I love my days off because I can spend so much time with my ponies. I feel like we made a lot of progress. I know this is a looooong post, but if you have time I think it's worth the read. I'm so excited about how well they are both doing. :)
Morning Session: I've decided to make touching Chrome's head my personal project for right now. I tried to work with him in the pasture but he was too distracted by Zeppelin so I haltered him and tied him to a tree in front of the house. I left him for a few minutes to calm down because he was excited. Once he was standing still I clicked and approached him.
I clicked him a few times for standing still with his neck straight. Then I started scratching with one finger on his cheek. Anytime I touch his face he starts moving around and wants to get mouthy. He's not hand shy at all, he just doesn't enjoy being pet on the face. This is probably all of the playing with his face that I said would come back and bite me, finally biting me. Oh well, just an excuse to desensitize him to touch on his face.
So his first reaction when I touched his cheek was to look at me searching for treats, then to look away, then to touch his chest, then to lower his head . . . he just feels like he has to be doing something all the time, so I have to teach him that doing nothing can be just as great. I just kept scratching his cheek. Finally my husband made a noise in the feed shed on the opposite side of the barn from where we were and he pricked his ears and stared, not moving an inch. I clicked and treated (C/T).
After that it didn't take long to get him standing still while I scratched his cheek. Then I moved to his cheek bone, his face under his eyes, above his eyes, by his ear, etc. I didn't mess with his muzzle, his ears, his poll, his forehead or the right side of his face. This will take a while, but I'm determined to go slow and make sure it's solid. Eventually I would like for him to stand completely still while I touch every part of his face.
My intention with all of this was to desensitize him to touch on his poll because he's gotten so bad about flinging his head away (he learned that moving his head away from pressure was a good thing, but he learned it too well!). So you may be wondering how I'm going to have him lower his head if I untrain his cue. I'm making a new cue. I'm going to make his head lowering cue a light squeeze of his crest about three inches down from his poll. That way it's not as sensitive and the squeezing should be distinctive. As it is now he's trained to a light touch on the poll so anything I touch there is making him lower his head (or fling it away depending on his mood which obviously he doesn't get clicked for). This is all my fault completely and it's simply a lack of experience with clicker training equine. This is my first horse to clicker train and I will make mistakes, but fixing them is turning me into a thinker and a problem solver which in my opinion is great! :D
So after I had him standing quietly for me to scratch the left side of his face with one finger (eventually will teach it with a flat palm) I moved on to his legs. At that point I was just as ready to be doing something as he was lol. All of that standing around is boring hehe. He held both legs up on his own for about thirty seconds or so. For some reason when I'm out there I completely forget to grab them and click for standing relaxed with his foot in my hand. Sigh. I will work on it eventually.
I also did back lifts a few times. He did them crooked a couple of times (probably because I was applying uneven pressure), but otherwise did them really well. I'm hoping it won't be long before I can just use my fingers. I'm not hurting him by using a hoof pick, quarter, etc. but it can't be comfortable. I tried several different pressure points but I couldn't get him to lift his back any other way, so I'll stick with this method until I can teach him a cue.
Then I moved on to lateral flexion. He does good on both sides with me standing on that side, but I wanted to do it with me standing on the opposite side. I only worked with his left side this morning (I'll do his right side next). I did it while standing on the left a couple of times until he was offering it on his own, then I walked to the other side. I reached over his back and tickled his ribs. It took him a second to figure out he was supposed to flex left, away from me.
He quickly caught on and was flexing away from me, even offering it by himself. So then I started picking up the rope as he flexed. Then I added a little pressure. I had to tickle his side while holding the rope for him to figure it out. By the end of the session I was picking up the rope and he was flexing perfectly. One rein emergency stop here we come! :D I'll make sure he knows it this evening and then work on the right side.
That's all I worked on because he wanted breakfast and I woke up with a killer headache this morning. Since I don't have to work today I'm going to move the trailer out to where we can work on loading so that he'll be ready to go to the vet for the snip snip when the tax money comes in. Wish me luck!
