Charlie & Star’s Clicker Training Diary w/e 19th July 2015

As you can see by the date, I’m a bit behind with this diary.

I’ve been working on the final edit of my book, A Tale of Two Horses, writing articles for magazines, and we’ve recently bought a new puppy, who seems to be taking up all my time!

Following on from our short outing beyond the safety of the yard, I went through the usual routine in the exercise yard. Then I put Charlie’s lead collar on attached a lead rope and walked around. As expected Charlie was perfectly comfortable with this.

We walked over to the gate, Star watching us. A touch of anxiety in her body language I think. Charlie and I walked to the gate, turned around and I took his headcollar off. I did a couple of exercises with Star, then fetched her headcollar. Put it on no problem, she’s quite happy with that. Her problem comes when you ask something of her when she is not familiar with it. She simply cannot cope with that. So, I attached the lead rope and just asked for some left and right targeting. She did that fine. Then I asked if she could do a right turn. She looked anxious, and put her head up in the air. That’s her way of telling me she can’t cope, so I followed her lead and raised my arm so there was no tension on the lead rope. Tension would ensure she got even more anxious. Without any pressure on the lead rope, or from me trying to get her to do something, her head came back down, and she started to take a step for the right turn. Click and reward. More than I expected, and a great result. At that point I finished things. Always good to stop on a high, and I want to make sure that she has no negative emotional reaction to this work, ensuring that this is normal, routine, and eventually, when we do go out, a pleasurable experience.

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Charlie & Star’s Clicker Training Diary w/e 5th July 2015

Well, what an exciting week it has been. I’ve done theExercise Yard usual training sessions, but that is not what was exciting. I decided it was the right time to leave the yard, and go for a walk down the lane.

For those of you who don’t know, Charlie and Star arrived as very reactive and unhappy horses. It has taken a substantial amount of rehabilitation to get them to the point where they are happy, balanced and content. They are not reactive any more, are predictable and soppy!!! Although that might just be my interpretation – I can hear them saying, ‘ aw, mum, do you have to say that, it’s so embarrassing!’

Anyway, back to The Walk…

Head collars and lead ropes on. Check. Bag of apples and carrots at the ready. Check.

I walked with Charlie, and hubby walked with Star. Charlie in the lead (he’s older and wiser), and off we went out of the gate and onto the lane, with Star and hubby following. So far so good. Charlie was great, happily bopping along beside me.

We got part way along the lane, when the realisation that she was no longer in her safe, and familiar field caused Star to panic a little. True to form, she planted her feet and refused to move. On seeing this, hubby started talking to her to help her through. Charlie and I were a little ahead, so we turned around to come back to Star. Charlie, clever boy, executed a perfect turn around as soon as I said it. He was so calm and collected. Back we went to Star, who still was not at all compos mentis (being able to think clearly and be in control of and responsible for your actions)! No, Star was in emotional/ instinct mode and not at all able to think or listen.

The best thing to do in this situation is not push things, but diffuse. So, Charlie and I walked back to her, hubby continued talking and not reacting, but also not asking anything of Star. We walked past, with the cue, ‘this way’ to let Star know we were going back to the yard. Charlie was brilliant, waited when I asked so he wasn’t to far away, and walked on when Star started to respond. Star made it back into the yard, and had settled down in a few minutes.

A good first walk. Star was interested in going out, but got scared when she found herself outside of her comfort zone. She did panic a bit, but crucially, she was not manic and reactive. It was easy to get her to re-engage her thinking brain, it just took a few minutes. Considering she is still a baby, and has only had very limited experience, she did amazingly well. Charlie showed how reliable and clever his was. This now gives me my next area to work on and develop Star’s confidence, so, back to yard work, gradually progressing to the gate being open, allowing Star to be comfortable going up to it, out and back in, without going too far away.

Charlie & Star’s Clicker Training Diary w/e 14th June 2015

Following on from last weeks diary post, the upshot of all that galloping around after moving to the summer field is to lie down and relax. Charlie and Star have been intensely studying relaxation, and I can report that they do not seem to have moved for several days!

I expect to get back to some training next week, hopeful that they will have finished their research into relaxation, which is the best part of the field, and the best position to lie in!

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Charlie & Star’s Clicker Training Diary w/e 10th May

Monday

Today we practised with distractions. When out and about their behaviour needs to be reliable, and I need to know what their reaction to various interesting or scary things is. It’s a busy morning, and people, horses, cars and tractors are about. Quite unusual, as we live in a very quiet area and nothing much happens. We practice ‘ready’, ‘look up’, ‘lets go’ when there is a distraction, adding in other exercises once their attention is back on me.

Wednesday

Charlie and Star are doing really well. Star was really interested today, and I worked with her most of the time. Charlie decided that he didn’t want to play and spent most of his time eating the hedgerow! No problem, it’s quite a straightforward matter to build up length of attentiveness, whereas if I try to get him to do more than he is able he is not going to enjoy it, and will be more reluctant the next time.

Thursday

Charlie has decided that he doesn’t want to miss out on training games today! He’s happily following me around like a shadow. I do a little more with him and leave him eating grass to work with Star. She’s doing well, and we’re back to balancing movements. I often talk out loud to myself, and I was deciding what to do next, when I said, ‘Right’. Star immediately turned right! Clever girl, she was listening to me when I wasn’t talking to her.

Saturday

A busy weekend for us, so not much training time. I did find time to just be with them, and give them a nice brush, which as usual results in a good roll in the grass. I also now have Chilli the cat asking to play. She tears around the exercise yard when we are out there, playing with anything she can find. Once I finish with Charlie and Star, Chilli runs into the barn ready to ambush me! She’s not ambushed Charlie and Star yet, but it’s only a matter of time..

