Cersei clicker update

I like talking about my dog almost as much as my horses, so here’s a Cersei update.

Yesterday, I taught her paw. She knows touch as “put your nose on something,” but I wanted a different cue for “put your paw on something.” Took a little work to get the first paw, but after that I just reinforced the hell out of the behavior for about 20 clicks, then added the verbal cue and kept reinforcing it.

Teaching a behavior that she doesn’t already kind of know is new to me. You’re supposed to first capture/encourage the behavior in whatever way seems best. Click, reward, repeat – many times. After she’ll offer the behavior, start saying/doing the cue while she does it, then right before she does it. She needs a lot of reinforcement at first – you want to seem like a doggie slot machine. Once you get the behavior on cue, you can refine it or increase duration.

Anyway, she already knew or was strongly inclined to naturally perform her previous tricks. I taught her to sit the classic way – treat in hand, move hand over head til butt goes down, give treat. Can’t remember how I taught her to settle (lay down), but probably just from telling her “settle” right after she’d done it. And every time she rolls on her back it’s sooooo cute we just shriek about how she’s crazy!! But she’s a mouthy dog, not a pawing dog, so getting her to put a paw on the target was new for both of us!

Today we worked on paw again – including pawing the dreaded nail dremel, which is much less dreaded these days – and broke up the routine with her other tricks. Then I decided to try free-shaping a behavior. She was laying down, about at my 8 o’clock, facing the area right in front of me (where the target had been). I waited til she happened to look away from me, to her left, and clicked. She got really excited – and immediately looked left again, to see if that magical click would happen again! It did! Wonder of wonders! We repeated that a few times.

Then one of the cats (Bond, the evil fluffy one) snuck in the kitchen. Graham hissed and the cat ran out and Graham shot him with the Nerf revolver. The cat ran away to sulk and Cersei got up to investigate the Nerf cartridge – so I clicked her for touching it. She thought that was pretty exciting, so she walked back and forth between the Nerf and me, getting treats and going to touch it again. We finished with a settle and a jackpot. End on a positive note!

I was excited that I free-shaped a behavior, even though it was really small. It’s a harder thing to teach (requires better timing), and it’s a little harder for some dogs to learn that way. There’s a bunch of different directions I could take “turn your head to the left” – just off the top of my head, I could teach her to spin on command, or I could teach her to turn left and head away from me. (The latter would be really useful if she loses sight of a ball but I know where it is; it’s a valuable retriever skill.)

And I was really happy I got her to target something that wasn’t within arm’s reach of me. Dogs (and horses, for that matter) don’t generalize well, and she’d previously only touched things I had very near me. If I got her touching a cardboard box, then shoved the box five feet away from me, she’d get confused and “lose” her ability to touch it. Walking away and touching the Nerf and walking back to me was a breakthrough :)

Poppy

I rode the big guy today. We did about an hour of walk-trot stuff. This time I carried the real dressage whip. I think Daun was right, long ago, when she said some horses just need to know you have the whip – he is definitely more responsive to my leg when he knows I’ve got a whip to back it up.

Mainly I concentrated on me. Keeping my hands still, following him with my seat, keeping my legs still and giving aids correctly. This shit is hard! Worthwhile, but hard.

My dressage book said to use the whip as an aid for yourself – that if your hands are correct and your legs are correct, the whip will “lie close behind and nearly parallel to the rider’s lower leg, resting lightly across the thigh.” This seemed like great advice, and it kept part of my brain constantly checking in with my hands.

My legs are, amazingly, improving. They don’t flop around like they used to, and my toes point forward most of the time. The bad habit I’m concentrating on right now is giving aids with the inside of my legs, not my calves. I’m getting better at that. And I have a tendency to ask for a trot with a squeeze, properly, and then if I don’t get a response I turn my toes out and boot the horse with my heels. Heels are a good attention-getter but I need to work on delivering the same energy with a proper squeeze, I suppose.

I found a new (unapproved) use for the whip, too. There’s a long straight flat stretch in the back part of their pasture – I trot Poppy away from his buddies, turn, and walk back. There are two little paths that turn left, eventually circling back toward his buddies, so he tries to dart down them whenever we trot away. I kinda remember I could use the whip for more than a hand-position-checking-device, so I started whapping him in the shoulder when he’d try to veer down the little paths. They weren’t even hard whacks, just a “hey I mean it don’t do that” reminder, and it worked great.

My elbows at the trot are improving too. Most of the time, anyway :)

After our ride I fed Poppy a half-scoop of his grain. The light was right and I got a good picture of a Happy (Dirty) Percheron. (I know, I’m too lazy to be a real dressage rider – I brushed where the saddle went and left the rest of him muddy.)

