Hi everyone, sorry for my long absence. I have been on holiday with my family. I have been riding and continuing with clicker training, but I haven’t had time to sit down and type it out until now. Merry belated Christmas, and happy new year!
Lately, we’ve been having horrendously wet and muddy weather and grumpy wet horses. I’ve been restricted to ground work. Which is fine, because focusing on conduct on the ground is a fantastic way to zero in on where all the holes in your training are. The more I try to experiment with moving Cooper’s feet around, the more I feel helpless and silly. It’s so easy to blow past all the problems you see in your horse when you’re trying to hurry up and get in the saddle. We conveniently gloss over the horse that bulldozes us through doorways, fidgets in the cross ties, or has a mortal fear of plastic bags. We can get along okay without addressing those problems on the ground head on, but taking time to really get to the heart of the matter saves time and energy in the long run.
I’m continuing to use clicker training with Cooper and he almost completely understands the concept of “Bow” and targeting on my cone now, even when I throw it a few feet away. The key with Cooper is to work on things in very short increments, otherwise he gets bored and discouraged.
My biggest problem I have so far is Cooper’s disrespect for personal space. After a few days of work, I finally have him yielding his hind quarters reliably, but the forequarters are much harder to master. When he gets anxious or tired of what we’re doing, he will swing his neck and shoulders towards me and push me around. It’s an irritating and unnerving habit and teaching him to move his shoulders is my number one priority at the moment. Maybe he’s just never learned how to cross his front feet and pivot on his hindquarters in his life. Why would a horse go to all that trouble when they can more easily spin or hop their hindquarters around? I’m hoping that teaching him to turn on the ground will translate when I ask him to move his shoulders in the saddle. Also, I’ve noticed that he gets a lot stickier and more crooked when he’s not forward enough so I’ve been focusing on pushing him forward when I feel him drifting.
Backing is also a big chore. I’ve been trying the technique where you wiggle your finger, then your wrist with the lead rope, then your elbow, then your entire arm until the horse backs off. So far, he refuses to back up until my entire arm has built up to waving the lead rope. I’m taking it slow and trying to be consistent.
Cooper is extremely unresponsive to pressure and he waits until my cues are loud and cartoonishly exaggerated. I’ll be the first to admit that his steep learning curve mostly my fault. I let his pushy behavior get out of hand, and I’m not exactly a master of liberty training. Nevertheless, we are both learning and making slow progress. My goals with Cooper are to keep things fun for him and to teach everything in tiny steps so he doesn’t get frustrated.
Stay tuned, I’m almost finished with GNEF Advanced Techniques of Dressage and I’m planning to attempt to unpack it in a series of posts. I feel a bit like a high school physics student trying to understand string theory when I read this book! Also, I got a few more really exciting books for Christmas that I will review for you next.