Chrome's Evening Session: Okay we moved the trailer (it was too close to the fence to open) and opened it up. Chrome walked over to it and sniffed it so I clicked/treated (C/T). Then he immediately put his front hooves on the ramp, C/T. He sniffed the inside of the trailer, C/T. Then he stepped forward again on the ramp which put his rear hoof on it, C/T. Then he stepped both front feet into the trailer, C/T. I slid into the front of the trailer between the head bars or whatever they are called. I had the front door open because there is no way he could have gotten through it. He stepped almost all of the way in, one rear hoof may or may not have stepped inside, C/T. At that point he decided to back out because he saw Zeppelin. He went in and backed out several more times, but never got further than the front feet one step in. I don't know why he didn't want to go all of the way in again. Probably because he got spooked the last time the door was closed. I'll keep practicing everyday. Once I have him standing in there relaxed and comfortable I'll work on closing the ramp.
Chrome eventually lost interest because the rate of reinforcement had gone down (and I was using carrots which he still isn't overly fond of) and went to get a drink, so I called it quits on the trailer. When he came back to me I asked him to pick up his front left hoof and I caught it with my hand. He already knows to hold his hoof up for cleaning so he had no problem with that at all. I did several reps of me catching his hoof and holding it for around thirty seconds. I did both sides. It was so awesome! I finally have one of those horses who puts his hoof in my hand. :D I'll probably work on straddling it soon for trimming/rasping. For some reason on his right front foot he kept wanting to pull away but I held on and didn't click until he was standing relaxed. It won't take long to work through that.
Next I decided to work on his right rear hoof. I want to teach him to rest his toe on the ground (cock the leg like he's resting) as suggested in the Pavlich book. This helps them to balance on three legs and to completely relax the rear leg we're working on and if it's relaxed it's easy to pick it up. :) So I tried a few things to see if I could get a response. I tried my toe and got nothing. I finally borrowed my husband's cane and started tapping his pasturn. He eventually started picking his hoof up, but he just put it back down flat. After about three or four times he finally rested his toe so I started clicking and treating as fast as he could eat them. I kept clicking until he put the foot back down flat, then I started asking again.
I got him to do it two more times after my husband made Zeppelin go away because he was being mean to Chrome and being a distraction. On the third time it took a long time to get him to do it I think because he was becoming desensitized to the tapping, so I'll remember to do it only once or twice at a time. Maybe work on something else for a few minutes between each time. I'm so happy he did it because I really hadn't expected him to rest his toe. He always manages to surprise me. :)
Donkey's Evening Session: I wasn't able to get back out to work with Zeppelin until after dark. I was worried that would bother him but he actually seemed more relaxed. I started off petting his face and crest like I had been, then I started petting his neck, bringing my hand down from below his ear by his eye instead of over his head between his ears. I still can't do anything to his right side, but I'll work on that once his left side is good.
I slowly started taking small steps backward to bring myself alongside of him instead of him facing me. I clicked for every tiny step, petting him the whole time. Eventually I was standing by his shoulder, closer than I thought he would let me get actually. He doesn't seem concerned by how close I am, it's just quick movements that bother him. I pet him all over the neck, shoulder, back and a little on the top of his haunches. I even reached over his back to pet the other side. I hope I didn't push it too far. He started to get that frozen expression, so I stopped. I'll have to be careful about stopping sooner from now on, I was just excited and trying to show our progress to my husband. I'll take it slow tomorrow to make sure I don't push him outside of his comfort zone. I don't want to scare him. I'm so pleased with how well he's doing. I'm also curious to see how he does in the daylight tomorrow. I'm wondering if he's actually more comfortable in the dark. Well, that's all for today. I sure do love my days off when I can spend all day playing with them and training them. I played with Chrome with the Jolly Ball today too and got some cute pictures and video that I'll share eventually. Night all!