Archive for October, 2009
In the spirit of Halloween here are some pictures of my Dachshund, Ammo, and his best friend, Trooper, dressed up in their favorite bearable costumes.
So one of the most important skills that a mounted games pony can have is to be able to spin. Not just any spin. A sit on your hind end, light to the touch, high speed spin! Easier said than done, right?
I’ve had the goal of teaching Boomerang an amazing spin from the beginning. I dream of having a pony that my competitors watch and think – thats the pony I wish I had – he’s got it all, looks, personality, speed, agility….sounds like I’m talking about the ideal man! haha.
So here is my plan of attack to teach an amazing spin to my 6 year old Chincteague Pony, Boomerang.
Step one: Teach him to back up
Step two: Teach him to use a specific leg first when backing up
Step three: Teach him to move away from leg pressure
Step four: Teach him to put his weight on his hind end
Step five: Get him to spin with weight on hind end and continually cross his outside front leg over the inside leg when doing so
Step six: Add speed to the spin
Step seven: Polish the spin by using it in competition
Might seem like a tall order, but I can tell you right now that I’m on step 5/6. So now I’ll break it down and discuss how I taught Boomer during each step. Spinning can be a great skill for any horse to learn. Its not just for the speed horses or the western riders – any discipline can take advantage of a nice spin!
Step one: Teach him to back up. I taught Boomer to back up by walking him up to a fence, putting all my weight back and shifting my legs forward. I then applied light rein pressure until I felt his body shift or a leg move, anything that indicated he had the right idea. As soon as he gave me something I would then click and reward him. As he progressed I would ask for a little more each time – until he would back up with just a shift of my seat, some light rein pressure and the verbal cue back.
Step two: Teach him to use a specific leg first when backing up. I accomplished this by asking him to back up just like in step one, but this time using one rein at a time to signify which leg I wanted him to back up with first. Its easiest to do this drill by starting off by asking him to move his leading foot back first. So if Boomer was standing with his right front foot slightly forward I would pull on my right rein and ask him to back up – then the left – then the right – alternating rein pressure. Then clicking and rewarding when he responded to each rein cue. This step is important because I don’t just want a spin, I want a controllable spin. I want to be able to control each of my horse’s legs.
Step three: Teach him to move away from leg pressure. Next I ask Boomer to back up and during the back up I apply my left heel (toe pointing out) right at his girth (this is assuming I want him to turn right). I apply heel pressure and open up my right rein. My left rein is used to try to keep him straight (this exercise is best done along a fence). Any movement on Boomer’s part to go towards my open rein gets a click and a reward.
Step four: Teach him to put his weight on his hind end. At this point Boomer is successfully spinning away from leg pressure and towards an open hand. But now I want him to only spin with his weight on his hind end. So we go through our step 3 drill again but this time he only gets clicked and rewarded when all of his weight is on his hind end. At any point when my horse gets “stuck” or won’t move its usually because he’s too much on his front end, meaning he will need to be backed up and asked to move away from leg pressure again.
Step five: Get him to spin with weight on hind end and continually cross his outside front leg over the inside leg when doing so. Now I not only want him to spin on his hind end, but I want him to cross his outside front leg over his inside leg each time. In doing this I ensure a more fluid turn – without him getting stuck on his front end instead of using his hind. I accomplish this by asking him to back up and spin away from my leg – when he crosses the outside front over the inside front he is clicked and rewarded.
Step six: Add speed to the spin. To add speed I start with some drills. Keyholes are great for this. I ask him to go inside a box spin and return at the canter. As he progresses we ask for more and more speed – each time rewarding when I am giving the effort I expect from him.
Step seven: Polish the spin by using it in competition. The more I practice the spin in race type settings (while clicking and rewarding) the more Boomer will begin to associate his spin with turning around objects.
Here is a short video of Boomer working on the keyhole drill with me. As you can see he doesn’t actually cross his left front leg infront of his right – he sort of shuffles them. Also near the end of the spin he put a little too much weight in his front end. He got some good boys from me, but he didn’t get clicked and rewarded this specific time because he didn’t cross/spin like I wanted him to. When getting to the crossing over legs part its helpful to have someone watch you and tell you exactly when your horse crosses its legs – that or use a mirror.
