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Friday, October 14, 2011

Stand - lesson 1

Wednesday was Pony Day!

In the new spirit of taking care of myself, I have declared any day that I get out of school before 3pm to be a pony day.

This week, that meant that there was a singular pony day, and I looked forward to it all week.

Isn't it's amazing how a little anticipation can add drive and excitement?  I felt a little thrill in the pit of my stomach as I drove over to the parents (checking out Chicken Man's place curiously as I drove by).

Of course, I had limited time and a whole lot of things I wanted to get done - which meant that Farley was invited to my sister's "rustic tea party".  Loreleigh paced around our upturned wicker basket and teapot, and waved her hands as she related her latest job hunting drama (somebody please hire her OK?  She's sweet, cute, and has a degree and managed to survive as a Walmart checker putting herself through school) as I trimmed feet.

We've had some wet weather and I was reminded how FUN trimming feet is in the spring and fall.  CHUNKS of sole were crumbling out of Farley's feet, exposing nice walls and sole and bars that my hoof knife sliced off and I was able to get a good roll of them without power tools for the first time since the spring.  WHOO HOO!  I ruthlessly took down the heels, backed up the toe, and held a conversation without a drop of sweat and zero swearing.  Amazing. 

Good thing because the next thing on my agenda was a workout.

Normally one doesn't consider mounting a horse the workout of the day.

Normally, one doesn't mount 50 times from each side, bareback, from a 2 step mounting block.

As I walked away from our session, legs trembling and more than a little sore, I was glad I had skipped my morning swim in favor of sleeping in.   (I know - what a bum!)

I approached session 1 as a test of Farley's understanding that she should stand while mounting.  We worked just outside the pasture gate, in a halter, bareback.  I asked her to stand and stood on the mounting block.  I ran my hands over her, swung my leg over, and flopped around.  Then I started vaulting on.  I switched sides often, completing approximately 50 bareback mounts from each side.

She attempted to move off 3 times - once before I started mounting, and then twice after I had vaulted on.  All the "failures" were early in the session. 

Each time I corrected her by moving her back into position, and then repeated the exercise.

Thoughts on session 1

Based on Farley's performance, I think I can assume that she understands the concept of standing while being mounted.  The next step will be to expose her to more and more distracting situations, while asking for the same behavior.

I'm learning in dog training that it's important to maintain a high success rate during the entire session - not just near the end.  In its entirety, this session had a 94% success rate - a rate high enough I'm comfortable moving to the next stage.  Once I reach a situation where the success rate in a session drops below 80%, even if I get many successful attempts near the end of the session, I will stay at that "distraction level" until I'm getting a compliance rate above 90% for the entire session. 

I'm first working the "stand" as an exercise in mounting because I think it's the situation that Farley understands the best in conjunction with stand, and it's the one that's the clearest for me to enforce. 

The plan

At the next session I will start adding tack.  If everything goes well, the next session after that will be new locations - the road (private, dirt) in front of my parents property, on the trail etc.  I'll continue using the mounting block for now, since in the beginning I want to do lots of repetitions and mounting from the ground puts a greater strain on her back.  So far, I don't feel the need for additional "tools" to teach the concept like clickers or treats etc. - she seems to know the concept (after all - this isn't the first time I've tried working on this concept with her) so I'll focus on being consistent and progressive for now.  I foresee using other reinforcements, such as the clicker, when I start working on our pulse check stand. 

As always - feedback is welcomed! [and if you want to head over to Tess's blog and give advice there - it would be greatly appreciated too!  What little I know about horses, I know even less about dogs.... :)]


  1. I have thought about doing the same thing, but was unsure about using the mounting block. Bica is quick enough to figure that she has to stand by the block, but does not seem to extrapolate that to a ground mount.

    Still, I like your approach and will probably try the same thing.

    Question: How do you deal with them moving off about the time you get your foot in the stirrup? It seems to me that if you remove your foot, then you are rewarding the behavior.


  2. As I see it now - I have 2 options once I get to that point.

    option 1 - make her decision to move rather unpleasant. Thus, she wants my foot to stay in that stirrup.

