Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Thoughts on training and praise

I worked Shell Fire again tonight. Since my lesson with Jaime, I have decided to really get stuck into him and get him up and going. No more 'baby horse'!

I guess my problem before with not working him as hard has been my worry of keeping him happy and making sure he doesnt get stale with all the training etc.
I know you can go out hacking etc to keep their interest, but he is just such a quick learner and I havent wanted him to get bored.

My worries on this have vanished however after tonight. I have been consistently working him just doing flat work everyday (except Monday which is his and my day off!) since my lesson with Jaime. After tonights breakthrough, I have been pondering on some of my training techniques and my own personal ideas about competition and partnership with your horse.

I believe no matter what, the partnership and trust between you and your horse comes first and foremost. If you want them to work hard for you, they must respect you and trust you.
I spent a lot of time on the ground with Shell Fire teaching him manners, how to move his feet on cue and how to cope with 'scary monsters'.
I am always firm (sometimes very firm!) but as soon as I get what I want, I give him lots of praise.
Example: Shell Fire spies a plastic bag stuck to a fence flapping in the wind. A scary object for him that transforms him into 'Instant Ay-rab'. Through my training he knows that I will help him and take him up to the object in question. He knows that he has to try to go as near as possible to it. It can take as long as he wants. I also show him that it really isnt going to eat him by also touching it and playing with it. I stand right by it. I encourage him forward and when he does come forward, he gets a reward by verbal praise and a rub. Once he has touched it with his nose, he is encouraged to be brave for a little longer.
At this point, he will sometimes relax completely as he figures it isnt really that scary, or he will still be cautious, but will stay there until I ask him to move away.

This example above not only has helped for a bond, but has been invaluable for when I have moved onto riding him. When I am on him, he has to learn to trust me. I am not on the ground anymore. I am not going to stand by the scary object or touch it to show him that it is alright, but I am going to ask for the same things on his back that I did when I was on the ground.
Knowing this routine for any scary objects means that instead of running in fright, he will jump and look at the object knowing that he has to 'face it'.

Keeping my praise tone consistent from my in hand work to the ridden also means I can praise him while training him.
He instantly settles when a little tense when I praise him. Its great for when asking a new aid because as soon as he tried to do what I am asking for, I praise, he relaxes and starts realising what I am trying to ask of him
Example: I had not done much if any canter work with Shell Fire. When I went to my first lesson with Scott and cantered him for the first time, I instantly praised him and he straight away came back to a walk.
For this I was 'told off' and told that I should bring him back down gradually and not allow him to stop. Now, this is where I start to get to my debate...
Because I believe that Shell Fire needed to know he had done the right thing by cantering when asked and for a whole circle (something he finds hard to do). Whenever he tries, I praise and he gets a reward - the pressure comes off.
I understand what Scott is saying in that it can teach them bad habits (falling into downwards transitions) but surely you are better off with a relaxed happy horse to train with than one that isnt sure they have done the right thing?
Its been 3 weeks since my lesson with Scott and my first lot of cantering.The canter work only involved getting him to go forward and to try to jump into canter when the aid was given without running into it. The first serious canter work was during Jaime's lesson.
When I rode Shell Fire tonight, he not only is jumping into canter better, but is starting to try and move into the contact. When he first did it tonight I instantly praised him and allowed him to instantly walk - something I would have been told off for ;-)
However, when I next asked for canter, he went straight into the canter I praised him for. This time I praised him but kept him going and then a bit later on asked for a correct downwards transition to trot and then walk.
Yes, he falls a little into the downwards transition, but hey, he is now cantering better!

Anyhow, getting back to the start of this blog in how I know he is enjoying his work and he isnt getting stale... For starters, when he sees me in my riding gear, he RUNS up to me in the paddock. If I am just in my 'farm gear' he will come up to me but in an idle walk.
Second, he REALLY tries during the training. He isnt fizzing up too much anymore when faced with a new challenge or aid. He will sometimes try and rush (like when I asked for some lateral work tonight) but that verbal praise for when he tries or does what I ask works like magic. He is now trying so hard all the time for that praise. The praise is now starting to move into a quick rub on the wither/neck in preparation for removing the verbal praise completely for showing and dressage tests etc. Its the most exciting thing in the world right now - riding a horse that is trying his hardest to do what you are asking of him.

Let this post remind everyone of the value of praise and partnership and to the things it leads to :-D

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