Friday, January 20, 2017

shaping

Happy Friday everyone! This week (actually the past couple weeks) has been a bit of a doozy, with travel (including up to the frozen US tundra of Minnesota last week... brr!!) and long work days. But I'm coming up for air just in time for the weekend. History will judge this particular day for itself... but for now, for me. I'm just gonna look at it as a relaxed Friday.

AND. I'm taking it as an opportunity to write about Charlie's second lesson with my go-to local horsemanship pro, Jim McDonald. But for those of you bored to tears by the subject, this post also features pictures of a gorgeously lit winter sky at dusk (evidence that the days are lengthening, slowly but surely!), one extremely handsome bay ottb, and his new goodies ;)

lookie how pretty the light is on those trees!!!! and. also. i <3 this handsome horse
It's actually hilarious in some ways.... Megan K recently wrote about how her horse is subtly influencing her day to day activities and priorities, and that she's cool with it. She finishes the post with "I'll let you know when he convinces me to try Parelli, because that'll really be the day." - which made me giggle bc.... well.... I totally resemble that remark haha.

Ground work was never my thing. Even with Isabel, who arguably would have benefited from it immensely. I just never felt like I needed it with her, like we could get along just fine without it. And, spoiler, we totally did.

jim brought us a new rope halter too!! we had been borrowing one of jim's spares, but this one is all ours
The difference with Charlie is due to a few different factors. Primarily? My confidence, tenuous as it always is (see blog title), took a big hit as things fell apart with Izzy, and as I spent a summer leap frogging from one horse to another (falling off an awful lot, and often painfully, in the process).

Charlie is a large and unknown entity. It is of critical importance that I am comfortable and confident in every aspect of our work together. The ground work has proved perfect for getting to know each other, build trust, and learn how Charlie processes new information, reacts to pressure (and to being corrected), and refine my timing and communication with him.

Plus, while our progress under saddle is excruciatingly slow-going as he physically adapts to a new lifestyle, the ground work progress has been lightning fast comparatively. So in that regard, it's really reassuring to see that, from one day to the next, Charlie IS learning and developing, even if the whole picture isn't drastically changed.

i'm totally diggin the blue specks too. and just ignore the muddy face. charlie has been rolling daily ever since i described him as 'not a very dirty horse.' go figure.
And so we practice. Our first session with horsemanship pro Jim was way back in September, about 2 weeks after Charlie became my horse. Our objective at that point was trailer loading (to go to lessons!!) but Jim uncovered a few holes that needed attention.

Charlie and I spent the fall and beginning of winter working on those holes, while Jim recovered from an unfortunate injury. Then one frosty frigid day a couple weeks ago, Jim came back out (being fully mobile again, yay!) to check in on our progress and give more clarity in how to continue advancing.

Jim said my timing has improved, particularly when releasing pressure - arguably a very important part (tho after my recent post about pressure, where I admitted to being a bit of a softy, this somehow doesn't surprise me lol). So now the focus needs to shift to my position. Much like riding, getting the correct response from the horse starts with positioning myself correctly.

To this end, Jim described a new-to-me concept (perhaps you're familiar?): he spoke of the horse's driving line. An axis separating the horse's front from back, that is basically right at the shoulders. My position relative to the driving line dictates which direction the horse goes. Behind the driving line? Horse goes forward. In front of the driving line? Horse goes backward.

"does this bra detract from my macho manliness??" - charlie, probably
That all makes sense enough. The real news was when Jim pointed out that when I'm *at* the driving line (right at the shoulders, incidentally, my happy place - see the above and below photos of me standing with Charlie), the horse can become confused about where I want him to go.

Jim says the farther we are from the driving line when asking the horse for something, the more effective we can be. Interestingly enough, when we ride we are both in front of and behind the driving line (hands and legs, respectively). Food for thought!

After figuring out where to place my body relative to the driving line, I must determine where to point my body. Again, much like riding, I should point my body in the direction of travel - in effect, showing the horse where to go. For moves like turns on the haunches or forehand, I should imagine a lever stemming from the stationary axis point, and imagine pushing that lever around - adjusting my body position accordingly.

Just that alone was super helpful for me, since I've often felt like the hardest part of ground work was figuring out what to do with my own self to get what I wanted from the horse. Hand waving and rope shaking alone just don't seem to cut it haha (go figure).

"never mind, i don't even wanna know your answer"
Anyway. The insights on position and the driving line were maybe my biggest takeaways, followed by the specific exercise Jim instructed us on, simply called: Hip-Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder-Back-Forward.

