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Keeping it fun

March 22, 2016


Aslan has been regressing in certain behaviors and demonstrating that he isn't having fun via evasions during mount up.  This has bothered me, because normally he loves training and you almost have to drag him from the arena.  (I had to train him not to do that!).  I think I put more consideration into how he feels both emotionally and physically than most trainers.  It has made training him very challenging, and I can't always just concede to what he wants or he would be eating carrots on my couch.  However, I've learned a LOT of things and he seems to adore me as a leader.  I am hoping it will pay off in respect to not having behavioral problems down the road.


I did some more research on why he might be showing less enthusiasm for training.  I want to consolidate what I found here, so everyone can learn from my CT mistakes.  A lot of these came from Shawna Karrasch's various videos.  Especially her article Repetition is the Enemy of Wonder.  As I am guilty of being repetitious.


Obviously health issues are of first concern, but so far I can't find anything wrong.  He does have an appointment coming up and I will double check there.  For now let's assume he is fine otherwise.


Drilling: We all want to practice until perfect and I am guilty of this also.  Shawna clarified that this can get boring and tends to produce diminishing returns.  It seems like a duh factor, but I didn't realize that I was drilling.  I figured I was being more varied, that is, until things started going downhill more often.  Under +R, if performance starts to go downhill, we up the reinforcement levels.  But if the horse is bored and unmotivated, it doesn't fix the problem, it just slows it down. This is what happened to me, because I really didn't notice he was bored until he started being louder with his "NO THANKS" behavior.  The next logical solution was resorting to -R, but I am discovering that the performance don't necessarily improve by much. In addition, the horse can develop a sour attitude and try evasions to get out of having to work. This is not the path I want to go down, as it makes my job harder and isn't fun for either of us. 


Variety:  The obvious one is to stop being repetitious and teach new things or work on other things.  I just find this challenging, because a lot of the new stuff requires Aslan to be better at the basics.  For example, I want to work on half halts and getting him on the bit, but he is currently behind the leg.  I can't do these exercises until he is more willing to go forward.  This made it easy to drill upward transitions, which has been getting boring for him lately.  That leaves me kind of stuck.  But I do have some ideas:


Horsemanship - I'm going to enter this at the gypsy show this fall.  I've looked into it more and can see that we need to refine a few things I haven't worked on in a while, including the setup (getting his feet square when we stop) and better sensitivity to body language.  


Silly tricks: I may have to try and incorporate a silly trick every lesson.  Such as push the ball, smile, get up on the stand, and so on.   I would love to  practice more trail obstacles, but we don't have any at the barn.  


Creative groundwork- Clinton Anderson has some neat exercises that I haven't focused on, since they seemed over-and-above what is necessary for ground work.  But I can incorporate more of these, and also things like poles and jumps.  


Trail rides - now that the weather is better, we don't have to do so much "concentrated" training.  


Time: As much as I enjoy long lessons, I might be dragging on too long.  So I  am going to aim for 15-30 minutes.  If I want to go on longer sessions, then it should probably be a lot less concentrated training, like outdoor trail stuff.


Treats: I use 2 different types of extruded pellets and a few random flavoured treats or carrots.  I've been doing this for months and I do rotate the flavored treats from apple to carrot to peppermint, but this repetition might be boring for his pallet. In fact, in one of my lessons, I cut up some apples, carrots and sweet potato into small bites.  I noticed a difference in attitude.  Either that or he was just in a better mood in general.  But he seemed more willing to try. 


Tack - I am cautious to pay attention to issues that may cause pain or discomfort.  Obviously this can nullify all of other efforts. 


     The bit: I don't think that he has ever liked his comfort D-snaffle.  Since the first day he wore it, he has chewed incessantly and occasionally head tossed.   He is green and this is to be expected, but he has never quite gotten over it.  Now that I am taking up contact, his