Saturday, February 26, 2011

I forgot

what it feels like when it's below zero.


This was entirely unexpected. The forecast low was in the high teens, and we usually run up to 10 degrees colder out here in the valley, so I was expecting low teens. Not -1 at 7:30. My poor critters - I'd have thrown them an extra flake last night, and I'd have gotten up and fed them when I first woke up at 5:30.

It was really luxurious to sleep in this morning :)

I have lost all sense of what temperature it is in the house. I guess it's because of the wood stove - the den is hot, and the other rooms are usually cold. It doesn't feel like it's in the 50s in the den right now, as I try to get the fire roaring again.

I did have one story I wanted to tell yall. You know I'm big on clicker training - I don't see any negative aspects to working a little clicker training in to your ground work. (Unless you inadvertently teach the horse to paw. Don't do that. It gets old fast.) One of the really neat things about c/t is that you don't have to have clicker sessions with the animal very frequently - they never seem to forget this stuff. You have to be consistent while you've got the clicker and the treats, but it doesn't matter if you train once a day or once a month.

Wednesday I wanted to touch up Dixie's feet before the weekend snowstorm. I clipped her haybag to the feeding area to give her something to munch on, and I got three feet rolled. Then she acted like a cow about her right rear - yanked it out of my hands, sidepassed as far away from me as possible. I moved her back into place, told her to quit being a fool, and asked her to pick it up again. She sidepassed away again so I yanked the lead untied, backed her up about 5 steps, and made her move her butt away from me. Then I decided we should go get the mail. We walked down the driveway, got the mail (hello Schneider's!) and I noticed the trash bin. The garbage had run that day and I needed to wheel the bin back to the house.

Dixie used to flee in terror from big green wheelie bins. The first time I tried to ride her past one, she backed up a 100' driveway in a panic. Eventually we got over the fear of that bin, but all other bins on the road were met with equal suspicion. She'd skitter wildly across the road to get away from one. So I clicker trained her. I'd hand-walk her to the trash bin and c/t for thinking about touching it. Then I'd make her touch the bin with her nose - I think wheelie bins are the first thing I taught her to "touch it!" with. It's also one of the few things I c/t for under saddle - Wednesdays in the fall of '09 we'd work our way down a mile of country road, zigzagging along touching every trash bin on the street.

So she's had a dramatic relationship with trash bins. I had absolutely nothing to use as a treat with me. I decided to pretend like this was no big deal and we did it all the time. I grabbed the bin and tipped it back onto its wheels, paused just a second so she could see it moving, and dragged it up the gravel driveway to the house. Dixie alternated between skittering at the end of her lead, rolling her eyes at it, and coming up and touching it with her "curious" ears on. When we got the bin back to the house, I told her she was a good horse, thumped her on the neck, and led her back to her feeding area. She ate some more hay and held up that last foot like a perfect angel.

The point of this story is that clicker training "sticks" as well as conventional training. She hasn't gotten a c/t for touching a trash bin in months, and we haven't done a real session re: trash bins in over a year. In the past, I had flapped the lids on them and made her touch them, but I'd never shown her that they move.

Yes, it went so well partially because we have a good relationship now. But it's also proof that clicker training sticks with them. I didn't ask Dixie to interact with the trash bin, just to stay with me as I dragged the bin up the driveway. On her own, she kept "touching it" because she remembers she sometimes gets a treat for touching big scary noisy trash bins.

One of the things I was scared of when I started clicker training was that I'd end up with a spoiled horse who would only perform if she knew I had treats. (Honestly, that's one of the reasons I don't do very much clicker under saddle. That, and poor coordination.) You really do need to reinforce a behavior with a lot of treats at first, but once you get a behavior down, you don't have to have treats.

I haven't had enough coffee yet. I had this written out better in my head yesterday, but of course it didn't come out as smoothly as I'd like this morning. Cheyenne was the first to comment, and I started to write this as a comment but decided to just add it to the main post instead.

Chey, my problem with c/t is that a lot of people seem to treat it like it's a goal unto itself. Kinda like a lot of natural horsemanship people end up just perfecting their NH games and never actually riding the horse? But my point is that it is a good adjunct to your normal horse activities, too. If you want to do lots of clicker training, more power to you - but if you just want to c/t that one tiny problem you have and then go back to your normal pressure/release training, it still works just fine. Can't get the horse to back up smoothly? Or maybe she rushes through a dressage cue? Or you want him to stand up perfectly square for a show but he likes to cock a back leg? Stuff like that is where clicker training really shines.

And it makes you a better trainer, too. You will get, errr, unexpected results if your timing isn't absolutely perfect. Clicker training definitely made me a better "regular" trainer - I am much sharper at rewarding the try now.

I also wanted to point yall to Aarene's old post about Story and the helicopter. When Dixie boldly planted her nose on the bin as I was dragging it over the rocks and stared at me, I thought of Aarene's story. :)


  1. This CT seems to be quite big over here, lots of Magazines run articles on it.
    Even your thermometer looks cold!!!

  2. It's only 15 here (and still sn*wing, dangit!) but the ponies and goats are getting extra hay until I can see green again. Sigh. The woodstove keeps our house at 70 degrees, though.

    I did a bunch of c/t with Story, but I just use verbal praise + treat when I'm teaching some new trick to Fiddle, mostly because I'm too lazy to carry the dang clicker. One of the things Fee has learned is to respond to verbal praise--she didn't give a rat's patoot about "good girl" when I got her!

  3. Wowzers thats cold!
    We are supposed to be coming to Reno next week, how are the roads down there?
    Do you think this would be a good way for me to teach my gelding to lower his head?
    He is approaching 16.3 hands and I'm having to stretch to bridle at times.
    Oddly he drops his head and actually sticks it through the neck opening of his blanket, wish he'd do that with the bridle!

