Side passing and some regression at the mounting block
Leg Yielding: Now that Aslan is getting better at the ground cue to go sideways, I decided that it was time to try under saddle.
When I mounted and asked, he actually understood and offered a step or two sideways. This really excited me, so jackpot! I even saw him dropping his head and going soft naturally. Beautiful! He was pretty good on the nearside cue, which is weird because on the ground, that is his bad side.
For his offside cue, he goes "duh" and tires to offer the nearside instead. I even put him on the wall in an attempt to help, but all he did was try to turn on the forehand or shove his face in the wall by going forward. I could see he was getting frustrated so I eventually went back to the ground. (He is such a reflection of my own impatience in life, it's hilarious.) On the ground there was no confusion anymore, so I rewarded him. I also repeated this on the wall so that in the future, the wall wouldn't confuse him. Yes buddy, you can go sideways with a wall or fence in front of you.
Straight: I put some poles on the ground in an attempt to make a channel for him to walk through. I was hoping this would encourage a straight line. Wishful thinking, maybe I made it too wide? The channel was about 20 feet long and 6 feet wide. Naturally while walking through it, he meandered like a tourist and tried to escape through a gap I had in the middle. (I have suspected for some time that he is a bit claustrophobic.) Even with poles on the ground, you can see that he doesn't much care for confinement. He preferred to walk on the outside of them. However I took the opportunity to try and use my legs to steer. He is starting to realize that legs can mean many things and it is challenging for his mind to separate right now. He really does try to listen to them, but he gets confused. I think he just gets so focused on the moment, he can forget what he has learned before. So you have to go back and show him both cues and both movements to help him differentiate. No big deal. I will just keep trying and decreasing the width of the channel.
Mounting: Sadly our mounting block abilities have gone backwards a bit. I noticed this before, however I really wanted to work on other stuff, so I skipped trying to fix it. He is very slow to line up and doesn't want to go all the way forward so his back is in line with me. This was easy to fix by reinforcing it, but he added a new problem to it: moving away when I try to lift my foot into the stirrup. I think I know why too. I suspect that some of our lessons were a bit boring and not as reinforcing. Therefore he prefers me to do ground work with him and wanted to avoid the "saddle stuff". It was boring because he got into the habit of anticipating a treat after an upward transition and would walk or trot and then immediately stop. I had to stop reinforcing every transition and get him to go longer distances before he would get a treat; the reinforcement rates went way down AND he was having to work a lot harder for the treat. Plus we couldn't really work on steering or any other behaviors until we had a consistent forward.
I couldn't even move my foot or body toward him and he was immediately swinging away. Treats clearly weren't motivation enough to get him to stay - he knew how to stay, he just didn't want to. So in lieu of other ideas, I used a form of positive punishment to convince him that being uncooperative when I'm offering positive reinforcement, isn't a good answer. The second he swung his hindquarters out I immediately backed him up and then asked him to lunge at a trot in a circle for 3 circles. I wasn't overly aggressive, I didn't yell, I simply made his feet move. Now. He made this mistake about 2 or 3 times and then decided NOT to move when I lifted my foot. I clicked and treated. I only lifted my foot. I didn't immediately get on. I worked on lifting my foot and leaning over him and rewarded him for letting me do this. When he was good at this for a few minutes I got on and rewarded. Yay!