Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Remedial training

South Jersey looking pretty
Meanwhile in Scoutland, we've been working on some real basics. Scout has always been really straight forward about everything, and it's easy for me to forget that he's 4 and just six months into retraining. So when he does something naughty or out of character it tends to catch me off guard, and I'm like, "what is your problem dude?"

Oh, right... you're a still a youngster. Momma chill.

Currently we have two remedial areas of focus: Behaving at the mounting block and standing on cross ties. He's always been very good about the mounting block until very recently. I think a bit of stress and the level of work we're doing has soured him a little, and I also think he's testing the boundaries as well. Previously, he's always said YES to everything, and I'm not sure he thought that he could say no, or maybe, or not right now. So I'll cut him some slack that he's maybe expanding his emotional vocabulary with me. However, standing still at the mounting block is non-negotiable. And I had enough grief with Riley regarding mounting issues that I do not need to go down that path again. These little antics quickly snowball and not only do I need him to stand at a designated mounting block, but realistically, I need to him to stand quietly near any object I chose to mount from (even the ground). The behavior manifests itself in a few ways. He'll either swing his hind end away just as I'm about to get on, or take a step or two backward when I put my foot in the stirrup. Neither are okay and both are dangerous. So I took him back to basic ground work to help reinstall the proper behavior.

oh shit.
Truth be told, I've done very little ground work with him because of his good behavior, so strapping on the rope halter and putting him through some basic horsemanship stuff was a bit eye-opening for the baby. I moved on to the mounting block where I utilized a technique I learned from a well known Amish Cowboy who is a literal genius/magician with difficult horses. The basic concept is that if the horse choses not to stand squarely next to the block (visualize a rectangular box where you want the horse to be) then he has to keep moving. The concept sounds fairly simple and it is, but Scout used every evasive tactic in the book before finally figuring out where I wanted him. You can use this method from all sorts of objects, eventually the horse will start to get himself into position as you climb onto something (this would be considered pretty advanced, but I've seen it in practice). You can up the ante of the task by asking the horse to come to the block from any angle or direction, but still asking them to move their body into the correct placement/direction. It's essentially learning to control the hind end of the horse from the ground and it feels like magic when the horse gets it. Once Scout understood where I wanted him, I spent time rewarding him by scratching and patting him all over to further desensitize the idea of the mounting block. Rinse and repeat, make him move on, get back into the box and reward with physical and verbal reinforcement.

And, because I was doing all of my groundwork and training with my helmet on, I thought maybe I'd hop on. After all, he wasn't tacked up (I wanted to remove the idea that he was going to be ridden from the picture). So I leaned over him a few times, got brave and swung on.

Real talk? I'm going to need a good bareback pad.
A bit confused about how to steer in this thing, but at least the brakes worked
The ring was pretty flooded, so we just plodded around, practicing transitions and changes of direction all while "schooling some water".


What I learned about this exercise with Scout is that I need to pepper in some training sessions like this into our routine. It's good for our relationship and it's good for his baby brain. I think sometimes at this point in their training then tend to anticipate what's coming next and developing some anxiety about it, so it's great to mix things up a little and keep their brains working.

Our other area of remedial training focus is regarding the cross ties. We all know that OTTBs are extremely reliable for single tying, but not all take to cross ties right away. I've definitely found that cross ties in a small space definitely make the transition a little easier, and at our last barn they were in a very large space that seemed to encourage a lot of moving around on the ties. Additionally, Scout has a little bit of a quirky behavior when he's being tacked up. I don't know if he was cinched up too tight in the past or what the deal is, but when you first fasten the girth he gets a bit clumsy and sort of sways around a little. On a single tie, it's fine because he can sort of swing around like a pendulum, but in the cross ties he meets resistance and that's alarming for him. But the thing is he respects pressure when tied, that's not the issue. Once, at the old barn he started swaying around in the cross ties, he hit the end of them and started leaning back, further and further until they snapped and he fell backward and slid on his hocks. He gave himself a good scare and even though we tried several times after that, we deemed him "not reliable" on cross ties.

Who me? I'm perfect.

Truthfully, it doesn't matter to me if he cross ties as long as he can tie in some way. But selfishly, I'd like him to learn to cross tie because there are plenty of times that I need him to. Most recently, it's when we're going for a lesson at local farm and I have to tack him up in the aisle. Or, if I have to leave him unattended for a moment to use the bathroom. Or he pulls a shoe and I can't meet the farrier so he has to stand on cross ties like a big boy and not embarrass me.

And I know that some might say, stick him on the ties and let him figure it out, but that hasn't worked for us. I'm now in a barn with concrete aisles and I'm not willing to risk another slip and fall situation while he figures things out. So for now, I put him on the cross ties after every work, and it's going swimmingly. He'll stand for untacking, brushing, and whatever else I want to do. He gets rewarded for being a good boy and I think he's making the connection that cross ties are okay.

GOOD BOY.
Most recently, before a training ride at another farm, he not only stood while I fetched the trainer's tack, but he let me tack him up on the ties with no swaying, no dancing and just hung out until it was time for his ride.

Stop taking my picture, I'm being good
So while this all may feel pretty remedial in terms of his education, I think it's important for me to take time to look at the bigger picture and see where there might be some holes in his training and target them when time allows. I think there's nothing more frustrating than letting a poor/bad behavior get away from you only to be in a situation where you really need to count on your horse behaving.

