passes.
It’s time for a break.
I’ve gotten down from the mounting block. (Photo 50.) We’re going to walk a large “why would you leave me?” circle back to the mounting block. Remember that means I’ll be asking him to walk beside me without my needing to take the reins to keep him with me. (Photo 51.)
I approach the mounting block hands free. (Photo 51.) As I step up onto the mounting block, he stops on his own. (Photo 52.) He’s brought the saddle into perfect position. I can really grab hold of the it and truly capture it. (Photo 53.) Click and treat. (Photo 54.) This is a horse who is telling me he’s ready for me to get on.
As the horses figure out that they get clicked for bringing the saddle to our waiting hands, they become increasingly clever about lining themselves up to whatever we are using for a mounting block.
It’s great fun having your horse bring the saddle to your waiting hands. (Photo 55.)
Sometimes a horse will misjudge the approach and ended up slightly angled out to the side. You know he has truly understood the lesson when, without any prompting from you, he steps sideways so he can bring the saddle to your waiting hands. That’s a horse who really understands the game. Click and treat.
As this video shows, sometimes a mounting block is a tree stump, or in this case a metal gate. When a horse understands the capture the saddle lesson, he will line himself up to anything you treat as a mounting block.
If you have a horse who dances around a mounting block, this lesson will definitely help you. But please note: this article began with a discussion of constructional training. The more preparation you bring to it, the easier the lesson will be.
The preparation goes beyond the “Why Would You Leave Me?” Game. It’s a matter of looking at what comes before what comes before the lesson you want to work on.
What comes before the “Why would you leave me?” Game? Lots of preparation. That’s prep for your horse AND prep for you. Anytime you use a lead or reins, you want to practice first without your horse so your handling skills are horse-friendly and clicker compatible. The how-to instructions for using reins and leads is beyond the scope of this single article. For that please visit: theclickercenter.com and theclickercentercourse.com
Coming Next: Cue Communication Part 5: Grand Prix Behaviors
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