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JR Session 50; Wizard Session 85: Deboogering the Booger

July 9, 2009
Mary in the Snake Pit

Mary in the Snake Pit

Wednesday, 7/8/09

Nobody ever said horses were reasonable creatures. They spook. They booger. Sometimes it is inevitable, but it always pays to be prepared with a little practice and experience.

Going into Booger Night, I knew that JR’s bugaboo (boogerboo?) was moving objects. I can hang all over him. I can show him scary things. This is fine. But if a hawk flies behind him, it’s time to booger.

We set up the arena with a series of obstacles. When I’m working with horses and exciting obstacles, it is less about the obstacle itself and more about HOW we encounter it. So we set up:

– A Snake Pit (square border filled with garden hoses and other various harmless but thrilling snakey items)

The Snake Pit

The Snake Pit

– The Oasis (a tarp and an inflatable palm tree), as modeled by Mary the Morgan

Mary at the Oasis

Mary at the Oasis

– Two traffic cones, a jump pole, and a bunch of inflatable toys.

– A mattress.

– A car tire.

– A hula hoop.

– A wooden platform.

– Two white chairs with pool noodles draped over them.

– A white umbrella.

– A play ball.

Since I wanted to enter the arena working and not playing, I asked my friend Cathy to twirl the white umbrella as we walked through the gate. As expected, JR caught sight of the umbrella, telescoped his neck, stood on his toes, bugged out his eyes, tightened his body, flagged his tail, and snorted like a humpback whale. We sashayed our way over to Cathy and the umbrella. I stopped a few times to allow JR to collect his wits. As we walked toward Cathy, she stepped back a little bit, to encourage forward movement. I reinforced forward and curious posture with my clicker. I also asked him for his “head down” behavior a few times to focus him on a task. We also targeted the umbrella, which worked really well. Tap with nose, click, treat.

Once he was reliably targeting the umbrella, Cathy began to open and close the umbrella as we walked a pattern past her. Snort, snort, prance. It took a few minutes, but JR began to understand that he could listen to me while the Huge White Fanged Moth flapped its strange wings.

JR was a champ about the other obstacles. He boldly stomped through The Oasis, pawed and bit the mattress, conquered the Snake Pit, tiptoed over the jump pole, and even stood on the platform like a circus pony. Click, treat. Good boy!

The play ball was the other boogery object for JR. My friends tossed the ball back and forth and JR’s focus was totally on the ball. I turned him loose and worked on a little free longeing while they tossed the ball and waved noodles in his direction. The combination of positive reinforcement and desensitization worked, and JR’s jolly nature took over. He began to see our antics as a game. He had his own little circus of performing monkeys, tossing toys and performing for him :^)

During the session, we came back to the umbrella a few times, working around it and also working with it. A common mistake that people make with horses is when they look AT the scary object instead of looking at the task about to be performed. When you look at the object, you are indicating to your horse that you want him to walk on, through, over, or into the object, when in fact, you really just want him to walk past it without ogling at it.

The last step of the night was a little sacking out, clicker-style. I slowly worked the umbrella over JR’s sides, clicking when he stood his ground and relaxed. He was more concerned about it on his right side than his left. I also worked with the ball, rolling it down JR’s back and over his sides. It took a few attempts, but he caught on to the game rather readily.

Wizard is far less reactive to visual objects, but he needs a lot of work on becoming comfortable with objects on his body. He navigated all of the objects nicely, and showed quite a bit of improvement with the platform. I’d like to do more work with the platform, since I think it is good for hoof awareness/placement and for learning how to carefully negotiate an obstacle.

The longe whip is no biggie for either horse, and I run it over and under them frequently. But the noise, color, texture, and shape of the umbrella was a challenge. Wizard has already had one session visually navigating the umbrella, but we did not work on contact with the umbrella. Wizard is a little more of a tryer than JR, and the conflict was palpable as he gamely stood his ground while his body shrank away from the umbrella. After a little work with the clicker and a few kind words, he accepted the umbrella. His least favorite part was when I slid it up his neck and placed it on his poll- it took a few tries before he could stand his ground.

What’s next? Do it all over again tomorrow with a new boogery object or two. And revisit the umbrella with both horses.

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