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Re-introducing the bit
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Redmare
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 Posted: Tue Oct 27th, 2015 01:21 am
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Hello Dr. Deb, I have a question regarding a 6yo horse I have been given the privilege of working with while who has had bad experiences with the bit in the past, and how to go about "re-introducing" the bit to him.

This is a 6yo Morgan gelding. He is very good-natured, receptive and learns quickly. His owner told me that his first encounter with the bit was not a positive one (he moved and the bit hit his incisors, making a clank noise that surprised him, apparently), and since then he does not accept one readily. He will hold his head high or back up to avoid it. You essentially have to force it in, and once in, he is noticeably aggravated, nervous and will work the bit constantly.

In the few weeks I've been working with him, and riding with a lunge cavesson, it's obvious that the bit itself is the issue, or how he relates to it, as he is perfectly pleasant under saddle without it.

I have taught him how to lower his head by simply placing slight downward pressure on his poll with the halter/rope, or placing my hand on his poll, in preparation to accept the bit. I have not attempted, however, to re-introduce the bit as there is plenty I can do without it for now, but I would like to start this process in the near future.

What would be the best way to do this?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue Oct 27th, 2015 04:35 am
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Dear Redmare: One clank a bad-mouthed horse doth not make.

This sort of sob-story is often heard from incompetent previous owners or handlers. They tell you THEIR idea of what set the horse off on a bad path. Of course it's always way too simple, or in some way off base.

As this is. One clank on the incisors is just a mistake -- something which, if everything else about the early-bitting situation had been right, the horse would immediately have forgiven and subseuently forgot entirely about. So the real problem is that NOTHING about the way the other people were trying to go about bitting was right.

And you're verging on the same when I hear you talking about "forcing the bit in," which you must have done or else you couldn't report the horse's subsequent worry and agitation. Yes indeed, having the bit in there does at this point trigger worry and agitation in him, and it is at this point around this that your problem lies, not around whether or not the bit goes in easily.

You see -- when the bit is readily taken in by the horse is a SIDE EFFECT of the horse's overall desires and intentions. When he desires to have the bit in there, you will hardly be able to keep him from picking it up and putting it in.

That is to say: BY HIMSELF. The person standing there dangling the bridle merely facilitates the process, making it a bit more accessible and organized for the subsequent passage over the ears and buckling operations than if you had thrown the bridle down into the dirt and told the horse "go pick it up."

Because that's what you're going to have to train the horse to do -- bridling is nothing more than a special game of "fetch". You train the horse to "fetch" the bit -- that's how YOUR THINKING should run.

So you begin by familiarizing the horse with the hanging process. It is helpful that you have worked on getting him to lower his head. So you put the bridle, in its correct orientation, over the back of your right hand so that the crownpiece is hanging from your hand, and the bridle and bit are hanging down from that of course. Then you go put your hand on top of the horse's head with the bridle hanging off of there, making no attempt to put the bridle over the front of his face but just letting it hang down the left side, and get him totally OK with that, which he will not, I guarantee you, be when you begin doing this. But if you can teach a horse to lower his head, you also have the ability and wherewithal to hang in there while he throws his head up and just patiently teach him that this is all you want, just be OK with the straps hanging down by his left eye.

When that's accomplished, you move on to having him stand still and relaxed and be OK with having the bridle hang down the front of his face, in the position it will need to be in for him to take up the bit by himself.

Then you move on to being able to adjust it up and down. In other words: DO NOT bridle the horse by wadding the bridle up in your left hand and approaching from the bottom. I know that Buck teaches this because he believes it's less hard on their ears when it's time to put the bridle over top. But I want you to have the bridle already almost over top all the time -- that way, there's never a problem with the ears and FAR more control over whether it clanks the horse's teeth. So you have the crownpiece over the back of your right hand, and you have the bit in your left hand, and you coordinate the two hands so that you raise up the knuckles of your right hand by flexing your wrist, which in turn raises the bit high enough to touch the front of the horse's lips. Note that you NEVER take the heel of your right hand off his poll area. And note further that you ALWAYS have the bit stretched between the fingers of your left hand; you always have close control of it, it is never allowed to simply swing down there. You commit to the idea that you would rather be bitten than allow the bit to clank on his teeth.

At this point the horse will probably not fight you -- not after all the work you will already have done to show him that he can trust you and the situation where the bridle is hanging down over his face. So this further lesson or step is just to show him what it feels like to have the bit raised into a position just below his lips and then lowered again. And that, as always in your procedure, when he sighs and closes his eyes and maybe even lowers his head a little bit more, you REMOVE the bridle. You will find that removing the bridle also scares him, so you will have to, throughout this re-training, show him that you can remove the bridle without snatching it. The part that the previous handlers did the worst was likely not in putting the bit in but in the uncontrolled way they took it OUT. That's when it hit his teeth.

