Different Horses, Different Strategies, 1-2-14

I currently have two horses to work with, Atty and Ollie, and I decided to play with a stability ball that I bought just for them. It’s been hiding in my closet waiting for the “right” moment to finally blow it up. Ah, Number One Son is home for the holidays. Maybe I can get him to blow it up for me while I clean the paddock. Good plan!

I got this ball just for the horses because it has a pound or two of sand in it to keep it more stable and less flighty. Now that it was blown up, I took it out to the paddock to see what Atticus would do with it. I tossed it over the fence and he immediately started playing with it – nose, front feet, etc. I wasn’t able to get any video then because I just wasn’t fast enough with my cell phone. Plan B is to actually plan for this and have the camcorder ready tomorrow.

Yesterday and today I came prepared with the camcorder and treats and we played with the ball. I wanted to encourage each horse to interact with the ball in as many ways as possible. They even created a few I hadn’t thought of!

Yesterday, both horses were a bit agitated. Atty was because Ollie was still in the paddock with him and Atty didn’t like that. He spent a great deal of time and energy chasing Ollie off. I should have put Ollie in a stall. When Ollie got his turn he was a bit agitated, too. Why? It could be because I don’t play with him as much and it’s been quite awhile since I have. Also he could have been a bit frustrated to start with because of Atty’s behavior toward him. I don’t really know. I can only guess.

Today, Atty was much calmer because Ollie was in a stall and not encroaching on his territory; Atty didn’t have to resource guard me and the treats against Ollie. Ollie was much calmer probably because he got to play for a second day.

One of the things I wanted to try to do, especially today, was to get each of them to kick the ball forward. Atty is pretty well entrenched into snagging the ball with a front foot and pulling the ball backward. This then gives us other things to explore with the ball and that’s fun, too, but I wanted to see if I could get him to change his focus. I wasn’t all that successful. But he was calmer!

With Ollie, I was able to get him to kick the ball forward with his front feet. I think there were a few things different and may have been favorable to this result. For one thing, Ollie is very, very fast horse! I need to keep the Rate of Reinforcement (RoR) up pretty high when learning something new or he starts throwing all sorts of behaviors at me pretty fast, he gets frantic, and then we both get frustrated.

Ollie can also “thin-slice” his own behavior pretty well if I’m fast enough to catch it. That is, he’ll give me the tiniest bits of behavior to work with. So I was able to click and treat fast enough that he started to slow down and then I could catch smaller pieces of behavior. This helped me to catch the beginnings of moving a leg rather than catching him after he’d gotten a foot on the ball.

The other thing I discovered rather by accident is that if I stand by his shoulder/neck and face forward and walk very slowly, he will too and then I can catch and reward what Peggy Hogan calls “the Bridesmaid Walk”. I will have to try this tomorrow with Atticus.

So watch all four videos and notice the differences. 🙂

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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