And it's paying off for us. His behavior at the mounting block is improving daily, he's reliable on cross ties in new scenarios and most recently, he stood for the farrier on cross ties with no supervision!

What sort of training holes have you guys discovered on your journeys and how do you handle fixing them?


16 comments:

  1. as far as i'm concerned, i've never regretted doing any of that type of practice work - whether purposeful ground work or just slow and steady chipping away at typical barn manners type stuff. it's so easy to take it for granted when a horse just... ya know... does what we expect them to do haha. but they've all gotta learn somehow. my past experience with cross tying matches yours - i always found a smaller space (ideally a wash stall) to be great for horses who had trouble with cross ties, tho that proved to be exactly the opposite for charlie. go figure.

    charlie's always been pretty good, more or less, but has broken his share of cross ties. he can have a fairly ..... mobile head while tied. which i'm cool with so long as the feet are relatively still. for him, i've found that clipping the ties to his halter's cheek rings instead of the around the noseband have given him the leeway he craves to look hither and thither without breaking anything. ymmv lol

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    1. Oh I like your suggestion of clipping him a bit higher. He definitely respects that in the trailer:)

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  2. Oh man, having ties in a smaller space is literally the most helpful thing. At the field board barn here, the horses easily get twisted around, and I have nightmares about them strangling themselves or getting their necks all tangled up. Ugh.

    It's funny. Most OTTBs I know are good with straight tying, except for Pig. He was a straight tying drop out. If someone had ever tried tying him to the "tree of knowledge" he'd either have pulled the tree out of the ground or killed himself trying. Cross ties though? Always been happy to stand in those for days. Weirdo!

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    1. Oh man, horses twisting around and then panicking is that absolute worst. Then you're stuck in that horrible situation of whether or not to help them, or just wait for the ties to break.

      Oh Pig, he can't do anything the normal way can he? Silly guy! I think sometimes you find things they give you a hard NO about and you just have to listen, most of them are worth accommodating in some way!

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  3. I'm admittedly terrible at doing ground work. Scarlet walks well and ties well enough that I always prioritize riding over ground work. There are a few things I need to work on though. He has been really naughty about moving right away after me mounting lately so I need to work on that. I also need to work on tying so that he can deal with being by himself for a bit. He is perfectly fine being tied if someone is there. If there is no one there, he freaks out. I can't even go into the tack room without him being concerned. Definitely things to think about.

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    1. Some days I get to the farm all set to just ride and Scout does something that makes me take a step back and work on something basic. He's frustrating at the block because he just goofs around before you get on. Once you swing a leg over he just stands there quietly! Getting them to tie reliably, and left alone is tough because the only way you can get them used to it, is to do it and push the boundaries a little more each time. It's so tough!

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  4. Having Mae laid up for almost 6 months with ulcers and working a lot on groundwork ended up being a blessing in disguise. We are now okay with cross ties and also can independently move our hind end. She has some anxiety when she's away from the herd walking to and from the grazing pasture so I unknowingly have been applying the same technique of - you must keep moving until you give me what I want. I basically have her keep walking in circles until she figures out that she needs to follow me rather than drag me back to the barn

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    1. That technique really seems to work well for so many of them. Seems simple enough, but they usually get the picture quickly!

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  5. There are things that horses just need to "figure out" and things that they need to be taught and I think the difference has a lot to do with the individual horse. For example, Courage was TERRIBLE under pressure, but the first barn I had him at had fantastic enclosed cross ties. It took less than three days and no special time or training for him to "figure it out".

    My current barn doesn't have cross ties and the inestimable ZB came to me with maybe a shadow of a tying issue. Instead of letting her "figure it out" and potentially break a lot of hardware and create some long term issues, I just spent the first few weeks teaching her that when I work on her, she stands still. Period.

    Now she ties in her stall like a champ and as the weather improves, we'll start working on changing the locations to make sure she understands the concept.

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    1. The rinse and repeat seems to be the best method in my opinion. You can up the ante a little once the behavior is confirmed, but too much pressure can really ruin months of training sometimes.

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  6. I absolutely love these little learning how to be a normal horse breakthroughs. For me they feel so much more rewarding than things under saddle. And girl I feel you on the mounting block drama. I think it took me longer to get Opie to stand still at the mounting block than it did to get him to stop weaving, and honestly I still bribe him with cookies so he doesn't wander off as soon as my leg is over him. I did the same thing as you with the ground work, and I definitely see us having to revisit it in the future when we move to mounting blocks at other places.

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    1. Scout is such a butt head abut standing at the block. We're getting there and some days he's perfect, but other days it's 10 minutes of me trying not to lose my temper and him rooting around for treats! The breakthroughs do feel big though and we've managed to accomplish a lot together so far.

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  7. haha I know what you mean, Dante is so good all the time that when he does something age appropriate it catches me off guard.

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    1. Right? You get lured in by how awesome and easy they are then, BAM!

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  8. But he's so gorgeous - how could he ever put a foot out of line? ;-) I'm totally with the 'you're usually so good..WHAT ARE YOU DOING' trap. That's my horses most of the time tho Grif definitely lures me into the trap the most. It's hard to realize, oh hey, you're a youngster this really isn't *that* crazy haha.

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  9. Well, now that I have my own 4 yo, I’m super appreciative of these types of posts and ideas! I already know I’m going to have to go back and work on some small ground manners with Niko, but I’m looking forward to it! Especially with it being winter, I think it’s the perfect time to take a step back and work on the basics

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