Now, meanwhile during this whole period you will also be teaching the horse to fetch. Go get a giant-sized dog fetch toy meant for a dog the size of a wolfhound or Great Dane. Get one that incorporates a stiff length or loop of rope like a handle, and then the rest of it is made out of tough PVC made into a stuffed, slightly heavy, tube. You can also use a length of stiff rope folded and hanked, so that loops of rope stick out at either end.

You will also need a package of cheap tube-socks and some carrots.

Take a big carrot and chop it up into chunks. Put the chunks into the sock and tie a knot at the top. Also have a piece of "free" carrot in your hand.

Offer the sock to the horse's lips by standing next to him and holding the sock in your right hand (you're on the horse's left side, where you'll be to bridle him). He will of course smell the carrots inside. When he so much as touches the sock with his lips, bring your left hand, that has the "free" carrot up next to the sock, and while pressing or a little bit rubbing the sock onto his lips, feed him the carrot by pressing the carrot up to his lips next to the sock. When he takes the "free" carrot chunk, remove the sock. The idea is to make him understand that he gets carrots when the sock "magically" transforms into carrot.

Build on this day by day until you can place the sock on the ground in front of his feet, call his attention down to the sock, have him touch it or lip it, and then get his carrot. You'll need to squat down to do this.

At some point he will eagerly begin taking the sock into his mouth, because he got the point: sock equals carrot. At this point with many horses you have to watch that they don't actually endanger themselves by taking the sock too far in. In that case, pull on the sock a little bit to help them eject it, and make the sock turn into carrot. You see -- they think, "oh if I chew on it more, the carrot will come sooner". Yes, indeedy, but actually the carrot comes SLOWER because you fix it so that they have to lip and chew longer in order to get the carrot at all!

From here, as far as developing "fetch" as an actual performance, you first work on putting the sock farther and farther from the horse's feet, so that he has to walk over a step or two to get it, with you following; then with you LEADING a bit, so that you walk faster than he's walking, drop the sock off to your right side somewhat, and take several more steps, so that he encounters the sock, looks ahead, sees you, and then has to bring you the sock without dropping it in order to get his carrot.

It's also very effective and lots of fun to put carrot-socks on top of barrels or posts and have the horse go from one to the next. You always show him where the next one is by being there first, and don't, at first, have the stations too far apart or too many of them....even carrots do have a limit on how many you can feed a horse before he is sated.

Eventually, down the pike, you will be able to switch from socks to dog toy or hanked rope, or anything else you like, i.e. flag, crop, ball toy, or whatnot.

Naturally this also implies that the horse shall receive carrot and/or hand-fed treats of any type, at no other time and for no other reason, period.

By the time the horse will fetch a sock, even so little as pick it up OF HIS OWN VOLITION from in front of his feet, you will be able to apply the very same technique on getting the bit in. You never put it in; HE TAKES it in. So now you have the bridle hanging over the back of your right hand, with the bit in position below his chin, but you also have carrot in your left hand, just as you would during "fetch" practice. And you WAIT AT THE SAME PRESSURE -- which in this case is almost zero -- for as long as it takes; but when you hear/feel him open his mouth, you raise the back of your right hand in coordination with the bit being cradled in your left hand, which gives you precise control, and in the bit goes, and immediately afterward the carrot which was held in the palm of your left hand while the fingers guided the bit -- and that will be the end of your difficulties. Because he is not going to care one iota whether it's the bit or the sock, so long as it doesn't hurt him or surprise him, and especially if there's a reward for him taking it in voluntarily.

Once he's taken the bit in, you spread the thumb and fingers of your right hand, and lift a little more; put your left hand up, cup it over his left ear and flatten the ear with your hand on top, between the bridle and his ear, and pull the bridle over the back of your left hand which is protecting his ear. Then switch to his right ear, flatten that one and cover it similarly, and pull the bridle over that ear, then letting it settle into normal position.

Now this is big progress but your biggest job still isn't done, and that's the business about REMOVING the bit. But you let him wear the bridle and bit all afternoon the first time; just take the reins off and put the halter on on top of the bridle, and turn him loose in a pen. You will have to supervise somewhat, just to be sure he doesn't have a tendency to try to rub the bit off and thereby get into trouble by getting the ring caught on something -- you may have to "bitproof" your pen first if that is going to be a problem. Make sure there's some beautiful hay spread around in the pen and let him tool around eating it with the bit in. This gets him used to the feel of the bit on his tongue and shows him that his tongue will still work fine -- it is free to move -- and the eating will force him to experiment with moving it.

