Thursday, August 31, 2017

Starry and Dante’s Problems, Still

Starry and Dante’s Problems, Still

We thought that We had Dante’s problem lickecd.  He was doing his business on the trail, and Ellen would reward him with a peppermint.  All was well with the world.  Then he decided he would only do it in the river, again.  That is what he has been doing the last month.  Ellen is trying to worry about it less.  He usually does it when she is close to the other side.  He hasn’t overreacted that much.  Sometimes he walks faster, and sometimes he will trot up the bank.  He is no longer doing it on dry land.  It looks like she will just have to live with it.

And then there is Starry’s problem.  For the last year or so, he has been reluctant to take the lead when we are on the trail.  He is the worst with Dante, his best friend.  This has caused Kevin much frustration.

He has tried changing Starry’s behavior with clicker training, and that is when he has the most success.  Then, he feels that Starry should be over it and quits the clicks.  Clicker training isn’t ever an instant cure all.  Repetition is a must, and then you can fade it off.  Kevin doesn’t like the repetition, and in the past, fading off meant going cold turkey.  Then, he would end up back where he started.

Finally, it seemed like the lesson sunk in.  So often, it is harder to teach the human than the horse.  Kevin got serious about the clicking.  We didn’t even try it with Dante, in the beginning.  He has always been better with Cole, so that is when we did our training.  On our rides, I would take Cole far to the side of the trail.  Kevn would ask him to pass, and clicked him for any forward movement.  Eventually, Starry would pass.  If he started to fight, we would just give up and try later on the trail.  

In a few weeks, Starry was doing pretty good.  Kevin would only click when he got ahead of Cole and if he didn’t pass, he got no clicks.  We finally got to the place where we could go on an hour ride and Starry would lead the whole time.

We then started to work with him and Dante.  It was, and is still, much tricker.  Sometimes, we would get him to pass Dante by following Cole--and then down the trail, we would ask him to pass Cole.  Kevin would still click intermittently.  Of course, he always gets “good boys.”

There are still places where it is nearly impossible to get him in the lead if Dante is there.  One of those spots is when we cross the second river on the way home.  On our last ride, together, Ellen and I went way off the trail and watched him.

Kevin asked him walk, and Starry stepped backwards 3 steps--then he went forward a step--click.  Kevin repeated it, but this time Starry went back only 2 steps--then forward-click.  He tried again, backwards one step--forward click.  The last attempt, he only stepped backwards a half step before going forward.

We did have one perfect ride with Dante, Starry and Cole.  It was a shorter ride, but it still counts.  Starry led the whole way with no drama.  The next day, he was back to his old tricks.  Kevin wants instant results, and we have to be there to encourage him when things don’t go as well as he likes.  There was a time when there was no chance that Starry would pass up Dante, and now he does it often, though he isn’t as consistent as we would like.  We just don’t want Kevin to give up and lose his temper.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and no horse is trained in a day, or week, month or even year.  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Teaching Old Horses New Tricks

Teaching Old Horses New Tricks

As I mentioned last time, Ellen has been thinking of riding Ranger, again, because he has been doing so well.  One of the obstacles in riding him is saddling.  He is just horrible, and each year he gets worse and worse.  We saddle in our stalls, because we feel it is easier.  Since Starry became Ranger’s neighbor, he has gotten really bad.

He snipes, snarls and even kicks out--all aimed at Starry.  It is now fun to saddle him, so if you aren’t going on much of a ride, anyway, it is just easier to lead him.

Let me backtrack, a little.  In the last year or so, he has become difficult to halter, top.  He would toss his head up, push at us and just be difficult.  It isn’t that he didn’t want to he haltered--he was just excited about going out.  It got very annoying.  One day, Ellen got fed up.  She took her clicker skills out and decided to try to improve him.  

His halter is the kind that you buckle the strap that goes over his head.  Ellen held the halter noseband in front of Ranger, and only clicked him when he put his nose in it.  Everything else he did, she ignored.  She also didn’t hook up the halter, either.  He wasn’t getting any treats or going anywhere until he put his nose in the halter.

