The Goat Diaries – Day 6: Staying Positive with Constructional Training

Constructional Training

I’m a clicker trainer. The work I do sits under the umbrella of The Click That Teaches. Those are both labels I’m very comfortable with, but for years people have said I need to give my work a different name.

“It’s so much more than just clicker training,” they say to me. They are referring to my emphasis on balance.  When we do a summing up at the end of clinics, someone will always say there is so much more to clicker training than they had ever imagined.  So perhaps it isn’t that I need a different name for my work. Perhaps I just need to help people see the depth and breadth of what clicker training can do.

In any case I have tried on many names over the years. One of my favorites is “Constructional Training”.  That comes via Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz from the field of Behavior Analysis.  My translation of this term is this: Complex behaviors are created from smaller components.  When I teach these smaller components first, it becomes easy to ask for the larger, goal behavior.  So I construct complex behaviors from smaller building blocks.

I also want to construct behaviors before I use them.  If I haven’t taught the goats how to soften and yield to the contact of the lead, or how to follow a target, or how to stay by my side, then it isn’t fair game to ask them to walk beside me on a lead.  If they charge ahead of me, and I use the lead to stop them, I’m being a negatively-focused trainer.  I’m using the lead to try to stop a behavior I don’t like.

But if I’ve taught them the components, then I can ask them to back up and come forward in response to cues.  Leading becomes a dance – and in great dancing both partners respond to one another.  They listen to one another.  Both partners direct the flow.  If my partner misses a cue and rushes ahead of me, I can redirect him into another direction.  I’m asking for a known behavior which my partner has learned leads to positive reinforcement.  Constructional training takes me to the dance.  And the dance helps me be a more positive partner for my animal learner.

All of this sounds very grand.  But really it is very simple.  With the goats I was building the components I would need for us to be successful venturing out into the larger spaces of the barn aisle, the arena, and eventually the great outdoors.  Leading was high on the priority list.  These goats would be going home in just a few days, back to the children who were leasing them.  They would be going to the county fair, and hopefully they would know how to lead and not be one of the goats who was dragging his child across the show ring (or being dragged by the child).

We’ve reached Day 6 of their stay with me.  In this report I’ll be illustrating what it means to be a constructional trainer.  In the previous posts I described how I introduced both goats to platforms and to the beginning of leading.  At the start of Day 6 I continued with Pellias’ platform training.

The July Goat Diaries Day 6 7/9/17 Sunday

9 am session:  I was learning from previous experience.  I made sure to give the goats plenty of time for their breakfast before asking them to concentrate on training.  By the time I was ready to play, they were lying down side by side having a nap. I scattered some hay stretcher pellets on the floor as a distraction while I went outside to set up the platforms.

Goats lying down by bucket.png

For P I set out both platforms and the ground poles as before, but the platforms were closer together so I could film. P was ready to play, and he did great.  I could move several steps away, and he stayed put.  I loved the consistency P was beginning to show.  Instead of stretching out to try to get to my treats, he was standing in great balance.

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 1

When I rattled the target, he changed platforms readily.  He had lots of energy which he was learning to control. I liked seeing him move at speed to the next platform, and even more I liked seeing him transform that energy into an ability to stand still on the mat.

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 2.png

Back and forth between the platforms, I was seeing lots of energy.

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 4.png

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 5.png

He was such fun to watch as he leapt into the air to bounce from one mat to another.

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 6.png

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 7.png

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 8.png

A couple of times he missed or came off the platform. I waited, and he turned away from me and landed on the platform – excellent. It seems as though he is really getting the game.

The Goat Palace Journal Dec 23

That initial introduction to the platform has evolved into what I am working on now.  I am using Michele Pouliot’s platform training as my model.  I introduced Michele in a previous post.  In her position of the Director of Research and Development at Guide Dogs for the Blind, she transformed their training program.  Now all the dogs at that school learn their guide work via clicker training.  In her free time Michele’s training hobby is canine musical freestyle.

Michele is a creative, inventive trainer.  Lots of us use mats and platforms in our training.  Michele took the idea of using platforms and developed it into a fabulous process for teaching the body orientation and cued positions she wants for freestyle.  With the horses I make extensive use of multiple mats, but I have used them in a very different way from Michele’s work.  With the goats I wanted to explore more directly Michele’s use of platforms.

For step by step instructions for platform training for dogs I’ll direct you to her DVD on platform training which you can find on her web site: MichelePouliot.com

One of the key ingredients of her approach is you want an animal that is magnitized to the platform.  If your dog, goat or guinea pig sees a platform, he’s on it.  Forget trying to pick up a platform to move it.  Your animal will already be on it.  I definitely had that!  In fact I had it with all four goats.  The lessons I’ve described in previous posts had created super magnitized mats and super eager-to-play goats.