    Option 2 - make me putting my foot in the stirrup such a good/positive thing for her, that she would prefer to stand still.

    I will probably use a combination of both.

    One reason I am starting with the mounting block is so I can follow a logical progression -

    a. Mounting block with bareback or vaulting (no stirrup)

    b. Mounting block with tack and stepping into stirrup.

    c. Ground with tack stepping into stirrup.

    That way only one new factor is introduced at a time - the stepping into the stirrup is worked seperately from the mounting from the ground mount.

    Also, I won't be working on just the mounting block - I will also be moutning from pickup beds, fences, stools etc. - by the time I get to mounting from the ground, the behavior of stand when I put my foot into the stirrup should be so ingrained, it won't be a big deal. (I hope).

  3. I think the biggest thing is to self evaluate - if you want a stand while mounting from the ground and you aren't getting it, and you have been "training" it for "years" - then change how you are training it. If you are still having to repeatadly ask for a stand while mounting after years of asking (and not getting it) - then there is a piece missing somewhere and you need to patch that hole/change what you are doing/change SOMETHING before it's going to get better.

    Another way to look at it is like this - Remember that success rate I want? Generally above 90% for a session? Let's just say (for example) that you have one failed mount because the horse moves everytime you mount. (You try to mount, they move, you correct, you retry and are successful). That's a 50% success rate for each session - which is very very very very low. Thus, change the siutation so you can get that 80-90% success rate and work from there. Make sense? This is the philosophy I'm working with at this point - subject to change of course. :)

  4. So.....if I put her in a chute and climb on then I maximize my successes per session. Hmm....

    Truthfully, I am still debating how to make not standing unpleasant with imparting new, unwanted behaviors. I was backing her up when she tried to move. But that seems to have turned into her automatically backing up when I try to mount since we have done it so much.

    Sigh..the chute is looking better.


  5. I know a lot of people use backing as their correction for behavior, but in my expereience it can turn into a nasty evasion behavior. I HATE teh feeling of a horse dissapearing behind my leg. Farley isn't a very forward horse (Forward in this case meaning willing to go forward into the bridle in a willing, soft way) and so I always keep in mind that I want to make "forward" a good thing. In dressage, when backing, they are still going into the bridle.

    So, I'm more likely to make them move their hip, cross over the front, cross over the hinds etc as a correction, than the back.

    I think it's important that the horse is given a CHOICE whether to stand or not - the point of training is to encourage them to CHOOSE the correct behavior. If they don't have a choice, they aren't learning anything really.....I find this especially true in a mare. If your horse jumps because it's being sent down a chute of jumps - does it really know how to jump? It might not even go over a ground pole unless it's being herded through a chute - Thus whether it jumps in a chute has no bearing on whether you can actually jump the horse in real life - simiilarly if you train your horse to stand when it doesn't have a choice (for example, in a chute etc.) I know you were joking about the chute - but I thought it made a good illustration in case someone else is reading this :).

  6. another thought is to evaluate her motivation. Why does she move? Seriously - she can stand in one spot all day in the pasture, but can't for 1 minute while you get on? Why does she move? - imbalance, pain, impatience, lack of understanding, nervousness, self rewarding behavior of moving forward, attention, lack of respect?

    Farley moves because she feels she knows her job and what she should be doing. Her understanding of her job is: move forward down the trail, go into the vet check and eat and drink. Thus, standing on the side of the trail, or standing outside of camp for a pulse check isn't on her list of "job duties". What I am doing right now, is trying to explain these additional job duties in the same way that I made clear that her job was to go down the trail without fuss, and eat/drink at vet checks. Once she "gets" that standing is a job duty, just like her others "duties", I don't anticipate any problems.

  7. Here's something else to consider: do whatever it takes to get the desired behavior so you can reward it.

    If that takes three sidewalkers and a chute at first, do that. (It shouldn't, obviously, with Farley). Gradually you change the circumstances so that she learns to stand as you mount at the side of a trail in the middle of an equine traffic jam. Small steps, taken slowly. It will get you there.

    You've got a great understanding of why she does what she does...that gives you a tremendous headstart in training stuff with her.


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