The next step was to not click him until he put his nose in and held his head still.

You may wonder how many lessons it took to change his habit.  Much to our surprise, he was greatly improved on the second lesson--and was a new horse on the third.

That was a few months ago.  Ellen decided that if she is going to ride him, she wanted him to saddle like a gentleman.  Remember, this is a bad habit that has going on for years--and just has gotten worse.  She did click him when he stood still in the past, but he never really improved; and like I said, he got worse with Starry.

This time, she decided to enlist my help.  We would retrain him just like we did with the haltering.  She planned to break it down into tiny bits.  I was the clicker person--freeing her up to just do the saddling.  She let me use my discretion on the clicking.  I would only click when he stood still.

He was loose in the stall, and I stood in front of him on the other side of the stall guard.  Ellen brought in the saddle and showed it to him.  He started to snarl.  She just stood there--until he did the same.  Then, I clicked, of course.  We practiced that a bit.  The next step was lifting up the saddle as if she was going to saddle.  By now, Ranger seemed to understand that this was a new game, and it didn’t take any time at all for him to just stand.  The clicks kept coming.  

She gently placed the saddle on his back--click.  She took it off and repeated it several time.  He got clicked for each.

She left it on his back--click.  She walked to the other side, brought the girth up--click.  She did that a few times--click--click.

She girthed him up--click.

And then she took it off and repeated the whole process,

Ranger loves treats.

The next day, we decided to do it, again.  Ranger was perfect.  Once again, just one lesson was all it took to make a difference.  Why did we wait all these years to do this?  We will keep practicing, and sometimes he will wear his saddle on his walks.  Of course, we will fade off most of the clicks--and Ellen will be able to do them, herself.

So, we can teach an old horse a new trick with the help of clicker.  Clicker training also proves, once again, that we don’t have to settle for a horse that misbehaves.  Instead, we can gently change their behavior.  

Ellen is happier--and so is Ranger.  For all we know, he thought he was supposed to attack Starry when Ellen was saddling him.  Now, he knows he is supposed to just stand still.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ranger Update

Ranger Update

Ranger is basically, retired.  For a 27-year-old, he is doing well, except for his breathing.  He has COPD, which is bad enough, but if he gets frightened of something, he has what can best be described as an asthma attack.  His head goes high and he struggles to catch his breath.

Lately, we have been just leading him on the loop.  Ellen did ride him a few times last spring, but since he doesn’t seem to want to trot, it is just easier for us to lead him.  It’s good exercise for us, too.

Last year, we would walk him down to the river a lot.  He had trouble going back up, and we had to stop a lot for him to catch his breath.  This year, we have had so much rain that the mud at the very top of the hill has been horrendous.  It was so bad, that Cole felt that no horse in his right mind would step through it, willingly.  (It is funny how much trouble he will go through to try to keep his feet from going in the mud.)  Because we didn’t want to take an out of shape horse through deep mud--and we didn’t want to walk in it, ourselves, we just stayed on the loop behind the barn.

We finally had a dry spell, and the mud improved enough to lead Ranger through it.  We decided to see how he would do on the hill.  This summer, he seemed to be breathing much better on his walks.  Most days, Ellen hasn’t even had to give him antihistamines.  That is in spite of the fact that his breathing is usually the worst in hot weather.

We led him down the hill with ease, turned around and made our way back up.  It was with much disbelief that we observed--no loud wheezing.  He was able to walk up the hill better than he did last summer.

The next day, we tried it again.  I am so happy to say that the first day wasn’t an anomaly.  Once again, Ranger walked up the hill without any breathing distress.

Well, we decided it is time to integrate the hill on his weekend workouts.  It is more interesting than going 6 laps on the loop.  We can do the hill and a few laps to bring his workout up to a half hour.  He seems to like the variety--and we sure do.  Plus, it is shady!

Ellen was thinking she might just dust off his saddle...