Some horses have a tendency to be more on their hind end than others. Minnow was easy to teach to spin because he naturally kept his weight on his hind end. Boomer has taken a lot longer to teach to spin because he naturally wants to put all of his weight on his front end. He has improved greatly though!
Below is an awesome video of a horse doing a reining spin at liberty. Obviously taught with clicker training and I love it! Maybe someday my boy will be this good! Watch how he crosses his outside front over the inside leg.
And here is one more video of someone who used clicker training to teach the spin as well. She started by teaching her horse to spin on the ground first then transferred it to the saddle. I chose a different approach because as you saw from my post yesterday Boomer likes to bite me when I lead him – and while we are working on this, he wasn’t ready to learn to spin from the ground first. I think I’d have a swollen arm if I did that. So since we’re currently actively competing in the training division for mounted games I really needed to keep moving with my spin goal – so I opted to teach him under saddle first.
I am by no means an expert in horse training. I simply use techniques that I have discovered work best for me and my horses. Use my techniques at your own risk.
So I’ve mentioned before that one of the things that Boomerang really needs to work on is his leading skills. For some reason when I try to lead him (this mostly only happens when he is under saddle) he tries to bite me. Not only that but he will resist my rein pressure when I try to direct him from the ground. This can be a real problem in mounted games especially, because I need him to match my strides when I lead him so that I can easily vault on and off of him.
Ok, so how do I fix it? I had a lesson with the trainer I’ve had since I was 10 years old a few weeks ago. She’s very much into the Parelli method, but has been able to adapt what she knows into my clicker training. We devised a plan to work on Boomer’s bad habit.
The first part of the training is to teach Boomer to match my stride. My goal is to keep myself right at his shoulder – if I do this he is unable to bite me without getting me to move ahead of his shoulder because he can’t physically reach me. So in order to do this – if he doesn’t at first respond to my body cues (a cluck to move forward or a change in my body’s energy) then I use the end of my lead rope to give him a gentle tap on his hind end. And if he tries to dislodge me from his shoulder – I back up to keep in line with his shoulder.
Meanwhile I am also clicking and rewarding Boomer everytime he puts his ears forward during our “session”. Below you can watch a video of our first practice session.
As you can see near the end of the video we have a little battle as Boomer tries to back up in order to dislodge me from his shoulder so that he can bite me. He is unsuccessful and I keep him moving forward until I can reward him for ears forward.
Later the same day after more practice I took this video. As you can see he is no longer trying to dislodge me in order to bite me, but he still has a nasty look on his face. However, he is quicker to put his ears forward and he is matching my stride mostly with the change of my energy rather than me having to use the leadrope on his rump.
Since these videos were taken I have practiced with him several other times and he continues to progress. I haven’t been bitten since we started and he is now consistently matching my stride. My hope is that I can eventually keep his ears forward the entire time as well as teach him that when I place my hands on his neck in a certain position (the position I put them in in order to vault on) he will move quickly forward at a trot or canter. We still have a lot more work to do, but for now I am happy that I don’t have to ice my arms from horse bites. Aren’t ponies wonderful?
OK so I was going to wait a few more days to post this…because I thought I could get a better video of it, but I just can’t wait any longer.
My boys were on National TV!! Thats right, Ammo the Dachshund and Minnow appeared on Animal Planet’s America’s Cutest Dogs clip show on Saturday, October 24th. They weren’t one of the main videos – but a short clip of them showed up in the “Odd Couples” section. The coolest thing about it is that I didn’t even know that they had made the show. In the beginning of the summer I received an e-mail from Animal Planet’s casting director mentioning that they had come across my videos of Ammo and Minnow playing on youtube. They asked if I would consider submitting them to be considered for the show. Of course I agreed (how cool would that be) – they came back to me a few months later and asked if I would sign some release forms – which had me thinking they were really going to use the clips. But after several more months of not hearing anything I assumed they decided to go a different direction. That is until I got a facebook message from a friend who said she was watching the show and saw a clip of my boys on the show.
When I got the message I of course rushed to the tv to try to record a re-run of the episode. Thankfully it was playing again and I was able to catch all the action. Neat to think that even though it was a small clip someone still recognized them on the show. Anyway – without further ado…here is the clip as seen on the show followed by the full original video that I took of them.