Happy Poppy

Serenity

Tuesday was pretty tough.

See, there’s a couple different possibilities which would lead to my husband needing to move back to Ohio. There’s always the fear that the recession will eat his job and he’ll need a new one at a different company. And there are no jobs for his particular speciality down here. I’m not going to go in to it too deeply, but Memphis is a third-tier market with only a handful of his positions, and they don’t open up very often, and they’re not ideal for him anyway. Anyway, I’ve been coming to grips with the probability that we’ll be packing up and moving away pretty soon.

Tuesday I got down about it. Felt very sorry for myself – why can’t things work out like I think I want, I’m going to freeze to death next winter, I’m going to have to take another bar exam, I’ll lose my friends and my beautiful southern countryside, blah blah blah. I sniveled for a while and went out and rode Champ. He’s my emotional rock, whether he likes it or not.

We had a lovely ride. It was a very foggy grey day. The first big lake had a small flock of mallards, who took off and squawked away, and two Canada geese, who honked and swam in circles and completely captivated Cersei. We continued on, all the way back to the deer shooting field off the back corner of the property, and it looked otherworldly. Champ grazed happily on the green grass while I took some pictures.

The big cottonwoods by the creek are covered in kudzu vines, like shackled giants.
Kudzu Cottonwoods

Fuzzy horizon.
Foggy field

Cersei snurfled around the kudzu at the edge of the creek. A minute after I took this, she turned up an armadillo. My very first live armadillo! It was completely unfazed by her – it took two steps and tumbled down the edge of the creek. She growled at it and sniffed where it had been and stared over the edge for a while, then we moved on.

We grazed our way to the end of the green grass, then I thought I’d canter Champ back to the tree line. As always, he had other ideas, and when I asked him to speed up he gaited back toward home. He lives to do the opposite of what I ask, sigh!

Back at the skeet shooting lake, Cersei started not one but TWO deer. I swear, I think deer know exactly how long hunting season is. Before the season, I’d see 2-3 a week, but during hunting season I was lucky to hear a deer a week. Now, two days after the season closed, I saw two big deer from 50 feet away!

By the time we got back, I felt a lot better. Accept the things I cannot change, most people never manage to move anywhere even when they want to, it’ll be an adventure, etc. I still get a little overwhelmed thinking about the logistics of a possible move, but if it happens, I’ll deal.

Yesterday was the big Ice Storm. Well, it, uh, didn’t. I mean there was a little snow on the ground, so the schools were closed, but no real ice. Graham’s car had a 4″ icicle hanging off the bumper, but that was the biggest piece of ice I saw. It never got cold enough for the ground to freeze. The cats were furious about the snow – they spent all morning in the windows, glaring outside and twitching their tails. They’d look over at us occasionally, but I’m not sure if they wanted us to let them out to investigate or somehow magically make the snow disappear. We did neither.

I got a book from the library that’s waaaay beyond my abilities, but I’m enjoying it anyway. Advanced Dressage, by Anthony Crossley. The review of the fundamentals (legs, seat, hands, etc) was helpful for me, and at least I’ll know what yall are talking about when you discuss the fine differences between shoulders-in and leg yielding. I’m thinking about buying the previous book, Training the Young Horse.

A study in contrasts

Today was Dixie Dressage #2 and Poppy Solo Trail #1. I want to get these rides written down then I swear I’m gonna go catch up on yall’s blogs and my comments!

Dixie
I trailered her over to the main barn and rode for about an hour in the covered arena. The first part of the ride went quite well – she relaxed into it and worked well for me, mostly at a walk working on bending. About every ten minutes I’d squeeze with both legs and kiss for a rack and we’d do a lap or two around the arena, just so I could work on staying loose and keeping her attention on me. She’d always break up into a couple of strides of odd canter around the turns, but she also came back to me and settled back into a rack very quickly.

Then a Horse Eating Lion (or possibly a chipmunk) rustled in the woods on the north side. We were just walking very calmly along, in a gentle bend, with me thinking about giving the right kind of leg pressure and keeping light contact and feeling her bend when KABLAM the leaves rustled and Dixie exploded into a full spook. Jumped straight up, came back down with her legs splayed, spun 90 degrees and bolted three or four steps away. I stayed completely centered in the saddle, which was kinda cool, and she stopped on her own, which was very cool! Somehow I completely lost the reins on the left side, but I had the other set still held perfectly still. Yay us.

After that I decided to see if I could get her attention back on working with me. She was, I think, a lot more distracted. I’m not positive because I did not look at her ears once. How am I supposed to know what she’s thinking if I can’t focus on her ears? Yes, I could see them in my peripheral vision, but it’s harder for me to tell!