When it comes time to take the bridle off, the horse will be glad enough to assist you. Put your right hand up on top of his poll area and curl your fingers around the crownpiece, lifting it slightly. Stick the thumb of your left hand into his mouth, and as soon as he opens his mouth, the smaller fingers of that hand, too, and get them into position so that they are stretching the bit just as if you were putting the bit in rather than taking it out. Your commitment is to let him bite you and you are not to flinch or jerk back. He may indeed chew some, but I doubt he'll bite you apart from a kind of accident. If that happens you just ignore it. Once you get your left fingers on the bit, you coordinate with your right hand. Your left fingers LIFT the bit UP -- so as to guide the bit over his lower teeth; your right hand controls the RATE OF FALL of the whole outfit. If he throws his head up, you MUST be able to go all the way with him, so that you do everything possible to prevent his head and teeth from going up faster than the bit will then also be going up. In other words, if he raises his head you must RAISE THE BIT EVEN MORE. This has the dual effect of first, preventing teeth-clanking, and second, showing him that if he raises his head, the bit is most certainly NOT going to be coming out of there. Only when he lowers his head and gaps his mouth open of his own volition, does the bit come out. And of course, when the bit comes out, you praise him profusely, pop in a bit of carrot, and rub all the places around his ears and around his muzzle where the bridle had been touching him -- all the sweaty places.

Please note that this is not some wrongheaded, namby-pamby kind of bribery where we are "carrot-training" the horse. No, this is out-and-out mind control, where we wind up with a horse who believes to the roots of his soul that cooperation results in reward. Thus over time, you will be able to reduce the giving the horse a carrot business to nil; taking up the bit will then just be part of his job, part of what's normally expected. Quite fun and amusing at that point it will be for you to bit him in the reinless outfit and THEN go have him fetch his sock or his dog-toy.

Let us know how it all comes out for the two of you.  Cheers -- Dr. Deb

 

 

Redmare
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 Posted: Mon Nov 2nd, 2015 04:08 am
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Dr. Deb, thank you for your very quick reply. I have not actually forced the bit on this gelding. I watched this be done by the owner, hence my knowledge about his reaction.

One question, before I begin: as this horse already likes to do things with his mouth, how do a discern with him when it is appropriate to use his mouth, and when it is not? I normally discourage him from mouthing things, as he likes to, so I would imagine that in teaching him to fetch, that the carrot sock is the ONLY thing he is allowed to take into his mouth. Then the bit. Eventually, it means only things I present to him as OK to take into his mouth, i.e. if he tries to mouth my coat, a lead rope, etc., I discourage this as I have been doing?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Nov 2nd, 2015 06:48 am
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Redmare, you ignore what is harmless as if it had never occurred. Holler at him sharply and loudly if he nips or bites you. Otherwise -- teach him to mouth anything that won't get him into trouble and/or that he can't swallow. This will totally absorb his need to mouth anything, so that, eventually, he will usually "only" work at mouthing things if he's "paid" to do it (or if he thinks he might get paid).

I am speaking here from long experience with Oliver, my gelding, who is Mr. Playtoy if there ever was one: for example, one must hank his halter and lead rope up in a special, tight, vertical knot or else he'll untie it and then, giggling and chortling, will pluck the halter off the fence and drag it all over the pen. Or, again, we've had to not only tether the float in his water tank but cage it, or else he'll pluck it out of there and either leave it dangling on the tether, or else (if untethered) will carry it off.

When I bought Oliver, he was both a fairly obnoxious nipper and a biter. Nipping comes from his anxiety to have the hand-fed treats, and the cure for this is to always push the treat AT him. You push it right up to his lips, keep your hand fairly firmly on his lips, and even after he takes the treat in, you keep your hand on there pushing somewhat, almost to the point that he thinks he ought to step backward. They nip because really what they're doing is snatching, which comes from "chasing" the treat, which in turn comes from the handler being afraid of being bitten. Too bad; you just have to bravely stand up there and NEVER quickly withdraw your arm (even as you sharply reprimand him by voice if he does nip you).

Biting is different than nipping, and in Oliver's case I'm not talking about any type of aggressive or angry-type biting where the horse comes at you. Instead, Oliver would bite you because nobody had ever taught him to pay attention to the difference between your hand or fingers and the carrot. He just simply did not differentiate. So, when I was teaching him the plie bow at first, man I can tell you, I wished I had owned a pair of gauntlets! I'd have the carrot between thumb and finger down under his belly where he'd have to come reach for it by tucking his head between his forelegs, and he'd bow with perfect willingness and stretch back there to get it, BUT he'd have his mouth and teeth fairly far open and instead of just taking the carrot, he'd clomp down on the part of my hand below the knuckle of the thumb. OW OW OW I would say to him, BE MORE CAREFUL OLLIE. But I never pulled back or flinched, just kept encouraging him to pluck the treat with his lips instead of so much with his teeth, and in about six months he had it figured out and never after that bit anymore.

Ditto with giving him a bit of carrot from the saddle, as for example when he's performed some steps of Spanish Walk or piaffe; these are extra efforts, beyond the call of duty you might say, and I am happy to reward them with more than just release. But at first Ollie would turn his head off to the side to meet where I was reaching down, and again, open his mouth too wide and get not only the carrot but my hand in there. And again I'd just use that tone of voice that says OW OW OW that I never use for anything else, and he was almost apologetic and would come back and be more gentle, just use the lips.

