Last summer I officially rehomed my gelding, Blue, with his 13-year-old soul mate, Heidi. She had leased him for a couple of years under the tutelage of his trainer (and amazing clicker trainer), Leslie Peeples. They’ve made great progress together. He’s a fun horse with a great sense of humor, and Heidi gets that. She is patient with him and willing to explain things to him in a language he understands. It’s a fantastic match.
Heidi sent me this update the other day:
Blue and I have made some new developments lately and I thought you might want to hear about them. In order to get the whole story, I’m going to have to explain.
Well last month, I started working on lots of reining stuff, fencing, spins, stops, etc. He actually did his first sliding stop (all of 8 inches) which he has yet to do again. Anyway I got to thinking, and I was like, you know what? I miss gaming — maybe I should start doing it with him. I’m sure he would enjoy the challenge. Well right as I decided maybe I would do this, a big snow storm hit and it was like 16 inches of first snow, then ice.
So during the 10 days I had sitting at home doing nothing in the snow I read every barrel racing tip and training plan my favorite barrel riders/trainers had ever written. So when the snow went away I was properly armed with all the info I needed to start my training schedule. I spent 3 days walking him around the barrels (stopping at the “rate” point, where he is eventually supposed to slow and shorten his stride, and clicking him when he stopped on his own and did nice turns).
It was all going perfectly until I got bronchitis and an ear infection. 12 days of lying on the couch watching daytime TV (I might add daytime TV is not especially interesting or educational in any way) and thinking about how I was going to incorporate clicker training into gaming with Blue.
So today I was FINALLY able to ride him again and was pleasantly surprised. I walked the barrel pattern about 3 times then decided he felt ready to try trotting to the barrels and slowing to a walk at the rate point and walking around the barrel. As I started doing it with this sequence, I was extremely surprised — after about 2 times doing it, he would trot up to the barrel and before I even got the chance to sit and cue him to walk, he would walk right at the exact point I will eventually want him to rate (shorten his stride and slow a little). According to what the pros were saying, he shouldn’t be self rating for at least another few weeks. I thought about it, and I was like, gosh am I lucky to have such a smart clicker horse.
Anyway, Blue and I have been enjoying the adventures of training a clicker gaming horse. So far I have only patterned him on barrels and figure 8 stake race. Eventually I will pattern him on all the events. He’s not going to be one of those crazy free runners — he’s going to run more of a ratey push style pattern (at least I hope).
Anyway, I’m working on reining and sometimes western pleasure as well as gaming right now. He, being the smartest horse I know, is taking it all in stride (pun intended). Sorry about practically writing a novel in your email. This was probably totally pointless and boring to read BUT being the one who picked him out and brought him into my life, you deserve all the updates on his life no matter how boring :).
And then she delighted me with a picture and another update the next day:
More good news today! I started out practicing figure 8 today and he was totally acing trotting the pattern, so I decided despite being 4 days ahead of schedule, I would take the next step and start loping in between the barrels/poles and trotting around the barrels/poles.
The first two times I did it like this on figure 8, he was pretty shaky and confused so I walked the pattern once and did something else before I came back to trying the loping again. Third time’s a charm ’cause he was PERFECT. He self rated, got all the leads right, and stayed under control.
After giving a hefty amount of treats for this, I went to try it on the barrel pattern. At first he was pretty confused and got a little out of sorts and frustrated, so I took a deep breath, petted him to reassure him, walked the course twice, and practiced other things for about 10 minutes. When I went to try it again, he did it PERFECTLY. It just clicked in his brain all the sudden and he got it right.
So after that he got lots of reward and we quit for the day. Anyway I’m so impressed with how he is improving by leaps and bounds already.
BTW the picture I have attached is of him in his gaming stuff (minus the barrel saddle cause the fit hasn’t been approved by Leslie yet).
Isn’t he adorable? Isn’t she an amazing trainer? I’m encouraging her to start a blog to document her training. I think it would be great for her to document her plans and what works and what doesn’t. Pictures and video would be fun too!
I think Blue is incredibly blessed to have her and Leslie in his life. He’s one happy pony!!! And I’m happy to get to watch them learn and grow together.