I am fortunate to be able to work from home during the Covid-19 crisis. Between work, I've been spending more time training my own horses and dogs. I thought I'd start a new blog series, #WhatIAmTrainingWednesday, showcasing what I am currently working on with my own horses. Here is a video of a skill I have recently been teaching my mare Viveza: how to be ponied off of a bicycle.
Viveza is already comfortable being around bicycles, whether stationary or moving. Had she not been comfortable, I would have spent some time first changing her emotional state of fear to one of pleasure, where the bike's presence would predict good things - treats! This process is called counter-conditioning and it is an effective, low-stress way to change emotions such as fear. Like I do for any new skill I want my horses to learn, I first developed a shaping plan. A shaping plan puts to paper exactly what steps you will take to teach a horse a new, wanted behaviour. Taking a few minutes to write a shaping plan can help you achieve better results, faster. It can also help you troubleshoot, should you run into any problems during training.
Shaping plan in hand, I reviewed what was required of Viveza - and me - before we started. Viveza already had a solid base of prerequisite skills necessary to tackle this new training challenge, so we were good to go. For example, some of her basic skills include:
she is comfortable with the person leading her carrying strange objects, and being led by someone moving 'unusually'
she leads well from both sides through straight lines and turns, at the walk and trot
she has a solid 'whoa' (in a variety of different contexts) on a verbal cue
from light touch cues, she will move backwards and forwards and yield her forehand and hindquarters
she ponies off of other ridden horses and when ridden she can pony horses in return
Some of my own basic prerequisite skills include:
experience training many horses a wide variety of foundational skills
experience as an avid mountain biker
leading multiple dogs while riding my bike one-handed
Especially when working with horses, it's critical to know what skills an animal must have in order to learn a new skill. Horses are large, powerful animals, and trying to train complex skills before they have a lack of solid prerequisite skills can result in fear, anxiety, stress, confusion, or even injury! If you are teaching your horse any new skill and aren't sure what prerequisites the horse might need, be sure and seek help from a more experienced trainer - preferably one who understands and uses low-stress, evidence-based training methods.
Finally, Viveza and I also share a healthy Trust Bank Account with one another. I do my best to ensure I put many, many deposits into this account, by using training methods that minimize fear, anxiety, and stress. After all, training should be fun for both you and your horse.