Monday, September 7, 2009

Treats! Who Knew?

I rode Top yesterday. Got him out of his pen, he seemed pretty quiet. Once we were to my tack area he was starting to build. I'd purchased a bag of peppermint horse treats earlier in the day.

I tied him up and started to brush him. He was fidgety. I went over and opened the bag of treats and stuffed some in my front pocket. When he started to fidget again I said his name and pet him. When he looked at me with any kind of focus I gave him a treat. Oh my goodness. We can stand quiet to get tacked up.

I led him down to the arena. He hesitated going in. I stopped, pet him and told him to quit being such a chicken and turned and walked into the arena...he followed. As soon as we got into the arena he noticed the BMX racers on the track flying through the air across the field. Now he is on hyper alert. Very tall, very rigid and staring hard at the BMX-ers. Great, Top has left the building.

I pull his head toward me. Brief eye contact and his head springs back up and over toward the BMX track. I pull a treat out of my pocket. No response. He is locked on to the track. I say his name, and pull his head toward me again...he is resisting looking toward me. I wave the treat under his nose. He follows the treat toward me and stretching down. I made him wait a moment quiet and then gave him the treat. OMG....he is cured. I have focus on me. (okay, I know, I have focus on the treats in my possession).

I hook the lunge line to his bit and start lunging him. Now, Top very often goes on 'auto-pilot' when lunging. He checks out, and just goes through the motions of lunging. When you say, "Whoa" you often get no response. You have to go bigger, and step forward, pull on the lunge and say it more firmly with a tug, then he trundles to a halt and looks at you vaguely.

He's trotting along on the lunge. I keep redirecting his nose to the inside of the circle. He is not present. I ask him to halt. No response. So, I make him halt. I drop the line and the whip, walk toward him telling him he's a good boy, and give him a treat. I walk back to my whip and the end of the line and ask him to go again. Have him trotting along and ask him to whoa. He keeps trucking along. I ask again, give a little wiggle to the line and he halts. I walk back out to him, telling him what a good boy he is and pet him, and give him a treat. We start again. He's trotting along, keeping his nose more in the arena than gazing out. I say, "Whoa." Top my have a future as the worlds largest reiner. He buried his butt and halted. I walked out, and gave him treat.

We made a couple more circles both directions and I led him over to the fence to get on. I get on, and my stirrups are way too short. (HMMM...interesting). So I have a student stand in front of him while I adjust them. (Oh yeah, he'll a heartbeat). I get adjusted. Stand up to see if I'm where I want to be, grab a treat out of my pocket. I pull his head to the left and hand him a treat. I ask him to move and he walks off quiet, no tension in his back. Seriously, none. He's never been this soft, even at Carrie's. So we walk around, trot around doing random patterns, he's actually hearing just my seat and legs, my hands don't even move and we are doing figure eights, leg yields. He is on. He got a little tense when another horse showed up. I halted, stood in my stirrups grabbed a treat out of my pocket. He lifts his head and nickers at me. Good lord. He is on this new program quick.

To my watching student I say, "Man, he caught on to this really quickly." She says, "We're talking about Top here. He didn't learn it quick, this has been done before." Uhm, yeah. Probably. I'll bet she's right. It would explain his inability to stand at the halt when I first started riding. He was looking for his treat. Who knows for sure. I'll just have to mix it up, so it isn't automatic. Can you see him in a dressage test...'halt at X'...and his head pops up and he nickers for his treat? How many points would that cost? lol

So, while I have issues with this method it is working. I will do it for awhile, or sporadically. I don't want it to become 'Pavlov's Dog'. This is a leg up for him...not the fix for his issue. It is a step in the right direction for sure.

Thank you Kestrel.

And yes I know, I'm collapsing my right side in the picture. (CRAP, I hate when I ride poorly).


fernvalley01 said...

Goodies are a great equaliser. That said I agree you don't want it to be a habit , but certainly if it works to keep him focused and "in the moment" with you for now.Glad you found a way in!

nccatnip said...

Hey, whatever works at this point. Focus is focus is focus.

horspoor said...

I'm figuring if the treats work, good deal. I just don't want to create an additional problem. He did well...let's see how he continues. I couldn't believe the difference it made it his attitude. Like night and day.

kestrel said...

Really cool! If the treat thing has been used in the past, it was used for the same reason that you're using treats. Someone loved Top enough to try a different approach than punishment to get through to him. He obviously loved and trusted someone in his past to respond so quickly, so it means he CAN love and trust.
A treat is such a CLEAR reward for a specific action that it can really get us over the communication bumps in the beginning. I use fairly consistent treats until I get through to the horse that it's not scary to focus, and then, exactly as you said, make them less a part of the workout. I think a brain locked horse must just HURT carrying all that muscle tension around, so it takes a while for them to learn that the job doesn't have to hurt muscle or mind.
By the way, you're an awesome rider because for the first time Top has soft eyes and you can see his focus is on you. Oh he is lovely!!!!

horspoor said...

I figure if the treats help to relax and focus, I'm just going for it. I'm sure I'll hear all about it from the 'experts'. Oh well.

I think that horses that are locked up like he is are way more prone to injury. They are uncomfortable, get sore, and unpleasant to sit on. lol

kestrel said...

And dangerous to sit on...:o The experts may babble on, but they haven't offered anything that works. Seeing someone they consider beneath them actually solve a problem usually pisses them off!

kestrel said...

Oh, I forgot, until they steal your ideas...snork!

blueheron said...

Oh, Kestrel, you have no idea how on the mark you are..."until they steal your ideas." LOL>
Always pretty funny when someone comes off as a know-it-all, telling you what to do, when actually they're telling you your own advice. lol. (Did that make sense?)

kestrel said...

Oh hell yeah! I get that one a lot...
I just got a student back that I had refused to teach a couple of years ago. Instructor wars, student was a kid who wanted to jump and couldn't canter. I said no, fancy young instructor said yes. Kid got hurt. Over a jump she came off, who would have guessed! Now she and her mom are back, fairly humble, asking for lessons. At least they were honest enough to admit that I had it nailed!
Young instructor is now advocating canter before jumping, but she is the one who came up with that bright idea of course!

autumnblaze said...

OOoh good for you guys. It's not the perfect fix no, but it's a start! First steps the hardest, ya' know? Focus isn't alway easy to attain to easily so that's great he's tuned in when he knows a treat may be in store. I bet you build up to just giving him a treat at the end of your rides. :) Oh I'm so glad to hear he relaxed!

kestrel - I'm faaaar from anything resembling a trainer but how is it not TOTALLY COMMON SENSE that you should be able to canter (pretty well) and have some leg before you freaking jump?!?!? It's like telling a baby they can run before they walk to me! Drives me insane.

GoLightly said...

kestrel is a danged genius.
i keep saying that...

operant conditioning and behaviour chains, made simple.

Glad Top is re-sorting his chains:)

yeah, sit up, will ya??

scritches to that gorgeous beast.

kestrel said...

Common sense isn't common at all. Kinda like horse sense.
The same people just couldn't figure out why 3 different horses got to the point where they refused jumps. Have something to do with an off balance kid using the reins to balance...ouch! Who would have thought?! Sainted horses, those jumpers that get stuck with ill mannered owners.

bhm said...

The old way didn't work, so good for you for trying something new. The critics will complain whether you try something unconventional or not. I've found treats work well. It's good to hear more about our handsome boy's progress.

GoLightly said...


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