Anyway, she was distracted but she still tried hard for me. She was pretty spooky about that corner of the arena, so I worked on driving her into that corner with more leg and really directing her turns out of it. Her new boyfriend came up to the other corner of the arena, and I worked on keeping her moving at the same pace past him every time.

Her new boyfriend is (IIRC?) a spotted ASB named Perry Como. He fell in love with her the first day I brought her out to the place and he’s made googly eyes at her from over the fence every time since. It’s kinda cute :3

Anyway, it was a good ride. I finished out with a few minutes of loose rein walk with just the snaffle rein, then fed her a couple scoops of grain, then managed to get her loaded and take her home. She’s loaded like a dream every time til the last time, when she decided she’d rather stay and live with Perry than get on the damn trailer and go back to her field. Of course I completely blanked out on any horse loading theories, so I thought about it for a minute and decided to make the right thing waaay easier than the wrong thing. I’d walk her up to the trailer (me standing to one side inside) and she’d balk. I’d back her up for about 20 feet, praise, and walk her back to the trailer. If she balked again, we’d back some more. Took about 4 tries before she decided she’d rather make that big step up into the trailer than back up again.

I am so wordy.

Poppy
So I got Dixie back home and decided that Poppy was ready to go trail riding solo and I should put up or shut up. I tacked him up with his bridle, my saddle, and a dinky little whip, dragged a broken chair out past the gate, and we were off! My dressage whip, which actually reaches his butt easier, doesn’t have a handle so I have to hold it at all times. The dinky little whip has a wrist loop, so I clipped it to the front D rings on my saddle to have it handy.

We immediately had a disagreement about whether he was out there to eat grass or listen to me. This annoyed him. Then we disagreed about whether he could take the first turn to head back home, and he got more annoyed. We went through a gate, down a narrow bit of trail, up a hill, and he decided he was going to trot. I said fine, trot then, and he trotted a bit then stopped and did something odd. At first I couldn’t figure out what he was doing – it felt a little like a canter. But we weren’t actually moving and his head was down and OH HELL HE’S BUCKING! I was completely shocked and amused that he was bucking, so it took me another buck or two to figure out what to do. In an attempt to do something I growled “Knock that off!” and booted him in the ribs and he headed out again in a Real Big Working Draft Trot.

Wow. I was seriously impressed. I’ve seen him do the Big Trot from the ground, of course, but I’ve never ridden it. I loved it! It was awesome!

I am also very very annoyed with myself and with Poppy. He might not be ripped like Brego or Klein, but he’s got plenty of muscle under that fluff. How could I have been fooled by his stumbling WP jog-trots previously? He has outsmarted himself and raised the bar for future work.

We trotted a little further on, past the Skeet Lake, and I came to my senses. He might in fact run us into a tree or off a cliff just to prove that he doesn’t have to listen. I decided I could pick my battles and we headed for home – with a twist.

We’d walk, CALMLY YOU BASTARD!, towards home. Then we’d turn and I’d have him trot away again. Then we’d walk, turn, repeat. It was pretty nerve-racking. Apparently I’m not over my irrational fear of Poppy. I have to respond to the very early stages of his unwanted behavior as quickly as possible or he just goes ahead and does what he wants.

We had one more big blow up in the paddock nearest his field. I asked for a nice trot away from the gate, and he trotted then wanted to veer left onto a different trail pointing back to the gate. I pulled his head back around right, booted him in the right places, and he wrenched his head left, did a promising cowhorse spin, and cantered for home. I got really fucking pissed and wrapped the reins around my hands – TWICE, I was not going to lose him if I fell off – and did a YANK-release til he slowed down again. Not pretty. As soon as I got him back to a walk, I spun him around and asked for a trot away from home again and pretended like nothing had happened. We walked one more lap of the paddock, with exceptionally nice behavior, and we were done!

Quite a day. I’m glad I worked both of them today; tomorrow it’s going to rain all day and we might have an ICE STORM tomorrow night and we could all die.

A study in contrasts

Today was Dixie Dressage #2 and Poppy Solo Trail #1. I want to get these rides written down then I swear I’m gonna go catch up on yall’s blogs and my comments!

Dixie
I trailered her over to the main barn and rode for about an hour in the covered arena. The first part of the ride went quite well – she relaxed into it and worked well for me, mostly at a walk working on bending. About every ten minutes I’d squeeze with both legs and kiss for a rack and we’d do a lap or two around the arena, just so I could work on staying loose and keeping her attention on me. She’d always break up into a couple of strides of odd canter around the turns, but she also came back to me and settled back into a rack very quickly.