So in July you could say I began the initial construction of platform behavior.  Now I was continuing that process.  Those early lessons let me construct this current layer.  What I’m building now will become the components for the next project, and on it goes.

So what am I doing?  Here’s my set up for Pellias and Elyan: at the near end of the hallway I set out two the narrow platforms side by side.  In the middle I have the a single platform next to which I hang a stationary target.  Actually this target is not all that stationary since it is hung from the rafters so it swings after they touch it.  Pellias’ hanging target is a giant kong toy.  Elyan’s is another dog toy, a dumbell with tennis balls at either end.  The storage box is at the far end of the hallway, so I have three stations set up.

I’ve been working them individually in this lesson.  Normally it is Pellias who goes first.  He goes immediately to one of the narrow platforms with a very expectant air of I’m here!  Let’s play.  And that’s exactly what we do.  We play.

I have four positions that we’re working on:

“Front” – I stand directly in front of Pellias as he stands all four feet on the platform.

“Side” – I stand by his left side.

“Off” – This one will only make sense to horse people.  I stand on by his right side.  In the horse world that’s referred to as the off side.  Left and right would confuse me, but my brain can keep track of the off side so that’s what I’m using.

“Behind” – I stand in front of Pellias but with my back turned to him.

I also want “Ahead”, but I will probably need to use a target to get this one.

I generally begin with “Front”.  I say “front” as I stand in the position.  Click, treat. Repeat.  Then I shift to the other mat.  “Front” – Pellias shifts with me.  Click, treat.  From here I can shift into other positions.  I can step to either side of him.  As I do, I identify the position.  Or I might step to the opposite end of one of the mats so Pellias has to spin 180 degrees around to face me.

He’s gotten very good at following me and shifting position as needed and also staying put and letting me change position around him.  The idea is I will eventually be able to fade out the mats, and he will move into the cued orientations.  Time will tell what dots he connects.  For now it is keeping us both well entertained.

When we have done a good unit on these two platforms, I move to the middle platform and Pellias follows.  I don’t want to get him stuck and only able to work on the two platforms so it’s important to have these multiple stations.  On the middle platform he gets reinforced for touching the hanging target.

From the middle platform we head to the box.  On the box I reinforce him for body contact.  Then it’s back to the middle platform, and then on to the two narrow platforms.

With Elyan I am doing a similar lesson.  The difference between the two is Elyan is much wigglier in a younger brother sort of way.  I have no idea which one is the younger twin, but the difference in actual age is measured in minutes.  The difference in emotional age is much greater.  Elyan is the little brother bouncing up and down excited that Santa is coming.  Pellias is the older, wiser brother who pretends he’s not excited that Christmas is here.  I find them both charming.

So I am busy constructing behavior.  With horses I have built component behaviors that are similar to the ones I am teaching the goats, but not in this way.  I am very much looking forward to seeing how this unfolds.  It is fun working with an animal that not only is the size of a dog, but in so many ways moves like a dog.  That means I can more directly explore some of these techniques that canine clicker trainers have developed.  It is great fun to take someone’s good work and then to see what your own learners do with it.  And then it will be interesting what I take back to the horses.

Happy New Year Everyone!  May you construct great things from the gifts your animal friends give you.

Coming Next: Train Where You Can

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

JOYFull Horses: Cue Communication continued: Part 4 – Capture the Saddle – A Targeting Game

Constructional Training

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

Robin wwylm facing very connected good at 12.06.42 PM

Photo 1.) Why would you leave me? At this point in the lesson, Robin’s answer would be: I can’t think of a single reason. I’m happy to stay right here by your side.

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.

Capture the saddle with owner -baseline

Photo 2.) Getting a Baseline.

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.

capture the saddle overswings with owner 2

Photo 3.) This is a horse who doesn’t understand mounting blocks.

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.

capture saddle baseline b

Photo 4.) We want to go from this . . .

capture saddle baseline c good

Photo  5.) . . . to this.

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

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.

Capture the Saddle approach mounting block baseline 4

Photo 9

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.

Photos 10-12

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.

Photos 13-16

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.

Photos 17-20.)

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)

Photos 21-22

As he comes past me again on his left side, I LET GO OF THE REIN.  (Photo 23)

capture the saddle 17 close up

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.

Capture the Saddle approach mounting block 18

Photo 24.)

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.

Photo 25-27.)

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.)

Photos 28-30.)

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.)

Capture the Saddle approach mounting block 26

(Photo 31.)

(Photo 32.) The answer is – not yet.

Capture the Saddle approach mounting block 27

(Photo 32.)

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.)

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.)

Photos 37-38.)

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!

Photos 39-40

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.)

Photos 41-44

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.)

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.

Photo 48-49

It’s time for a break.

Capture the Saddle approach mounting block 45

Photo 50

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.)

Photos 51-54

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.)

