Here is an update on Sollys Head Down exercise with Treat Training. The first part of this was done 2 weeks ago and we’ve been practising his head down for a treat with me in front of him. He got this pretty quickly and I’ve been working on doing more each time before he gets a treat, bringing a gap of relaxation each time before asking for more. This helps him find relaxation with the ‘click’ I do more than the treat so that I can extend the time more and more before giving him the treat, the treat now is used as a BIG ‘WELL DONE’ and not a first time learning ‘YOU’VE GOT IT’ treat that we started with.
I also gave it a break so that he didn’t get over enthusiastic about the ‘treat’ and forget the actual training we were doing. This helps us rebalance the issue that can occur of over ‘posturing’ for a treat or mugging.
This week I’ve just been asking for more than just lowering his head and relaxing for a treat when I’m in front of him, I’ve been standing further away and asking him to walk towards me, lowering his head to my hand for a treat. Each time I’ve done this I’ve been further away than the last time and it’s gone really well, he gets that it’s about coming to me, relaxing with his head down. Here is a short video to show you how it’s working now.
We have been building up the time and distance for this task and are at the stage where Solly comes to me when I give him my raised hand signal and he gets a treat only when I am leaving the field. Huge progress in a short time and task now in his repertoire. Here are pics I took of him working the task from a huge distance to me…what a super clever boy he is.
I’ve been using ‘Treat Training’ for Solly for a few years now and it’s really helped our relationship. Before TT he was obedient and becoming well behaved but I didn’t have his heart, he did things but not with willingness or acceptance and I never just want ‘tolerance’ as I feel it’s not a true Connection. So, I learned my own version of Treat Training to help him ‘get’ what I was asking quicker and he really cheers up and is more willing once he knows quickly that he’s doing the right thing with training. He also used to be a horse that could bite and I never thought I’d be using treats to help train him BUT in fact it’s helped to teach him to NOT bite which is a huge bonus too.
Here we are today working on Relaxation from in front of his head:
The video below shows Solly and I having a very subtle conversation about body dynamics, energy, core strength, foot falls and flexion.
If you look closely you can see how all I do affects all Solly does. It’s a close, almost invisible dance of finding our inner most riding connection. Slowly, using this more, we will flow and dance more. We find our balance together and then we find our go and whoa buttons to make sure they’re working through my breathing. Soon we are finding our hips and shoulder connection and then my hands to his nose. Being able to talk to every part of his body allows me to find the softness within the strength of muscles in places I have in my thoughts. Being able to read his muscles too allows me to hear what he is saying back to me so that our dance gets more and more harmonious.
It takes a TON of focus from me so if I’m tired then I am pretty sure Solly is. We dance for short periods but as often as possible. Soon we will weave the dance tapestry to more harmony and fluidity.
Working on the concept that our ‘inner energy’ can connect with our horse, then testing it can be interesting.
To be able to use our inner energy to create movement but to then be able to take that away and only have our ‘outer energy’ or movement working and not have movement…how is this possible?
For the most part, if the ‘inner and outer energy’ isn’t separated and the horse/human connection isn’t refined and trusting enough, movement of anything to a horse can mean ‘go’. This is because firstly our horses work on learned behaviours and a predator with energy usually means go AND we also haven’t learned to go inside ourselves and learn how to separate our inner intent/focus/energy from our body movements. This can take time but horses understand it very well once they trust that we, as predators, can do it.
Being able to switch our ‘inner’ core energy on/off is so integral to being connected to our horse, when on the ground and more importantly when riding.
No matter what our body is doing can we ‘switch’ our energy off to create a halt and then bring it back on to create movement?
Hope you find this video intersting….can you see how much focus Stormy has on me? he’s watching my ‘inner focus energy’ to see when it comes and goes even though my body is moving the whole time!!
HorseSavvy Teaching Cues are:
1) First teach (slow and steady to allow the horse to ‘get’ what you’re asking.
2) Reinforcing (not force BUT trying to attain lightness and politeness)
3) Refining (invisibility of cues…soft, light and connected)
By continually striving for Refinement of all we teach and learn we will end up with a soft, harmonious connection on the ground and ridden
Here Solly and I get better at refining a disengagment of the hindquarters into a turn on the forehand.
Not able to ride?…..Ground work is a invaluable as a training place and can be a lot of fun.
It can help with finding your horse/heart connection, communication refinement, starting lateral work, Smooth transitions from body and voice cues and much much more. If you can get the conversation going well on the ground with cues that will work when in the saddle then riding work is half done already
Here, Solly and I, work on some ‘spook busting’ with a ball. You’d not believe how scared he used to be of this but how far he’s come from persistent consistency with it.
Flight Checks are what I do after playing with my horse and before I ride off from the mounting block. I make sure I have brakes and can move all four feet in all four directions (forward, back, left and right). It also lets me assess whether I have a good Connection and to help the horse get balanced and flexible before riding off. If anything needs working on I will either stay with it until softer and lighter or I’ll get off and work on it from the ground.
Here is a short film of the Flight Checks I do and how they can progress. I hope it helps to remind you to offer and find the ‘light feel’ on the reins, where our weight should be and to use our focus, seat and leg aids before using the reins.
Once you and your horse can do these with lightness and no brace you will find you will need them less and less. I use them before riding off and practice them now and then but because our ‘muscle memories’ in our bodies and brains have the techniques and actions stored we can use them when necessary (ie. an emergency halt w/relaxation) but can now refine them so that my breathing out and a lift of the rein is suffice to halt. I want the muscle memories there for if and when I need them…this one rein halt will not work well if the memories aren’t there, we would both be so far removed from relaxation that it would actually cause more tension and braciness….if we can avoid that and teach ourselves and our horses to have a ‘trigger’ of relaxation when the rein is lifted then we will all be safer in an emergency situation that hopefully never happens.
What is cross training I hear you say? Well it’s really just working your horse for just one discipline (ie. jumping, dressage, cross country etc) and can help to keep your horse happy mentally, emotionally and physically. SO if you are into jumping then by working on some dressage moves you can find you create better flexibility, moves and transitions for your jumping, by having fun out hacking you can find more fun and impulsion for dressage and maybe doing some agility or Trec you can find you have better focus for something like vaulting. Whatever you do you will find the more that you cross train the happier, centred and more rounded your horse can be.
Here is just something I’ve been working on with my boy Solly…..canter leads, from using them in dressage patterns we can transfer that knowledge to being able to do a good jumping course in canter.
Video 1: SLC’s through a serpentine pattern…
First I was just asking for canter, anywhere, then making it more specific for circles and in dressage tests. Here we are working on Simple Lead Changes (SLC) where we canter an arc then come down to walk or trot, get straight and then re-ask for canter on the other lead. I am trying to see how little walk or trot we can do before getting a new lead.
To be able to get the SLC’s we need Relaxation in canter, flexiblity and straightness on straight lines and curves, willingness and light cues and for Solly it’s been hard work as he didn’t understand canter cues when I got him so have been working on treat training, voice cues and lots of ground work.
More to come soon…..
(Video 2 = counting strides / Video 3 = using poles for accuracy / Video 4 = jumping)
Another show of my ‘approach/retreat’ method of familiarising your horse to something that may worry him. The sound of the massager I use is very similar to battery operated clippers although the wind blowing in the clip doesn’t allow you to hear it well. With all familiarisation tasks take the time your horse needs, reward and release for any relaxation (turn off machine, turn away or even reward with treats if you’re working on treat training) and build the amount of time you work slowly. You’re looking for your horse to change from being ‘worried’ to ‘positive tolerance’ and then to ‘acceptance’ if possible.