Sunday, October 2, 2016

Starry Triumphs

Starry Triumphs

I mentioned in the past that Starry has developed a very annoying habit.  When he is out on the trail with Dante, all he wants to do is follow him--right directly behind him.  He refuses to pass.  Instead, he will back up and throw a tantrum.  Though Kevin had some success with getting him to pass Cole a few times, with the help of clicker, it didn’t stick.  It got worse.  He no longer wanted to lead with any horses.

You can’t imagine how upsetting this was for Kevin.  After 11 years, Starry went from an excellent horse to a real lunkhead horse.  He was disrupting all the rides.  It wouldn’t be so bad, but Starry has a very fast trot--and Dante has a very slow trot.  It is impossible for Starry to go as slow as Dante--and uncomfortable.  Starry has a must-post trot, and if he doesn’t go fast enough to post, he is miserable to ride.  Kevin had to hold Starry back, let Dante get up the trail, trot to catch up and then walk, again.  It was no fun for anyone.

I told Kevin to take Starry out on some rides by himself and work on asking him to walk forward and rewarding him with a click.  I emphasized that he had to do it a lot.  Most people don’t realize how many clickable behaviors it takes in most circumstances to solidify a behavior.  Our goal was to make it an automatic behavior, and then replace the clicking with praise and wither rubbing.

The first day they did it, Kevin rode out ahead of me on the trail, and I caught up with him.  Starry did take the lead a few times on that ride on the way out and a few more on the way home.  Horses are always more motivated on the way home, and Kevin thought that was the only reason Starry was doing it.  I had to keep reminding him that we had plenty of trouble this summer trying to get Starry to lead on the way home.  Kevin has a very short memory.

The next time we were with Dante, Starry was as bad as ever.  Kevin got discouraged.  I told him that this could take a while.

He continued to work on his own and practiced with Cole.  He started to get consistent on the way home.  When Kevin rode with other people, Starry started to improve with their horses, too.  He finally had a terrific ride with Cole where he led much of the time and never showed strong resistance to passing.

Last weekend, Kevin intercepted us on the way home.  He wanted to continue his ride and Starry wanted to go home with us, as they often do.  They had a big fight--and Starry won.  Kevin was more discouraged than ever.  I told him that he asked Starry to do the very hardest thing for him.  Starry is learning basic math and he just failed a calculus test.  It wasn’t any surprise.

A few days ago, Kevin took Starry out by himself, again, to practice.  The day before yesterday, the three of us were stuck on the hill because the river was too high to cross.  Cole was in a perky mood, and he was walking really fast.  The other two were rather slow, so I got all the way to the bottom and they were nowhere to be seen.  We waited--and I was shocked to see Starry in the lead!  Starry then passed Cole up and trotted to the end of the trail.

We practiced going up and down the hill with Starry leading.  Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but he was so much more improved, it was amazing.  Hopefully, Starry realized that his friends were still with him--just behind him instead of in front of him.

Yesterday, the river was still too high for ponies like Cole and Dante to cross, so Ellen and I were doing the hill, again.  We were on our way up--which is the direction towards home, and here comes Kevin on Starry.  He had to pass us to get down the hill.  We all thought that Starry would try to follow us towards home, instead.  We were all so happy to see Starry first pass Cole and then Dante and continue down the hill without a single resistance!

He is on his way to becoming the horse he always was.

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