Paddock Games, 11-5 & 6, 2013

Yesterday and today (and other days, too), Atty and I have played with standing on a board. It’s a vinyl fence board about six (or maybe only five) inches wide and about eight feet long. He can easily get his front feet on it, either standing perpendicular to it or even nearly parallel to it. He readily offers the front feet. Getting the hind feet on it is trickier.

Yesterday, I had him walk to it from either direction so that he’d be perpendicular to it and let him station on it with his front feet. I do CT that fairly well. Then I asked him to walk forward so that his hind feet could find the board. This is harder for him. It may have to do with the color of it since it’s a medium brownish grey and is a close match to the ground. But he tries hard.

Then I’ll ask him to walk forward again so that he can try backing onto it. He’s usually successful eventually in either direction. But it’s clear that it’s either harder for him or it just doesn’t have the appeal that putting the front feet on it has.

Today, we played with the board again in the same way and we’re just taking our time and experimenting with it.

I also wanted to clean his feet and put No Thrush in them and had thought that we could do that in the wash stall.

I went away to get more treats and heard him stationing on the board while I was gone. It’s a clear “thunk” when he steps on the board.

When I got back and he was still offering to stand on the board, I changed my plan from working on his feet in the wash stall to doing that while he stationed on the board. Why not use that behavior to my advantage?

He has a tendency to stand on the board in such a way that his heels are off and his foot is not level. At first I let him do it that way, but I don’t think it was all that comfortable or balanced. I started to place his feet so that the heel was supported by the board. I only had to do that a couple of times with each front foot and he soon changed his own positioning. I love watching him figure that out.

Sometimes he stands in a diagonal position relative to the board but in an awkward sort of way. So we practiced his moving his hips toward me using our cue of my tapping his hip twice.

He was good about my messing with his front feet, but not so great with the hinds. This is somewhat typical for him and I think that the change of being in the paddock on the board sort of “helped” him revert to previous unsteady behavior. We then practiced the beginning baby steps of giving of the hind feet. I lightly touch a hock and I only want him to off-weight that leg. If the heel rocks up and forward so that only the toe is touching the ground in the “hip shot” position, that’s fine, too. Then I can pick the leg up myself. I’d rather do that with the hinds than have him snap his hind feet up and under the body and be really tight and tense about it.

His willingness, even eagerness, to station on the board and his enthusiasm for standing on the pedestal got me wondering. What is it about stationing or standing on a pedestal that is so rewarding for them? Is it because the behavior is so, so clear to them as to what they’re supposed to do and how? If that’s the case, then how can I be more clear, crystal clear, to him about other behaviors that I want? How do I need to set things up so that he clearly knows what he’s supposed to do?

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About Laurie Higgins

I play with clicker training - with my horses, dogs, and cats. I also attempt to grow vegetables with the hope of one day being able to feed my family from my garden. My daughter and I are learning ballroom dancing. Well, we were. But she left me for a paying horse job, so now my husband and I are learning ballroom dancing. I'm also now helping Peggy Hogan, of Clicker Training Horses (and The Best Whisper is a Click) to teach people how to train their own horses using "clicker training".
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