The reason, though, that I said in the first paragraph "he will eventually only USUALLY work at mouthing things if he gets paid" is that there is one exception, and it's a very important one: you see -- he will learn to operate the carrot pump. What he learns from you is that if he can figure out to do what you want, that turns the carrot pump on. If your gelding has any smarts about him at all, he will expand this thought to realize that if he does something cute or creative, that MIGHT turn the carrot pump on, too. In other words: you can expect him to start HUNTING UP ways to please you, all on his own. For example: I had already taught Oliver to roll one of those inflatable physio-balls with his nose, and we had quite a few chuckles doing that both on the ground and under saddle. One day, after a fairly demanding schooling ride that had no "trick" practice in it at all, there was nobody else around the barn so I dismounted in the indoor arena, took the tack off, and let Ollie go loose to just tool around and relax on his own while I put the tack away. Now we have a variety of riding interests at our barn so that there is a set of cavalletti, a few jumps, cones, and a set of barrels, and those are stored in the corner of the arena opposite the tack room.

Ollie tooled around until he was over where the barrels were standing, and got up between them so that he was facing me with a barrel in front of him. I noticed him standing there looking or even staring at me, and it occurred to me that he was waiting to be sure that I was paying attention. So I said, "OK, I'm here Ollie," and as soon as I'd said that, he deliberately swung his nose so as to push the barrel over onto its side, and then rolled it all the way across the arena to me. He did this, mind you, as a GENERALIZATION or ANALOGY to rolling the ball, and he did it entirely out of his own thinking, because I had never shown him to roll a drum. He did that 100% himself. And the academic behaviorists (the most dangerous people who could possibly ever get around a horse) insist that horses "don't" reason and are incapable of generalization! So the point is -- SOMETIMES the horse will mouth or pick up or somehow use a toy or a tool that you've never seen him use before IN HOPES that this will please you, and you should ALWAYS encourage this! If you don't actually have any more carrot bits on you, at the very least rub his forehead and scratch his crest or his belly, and tell him he's the most beautiful and the smartest horse in the whole world!

So that's where you'll need to go with your gelding too. If he doesn't bite or nip when you begin, it's not something you'll have to deal with. Teaching the horse to fetch does not encourage nipping, it extinguishes it, just so long as you never pull your hand back or hover timidly just outside his range for fear of being bitten. Step right up to the plate and you'll be fine. -- Dr. Deb

 

 

Redmare
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 Posted: Thu Dec 17th, 2015 03:51 am
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So, Dr. Deb, this gelding has been VERY successful at fetch! We are at the point where I can see his excitement when I take out the sock. I can toss it in any direction, even behind him, and he will move to it, nuzzle it a bit, pick it up and turn his head to me (I follow him and end up at his shoulder) and he will give it to me to receive his carrot. He clearly enjoys this game very much, and I have noticed that his desire to mouth things in general has decreased.

However, we are still having issues with him taking up the bit. He got to the point where I could hang the bridle on his face, left hand on bit, fingers spread, and he was OK. At one point, I had the bit pressed against his lips, without any intention of seeing if he would take it, and he actually opened his mouth to accept it. I was surprised and not ready with a carrot but allowed him to hang there for a minute, just chewibg on it, before I asked him to spit it out. We did this a couple more times over the course of a week, but by the 4th time, he started evading the bit just being placed in front of his mouth in "ready" position. I have not been successful in bitting since, but his fetch gets better every day.

Where did I likely go wrong? Is this simply a matter of the trust in the bridle/bit being strong enough? I feel I must have rushed something...

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Dec 21st, 2015 10:50 am
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Redmare, sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you on this -- I plead "holidays" and it really has been quite a busy two weeks.

So, your problem is probably that you got a little greedy.

Remember: it absolutely makes ZERO difference to you whether this horse ever gets bitted. That's the emotional posture you must remain in. It doesn't matter to you.

And it also doesn't matter to you what objections or tactics of refusal the horse takes; YOU know that none of them will be of any avail. They will avail him not.

And the reason for this is that you will persist longer than he persists, and you convey this to him by your every touch and action. YOU are the authority, YOU are in control; he is not, and he is therefore simply not able to jack you around. You have a response for every response.

So you hang the bridle up next to his head without apology and without hesitation. You hang it up in a manner that the horse will find confidence-engendering, and then you wait him out. You put it up there and he raises his head and your right arm goes right up with him -- the bridle does not disappear, and the demand that he open his mouth and take it in does not go away. If he rears you have your arm over his neck and you go right up with him. If he takes you off your feet, you hang on there; just be sure your feet are out to the front when he comes down, so he doesn't step on your foot.

If he threatens to throw his head to one side or the other, you tell him, "you bash your head into me and you're going to walk backwards from here to New York, son." You present him consequences for every action whereby he tries to escape or evade, and make the consequence go on long enough that he can't help but feel sorry he tried whatever crap it was he tried.

As Buck Brannaman says, "we'd all like to believe it could always be all sweetness and light -- but it isn't." Right. The fetching has helped him; now you have to stand up there and tell him -- "look, son, this is what's expected of you. So you open your mouth and you take the bit and I'll leave it in there a half-hour or so before I ask you to spit it out."