The repetition with body parts relates to moving from one side of the horse's body to the other (ie, left hip, right hip), which is interesting to me bc I had been doing everything on one side first then moving to the other side. This approach instead calls for switching back and forth from sides as you move through the exercises.

Hip (turn on forehand):
-   Stand at the horse's hip, facing the hip, with rope in hand
-   Put light fingertip pressure on the hip, increasing pressure gradually
-   Use voice cue (rhythmic kiss noises)
-   Apply pressure on rope
-   Immediately upon achieving a step wherein the hind closest to you steps underneath the horse, crossing over in front of the other hind leg, remove all pressure, face forward and pet the horse.

Always begin with the absolute least amount of pressure (ie, fingertip) then steadily increase from fingertip pressure, to heavier hand pressure, to voice, to adding rope pressure, all in rhythm, until the step is achieved.

Use the same progression each time, starting at the absolute minimum, and eventually the heavier cues will fall away until you can get the outcome with the least amount of pressure.

Start with just one step, and always be clear on how many steps you want before you begin asking. Don't change mid-course! Should be able to gradually increase number of steps until the horse can achieve a full 360* circle with its hind legs around forelegs.

Shoulder (turn on haunches):
-   Stand up near horse's head facing diagonally backwards toward horse's far-side hind end
-   Lightly place one hand under halter, palm facing up, other hand on shoulder. Apply light pressure to ask the horse to move away.
-   Step forward in toward horse (toward diagonal far-side hind)
-   Use voice cue
-   Continue until the horse steps a front leg away (how it moves is less important than the direction it moves - so long as it isn't forward or backward).

Should be able to gradually increase number of steps until the horse can achieve a full 360* circle with its forelegs around hind legs.

TOH is harder for the horse bc it requires that they shift more weight onto their hind end. It may be a while before Charlie can achieve true crossover with front legs, and that's ok. For now we are only concerned with direction of the movement. Correctness of movement will come with time and strength.

alas i think this sleezy slinky thing might be a titch too small... maybe it'll stretch? but charlie gets the nastiest of rubs on his shoulders so hopefully this will help!
Back:
-   Lightly place hand on horse's mid-face between eyes and nostrils, with finger tips extending to both sides of the face.
-   Place other hand on shoulder
-   Use voice cue
-   Continue until horse takes step back. (quality of step is not important to start - eventually we would like diagonal pairs stepping back in sync).

Charlie backs great with this cue. When I last wrote that he was terrible at backing up, my cues were either: light tapping with dressage whip on his front cannons, or using hand gestures in front of him to 'push' (without touching) him back. Neither worked very well (and not bc ottbs for some reason can't back up... that's just patently untrue). But for some reason thought I wasn't supposed to pull on the halter or push on the shoulder.

This new cue (hand on face, secondary on shoulder if necessary) works like a charm tho. And just goes to show that, at least for me, learning the positioning and specific ways to ask makes all the difference in getting the right response from Charlie. Go figure lol.

Forward:
-   Um. Lead the horse forward. This is typically pretty straight forward haha (puns!).

he really is the sweetest tho <3
Jim says to go through this entire progression twice in a row - the first time with the contact as described above, and with the well-defined progression of aids: light touch, voice, rope (using rhythm for voice and rope aids). Then go through it all again a second time with no contact (if possible).

Again, the idea is to gradually (over time, not usually in one session) get to a point where you can achieve all of these movements with the most minimal body cues and zero contact.

Jim reminded me that the horse remembers whatever it was they were doing when you released pressure. Only release when the right activity is achieved, but release immediately and clearly. If the horse continues doing activity after your release, the release wasn't clear enough (for instance, if the horse continues to swing his hind end away after I stopped asking).

He also described how these exercises will progress into new movements:
-   Forward backward forward backward (he recommended this for my work with backing)
-   TOF into sending away (as if to lunge)
-   Sending away laterally, bringing forward laterally
-   Which eventually turns into a cue for having the horse move his hind end toward the mounting block (which Jim has videos of and it's totally awesome... but I can't find the videos, womp womp).

***

So. It was a good lesson. My inner scientist seriously appreciates the systematic nature of how this training progresses. It makes sense to me. And now I feel much better equipped with understanding where and how to position myself. And how my position directly influences how easily Charlie can understand me.

What do you think? Think you'll give any of these cues or moves a try? Or maybe they're already standards in your tool box? Or maybe you do the same movements, but you ask for them differently?

