Friday, May 29, 2015
Bella learns the hill
I planned to meet my new friend, Shari, to go for a trail ride. We rode together about a month ago, and our horses did so well together, we wanted to try it again. She keeps her horse a short distance down the street.
She has a chestnut National Show Horse named Bella, and she is simply beautiful, but she can be a handful. We rode down the hill and got a good look at the river—it was too high to cross on a pony, and she didn’t mind just riding on the hill. I told her how I liked to trot back and forth on the bottom, and we tried that, but Bella had trouble with the concept turning around and walking back. We did it over and over, and there was only a slight improvement in her behavior.
We decided to try riding up the hill—and now Bella really started to fight Shari. We didn’t get too far, and I suggested we turn around and go back down. Shari liked that idea. We walked back down without a problem.
We turned around and headed back up. Once again, Bella was fighting. About halfway up, we saw some people with a white dog. Shari recognized the dog as one that had chased Bella. She shouted out to them that her horse was bad with dogs, and sure enough—Bella had her head way up in the air and couldn’t take her eyes off it. They turned around and headed up the hill. We followed up. Soon they were out of sight, and that was a good thing.
At the very top of the hill, we turned around to go back down. Ellen calls this the “demoralization process.” Bella walked down the hill like a lady. At the bottom, we started back up, and there was a huge improvement. She mostly walked and pulled less. At the top, I asked Shari if she wanted to do it one more time, and she enthusiastically said, “Yes.”
This time, Bella was nearly perfect down and back up again. I think when she realized that she may not go home when she goes up, she no longer had a reason to prance. She was completely demoralized.
All along, Cole was amazing. Fractious horses tend scare him. Not once did he throw up his head, cringe or even side step away from her. This was good training for him, too.
During the ride, I explained to Shari how clicker training works and how it would help her with this problem. Basically, when Bella walked quietly, Shari could click her to reward her for the right behavior. I think I may have converted her.
Back at the barn, it was time to see how MerryLegs does with traffic.
I walked him down the driveway, and he was scared of the garbage cans, so I urged him to touch them, and he was fine after that. Then we stood there and watched cars. After a few cars, I walked him back to the barn, turned him around and down the driveway, again. We did that once more for good measure. I think he saw at least 10 cars and never flinched. I did ask him to lower his head when they approached to get him to focus on me, and that may have helped. I rewarded a head lowering with a click, of course. MerryLegs passed his traffic test with flying colors.
Our other big event was hoof practice. I got him to lift each front foot 10 times in a row—and he was really good towards the end of it. I only needed to lightly touch his leg. When I worked on this on the weekend, I struggled a lot to get multiple lifts. He seemed to believe that only once was necessary—which it usually is, but not if you want to practice. I like that I can see such quick improvements.