Because, remember, it was the taking out that was his main problem to begin with. So whenever you put the bit in -- leave it in for a goodly period. This presents him with only one thing at a time, and also leaves him in no confusion as to WHAT we want: (1) Open your mouth and take the bit in, and (2) Later when comes time to take the bit out, don't raise your head.

Let us know how things go over the next couple of weeks. -- Dr. Deb

 

 

Redmare
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 Posted: Sun Feb 28th, 2016 11:52 pm
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Just wanted to stop in and say this horse is now, for the most part, accepting the bit just fine. Once every 4 or 5 times, he will attempt to put his head up or even hop up a bit, but I have stuck with him as your instructed, Dr. Deb, and through those times he will eventually get the message and put his head down to accept it. This goes right along with his personality, to challenge every once in a while, so I'm not surprised one bit!

He also is doing very, very well with carrying it, and has no problem spitting it out and keeping his head nice and low.

Val
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 Posted: Mon Mar 21st, 2016 02:16 am
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This discussion inspired me to try the fetch trick with the Tennessee Walker I've been leasing. He's smart, playful, and while he is a very solid citizen and goes along with everyhting I suggest, he's never really seen any benefit to himself in the things I suggest. This is the first time he's been engaged and willing to offer his own ideas; notice he grabs teh hat, throws it himself, fetches it, and looks for his carrot.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jltkiNgr1A

MsEithne
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 Posted: Mon Mar 21st, 2016 01:23 pm
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I am not Dr Deb and I don't pretend to be her even on the internet. I'm just a dog trainer who has taught many dogs to fetch with a method quite similar to the one Dr Deb has described for the original poster.

Dreamer is as cute as a bug and he's sure enjoying the game, so by my standards, you're doing good with him.

Were I the one training him, I would want to see less of a frantic quality to the way he retrieves. What he is doing is a predictable learning stage in dogs: they grab the retrieve object and want to give it up fast so they can get their treat. If the trainer doesn't get their hand under their mouth quickly enough the object gets dropped onto the ground and then picked up again while the dog's excitement level starts to go up. They all do it and many inexperienced trainers start virtually diving to get their hand under the dog's mouth in an attempt to help the dog succeed. It s hard for many of these trainers to understand that they need to let go of the goal of success so that their dogs can progress in learning. They are so eager to help the dog succeed that they are getting in the way of the dog really learning all of what retrieving entails.

When I teach a dog to retrieve, I want that dog to hold onto the object until I tell them to give it to me. I want them to hold onto it even if I have my hand on the object and am trying to pull or push it out of their mouth. I want that dog to be comfortable and confident in holding onto the object until I tell them to give it to me; the dog cannot get there by my diving in on them.

What I do when the dog reaches this point is to incrementally slow down the speed at which I reach for the object. I don't slow down a whole lot on the first try because that's too big a leap for the dog to figure out quickly. For example, if my original speed had my hand travelling the distance from my side to below the dog's mouth in 0.5 seconds, the first time I slow it down, I make it 0.055 seconds. That figure is just plucked out of thin air for purposes of illustration; I am trying to convey how very tiny the increase in difficulty is for the dog.

My goal is to slow down just enough so that the dog is successful in 4 out of 5 tries (on average). So if the dog's success rate increases to a constant 5 out of 5 tries, that's how I know it is time to slow down just a tiny bit more.

If the dog fails to get the object into my hand, I do exactly as you do with Dreamer: I calmly say uh oh and wait for the dog to fix it. Dogs figure out pretty quickly that the fastest way to get the treat is to keep a firm grip on the object until Ol'Fumblefingers (that would be me) has definitely got a grip on the object before they let go.

Once the dog can hold onto the object and wait for about 2 to 3 seconds for me to take hold of it, I start saying "give" just as my hand closes on the object. Two or 3 seconds is not plucked out of the air, by the way, it is the usual delay I am looking for before I introduce a further level of difficulty and it usually feels longer than it sounds.

Learning to hold on even if I am pulling or pushing at the object is where I take training next. My sense is that it would be important for a horse to know all this as well but I could easily be wrong about that. All I really know is that I have never regretted spending training time on setting up situations where dogs teach themselves self control and fetch is a great learning opportunity to do so. I think the same thing would also be true of horses.

Val
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 Posted: Tue Mar 22nd, 2016 08:25 pm
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Thanks for your comments, MsEithne. I agree and totally see what you are saying about the frantic quality to the trick. I sometimes feel like Dreamer is going faster than I can keep up with him. And yes, I am diving to get him his carrot before he drops the hat. I had been thinking about this and trying to figure out what is going on, how to progress, what the next step could be, and you have pointed it out to me. Thank you!
During a previous session, I ran out of carrots and backed Dreamer up with the lead line about 4 steps so I could unzip my pocket. I seem to recall that his fetching became more respectful. I think I am letting him take charge a bit much. I want to give him a chance to express himself but may be letting him take charge too much. Hence him grabbing the hat from me. He is actually getting more mouthy, not less.
A thing I've noticed happening that Dr. Deb described: he has put his teeth on me several times by accident, and not bitten me ever. There is a lippy quality to his mouth, like he is exploring and feeling things, and he gets my hand or arm by mistake and lets go.
This trick-training has underscored for me how important thinking and observing are. And that the bottom line must always be respect for the handler.
Thanks again for your feedback. I had some ideas for expanding on the fetching, and not really any clear idea of how to proceed, and you have given me some good direction.

