Saturday, December 20, 2008
To catch you up, here's what Bo is now doing. In agility, he has two jumps, a teeter board, and a set of cones for weaving. We worked on each piece individually, then started linking pieces of equipment together. At this point, he can weave through his cones, jump two jumps, then walk his teeter board. He really likes this physically active type of work. We do all this out in the round pen.
However, the weather is often icky, so we do a lot of work in the barn aisle. I bought interlocking foam mats in bright colors to work on in the barn, and Bo loves his mats. When I come into the barn in the morning and open his stall door, he comes out and goes straight to the "play" area. He wants to do something. He'll stand in the middle of these mats and wait for me while I clean his stall and putter around. If I peek out at him, he will offer a behaviour -- his latest favorite being a rear. There he is standing in the middle of the barn aisle, and he starts to gather himself to stand on his hind legs.
Now this may not sound so good, and I had to think long and hard before I started capturing the rear. But it is something he likes to do naturally. What I'm careful of is to only reward a rear when he's given a specific cue. It's taken a week or so, but I think he gets it. And with rear, I both start and finish with submission positions of head down and bow.
Which brings me to the title of this post. I've been working in earnest on bow with Bo since Thanksgiving weekend (within the limitations of the season -- see above). Prior to that I was trying to shape individual bits of head down and lift leg and push back, but it was not going so well. He'd just back up. My sister was here visiting for Thanksgiving, and she suggested baiting him with a carrot between his legs. I'm not keen on baiting, but what the heck, the shaping wasn't working for us, so I gave it a try. If I lifted his leg, then baited, he figured out how to get everything else where it needed to be, and allowed me to lower him to his knee. All right, success!
Well, sort of. He was relying on me to lift his leg, or more accurately, hold it up. He would happily lift his foreleg and curl it tightly to his belly, but when it came time to head down and shift weight backwards, he'd put his foot back down, his front legs spread in a wide V, often backing up. If I just put my left hand out flat and supported his pastern, he would head down and shift weight back and allow me to lower his knee to the ground, no problem. That gave us the final outcome of a bow, but I just wasn't happy with all my intervention. So I made a concerted effort this week to fade out my touching his leg at all.
At this point, his cue for bow was I would be on my knees on Bo's left side. I'm right handed and it just was easier for me. I would touch him in the girth area behind his elbow, and he would lift and curl his left front leg. To get his head down and start the shift backward, I baited him with a carrot in my right hand, tapping under his belly to lure him down. To ensure he kept his foreleg up, I would support the pastern with the palm of my left hand, and with the luring would lower his knee to the mat. From there, I would click and treat him with his head still down hunting that carrot under his chest.
Another aspect I wasn't happy with was the baiting/luring was causing him to bite. He was making jabs and grabs, and I got nipped a few times. Being a stallion, he's already prone to biting, and this whole scene was encouraging it even more. So it was important to me to fade out all this contact I was having with him.
First I ditched the left-hand support of his foreleg. He was lifting it himself and curling it tight against his body, so it was time to take off the training wheels, so to speak. I simply refused to touch or hold his leg up, and each time he stepped backward I would simply reposition him and try again, still luring with the carrot. This took about three sessions for him to accept that the only way to a treat was to go down on his knee under his own power. He's a smart little guy, and he made the transition. Now it was time to end the luring.
This wasn't as hard as I thought it might be, and the results are great. The snarky biting has subsided to almost nothing. I still cue him with a light scritch to the belly/girth area, and continue that until he drops to his knee and has his nose well down on the ground or under him. I then give him the treat in that position to reinforce that's where I want him to be.
Now for the "Out of the Blue" part. Tonight I went out to the barn to bring Bo in for bed. I worked with him a bit on bow and head down, and he did both very nicely with a few reps of each. So I got up to get his brush to do some grooming. I brushed his left side a bit and then went round to his right and worked on his neck a few strokes and moved back toward his shoulder and ribs. As I scratched the brush down and behind his elbow, he lifted his right fore. Hmmm, interesting. I got down on my knees to brush the feathers of his front legs, and he was trying to grab the brush. At one point, he dropped his head low and back between his front legs in the obeisance bow position. Again, interesting. I ran the brush under his belly, and the front leg came up and the head bobbed down tentatively. This is getting very interesting. So I abandoned the brush altogether and gave him the scritches on his belly/girth. Up went his RIGHT foreleg, head down, shift weight back and down onto his knee. Holy Cow! He's not supposed to be able to do that! I've never worked with him on bow from his right side. As a matter of fact, he went down to both knees and held that position for the first click and treat, and continued to hold while I madly fished in my pocket for more carrots, the last few I had and would normally have saved to put in his hay bowl as a goodnight treat.
