Thursday, September 25, 2008

Video Update

I took a long weekend away, so that meant Bo did, too. While I vacationed in Maine, Bo went back to his former owner's place where he spent time with his former stablemates. He came back home fresh as a daisy and ready to go back to clicker training.

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. 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)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Wow, what a pony! I don't want to brag but -- aw, heck, yes, I do want to brag. Each day this horse amazes me. He picks up on things so quickly. And he's very good at correlating what he learns on one side to the other side.

Monday morning I went out to work with Bo for a few minutes before turning him out in his morning paddock. We started with touching his target, then moved on to leading with the target. Easy-peasy. I wasn't looking to challenge him, just play a bit before turnout.

Then I thought I'd ask him to bend his neck to touch his target when held near his side. It only took a few repetitions before he started moving his body and I had him follow the target in a circle. Wow, kinda cool. I found I was quickly able to fade out the target and just use my hand as a signal to pirouette. I added walk by my side, now pirouette to the left and return to walking by my side. I reinforced this lesson on Monday night and again Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday night, I took a chance and introduced pirouette to the right. This caused Bo a bit of confusion and frustration, but he stuck with it and I got several successful reps out of him before quitting. This morning I went over the pirouette right several times, and he seemed to have the idea well in hand. So of course I pushed the envelope and chained together walk forward, pirouette right, walk forward, pirouette left. I had my son video us tonight doing this chain, and you can see that video here:

This is all just in the last three days. In addition, Bo has learned to stand on a mat, follow a target, chase a target, and trot in hand on a loose lead. He's jumped ditches and banks, and met alpacas. We dabbled in long lining this week, as weel. After all, he's going to be a driving horse.

We keep very busy. He loves the training, and because he's so quick, I love training him.

Check back again soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Penny Drops

Today Bo experienced the Grand A-ha! Today, he connected his behavior to the click and reward. The lightbulb went on and it's burning brightly. I always love this point in training, when you see that your trainee finally gets it.

During the week, Bo's general behavior has improved. He's stopped mugging, and he's taking treats much more politely. He was a bit of a grabber. In other words, he got the idea that mugging didn't produce the desired results (food), and he no longer felt the need to grab food aggressively because he understood that the click was a promise that the treat was coming. So today I re-introduced the target.

Bo would touch the target when I offered it in my hand, and he would follow it down to the ground and side to side and touch it as well. But when I dropped it to the ground, he had a hard time dropping his head down to touch. He was conflicted about moving his head away from me, the vending machine, to touch the target. But if you offer and wait long enough, eventually your trainee will give it a try and -- JACKPOT! After a few more touches, I was able to roll the target away and he would follow it for the touch. He now loves his target and gets truculent when I finish our session. (We did four sessions just today!) I've attached a picture of Bo touching his target.

Busy First Week

Bo has now been with me for a little over a week and we've been very busy. Every morning I turn him out for a few hours in the paddock at the top of the hill. At mid-day I bring him down to his stall and yard. We got the yard enclosed with an electric tape fence, which he's learned to respect. He seems to like the option of having his stall as a run-in area, and I as often find him in his stall as outside.

Bo is now looking forward to my frequent visits to the barn. He now follows me along the electric fence when I walk by, whereas only days ago he would ignore me. He comes right into the stall to see what I have for him to do.

Bo and I take one to two walks a day up the road. These walks are for his (and my) fitness, but they're also an opportunity for teaching Bo exactly what I expect of him. In this case, I expect him to walk beside me on whichever side I'm holding his lead, with his head even with my hip. I like to be able to see him peripherally. He's not to cross either behind or in front of me, and he's to maintain the speed I pick, no rushing forward or lagging behind. And finally, I want him walking on a loose lead, no pressure either from me or him. To that end, I click and reward him when he is in the desired position. This has kept him engaged with me while walking, and I only have to make minor adjustments now.

