Grace has spent the week hanging over the fence watching me work clients’ horses.Â “Am I next?” she seemed to ask continuously.Â Despite the bitter chill, Mark and I brought her out today for some quality family time.
While I was getting organized, Grace went over to check out the mounting block.Â She put her hoof on top. *Click!* Treat!Â Operant conditioning at it’s finest! Operant conditioning is when you build on a behavior that is freely offered.
“I may end up regretting that one day,” I joked to Mark, but I was already thinking about the bridge, or Pirate’s plank as we call it,Â he’d built recently for a training obstacle.Â This was going to shortcut the process.Â Clunk went the hoof on the block.Â Click.Â Treat.Â Clunk.Â Click.Â Treat.
I got my gear in order and put the surcingle on Grace for the first time. Â She moved on and felt the band around her belly, much tighter than her blanket.Â She tossed her head and bucked once in protest, but responded to my request for more impulsion and soon forgot the annoying squeeze.
As she moved around the ring she swerved over to the mounting block.Â Clunk went the foot.Â “Now’s not the time Grace, move on!”Â As important as developing her curiosity and initiative is teaching her context: how to figure out when things are appropriate.Â Sometimes the block is a pedestal for her to stand on, sometimes a step for the rider to mount from, right now just ring clutter to be ignored.
Grace quickly made up for lost time. In short order she was ground driving for the first time, catching on quickly to voice commands and directional changes.Â We swapped back to a single longe and headed out of the roundpen to explore the challenge course in our open riding field.
Remember the hoof on the mounting block?Â Grace was initially intimidated by the Pirate’s plank sitting in the middle of the field. She sniffed -click! She touched it with her hoof-click! The lightbulb came on.Â She remembered this game!Â Before long she was walking that plank like an old salt-YARRR!
On the way back to the barn Grace learned to navigate raised cavaletti (no, you don’t step on it like the plank!) and jump a little crossrail.Â Nothing was ever an issue.Â Our attitude was let’s take a stroll… and oops! how did that get in the way?! Let’s figure it out!
Grace is fascinating to work with.Â She is so CEREBRAL.Â She needs to be continually questioned, challenged, engaged–and supported in those rare moments when she gets confused or scared.Â Clicker training adds motivation to her innate laziness, as well as shapes her natural curiosity.
Mark snapped some pictures with his cell phone before we wrapped up for the day.
Walking the Plank:
Gracie, modeling her new halter from the Expo!