Icky mounting block - hands up

55.) This horse is bringing the saddle to his rider’s 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

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.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOYFULL Horses: Mat Manners

In the previous installment I introduced you to constructional training.  I used the runway lesson to teach your horse to step on a mat.  Instead of going directly to the mat, you first taught your horse the skills he’d need to make this an easy lesson.

So now you have a horse who is eager to get to his mat.  He isn’t just gingerly stepping a toe onto the edge of the mat, he’s rushing ahead to get to it.  Hurray!  You’re part way through this lesson.

For every exercise you teach there is an opposite exercise you must teach to keep things in balance. 

The mat lesson helps you understand the importance of this statement.  You’ve got a horse who is eager to get to the mat.  Now you need to explain that you’d like him to walk with you to the mat.

Robin runway walk casually to it 2016-06-22 at 2.34.16 PM

Robin shows his great mat manners, walking with me to the mat.

Robin halt on mat 2016-06-22 at 2.34.39 PM

He lands on the mat in beautiful balance.  He’s going to continue to be our equine teacher for this lesson.  In the following photos you’ll see how to build great mat manners.

Mat Manners
You’re now ready for the next level in this “runway” game.

You want a horse who is eager to get to the mat, who regards it as a fun place to be, a place where lots of good things happen, but you also want a horse who walks with you to the mat.  You don’t want your co-pilot taking over complete control.  You still want to make some of the decisions.   So now if he starts to grab the throttle stick from you, you can use your “needle point” skills to ask him to stop and back up.

I know that’s mixing a lot of metaphors.  Let’s see how this works.

Robin mat back one step 2 2016-06-22 at 4.16.26 PM

Robin and I are practicing our “needlepoint”.  I’m asking for a single step back. (Refer to the previous post: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/06/21)

Rushing doesn’t lead to the mat.  It leads to needle point.  But needle point is not a bad thing.  Your co-pilot understands what is wanted.  I tend not to click for course corrections.  So that first backing step won’t be rewarded with a click and a treat.  But when we’re back on pattern, and I ask for the next step, perhaps asking now for one green stitch forward – that I’ll click and treat.

Robin walk one step to mat 2016-06-22 at 4.18.01 PM

In the “needlepoint” part of the runway lesson I’m asking Robin for one step forward.

Robin walk off to mat 2016-06-22 at 4.18.14 PM

After a click and a treat, I release him to the mat.

We’re back in sync with one another, still a few steps away from our landing pad.  I’ll release the controls to my co-pilot, and we’ll walk together with slack in the lead.  I won’t need to help him get to the mat.  He knows how to land our little craft.  He stops, perhaps not perfectly square yet, but with both feet on the mat.  Click and treat!

Robin on mat grups 2016-06-22 at 2.56.18 PM

Again, he lands beautifully on the mat.

And now the game changes yet again.  I want the mat to be a versatile tool.  I want my horse to remain on the mat while I move around him, or even away from him.  The mat provides the foundation for what is referred to in the horse world as ground tying – the horse stays on the spot where you left him as though he was tied.

Robin on mat grups at distance 2016-06-22 at 2.56.57 PM

The mat is a great tool for teaching ground tying.

101 Things
So the new game becomes “101 things a handler can do while a horse stays on a mat.”

This is a variation on the theme of a game which many canine clicker trainers play with their dogs.  It’s called “101 Things a Dog Can Do With A Box”. The handler presents a dog with a box.  Each novel behavior the dog offers gets clicked.  So if the dog sniffs the box, he gets clicked.   If he sniffs it again, he doesn’t get reinforced.  But if he paws the box with his right front foot, he does.  Now if he sniffs the box or paws it with his right front – nothing.  But if he changes and paws with his left front, click and treat.

This was a popular game early on amongst canine clicker trainers, but for a lot of reasons I never played an equine version of it.  One of the more fuddy-duddy reasons was I really didn’t want my horses learning all the creative things they can do either with their bodies or with things.  I didn’t want them thinking they can do fancy leaps into the air with me on their backs or open their stall door latches whenever it pleased them.  If they discovered these talents on their own, so be it, but I didn’t need to be an accomplice in this kind of cleverness. (That’s especially true when it comes to stall latches!)

So 101 things was out for my horses, but it is very much in for the handlers.  I need them to be creative.  So the game becomes – every time your horse lands back on the mat, you have to come up with a new behavior a handler can do while a horse stands on a mat.

At first this is easy.  Your horse lands on the mat, and you might ask him questions about handling his mane.  Will he continue to stand on the mat while you run your fingers through his mane?  Yes.  Click and treat.  Repeat this several times and then walk off casually back around to the top of the runway.

Robin toss rope 2016-06-22 at 2.38.14 PM

I begin by “parking” Robin by tossing the lead over his neck.  Draping the lead over his neck quickly becomes a cue to stand.

