Saturday, November 26, 2011

Approach and Retreat

A few days ago I got ahold of Clinton Anderson's Starting Under Saddle DVD series and I've been checking it out.  This guy drives me crazy trying to sell stuff every 30 minutes and he's got the same cheesy catchphrase charisma that Pat Parelli does, but he sure is good at getting his ideas across and teaches useful solution for common training problems.  Yesterday I already taught Starbuck one of his sending exercizes, where the trainer stands to the side of the horse and gets them to move forward back and forth between the trainer and a fence.  I think that in combination with the other nuggets of information these DVDs are going to be really useful!

One of the things that this guy preaches along with nearly all the other bastians of Natural Horsemanship is the "Approach and Retreat" method.  Basically, you move forward with your training until you get the response you want (either for the horse to stand still and do nothing for desensistizing exercizes or for them to move some body part for sensitizing exercizes).  So if your horse is afraid of the flyspray, you just keep spraying at them until they stand still and then take it away.  Of if your horse won't move off when you tell them to, you just increase the pressure and consistently cue them to move until they do, then instantly stop whatever you were doing to "convince" them.

Sound familiar?  That's right, it's the old "the release is the reward" concept.  But what really came home to me with his method is that concept can be used even for lesson planning.  In other words, you get your horse to move her feet, then reward her by letting her stand still, then you reward her for standing still by letting her move her feet, and so on.  So before and after each and every sensitizing (get the horse to move) exercize, he adds a desensitizing exercize.  And I'm not talking about just giving your horse a quick rubdown with the longe whip, I'm talking about 5 - 15 minutes of sacking out with different stuff after every "workout".

I tried this yesterday in a loooooooooooooooooooong training session with Starbuck and it went great!  She usually gets a little burned out after about an hour of training, even when I switch it up a lot and do different stuff.  But before I was just paying attention to her mental and physical state and making sure she didn't get too tired or bored and actually was making the mistake of quitting certain exercizes when she "told" me she didn't like them (pawing the ground or whatnot), thus rewarding her for being uncooperative.  So up until now a standard lesson plan would be like this and would last between an hour and an hour and a half:

  1. Grooming, tacking up and lifting hooves.
  2. Start with a little low key longeing at the walk and trot using the rope halter.
  3. Low key porcupine game, then a quick rubdown.
  4. Some more longeing at the walk, trot and canter using the bit.
  5. Backing and leading work.
  6. Some more porcupine game for fore- and hindquarter yielding and sidepasses.
  7. Finishing with a rubdown from the mounting block and / or a brisk walk around the stable yard or parking lot with lots of stops, turns, circles and back-ups.
  8. Grooming, untacking and lifting hooves.
Yesterday however I made sure to squeeze at least 5 minutes of desensitizing exercize (sacking out, rubbing, grooming, etc...) between each sensitizing exercize; so the lesson plan went like this and lasted about 3 hours, without her ever getting too bored or tired:
  1. Grooming, tacking up and lifting hooves (D).
  2. Low key longeing at the walk and trot (S).
  3. Flapping the longe whip back and forth to her right and left (D).
  4. Some more longeing until she cantered easily in both directions (S).
  5. Twirling the longe whip overhead (D).
  6. Sending through between me and the fence where that scary new lamp post is (S).
  7. Rub down with longe whip and hands, adjusting tack (D).
  8. Roundpenning to get consistent direction changes toward me (S).
  9. Rubbing and lightly slapping hands all over body, lifting hooves at liberty (D).
  10. Sending at liberty between me and the roundpen fence (S).
  11. Putting on and taking off bridle, lifting hooves (D).
  12. Yielding the hindquarters to indirect feel (craning head towards hindquarters, pointing with longe whip), direction changes (S).
  13. Putting on and taking off bridle, lifting hooves, bunny hopping (D).
  14. Porcupine game on fore- and hindquarters, lateral flexion of the neck (S).
  15. Adjusting tack at tying posts, rubbing, putting on and taking off bridle (D).
  16. Longeing with the bit at the walk and trot, giving to the bit to the right and left (S).
  17. Rubbing "from above" and half-mounting at mounting block (D).
  18. Sending one step at a time from mounting block (S).
  19. Grooming, untacking and lifting hooves (D).
I think if I can make sure to remember to plan lessons in this way in the future and to NEVER quit an exercize because she's not doing it well or is bored but just go back to the starting point and practice where she was doing it well, I'll have a much easier time of it!

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