MsEithne
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 Posted: Tue Mar 22nd, 2016 08:38 pm
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Thank you!

I see the same behaviour in dogs but my theory is less about respect and more about the dog's memory chip getting displaced by their overwhelming eagerness for the game. Doing some deliberate pauses during training sessions helps the dog keep that memory chip firmly seated and functional.

In the context of the original question, my experience as a dog trainer is the most relevant: I want the dog to get to the point where they hold onto the object until I say give. Then I can calmly take hold of both sides of the retrieve object, say "give" and the dog opens their mouth and moves their own mouth away from around the object. A milestone on the way to a release like this is for the dog to understand the word "give."

I think it would be good for a horse that has been put off bitting by a tooth clunk when removing the bit to have the same level of control. If they understand clearly the elements of fetch (spotting the item, picking it up, returning to trainer, holding onto the item until told to let go and then it is the animal's responsibility to move their mouth out of the way), they'll be much less bothered by a tooth clunk and just take it to mean they should be more careful next time.

Dogs aren't any more enthusiastic than horses are about tooth clunk. For that matter, I doubt there are many humans who would enjoy it. Teaching the animal that it is their responsibility to avoid clunking their own teeth puts the responsibility with the one most able to control it: the horse.

Last edited on Tue Mar 22nd, 2016 08:41 pm by MsEithne

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Mar 23rd, 2016 04:16 am
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Yes, MsEithne, no need to apologize or hesitate -- this is a great contribution to the whole discussion that you have made here. Absolutely totally agree, and I do the very same thing about slowing my hand down more and more, and making the horse W-A-I-T -- in other words, teaching him that it'll be up to me when (or even "if") he gets the treat, and that he's to hold onto the fetch object until such time as I say "okay" or "give".

I think this is linked to something I find that beginner-handlers universally have to be taught, and indeed something I remember learning myself -- and that is, to be around horses at all, you have to cut your normal speed of movement just about in half. In other words, a normal person has their hands and arms flying around fairly fast all the time. This is mentioned, humorously, already in the 1840's by wonderful old John S. Rarey, who said, "when attempting to catch your horse, do not run, do not shout, and do not throw your arms up into the air; because as far as the horse knows, they are worms that could come off at any time and fly at him."

So I regularly tell beginner-handlers to consciously slow their movements down: walk slower, move your arms slower.

And then, when the time comes to show them how to hand-feed treats, they get a second lesson in more of the same thing, and this lesson I call "adhesion." Buck Brannaman tells audiences -- and in general terms, I agree with him -- that they should never hand-feed a horse. I agree not because I think hand-feeding is intrinsically bad, but because his clinics are not around trick training; and also I think Buck tells them that because he does not believe that most people can, or will, learn how to hand-feed in a way that won't get them or the horse into trouble.

The key to NOT getting into trouble is "adhesion". Whenever you go to feed anything by hand to a horse, first you have to hold your feeding hand correctly, which is to say flat without being too stiff -- not too stiff to convey that you're friendly and unafraid, but flat so as to not make it more difficult than it needs to be for the horse to avoid getting your fingers in his mouth and pinching them. Once that's mastered, then when you go to give him the treat, you approach the horse with the treat; it's you coming toward him all the time, even if somewhat slowly. You offer the treat out there but your give the horse zero chance to snatch at it, because you're coming at him. Absolutely NEVER retreat your hand or tease the horse to "come get it" -- that is how amateurs and ineffective well-wishers teach horses to nip or bite.

You offer the treat, he sees it, and you come at him with it. Then when your hand touches his lips, you CONTINUE to press your hand against his lips; it "adheres" as if magnetized onto there. He'll open his mouth and take the treat, but your hand "sticks" to his mouth even after the chunk of carrot has gone in there. And your hand continues to stick for the first two or three chews. Then you slowly and softly remove it. This teaches the horse not only not to reach out to nip, but extinguishes any need or inclination to do so.

One last comment: if the horse drops the fetch object, one rule I follow is NEVER pick it up for the horse. NEVER do his job for him. If you're out in the pen at liberty with him, and he drops the object and then comes tooling up to you looking for his treat anyway, you ignore him. I go sit down on the mounting block until he gets with it again. He may take a nap out there for all I care. I've got time, I can out-wait him. Inevitably he'll get thinking about it eventually, and he'll go over there, pick it up, and bring it to me, almost with a guilty look on his face.