Robin on mat play with mane 2016-06-22 at 2.57.44 PM

With Robin “parked” on the mat, I can begin the “101 things a handler can do while a horse stands on a mat” lesson. In this round of the game I am stroking his mane.  The lead rests over his neck in the “parked” position.  I’m not holding on to it, but I can easily pick it up should he walk off.

Next time you get back to the mat, you have to think of something else to do.  It could be you simply expand running your fingers through his mane to stroking down his neck and along his shoulder.  Or you could decide to play the game more like “101 things you can do with a box”.  You stroked his mane in the last round, so now you’re going to think up a completely different sort of behavior.  “Will you stand on the mat while I bend down to tie my shoe?  Oh, I don’t have shoe laces!  Never mind my shoe still needs to be checked.”

Robin on mat tie shoes 2016-06-22 at 3.00.36 PM

“Will you stand still while I tie my shoe?”  Yes, click then feed.

Most people can easily play a couple rounds of this game but then they begin to get stuck for ideas.  They are too much in their “horse-training” head.   They’ve already stroked their horse from head to tail and picked up all four feet. What else can they do?  They are running out of ideas.

The Opposite of Flooding
Time to channel their inner child or their inner kindergarten teacher.  You can ask your horse for horsey things like dropping his head, or putting his ears forward, or letting you walk behind him and groom his tail.

Robin on mat ask for foot 2 2016-06-22 at 2.39.13 PM

While Robin stands on a mat, I can ask for horsey things. In this case I am touching him at his elbow as a cue for him to lift his foot.

Robin on mat knee target 2016-06-22 at 2.39.27 PM

As Robin lifts his foot, I have him target his knee to my hand.

Robin on mat take foot 2016-06-22 at 2.41.41 PM

From here it is easy to ask him to target his foot to my hand.  (This is an easy way to teach a horse to pick up his feet.)

You can play silly games with your horse.  Can he stand still while you run around pretending to be an airplane?  Bzzzz, Bzzz – coming in for a crash landing into the mountain (horse).  Click and treat.

Robin on mat airplane 1 2016-06-22 at 3.03.26 PM

When you run out of “horse training” games, you can play silly ones.  In this case I’m pretending to be an airplane.  I even include the sound effects of a buzzing  engine.

Robin on mat hug 1 2016-06-22 at 3.04.16 PM

My favorite kind of “crash landing”.

I love watching the horses watch the people.  This is the best entertainment they’ve had in years!  What will their human do next!?

Robin on mat airplane rgt side 2016-06-22 at 3.03.56 PM

Robin isn’t sure what to make of my behavior.  What a very strange human!

 

This type of training is done routinely when you are prepping a youngster for riding.  The handler waves things around and jumps up and down.  The goal is to desensitize the horse so he doesn’t spook at unexpected movement.  But instead of creating an entertaining game for the horse, it is often done with flooding.

Here’s an example of how flooding works.  Suppose a horse is afraid of flapping saddle blankets.  He scoots away.  The blanket pursues him, matching him move for move until finally he gives up and stands still.  Next comes another scare, this time it might be an umbrella opening and closing in his face.  The horse learns he can’t escape.  The best he can do is stop.  That makes the umbrella go away  – for the moment, but it is back again in the next instant.  He learns finally that no matter what happens, no matter how afraid he is, he can’t get away.  He gives up and stands still while the handler flaps tarps around his body, and up over his head, covering his eyes so he cannot see to run even if he wanted to.  He’s given up flight because he has given up.

The handler isn’t playing, except maybe at being a “horse trainer”.  And this most certainly is not a game for the horse.

I want to create something very different for the horses I interact with.  It needs to be play for both of us.  I want my horse to know that he does have a choice.  His voice most certainly counts.

Teaching the skills you need before you use them; building success and confidence through patterned exercises; and – most important – really listening to your horse helps transform these lessons into true play for both of you.

Playing with Language
I’ve written about mats many times.  I’ve described in detail the rope handling techniques that are used.  I’ve referred to the runway image.  (I definitely spend too much time in airports.  I can rarely teach a weekend clinic without making some reference to airplane travel.)  I’ve also referenced the needle point image because to me this section of the lesson always makes me think of the fine, detailed work that needle point represents.

What I haven’t done before is used quite so much of this type of imagery in describing the lesson.  My point is not to force you into a mold where you have to be thinking – okay what colour thread am I supposed to be picking up and why?  If you’ve never done needle point or other fine detailed handiwork, this image will feel foreign and forced.  If you haven’t traveled on as many airplanes as I have over the last few years, the runway image may not jump out at you as you set your cones out in a V.

My point is not to get you using these images.  My point is to get you thinking creatively, with imagination.  That’s what takes you far, far away from the mind set of do-it-or-else training.

airplane landing.png

Coming Next: Transforming Horse Training Into Play

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.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “Joyful Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com