I'm super curious and interested in all the different ways we can get the same types of outcomes from our horses - and especially in figuring out how to be as clear as possible in how I cue Charlie for anything!

32 comments:

  1. Love it!! I do a variation of that groundwork exercise almost daily with Dino before I get on. It helps him start thinking forward and getting into work mode. I use a dressage whip to help with my cues, and have used clicker training to reinforce the movements in the past. Sometimes I can even get him to do the movements while loose in the pasture! I'm definitely going to take Jim's cues into consideration for the TOH though - that is definitely the stickiest one for us! Glad you're having success with groundwork!

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    1. agreed on using this to help get the horse thinking haha. it's also useful for me to pull out one or two of these movements in instances where charlie starts tuning out (like when we're heading towards his stall and he tries to take over lol). also agreed on the TOH being one of the stickiest. it made perfect sense tho when jim reminded me that this movement requires more engagement and work from the hind end... poor charlie's gonna have to figure out one way or another how to lift those giant shoulders!

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  2. For me groundwork is basic manners so it is a must! One of the first things I did with Quest immediately after I got her was groundwork. We started off every single session together for 2-3 months in the round pen doing all the stuff you talked about and it was super beneficial for us. Esp since I only had a rough idea of her history, we started with the basics and took things as they came.

    We eventually worked up to working and lunging at liberty in the round pen then arena. I should probably share the video I took from 2 years ago where she is free lunging in an arena and doing w/t/c transitions with just voice cues from me, it is probably one of my proudest moments with her.

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    1. that's awesome! i love that feeling when the horse is so in-tune and focusing so hard on listening to whatever you ask.

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  3. I use similar but slightly different cues. I also am very heavy on the voice cues. I like the voice cues as assistance in the saddle. Although the downside is I sound like a crazy person muttering to my horse sometimes.

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    1. ha yea i use a ton of voice too - that was actually the biggest struggle for me in this lesson was to be more clear on the progression of aids, bc my instinct is to go to the voice cues immediately, when jim wanted me to wait and be more systematic in adding in additional cues. what can i say tho - i'm definitely with you in the crazy mutterers club haha

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  4. I know I should do more ground work, but I generally don't practice it enough. Part of my most recent lesson with Laura involved ground work where it was demonstrated just how poorly I do with it.

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    1. ugh i definitely relate. part of why i've never done it much before was bc.... well i didn't really know how haha. and it's really frustrating to not be able to actually get the horse to do what shouldn't really be all that hard for it to do. the lessons are helping tho!

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  5. I do some TOF and TOH ground work when my horse refuses to move when I'm on him. Does that count? (PS Bobby I hate you.)

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    1. lolz i'd say that totes counts. (PS Bobby she's probably just kidding.... maybe haha)

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  6. Neat post! I do some similar things, and some different things. And I am also pretty voice heavy. I think I'll try some of this with Cinna, since her ground manners always need work 😋

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    1. oooh definitely do!! i'll be curious to see how that goes, since i'm pretty interested in the giant spectrum of cues we can use to achieve the same outcomes

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  7. I like his muscle shirt. Glad things are going well!

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    1. ha and here i've been calling it a 'bra' - much to charlie's mortification! he'll be much happier to hear it called a 'muscle shirt' lolol

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  8. Great stuff. This was the foundation with Griffin. We still sucks at TOH because I never worked much at it, but the rest of this he will do based on my body language. No voice necessary. It's fun to dance with them and make non horse people's jaws drop when the magic happens lol

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    1. ha that's awesome! i'm definitely looking forward to the day that charlie is that responsive. he's a surprisingly sensitive guy so i think he'll get there quickly if i can just be consistent with it. TOH are definitely hard for us too tho... but i think i'm really gonna stick at it bc charlie needs allllllll the help he can get learning how to shift his weight back off his shoulders lol

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  9. Ugh, it has been gross here in MN... sorry you had to visit us in the most unfun time of year :(

    This is a great post; I've tried to explain the driving line to my hubby, who confuses the snot out of my horses when he lunges them because he doesn't seem to get it... I might have to send him this post!