If you want to speed up his memory a little, you can also offer him more of a gradient: if he drops the fetch object, turn your back on him, go over and get your long lead-rope, and send him off for a few vigorous rounds of trot or canter. Set it up so that when you call him in, you do it so he's walking soon after he turns in, and that his path from wherever you caused him to make the down transition in to you goes right over the fetch object. If you glance down at the fetch object as he approaches it, there's a very good chance he'll go, "oh hey, I forgot about that!" and pick it up and bring it to you, with more attention and sharpness than before you worked him a bit. This is often the case: sometimes they just need to get the blood flowing a little in order to get their level of motivation to rise. So you're not to think you're punishing the animal by giving him a little gradient; it's more about refreshing him. They are, after all, animals who love to move, and it is of great value -- indeed one of the main reasons we teach tricks at all -- to get them to learn that they can move and think at the same time. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

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 Posted: Wed Mar 23rd, 2016 05:24 am
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The more I read your work, the more I realise that dogs and horses are much alike in some startling ways.

Many dog trainers, surprisingly including some with quite a bit of experience, accidentally teach dogs to snap at or shark treats (sharking is where the dog takes the fingers into the mouth and slides the teeth down the fingers to get to the treat--can be quite uncomfortable for the owner of the fingers). The root cause is the same: handler moving too fast. In the case of dogs, it is because the handler is nervous about the teeth and is trying to out-quick the dog, which is impossible for human reflexes. When the human moves faster, the dog just moves faster.

The remedy is similar to what you described for treating horses: move very slowly and deliberately but hold the treat within a loosely closed fist such that the dog can reach it by licking but cannot just grab it with teeth. Once the dog is concentrating just on using their tongue, the handler opens their hand all the way so the dog's lick scoops the whole treat into their mouth. As the dog works on the problem, some of the dedicated sharkers will occasionally resort to sharking but if the handler simply doesn't react, they try it again with their tongue. Over time and many treats, the handler gradually opens the fist up a little more as they first present the treat, then a little more until the dog is gently using tongue and lips to pick up the treat off the open palm.

I have handlers work out the glitches in treat delivery and acceptance before trying to incorporate it into training because it doesn't take long to teach a dog to do it correctly and it doesn't muddy the waters while truing to train something else at the same time.

I am curious about something. Necessity being the mother of invention and all that, I figured out that for dogs, the schedule that produces the fastest results in learning a given task is for the handler to train for 5 minutes, then let the dog do whatever they choose for 55 minutes. If I feel I have to get something trained, sixteen 5 minute training sessions with 55 minutes off for a few days is the way to go. Do you know if there is something similar for horses?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Mar 25th, 2016 06:23 pm
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Well, I can't say sixteen, exactly; it varies from horse to horse. But absolutely, one of the oldest wisest aphorisms in horse training -- expressed by the likes of John Richard (J.R.) Young, Chuck Grant, Francois Baucher, and Ray Hunt -- is to break everything up into small pieces, both conceptually and time-wise. Baucher (1840's) advocated two training sessions per day, each less than 40 minutes; and within that, limiting time at the trot to no more than 5 minutes. Chuck Grant repeats Meixner's aphorism (Meixner was at Vienna in the 19th century) "reward generously and do not expect great strides all at once." Ray Hunt is famous for his re-mix of this, which is "Always reward the smallest change and the slightest try."

Tom Dorrance can be seen on videotape -- and I was there to witness it "live" on a number of occasions too, when there was no camera there other than my own eyes -- he can be seen telling riders to cut what they were doing in half. And then when the horse got visibly better, that is, less restive and anxious, more attentive, smoother-moving, more responsive -- and the rider would come over all smiles and say "boy! that's a lot better!", then Tom would smile back at them and suggest that they cut it in half again. And with some riders this went through three or four rounds until he could get them to tone it down to a level where they were not constantly overpressing and overdriving their animal.

Those whom I have quoted above are my teachers, whose advice I have learned to follow because, having obeyed them, I find that what they are saying works best. My own experience thus exactly parallels what has already been said: short sessions are better; twice a day is ideal. The speed with which you and the animal "get there", though, varies not only with the particular animal but also with where the two of you are at in your relationship. In other words, I've met horses that were so hardened-up and shut-down from prior experience with other humans, that the ordinary motivators, both food rewards and increasing the work/effort/rest gradient, simply did not work. With an animal like this, that is armor-plated, it's just going to take a long time before you begin to be able to break in. The best tactic for one like this is grooming at liberty, especially during shed-out time in the spring. Being treated with courtesy, offered the freedom to adjust their feet or just walk off (you do this in a pen, not out in an open field) is a giant motivator in itself. Plus, when they really do itch they almost can't help but enjoy what human fingers can do for them, and this gives the handler a huge advantage and opportunity.