  4. Aarene - yeah, I haven't found an actual clicker box since we left Ohio. I just do a tongue-click - it's slightly more precise than saying "good!" I have recently started working back in a verbal praise, and it seems like Dixie is finally responding to that. :)

    CG - are you coming to the AERC convention? The roads are fine; our road crews are great. My little subdivision in the sticks got plowed twice yesterday. There might be chain controls for the roads up to Tahoe, but the roads in the valley will be perfectly fine.

  5. Oh, and re: bridling - yeah, that's something that clicker is great for. Dropping her head and taking the bit was one of the first things I ever taught Dixie. She also has a great giraffe imitation ;)

  6. We had record cold temps over night the last two nights. I'm going to have to get my wood stove cranked up to get my house warmed up too.

    I'm glad that the clicker training has worked for you. I can just picture Dixie coming up and touching that rolling trash bin.

    I haven't forgotten your email. still thinking about it, I guess but I will get back to you.

  7. I like your philosophy on the c/t (and NH) training. They are just steps in the process and if you use them to your benefit to help get to the next step, they are great.

    I worry about the people who think they are end-result training techniques. ;-)

  8. Oh yeah! It's ccccold! We actually turned on our back-up electric heaters the last couple of nights.
    I think we can blame Aarene for not stopping the cold front at the Cascades!

  9. Bright sunshine and sixty four degrees here right now ! I'm ducking to avoid getting hit with whatever you're about to throw at me ! :)

  10. I've used clicker training twice for very specific issues with two different horses. Had excellent results both times. I do think c/t has its place for sure.

    I don't think Dixie is alone in needing help to get past her fear of big, rolling trash cans. I'm pretty sure the word was put out long ago in the horse community that they are evil and WILL kill you!

    For the last couple of weeks I have almost stopped complaining about winter. 60's and 70's are nice, but then we had an odd day in the 40's and after days of 75 that feels like it is below zero!

  11. We had beautiful weather today, and we're looking at near 80's for tomorrow and Monday. Your weather is TOO COLD!! Hopefully everyone is staying warm.

    I don't have any experience with clicker training, but I can definitely see how it could be useful. I'll have to do some reading because I don't even know how to start... the click is the command and then when she does it she gets a treat? OR, do you give the command and then the click is the reward? Yep, clueless.

    Sounds like it worked great with Dixie!

  12. MiKael - no rush, I haven't gotten to ride in this awful weather!

    Yall with the nice weather, we'll talk again in May, ok? ;)

    i2p - the click (or tongue cluck, or whatever) is a marker sound that lets Lilly know *precisely* when she's done the right thing. It'd be great for your in-hand showing stuff (showmanship?) This is a quite good site to get you started. The too-short explanation is this: you teach her that the clicker means good things by clicking then feeding her a treat over and over, til she knows that click=treat. Then, when she does "the right thing", whatever that may be, you click the instant she does it right and she knows the treat's coming.

    The difference in clicker training and just handing out treats - if you get her to line up perfectly square and say "Good Lilly!" and reach in your pocket and dig out a treat and hand it to her, by the time she noms the treat she might have fidgeted or cocked a hip. What did you reward? She doesn't know, maybe it's standing straight or maybe it's relaxing her hips for you or maybe it's the way she stretched her head out when she saw you go for the treat? The click means "that instant right there that's what I want" and it gives you time to dig out a treat.

    There's lots more to it of course. One of the first things you teach is that begging gets you nowhere, so you don't wind up with a pushy rude horse. Anyway, I'll shut up - I hope you get the basic idea :)

  13. I was showing my new trimmer Peanut's clicker tricks (as she's looking to clicker train her horse), and I realized that I don't use them for tricks anymore - I use them for correcting behavior (or at least making his behavior make my life easier).

    The touch a scary object command is great. I use it all the time under saddle, even without treats. He's scared of something, then I tell him to touch it, and he can manage to inch himself over until he makes contact and then it's no big thang.

    Love clicker. :D

  14. Winter has returned here, too. Hoping its the last blast.

  15. I've been reading up on the clicker training, I think that would really work for Cartman. Thanks for the link!

    Regarding our Reno visit- it was completely coincidental that we planned to go on the weekend of the AERC convention.

    We were already travelling down to check out the area, (have never been there) and are trying to pick somewhere with better weather to get some land for vacation/retirement.

    Although, looking at your thermometer I'm not sure thats gonna work:)

  16. I have forgot what it feels like to be above zero... and couldn't help the post on wood. Black walnut and almond?? Really, you can get that in Reno??

  17. CG - I whine a lot, but it's really not bad! The highs are back in the 40s-50s this week. And the altitude makes the sun much warmer - I am a whiny Southerner and yesterday I was walking around town in a tee-shirt and an unzipped sweatshirt when it was 33. The road crews are really great. Stuff gets plowed fast, and there's sand at all the intersections.

    I never thought I'd love the desert like I do. I miss trees sometimes, but I just adore the views and the big blue sky and the thin mountain air and the great places to ride with great footing. You might like it too :)

    Jonna - it comes from California, from the nut groves. There's some pine that comes from the BLM land in the Sierras, but all the hardwood is from CA. The "trees" in Washoe County are max 20'+ high junipers that look like they've had a hard life ;) It's not exactly energy-independent, but it's definitely cheaper than propane!

  18. Thanks for the info and the link!! I know, I'm a little slow, but I have been reading and I plan to start trying it out with a few different things I've been having issues with. Now that I have the idea anyway.


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