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.