The speed of progress also depends upon how many things the handler has consciously attempted to teach the horse. Most horses do not have handlers -- indeed have never met any human being -- who displayed what, to the horse, would be intelligence. The horse has an extremely kind and forgiving nature, so the meaningless "discipline", the clumsy handling, the aids always given out-of-time, the misfitting saddle, the bit in there upside-down, and the crude and destructive concepts of under-saddle training all add up, in the horse's mind, to "shit happens." It's all random to him, but he forgives the human anyway. Nonetheless he isn't expecting much of humans, either, even though he does appreciate mealtimes coming generous and regular.

So, it isn't at all unusual in my experience to notice that, the first time I go to teach a horse something -- the plie bow or step up on the drum or back up one step at a time in-hand or turn on the forehand, it wouldn't matter what -- the horse is surprised. We make a conscious effort at teaching "scatterbrained" horses, horses that show a "checking compulsion", to focus. But we ask all horses to focus, no matter how calm-minded. We teach them that it's very important for them to look at us, ask us about it, refer their difficulties, fears, and confusions to us -- before reacting. And all of them benefit from this. And so do beginners who are just learning how to teach; the beginner learns how scatterbrained SHE has been in the habit of being. She learns that if she expects the horse to focus, she owes it to the horse to pay attention all the time, too. I would like to swat people who talk on cell phones when riding or handling their horses, because they are SHOUTING their disrespect and incompetency. And they'll stand there and tell you that they "love" their horse!

But back to my main point: I find with one session per day that it takes about two weeks, i.e. ten to fifteen days, for the horse to learn the first "thing" -- be that what is commonly called a "trick" or not -- that is the first thing he ever learned from a human being who was consciously trying to teach that same thing to him. And then, once that "sits", I'll go on just with that, performing it every two or three days but no more often than that -- one does not want to wear it out -- for a month or two.

Only then do I introduce the next "thing". And so, if the first "thing" was "step up onto the circus drum", and the second "thing" was "plie bow," then the plie bow will be learned in about half the time it took to get the first thing learned. I believe that this is because of the astonishment factor that I spoke of above; whereas at first the horse almost could not believe that he'd met a human with an ounce of brains, now he's very happy about it, he chuckles to himself, he looks out for direction, and he expects it to be fun.

And thus we set the tone, as well as the rate, of all our future together. It heightens the horse's motivation, everything new he learns makes him want to learn more; until the day comes when he starts to elaborate, which is to say, to take elements of stuff you've taught him, mix them in some way you'd never thought of, and then hand that back to you. At that point, you will no longer need reins, nor whip, nor physical aids apart from light touches. The horse is "following a feel" and he is "light" and "soft"; these ideals are unobtainable UNLESS the mind is addressed as much as the body. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

MsEithne
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 Posted: Fri Apr 22nd, 2016 08:00 pm
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I've been checking back, hoping to read an update about Val's Dreamer, maybe with video!

And I've been thinking about something that seems to me to be as true for horses as it is for dogs (relying on my distant memories of riding hunter/jumpers in my teens). Every biological being's performance varies from performance to performance. So one stop is perfectly acceptable and then the next stop is crisper, more definite, feet lined up more perfectly, etc. If you draw 10 circles on a piece of paper, one will stand out as being closer to an ideal circle than the others even if you strive to put equal effort into each circle.

Trainers who will only accept the very peak of perfection tend to have unhappy trainees. Who wants to be with someone who demands absolutely perfection and neglects the good in pursuit of the perfect?

All learning is a series of peaks and valleys, ups and downs. If the trainer is competent, the overall trend is upwards but there's enough variation to create a sawtooth line rather than a straight line.

Something I wish I had understood as a teen riding horses is that a smart trainer surfs those peaks and valleys deliberately. If they get an outstanding performance one time, they deliberately ask for a little less the next time. If they get a series of acceptable but forgettable performances, a good trainer will sense when to ask for something a little better just at the right time to receive it.

Not only does this help fight the human desire for learning to proceed in a straight line upwards, it also has the effect of building trust with the trainee. The more successes the trainee has, the more they trust that the trainer will not ask them for more than they can give.

I've seen this with shy, fearful dogs. In helping a dog get over their fear of, way, flapping towels, I try to turn away from the flapping towel an instant before the dog would feel it necessary to turn away. We walk away, then turn around and approach again while I do my best to time my turn while the dog is still succeeding at facing their fear. We do this over and over until the dog is marching happily right up to that flapping towel and is not phased in the least by having it flapped right on their body. They retain the ability to think because I never let them get to the point where they are too frightened to use their brains.

Having done this once with a flapping towel, usually the dog faces the next fear with much less adrenaline build up because they believe I will turn them away before it gets too scary for them. I will see the dog thinking the situation over rather than simply reacting.

And then if I teach the dog how to signal that they are starting to feel scared, please help, the dog usually starts acting very confident indeed.

Do this with a few different things and the dog seems like a changed dog, afraid of nothing. I haven't done anything to change that dog's essential nature but I have taught them that they can trust me and that they can think their way through a problem rather than resorting to an instinctive flight or fight response.

I'm not sure how this relates to Dreamer but it seems somehow related to me.


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