Pretty cool. I hope that its the first of many television appearances – and this is infact the very first time any of the Trick Ponies have made it on TV – and to think its on Animal Planet! Way to aim high boys!
Ok so I know I’ve sort of disappeared this past week, but for good reason. One of my good friends got married to my husband’s best friend last Friday. I was a bridesmaid and my husband was the best man – needless to say we were very busy last week. I had to get a spray on tan to get rid of my blinding farmers tan (what can I say, I spend too much time at the farm) and we had to arrange “day care” for the Dachshund – he got to spend 2 days at my parents romping with his partner in crime, Trooper. So now that I’m recovered and back from a hectic week its time to get back to posting! And I have a lot to share! You might think that I wouldn’t have much given the busy state of last week, but I actually have tons to report on about the Trick Ponies as well as the Dachshund – I also have some fantastic news to announce! But the announcement will have to wait (I need some time to prepare the videos) so I will leave it to speculation right now and you will just have to check back in this week.
So onto the post for today. This is semi old news as it happened on Saturday, October 17th. And unfortunately it does not involve the Trick Ponies (but oh how I wish it did). On the 17th my family and I took a trip to Ocean City, NJ for the day. The real agenda for the trip was to pack up my grandmother’s decaying beach house as it was sold and settlement is happening this week. My grandmother lived there for decades and it has been in my mother’s family for generations. Sadly the house is in pretty bad shape and beyond repair at this point in its life. So without being able to afford a rebuild – and in desperate need of money – my grandmother has reluctantly agreed to sell. Its sad to see it go, as I remember beach trips there as a child, walking to the corner shop for candy, and taking the dogs for a hike on the beach.
So last Saturday we went down for one last jaunt as we packed up my grandmothers left behind belongings. I secretly was excited to make the trip because I wanted to take the Dachshund on the beach. This would be the first time he was to see the ocean – and I was excited to see what he would think. Sadly on Saturday it was pouring rain (not ideal beach weather) – but I bundled the dog up anyway and headed to the beach with him. Below you can watch a video of his first encounter in the sea…I think he was a bit surprised by it.
Trooper, my parent’s Lab/Australian Shepherd Mix (and Ammo’s best friend) had great fun running in and out of the ocean and chasing seagulls with Ammo. We eventually had to pull them away because Ammo got a bit cold, but I bundled him up in dry clothes and he quickly became warm again. My only regret was I couldn’t bring the ponies. I have dreamed of the day that I can ride Minnow on the beach. I’ve always wanted to gallop him through the water – and hopefully someday it will come true, as you are allowed to ride horses on Assateague Island (Minnow’s birthplace) in the fall and winter months. I haven’t been able to make the trip yet, but it is certainly on my to-do list.
I’m glad Ammo got to experience his first visit to the ocean, I strongly believe in acclimating my animals to new environments and surroundings (the horses are included in this as well). Socializing your animals and taking them with you places makes them much more adaptable and happier. The Dachshund goes with me everywhere – and he is one of the most well adjusted dogs I have ever had. Now grant it I know its not always possible to take your dog (or horse) everywhere – but take your dog to the dog park, bring him in the pet store to buy dog food – let him ride around in the car with you when you run errands (as long as its not too hot or cold in the car), take him to a friend’s house. I even practice this methodology with my horses. Take them to horse shows just to watch, drive them around in the trailer without actually going anywhere, I take them swimming at the local lake, mine have even been to tack shops (for appearances), and I take them on walks…much like you would a dog. Anywhere you can take your horse/dog that is new and different helps them to become well adjusted. I also believe it helps with their confidence. Confidence can go a long way when it comes to despooking a horse or keeping a dog from being nervous or aggressive in new situations. Dachshunds are notorious for being snappy and aggressive with other dogs and small children – but thankfully my Ammo has never displayed any of this – and I believe its thanks to the fact that I have taken him places since he was 8 weeks old.
So I’m giving everyone some homework, this week think of somewhere you haven’t taken you dog or horse (or any pet) and make an effort to take him/her there sometime soon. If you take me up on my challenge be sure to post a comment and give us a report of how it went! I’d love to hear!