Thursday, July 15, 2010

Too Hot to Ride, More Plastic Bag Work and Some Good Links

It's been too hot to ride for the past several days - heat indices well up towards 100F, with very high levels of humidity. On that topic, AareneX at Haiku Farm has an excellent post on keeping horses cool even in hot humid conditions - distance riders know a thing or two about this - and she also includes some very interesting references/links both in the post and in the comments.

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Dawn and I were able to get in another scary object session. We've been working with a white plastic garbage bags - white plastic bags are one of her scariest things, outranked only by balloons - I'm sure she thinks plastic bags exist only to jump out of the bushes at her, rustle appallingly and wrap themselves around her legs as a prelude to killing her. Only recently, the sight of a white plastic bag could cause her to bolt to the far side of the arena.

Our work session involved Dawn, wearing a halter but no lead, a small grass paddock, some treats, and a white plastic bag attached to a lead line - I use a tongue click to signal her that she's done what I asked. We'd already progressed in a prior session to her tentatively touching the bag as I held it in my hand (click and treat). I put Dawn in the paddock, unconstrained - she started grazing. I took the plastic bag, snapped the lead through the string (handily, it had one of those string tighteners), and started dragging it around the paddock on the ground. Man, it scared me! It was bumping along through the grass, making dreadful rustling sounds. But Dawn didn't bolt - in the past I think she would have. She moved off to a safe distance and watched me. I dropped the lead, leaving the bag on the ground, and went over to her. I gently took her halter in my hand and asked her, using almost no pressure, to take a step or two towards the bag - for each step she took, click and treat. After a couple of steps (she was still a long ways from the bag), I went back to dragging the bag. We did this for about 10 minutes, with a very slow progression at each try closer to the bag. After a while, she would stop grazing and cautiously watch and follow at a good distance behind the bag. Finally, I was able to ask her to step right up to the bag. I let her go and waited - she stretched her nose towards the bag, snorting - click and treat. She then retreated, and we did it again - nose got closer. Finally she carefully stretched - it's amazing how long a horse's neck can get! - and just touched the bag. Click and jackpot of treats. That was all for that time - I like to keep these sessions really short so she can slowly build her trust. I was particularly pleased that she was willing to trust me enough to take steps towards the bag when I gently asked her.

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And for some more interesting stuff - Pinzgauer at Drafts With Dots has started a really excellent series of posts on equine color genetics - a complex topic that is very interesting to me. The first four posts are:

I've added a sidebar box linking to these color genetics posts, and will add more over there as she puts them up.

One of the things I'm enjoying most about the horse blog world is the opportunity to learn many things from all the knowledgeable bloggers out there!

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Also, if you have a moment, please visit SolitaireMare at A Good Horse and give her your support - she and her horse are struggling with his very serious health problems.


  1. Thanks for the links back to my blog.

    I love clicker training, or my personal variation of it, Pavlovian training (like Pavlov's dogs). I just say "good girl" instead of using a click, but it's all really the same thing. My problem is I'd lose my clicker, but I rarely lose my voice.

  2. WOWSA Kate!!!
    LOVE your header.. spectacular relaxed vision of a team!
    Neat -o-work with the bags! it all is a trust building, brain enlarging time!
    I made a huge "step forward" on Wa mare last week, with tarps...Wa's nemesis for stepping on! She wears them fine!

    Stay cooler, I pray...we are finally in the 80'd again. whew!

    Have to check out the is very interesting, thanks!

  3. Great work with Dawn. The nicest thing is not necessarily the technique you are using but rather the fact that she is trusting and responding to you more and more each time. Congrats....*S*

  4. Thanks for the color genetics links. A fascinating topic to me that I have studied some in the past. Like you said it can get very complex!

  5. This weather sucks! I agree. I think that clicker training during this weather is so helpful. Sounds like Dawn is coming along well. Keep cool!

  6. Lots of good reading .I enjoy your posts about clicker training .I am finding it to be quite interesting.


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