I was so excited. I was babbling away to Bo, telling him how clever he is, giving him strokes and scritchies. Everything I've read says you have to teach horses on each side, that their brains aren't wired to correlate a behaviour from one side of the body to another. But I've always said Bo is a wiz kid of a pony. Exciting stuff.
Finally, an observation I've made over the past month. This concentration on the bow has done a couple of things. It seems to have improved his head down as well. I've been getting a head down from Bo from the first day I started cuing him, but it's been just a bob down. Along with the bow, he's now really thinking about his head down and will drop and hold it longer. And even if he pops up, I will continue cuing head down and he'll drop and hold better. I can see him really thinking about it and struggling with it, but he's improving his submission. Perhaps he has trouble with submission because he's a mature stallion before all this training started.
I'll keep you posted in the new year as to our progress. I always look forward to the day after the Winter Solstice because the days start getting longer and I'll be doing more with Bo. BTW, he has started wearing his bit. When we get out for walks, I put the bridle on, then the halter, to give him some time with the bit. And when he's out walking/trotting and looking around, he doesn't fuss with the bit as much. Once back to the barn, without any distractions, he tends to chomp and mess with the bit. I've got to get him on the road to his real horse career of driving.
Next post I should have some pics. (fingers crossed)
Monday, November 3, 2008
The pedestal work has been interesting to watch as Bo thinks about how best to place his feet to be able to balance on his pedestal. He's tried several different placements, but has now settled for a wider stance in front, with his hinds tucked up underneath him and rather close together. He's also found that arching his neck a bit and dropping his nose on the vertical helps keep him in balance.
Finally, last night I introduced Bo to leading off the ATV. I want to use the ATV to put some mileage on Bo until I can get him trained to drive. Bo's gotten a bit, um, fluffy over the last month and needs to burn off some calories. We can do both walk and trot off the ATV.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
We came home to a UPS package -- Bo's aunt in Florida (whom he's never met) had sent him a gift! Bo's aunt, actually my sister, is the owner of Over!Rover, and she manufactures beautiful dog agility equipment. http://www.overrover.com/ She's been following Bo's blog and was inspired to build a couple of jumps for Bo. I can't wait to get started on jumping.
Since our return on Tuesday night, I've worked with Bo in the barn aisle, and yesterday I took him out for the first time to the round pen. The barn aisle is devoid of distractions, but the round pen is right at the corner of the property with a very busy road and horse pasture across the street. Even though Bo has a bit of clover and other greens to pick at in the round pen, he still chose to play the clicker game. I was very pleased to see him responding so well even with the change of venue.
Last night I introduced the dressage whip to our routine. I had been considering using a whip to help direct his hips, but I knew he was a bit whip shy. However, after looking at the first video, I decided I wanted our play to look more graceful, and I think the whip has helped. Additionally, in his exuberance in the game last night, Bo gave my target hand a pretty good nip. So I have substituted the whip in hand as a target rather than my splay-fingered hand. I guess those fingers at nose height were just too tempting.
Happily, he's such a clever fellow that the switch to the whip in hand only took a couple of reinforcements (click-reward!) for him to understand.
When I first brought the whip out of the tack room, Bo turned and left me. He definitely didn't want me to be holding a stick. I approached him in the corner and I could see he was uncomfortable in the proximity of the whip. But I lightly touched him and clicked, which made him interested in what was going on. With the clicking, he was able to hang around long enough to "listen" to me and judge my intent. You can see from today's video, he has no qualms about the whip crossing over his head and across his body. I'll be working with him specifically with the whip and refining its use, which will come in very handy when we start driving.
(More to come)