Friday, August 5, 2016

Starry Stalls

Starry Stalls

I have mentioned how much Starry loves Dante.  Well, it has gotten totally out of hand.  One morning, Kevin and Ellen went for a ride without me.  Kevin wanted to lead because Starry is a faster horse, but Starry would have nothing to do with that idea.  Starry insisted on following Dante.

They tried everything they could think of.  Starry would back up to the ends of the earth before he would take the lead.  If Dante stopped, Starry would stop to--refusing to go forward  Finally, when they were nearly home, the bugs started to really bother Starry, and Dante was just way too slow.  Kevin was then able to convince Starry to lead.

Ellen related all of this to me, and I could hardly believe that Starry, usually such a good horse, could be so bad.

A few days later, I had the opportunity to ride with Kevin and Starry.  Kevin left before I arrived at the barn, so I quickly saddled up and took off after them.  I met them around the spot where we planned to turn around and go home. It was another really hot day, so we just walked for a while and cooled off.  Cole led.

After a while, we decided we should see if Starry would take the lead.  We never had that much trouble with it, before.  Starry would protest mildly, but still lead.

I got to see a side of Starry I didn’t even know existed.  There was no way he was leading.  He was backing, kicking out and generally throwing a Starry tantrum.  I tried to circle Cole around behind him, but Starry flew backwards.  We had a big problem on our hand.

I had to put my trainer’s thinking cap on.  Kevin needed help.  As I usually do these days, my thoughts were about what a clicker trainer would do.  The first thing that popped into my head was baby steps.  Clicker trainers break things down into baby steps and click for even a hint in the right direction.  We literally needed one baby step in the right direction and that baby step had to be taken by a big buckskin baby that was currently throwing a baby tantrum.

I told Kevin that as soon as Starry takes a single step forward to click and treat him.  As always with all training, that first step is the hardest.  Kevin struggled and struggled what seemed like an eternity rather than a few minutes.  Finally, Starry took a forward step, Kevin clicked him and Starry got a treat.

Of course, now Starry stopped for his treat and Kevin had to convince him to take another step.  This time, it took less time.  I reminded Kevin how Dante  had to retry all the things he did before until he picked up the dish the second time.  Just like Dante, Starry tried all the evasions and then took another forward step.  Kevin clicked and treated.  The third time didn't take that long, and that time Kevin just praised him and asked him to trot on.  Starry did, happily.

Kevin had some concerns that Starry would learn to back up so that Kevin would click him when he went forward.  I told him that Starry could learn that.  Clicker training can be a little tricky at times.  Animals learn to chain events that lead to a desired outcome.  This would be a bad chain.

I said that he should up the criteria to more steps once he starts to improve and fade off the clicking to just praise and wither rubs.  Once he starts getting more consistent, If Starry does back up and then takes a forward step, he could praise him, stop him and ask again.  If he does it without backing up, then click him.

I will keep you updated on Starry’s progress.

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