Then a Horse Eating Lion (or possibly a chipmunk) rustled in the woods on the north side. We were just walking very calmly along, in a gentle bend, with me thinking about giving the right kind of leg pressure and keeping light contact and feeling her bend when KABLAM the leaves rustled and Dixie exploded into a full spook. Jumped straight up, came back down with her legs splayed, spun 90 degrees and bolted three or four steps away. I stayed completely centered in the saddle, which was kinda cool, and she stopped on her own, which was very cool! Somehow I completely lost the reins on the left side, but I had the other set still held perfectly still. Yay us.

After that I decided to see if I could get her attention back on working with me. She was, I think, a lot more distracted. I’m not positive because I did not look at her ears once. How am I supposed to know what she’s thinking if I can’t focus on her ears? Yes, I could see them in my peripheral vision, but it’s harder for me to tell!

Anyway, she was distracted but she still tried hard for me. She was pretty spooky about that corner of the arena, so I worked on driving her into that corner with more leg and really directing her turns out of it. Her new boyfriend came up to the other corner of the arena, and I worked on keeping her moving at the same pace past him every time.

Her new boyfriend is (IIRC?) a spotted ASB named Perry Como. He fell in love with her the first day I brought her out to the place and he’s made googly eyes at her from over the fence every time since. It’s kinda cute :3

Anyway, it was a good ride. I finished out with a few minutes of loose rein walk with just the snaffle rein, then fed her a couple scoops of grain, then managed to get her loaded and take her home. She’s loaded like a dream every time til the last time, when she decided she’d rather stay and live with Perry than get on the damn trailer and go back to her field. Of course I completely blanked out on any horse loading theories, so I thought about it for a minute and decided to make the right thing waaay easier than the wrong thing. I’d walk her up to the trailer (me standing to one side inside) and she’d balk. I’d back her up for about 20 feet, praise, and walk her back to the trailer. If she balked again, we’d back some more. Took about 4 tries before she decided she’d rather make that big step up into the trailer than back up again.

I am so wordy.

Poppy
So I got Dixie back home and decided that Poppy was ready to go trail riding solo and I should put up or shut up. I tacked him up with his bridle, my saddle, and a dinky little whip, dragged a broken chair out past the gate, and we were off! My dressage whip, which actually reaches his butt easier, doesn’t have a handle so I have to hold it at all times. The dinky little whip has a wrist loop, so I clipped it to the front D rings on my saddle to have it handy.

We immediately had a disagreement about whether he was out there to eat grass or listen to me. This annoyed him. Then we disagreed about whether he could take the first turn to head back home, and he got more annoyed. We went through a gate, down a narrow bit of trail, up a hill, and he decided he was going to trot. I said fine, trot then, and he trotted a bit then stopped and did something odd. At first I couldn’t figure out what he was doing – it felt a little like a canter. But we weren’t actually moving and his head was down and OH HELL HE’S BUCKING! I was completely shocked and amused that he was bucking, so it took me another buck or two to figure out what to do. In an attempt to do something I growled “Knock that off!” and booted him in the ribs and he headed out again in a Real Big Working Draft Trot.

Wow. I was seriously impressed. I’ve seen him do the Big Trot from the ground, of course, but I’ve never ridden it. I loved it! It was awesome!

I am also very very annoyed with myself and with Poppy. He might not be ripped like Brego or Klein, but he’s got plenty of muscle under that fluff. How could I have been fooled by his stumbling WP jog-trots previously? He has outsmarted himself and raised the bar for future work.

We trotted a little further on, past the Skeet Lake, and I came to my senses. He might in fact run us into a tree or off a cliff just to prove that he doesn’t have to listen. I decided I could pick my battles and we headed for home – with a twist.

We’d walk, CALMLY YOU BASTARD!, towards home. Then we’d turn and I’d have him trot away again. Then we’d walk, turn, repeat. It was pretty nerve-racking. Apparently I’m not over my irrational fear of Poppy. I have to respond to the very early stages of his unwanted behavior as quickly as possible or he just goes ahead and does what he wants.

We had one more big blow up in the paddock nearest his field. I asked for a nice trot away from the gate, and he trotted then wanted to veer left onto a different trail pointing back to the gate. I pulled his head back around right, booted him in the right places, and he wrenched his head left, did a promising cowhorse spin, and cantered for home. I got really fucking pissed and wrapped the reins around my hands – TWICE, I was not going to lose him if I fell off – and did a YANK-release til he slowed down again. Not pretty. As soon as I got him back to a walk, I spun him around and asked for a trot away from home again and pretended like nothing had happened. We walked one more lap of the paddock, with exceptionally nice behavior, and we were done!

Quite a day. I’m glad I worked both of them today; tomorrow it’s going to rain all day and we might have an ICE STORM tomorrow night and we could all die.