JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 12 of 12
Adding the Click
In an earlier section I said we expand a field not from within, but from without. Innovations come from bringing ideas together from different areas of study. Poco gives us a wonderful illustration of this. I was combining two things I knew worked well: body work and clicker training. The click turned over responsibility for the process to Poco. I was not simply a body worker doing something TO him. Poco and I were involved in a conversation. I was asking questions, but I didn’t have the answers. Poco had to provide those.
I was asking him to release through the poll. What could you find, what could you release that would let you melt into my waiting hands? I felt the answers through my hands, and I acknowledged them with a click and a treat.
The release through the poll was just one area I wanted to explore with Poco. I not only wanted to get to Poco’s ears. I also wanted to get to his hindquarters, but he had huge “DO NOT ENTER” signs posted everywhere.
I don’t know the horses I meet at clinics well enough to know which are the ones who really do mean KEEP OUT and which ones are all bluff. If you ignore the “warning signs” of the ones who mean it, you can get seriously hurt, so I respect the “signs” all the horses post. I try not to bludgeon my way in. I much prefer to have them take down the warning signs themselves and invite me into their personal space.
I wanted to reach Poco’s hips. I began my approach with long arm strokes across his back.
Poco dropped his head marginally. Click and treat.
You can’t not cue.
Cues evolve out of the shaping process.
I was on the look out for associations which could turn into cues. I stroked his back, and Poco dropped his head. Again, I clicked and treated.
Poco was a tuned-in clicker horse. He caught on right away. I was cueing head lowering. Very neat.
I always chuckle when this sort of thing pops out. It’s so easy to miss that first little head drop. It’s so easy to think that all you’re doing is stroking your horse’s back. But if you are on the lookout, you will spot that first little drop of the head. Once you’ve captured it with a click and a treat, you can grow it into a more definite, predictable response.
Poco now had a way to tell me when it was okay for me to move on. I could stroke a little further back along his barrel. If his head dropped right away, I knew he was at ease, and next time I would be able to ask for a bit more.
But if he hesitated, I knew I was asking for too much. I needed to move back towards his withers and ask for less. Poco very quickly realized he had control. I wouldn’t go any further, any faster than he was ready for.
I built a small, predictable loop. First, I stood in front of him and invited him to release forward and down into my hands.
Click and treat.
Then I moved to his side and stroked along his back. He dropped his head. Click and treat.
That sent me back to the start of the cycle, asking for a release of his poll. As I invited him into my hands, I leaned directly over the plane of his face. My chin at times rested against his ears. I could feel his worry melting away. At least in this context, he was trusting me to keep my word. I was not going to hurt him.
Adding in Lateral Flexions
I asked for a series of these lengthening through the spine. Then I moved to his side, but now I was looking for the next level of criterion in the head lowering. It was no longer enough that he was dropping his head. Now I wanted him to drop his head AND give to the side I was on. In other words I was looking for the same lateral give that I would have been looking for if I had had a rein in my hand.
At this point I could stroke along his top line and down the backside of his hindquarters. He dropped his head, but I didn’t click. He brought his head up. I re-cued head lowering by stroking my arm over his hindquarters. He dropped his head and gave slightly to the side – a lucky discovery in his part.
Immediately I clicked and treated.
I stroked again, and he dropped his head and gave into the left bend. Click and treat. What a smart horse! Our communication was expanding. Each criterion we added gave us another bit of “syntax” to weave into the conversation we were having.
Do Not Enter Signs
It was time to ask him if he was ready to take down another of his KEEP OUT – NO TRESPASSING ALLOWED signs.
This one was on his belly. As I also stroked along his back with one hand, I tried stroking along his sternum with the other. He hunched up away from my hand. This reaction revealed the kind of tension that can turn into a buck under saddle.
I eased my hand back. He could tell me when he was ready. When he dropped his head, click and treat, I returned to the stretch forward. I was telling him once again that I wouldn’t proceed without his permission.
Permission granted. He took down the first of his signs. I could stroke his belly. He signaled his content by dropping his head and giving into the bend. Click, treat, and walk off casually to give him some break time for processing all the new information.
Cues evolve in many ways. When you open yourself up to listen to your horse, you will quickly discover what it means when I say you can’t not cue.
When you are in conversation with someone, there are always subtle cues that are being exchanged. We nod our head, we smile, we add in a quick word. These simple gestures become cues that keep the conversation going. We notice them when they are absent. When you talk on the phone and the other person doesn’t say anything in the pauses you provide, you start looking at your phone to see if the call has been dropped.
Poco and I were creating our own subtle micro rhythms. We were understanding that our actions had influence. I could cue him, and he could respond by cueing me. He was showing me so clearly not only that cues evolve out of the shaping process but also that you can’t not cue. The exchange of cues goes on even when we are not consciously aware of it. When I turned our session into play time, I simply made these cues easier to spot.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this unit. These videos will give you a quick review of the work I did with Poco. The first clip was taken during the second session I did with him. I am asking him to target his nose, then his chin, and finally I can rest my head against his forehead – click and treat. (refer back to Part 10 of 12: Stepping Stones https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/09/18/)
Next came adding in duration by clicking on the exhale of his breath. (refer back to Part 10 of 12: Stepping Stones https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/09/18/)
The next video shows the release of the poll and the building of head lowering. (refer to Part 11 of 12: Moving On https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/09/19/ and this current post.)
This final video in this series shows the taking down the “Do Not Enter”signs. I’m coupling the stroking along his back and belly with head lowering.
This ends this section: Number 9: You Can’t Not Cue.
Coming Next: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 10: Playing with Chains
Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.
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Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training. If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:
This has been a great section to read and think about and as usual, you leave me wanting more! Looking forward to the next, thankyou 😊
Thanks, Rhonda. Your comments are always a lovely reinforcer.