Charlie & Star’s Clicker Training Diary w/e 26th April.

We haven’t done a lot this week. Partly due to various appointments, and partly due to making the farm safe for our new puppy, who arrives in about 5 weeks time. There are so many places where a puppy can get under the fence, barn doors, or into the fields. We’ve not had to consider this before, as Indie was 4 when we moved here, and far too big to get though any gap that wasn’t a gaping hole!! So, puppy proofing is the main activity.

I’ve found time to do some short sessions in the barn with them, but only two longer sessions this week.

Wednesday

Today we worked on balance. Being able to control each foot independently is a really good skill. Yes, I know that they control all four feet independently when they are moving, but it is just as important for them to be able to shift their weight so they can move one foot whilst the others are still. Take picking out feet as an example. In order to lift and hold one foot off the floor, they need to be balanced on the other three. And that balance is different to when they are walking. So, on the spot we do free shaping – ‘what can you do’? Click & treat for each shift in weight, foot or leg movement.

Friday

This is what I call an indulgence session, as it’s all about just spending time with the horses, doing nothing in particular. I don’t have a lesson plan, or anything specific to work on. I can just enjoy being with them. There is another reason for this type of session, and it is all about increasing our relationship, understanding and language between us. Your horse may enjoy grooming, just listening to you spend time talking to him, or going out for a lead walk. Whatever it is, the question is ‘what do you want to do today’? It is Charlie and Star who decide what we do in this session. If I try grooming and they are not in the mood, then we try something else. The only agenda is to make them happy. Charlie wanted a walk, so we wandered around the exercise yard, having a chat and giving Charlie head rubs. Star was content in the barn, so I spent time chatting to her, and she put her head into my chest so I could play with her mane, and she promptly dozed off!

Charlie & Star’s Clicker Training Diary w/e 19th April.

Tuesday

A good session today. Both Charlie and Star were interested and engaged.

May have got a bit of sunburn..

Star continued on from yesterdays session, and happily followed me around the exercise yard. She hasn’t quite got to grips with eating and walking at the same time yet, so we pause for a piece of apple. Charlie, however, has long since mastered that particular difficulty, and doesn’t miss a stride.

Wednesday

Too hot, and I definitely have a sunburnt forehead!

Charlie was far too interested in munching the grass and hedgerow today. He did really well at interrupting himself and showing me his Ready, and Head Up exercises, but that was about it.

Probably just as well, or I’ll look like a lobster if I stay out in the sun much longer!

Thursday

Hmm, a bit of intolerance in the barn this morning. Star is being quite clear that she doesn’t really want Charlie near her. Change of training plan then. Work in barn on exercises whilst they are standing still, rather than have disagreements in the exercise yard. We have started taking out the visual cue (hand signal) for some exercises, so that they can do them just by voice cue. A good day to practice that I think.

Saturday

So far I’ve taught left and right through targeting. I hold my hand out and say touch left or touch right. Now it’s time to change that to looking left and right, as I don’t just want them to target, I want to progress to being able to tell them which direction to go in without any aids. I’ve been making my hand signals for left and right less of a target and more about just pointing them in the correct direction and click and treat (C/T) for when they follow my hand and look that way. At this point I have dropped the word touch, and just said left, or right. This is the start of changing the touch exercise to something else. We’ll see how we get on with this next week.

Charlie & Star’s Clicker Training Diary.

To get up to date, this is their clicker training journey so far.

We have worked in protective contact, which was me the other side of the fence to their paddock, so if things got a bit excitable, I was not in danger of being trodden on or ran into! Then we moved training to their stables where Charlie and Star could wander at will.

They have learnt step back, step forwards, turn around, this side, wait, targeting, look left, right, head down, head up and ready. We’ve done this standing still, not when they are wandering about.

Now we are at the stage where I’m working with them at liberty in their exercise yard, putting all these exercises into practice when walking around.

This morning was cool and misty. Despite the lack of sunshine we have been used to seeing this last week, there is no reduction in midges. They are everywhere!

I open the gate to the yard and both horses come up to me for a piece of apple or carrot. They know this is training and games time, but alas, I have no food. There’s a little grass in here, and I like them to go in and settle a bit before I start so they are not too excited about what we are going to do. Charlie, bless him, can be somewhat enthusiastic, and he’s quite a big horse, who doesn’t realise his size! So, sorry guys, no food yet.

I leave them to it and come back a few minutes later with the all important apple and carrot pieces.

I’m working with both of them at liberty, in the yard at the same time, so space management is important. Part of training is teaching them to be close to me and each other and not compete over the food, along with not getting over excited. Being with mum means being calm and balanced. Whoever comes up to me first gets to do something. Today it was Star. She is the kind of horse who likes to stand where she is, and all attempts to entice her to move are met with failure. She needs to feel comfortable and in control, not be manipulated. The more you try to get her to move, the more she is an immovable object. So, it’s great to see that her feet actually do work! Up to today, she has pretty much remained standing still whilst I’m teaching her, only moving to graze. But, this morning we have a breakthrough. She is following me around really happily.

Keeping an eye out for Charlie, I finish with Star when he shows interest in coming over, and move to working with him. He goes steady to start with then gets a little more enthusiastic. Calm and balanced he is not! Time to put some slow exercises in to offset this. I might change who I’m working with a few times, depending on who is more actively asking to do something. Back to Charlie, and we are working on voice cues to turn left and right, wait and off we go again. He’s doing really well, and likes this so much I get a good head rub halfway along our walk.