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    1. ha yea... figuring out how to get in front or behind the horse definitely becomes more intuitive - the part most interesting to me was the insight that when you're *at* the driving line, the horse is kinda just like, 'uhhhh what do you want i am confused' lol

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  10. As pics of Da Bird illustrate clearly, I have drunk the rope halter koolaid. :) Gotta say, though, Charlie looks sharp in his wife-beater, and I like the little flecks of color in his rope halter. The rope tails on your knot don't look like they're hanging quite straight down, but maybe they're still stiff because it's new? Anyway, the knot I use is this one https://youtu.be/tyMoCVzqgQE?t=1m27s (video links to the useful part) because it won't tighten up to undoability no matter what. Keep us posted on his ground work progress! I for one find it as interesting as his under-saddle progress.

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    1. ha yea i definitely prefer the rope halter for our ground work, tho i don't use it when charlie has to tie for anything. he's hit the end of his rope and been fine while tied... but i just don't want to risk it.

      as for the knot - the likelihood that i ever mess with that knot at all in the slightest is close to zero haha. that's how it came and that's how it'll stay! not sure what the not-straight part is that you're seeing, but i imagine that's tough to judge when there's tension on the line anyway?

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    2. Well, if it came that way, it's probably right. Don't know what I was seeing... there were a lot of tax forms at the office on Friday and I was probably spacing out. :)

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    3. Ugh I feel the same way after staring down zillions of spreadsheets.... Lol yea but for all my DIY interests, somehow knots are not my specialty lol

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  11. What struck me most after a few years of studying horsemanship ground work was that it created a language between me and the horse. The simple steps you described above are like establishing the letters and as I progressed it could work together to make words and even sentences. It is pretty neat to be able to move your horse with looks and body position. I really wish I were better though. Most of my friends who study this are so much better than me and the stuff they can do blows my mind.

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    1. i love that metaphor of 'establishing the letters' - like we're building the alphabet right now, which is exactly what it feels like. and the more we do it, the easier it is to see how it'll morph into more interesting conversations!

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  12. Lots of familiar concepts there. I've had what might kindly be called an "eclectic" path through horsemanship that included a decade-long stop to learn basic riding and groundwork skills from a Western Pleasure trainer.

    Here's a fun one: what you learned, about the driving position? It can be applied to lunging as well. Those are the concepts used to do round pen work - and round pen work, if you do it right, is just lunging a naked horse with a rope instead of with a whip and lunge line.

    Also useful to help catch horses that have decided to be a sh****** I mean, a pain to catch in the pasture, which is by far the most frequent use I get out of the knowledge. ;)

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    1. ugh i hate playing hard-to-get in the field... lucky me, my horse is usually already in his stall when i get there....

      and yea the driving line thing is pretty intuitive, right? that's not really news. like even if you don't know the term for it (which i did not), over time it's pretty natural (subconscious, even) to pick up the idea of getting in front or behind them to move them around, lunging, leading or whatever.

      the part that really clicked for me, that was the newest idea, was figuring out where i was the *least* effective - which is right up on top of that driving line. it makes sense when i think about it - you kinda always know that you don't wanna be all right up in the horse's space... but i had never really thought about the idea of them actually sorta having this neutral 'in-between' place where it's harder for them to understand what we want from them.

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  13. I don't think I've heard the same axis terminology, but I was taught a similar concept for longing/round pen work. To ask for forward one points their body/hand/whip toward the hind end, for asking the horse to move out one points directly at the shoulder, and for a whoa, one points ahead of the shoulder. But I like having a name for that!

    I'm going to be honest, near the end the details were falling right out of my head as far as how to ask for each thing, but I do love learning about all of this stuff. I think it's fascinating how in tune horses are to body language, and it's wild how much of an affect body language/position/control actually has on our interactions with them.

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    1. haha omg tho heather i promise the details were spilling right out of my head too - i may or may not have hurried right on over to tap out as much as i could possibly remember before the details were gone forever. honestly it's written out here for exactly that reason - there's no way in hell i can retain all of that info over time without writing it down for reference somewhere!

      but yea, agreed that it's fascinating to think about - it's a much bigger subject than i had realized! (sounds stupid to say that, but it's true!)

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  14. Very interesting! This post makes me feel like I should be doing more ground work (or just any groundwork...)

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  15. Sounds like a good trainer :)
    I do those kind of things with my horses, but ask for them in different ways (eg: I ask for backing with a finger in their chest). We're definitely not good enough for 'no touching' aids though!

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  16. Not familiar with the driving line at all but that does make sense and also pointing your body in the direction you want them to go. I like it - trying these things out soon!

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  17. Thank you for this post! I love reading about how people do basic training (riding and ground). My two are both really bad at turning when I'm working with them. I was taught the Parelli method, which is similar, but I will be rereading your post and trying out this technique soon.

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