Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Benefits of Clicker Training

I was riding Cole in the arena the other night, and a really nice boarder at our barn brought her horse in to lounge. She has a sweet Paint mare, that I have never seen truly misbehave, but her owner is afraid to ride her. She needs to lounge her a lot before she will ride her, and with her busy work schedule, she usually doesn’t have the time to both lounge and ride. As we all know, fear isn’t logical, and it certainly isn’t in this case.

I thought that demonstration of the usefulness of clicker training might help her. I told her that she would be less worried if she knew that, whatever she was doing, all she had to do was say “whoa,” and her mare would stop. I trotted down the wall, said “whoa,” and Cole instantly stopped. I clicked and treated him. I also explained that I don’t need to treat him every single time at this point. I just click him now and then to keep him sharp.

I then told her how he will stand until I tell him to move off—explaining how convenient this is if you are on trail and a dozen motorcycles come flying down the road. Instead of worrying if Cole will be frightened by them, I ask him to stop and stand until they pass. Since he is hoping for a click, he is more focused on me then the traffic. He has never spooked at something when I do this.

I then told her how he stands perfectly for mounting, listens to me about when to change gaits instead of following the horse ahead of him, and if he starts to get excited, I can just wiggle a rein, his head goes down and he is listening to me, again.

Then, I dismounted and showed her how he will do the same thing when I lead him if I point the whip handle towards the ground. He will keep his head down the whole time the whip is down, as if there is a rope going from the whip to his bit. (I should have shown her how he does it when we trot in hand, too.)

I didn’t think she was convinced, yet, so I got back on and started trotting him. I threw the reins down on his neck, lifted my arms in the air for a few strides and said, “whoa.” Of course he stopped. She gasped, but it turns out that she was amazed that he kept his frame in perfect self carriage with, if anything, more impulsion than when I was holding the reins. I thought about it, and got pretty amazed myself. I had to do it again to see if he would repeat his performance. This time, I trotted longer without the riens before asking him to stop. He did even better.

Still, my friend didn’t seem convinced that clicker training can do awesome things. I then tried one more thing. I told her, “Let’s say you are out on the trail and you drop something.” I then threw my whip to the ground.

Cole immediately stopped, reached down and picked the whip up. I took it out of his mouth, clicked and treated him.

She started laughing uproariously—she was so amazed. I think his trick won her over. Funny thing is, it is just a trick. All those other things are wonderful things that make him a safer horse—consequently making a more confident rider—just what my friend needs. Chances are, if I dropped something on the trail, he would reach down and probably start to graze!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Beautiful Fall Weather for Trail Riding

What a perfectly pretty November weekend in northeast Ohio. Of course, you could find me out on the trail with my Morabs. I love this weather.

Friday, I took my very last evening trail ride of the year. The time changed this weekend, and I no longer have the daylight to ride on the trail. Anyway, Cruiser made it a good one. He was energetic and silly. What else would I expect from him on a cool evening…? I rode Cole in the arena, and he wasn’t too keen on working. Before the ride, I turned him loose to play. He ran and ran and ran. I think he used most of his energy up, and didn’t have any for the ride. We did get some things accomplished, though. I will try them again, tonight, to see if he remembers them.

Saturday, I rode Cruiser with my sister and her horse Ranger. We went for about an hour and a half. It was quite chilly, and at one point, we got off to lead to warm up our toes. It was warmer when I took Cole out. He was just so perfect, I couldn’t really believe it. We mostly trotted—too and from home. The first few times I asked him to canter, he didn’t get it. Later, I asked him again—and we went right into it so beautifully…

Sunday, I took Cole with Ranger up to the show ring trails—as we do most Sundays. He gave me an A+ ride. (We like to grade our rides, and A+ doesn’t come up that often.) We trotted most of the time, and at one point, my sister asked Ranger to canter. When I asked Cole, he agreed, and once again, we had a beautiful transition. We didn’t get too far, because Ranger came back to a trot before we wanted him to. Cole had to do the same—as I didn’t want him to run past Ranger. Still, it was the first successful canter together. I then took Cruiser out for his 5-mile sprint. We met my boyfriend with Starry at the turnaround point, and we walked back with them.

My sister has a day off, tomorrow, so I took the day off, too. I am running out of vacation, but that’s the point this time of year. We are running out of good weather, too. Tomorrow promises to be another beauty.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A day off to ride

I took yesterday off from work because they were forecasting perfect weather—and they were right.

Cole and I went on a 2:37 hour ride. He wasn’t quite as good as last time—he went through a balky stage, tossed in some squeals and spins during the ride, and it took a little more work to settle down his trot towards home. We did canter 4 times for short distances, and that was really nice. He didn’t do the mad gallop that I have gotten in the past, but an actual canter. After that, he was no longer balky at the trot. He was good going past the utility workers, but he didn’t like the truck that was painting lines on the road at all. Though he could have been better, he wasn’t bad for only the 4th long ride by himself. I don’t know if I will get any more this year because the weather gets so questionable.

I took Cruiser out on a quick 5-mile. He was great, of course. He got pretty excited on the way home, because he thought he might find Starry like he did last time, so he did some pretty fast gaiting instead of walking. Finally, he passed up some horses and calmed down the rest of the way home.

I took a break for dinner with my boyfriend and then came back to feed the horses. I was exhausted after all that. I need to get into better shape!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween Rides

I took Cruiser on a quick trail ride before sunset, and we didn’t see a soul—not even the headless horseman. It was a cool and pretty evening. There are still some leaves on the trees, and they were very vibrant in the dimming light of the evening. Next weekend, the time changes, and there will be no more trail rides after work. I sure will miss them.

I then rode Cole in the arena. I had the place all to myself. We worked on a little of this and a little of that. I still can’t get him to canter, but I was able to get him to trot faster—not just bigger. I am hoping that if he figures out the speed up command, I can just keep speeding him up until he will canter. I wish I had been brave enough with this last year to introduce it then. I think he would have been more open minded. I’m getting somewhat frustrated. We are cantering a little bit on the trail, but the transitions are still explosive.

The weather is supposed to be nice tomorrow, and if I can get control of my workload, I will take the day off to take them both on a trail ride. The weekend is looking good, too, for a change.