lessons from baby horses

It seems like at least half the teachers in my horse education are baby horses themselves.  They are wise and clever and sneaky in their baby horse ways.  Murray has taught me a lot, but he was just one horse, and it turns out there’s still a lot to learn.  Trainer took students to Fresno County Horse Park this weekend, so and I was in town for once, so of course I offered to work the baby horses (all two of them…  but I also worked two friends’ babies so that kinda counts).  And I had a pretty neat little a-ha moment while doing so.

First up was zennMr. Zen, who is very cute but pretty lazy.  He thinks he’s too cute to lunge.  He wasn’t directly disobedient, but any time I asked him to slow down he used it as an excuse to turn to the inside to avoid more work.  He was quite clever, too, and knew that if he just kept himself pointed slightly away from me he could most effectively spin his hind end away from me.  But I buckled down and engaged ninja mode, and focused on just the most basic of lunging manners.  Zen was somewhat shocked by these rules, but I let up and praised him mightily after just 3 good circles with polite walk-halt transitions. Result?  Today we only had one disagreement about it.  I still had to be quick and I obviously couldn’t text and lunge the same way I can when I’m working Murray (pinnacle of safety over here), but massive improvement.  This is standard baby horse training, though, and not the massive a-ha moment.

The a-ha moment came when I was working little Marshawn Lynch.  Marshawn’s only tasks in life right now are to relax and learn to go and woah when asked, both on the lunge line and under saddle.  Marshawn was a little tense on the lunge though, so it was a bit tough for him to get the “woahhhs” through his ears.  But even baby horses relax eventually, and so when I saw Marshawn slow his step and stretch out his topline a bit I took advantage of that moment to say “woahhh,” and Marshawn came to a walk.  Super.  Back up to a trot, and this time Marshawn was quicker to relax, so we came back to a walk easily.  I repeated this a few times in each direction, and I could really see the wheels turning in little Marshawn’s head as I said “woah” and then put a little pressure on the lunge line.  It was very cool, and a good example of antecedent-behavior-consequence training.

Antecedent: I say “woah”
Behavior: Marshawn slows
Consequence: praise, less pressure

The neat part to me was connecting all the piece of the training.  First, rewarding Marshawn for relaxing on the lunge line, which is a huge thing to me.  I’m not interested in contributing to tension, or making a horse who just wants to run around on the lunge like a maniac.  I don’t mind getting your yayas out, but lunging is also for work, yo!  Marshawn visibly relaxed in the first lunging session and was much more relaxed coming into the second session.  Second, putting together the voice aids (woah, clucking/kissing) with the behavior Marshawn was already demonstrating — relaxation or slowing.  And finally, adding in the lunge aids (which will contribute to rein aids, as the lunge goes to the bit) with the voice aids.  All just one piece of the puzzle of creating a well-trained horse.

I love learning from baby horses!!  They are so fun.