A few days ago, Bo finally got to see the neighbor's horses and they saw him. Bo was excited to see any horse (he's the only equine on my farm at the moment), and the neighbor horses were typically excited by a stranger who also happens to be the size of a golden retriever. This excitement offered a great training opportunity for Bo. He was allowed to stand and get a good look at the neighbors, and he could even call out to them, but I expected him to stand at my side and keep his feet still. I clicked/rewarded him for being in the proper position, and corrected him and put him back in position when his emotions took over. I was very pleased with his responses.

Last night Bo had the opportunity to perform one of his responsibilities on the farm: he's equine ambassador for non-horsepeople visitors. We had my husband's boss over for dinner, and Bo charmed him just by being cute. His small stature makes him perfect for non-horsepeople to feel comfortable.

Friday, September 5, 2008

First Official Clicker Lesson

Although I've been clicking Bo on our walks, I hadn't formally introduced him to the clicker game before tonight. After dinner, I went out to the barn armed with a bag of cut up carrot pieces and a target, a dog toy from my border collie's toy box. I had decided that tonight's lesson would be targeting, the typical beginning clicker training lesson.

The lesson started very well. He was touching the target within just a couple of tries, and he was keen to get his treat. As a matter of fact, a bit too keen. He knew where those treats were coming from and decided to cut out the middle man (the target), and was vigorously mugging. Although this is not as big a problem with a 300-pound horse as it is with a 1000-pound one, a horse is a horse is a horse, and he must be treated as such. So, as is very common, the original lesson plan of targeting quickly morphed into a no mugging lesson.

Did I mention that Bo is a bright little button? Ordinary intelligence in a horse works well with clicker training, but the really bright ones are so rewarding for the trainer. And Bo is one of those bright bulbs. To stop the mugging, I put my body in a neutral position, with my arms crossed across my chest and I waited. At first I waited for Bo to simply turn his nose away from my body and the treat bag -- click/reward. Before long, I was able to also wait for quiet feet (he paws a lot when frustrated) as well as quiet head (head tosses are another way of venting). I realized he was very much cuing into my body position of arms crossed, and he was quickly adopting the standing still with his head in front to earn his treat. You see what I mean about the bright ones rewarding the trainer?

Additionally, I threw in a little "walk by my side" request, as well as step backwards when I do, both of which he picked right up.

I finished up then and gave him his night hay. I hope he'll munch hay and let his clicker lessons percolate. I'm looking forward to a couple more formal clicker lessons tomorrow. I'll let you know what happens.

Getting to Know Bo

Bo has been home here for two days now. He arrived Wednesday night after dark, so he had to stay in the stall overnight. He's living in a big 5-stall barn all by himself. He seems to be fairly happy on his own, only calling out occasionally. We do have a few other horses within sight and earshot, but I haven't heard them answer Bo's calls.

I'm out to the barn several times a day to see Bo and interact with him. I'm currently his only "herd", so I want to visit with him as often as possible. We have established morning and evening walks down the road, both to start work on his fitness and lose a little weight, and to reinforce good leading skills. His leading skills are currently pretty good, and he is responding well to pressure/release of pressure so for the most part he is walking on a loose lead at my side. We have a small running creek on the property, and he is willing to walk through that with no drama. Yay! A good lesson for a future driving horse.

The first day Bo was rather stand-offish. By getting down and observing his facial expressions, I could see he wasn't real keen on being touched. I've often wondered how minis felt about being touched constantly, especially from above, without any kind of permission. Bo, and I assume most minis, tolerate this invasion (heck, they don't know any differently), but he displays his displeasure with a wrinkled nostril and occasionally swings his head in a threat to bite. So I am curbing my impulse to cuddle him until he knows me better.

Today, day 2, I did find a spot on his neck that he really likes scratched. He arches and leans into my fingers, lips twitching, and he even offered to give me some mutual grooming today. I think he is starting to warm up to me.