I spent last fall and winter in Farmington, NM training mustangs for pay. It was a great thing to do and I thought I would pick it up again, but the spring was too muddy to catch mustangs and now it’s foaling season so they won’t start catching again until July. Meanwhile I am working very hard to really read the literature of training, the applied animal behavior literature, and see what I can learn and put to use. The result is quite a few new things in my training toolbox. I thought it was time to pick up this blog, dust it off, and record what I am learning.
I have been spending my afternoons working with animals. This afternoon I worked with Cracker Joe and Tobiah. I want them to be ready to sell if need be. Cracker is on the verge of being a pretty nice riding hinny, finally coming into his own as a cowboy dressage animal. Tobiah is getting a nice reining handle on him as well. I’m also riding Paisley (now named Shamu) and Electrolux (aka Lucky).
Cracker has been studying collection, but I am not doing it with bound up impulsion, instead I am just using +R to get it. He’s got a roughly collected posture at a stance, but collection happens in motion, so now it’s time to let it refine itself on the lunge line. It’s interesting how first he had to develop some flexibility in his poll, then start bending contrary to his ewe-neck. He started getting the idea at the walk last week. Then we had to take a detour to confirm that, yes indeed, he does have to do what I ask on the lounge line, now we are back with a trot and today I saw him venture into a tentative passage step, which is a slow elevated trot. He did it for maybe 10 feet each time and it did it maybe five times altogether. This is extreme for this normally strung out fat boy. Then he seemed tired and we retired for the afternoon. What was also interesting about the session is that he lifted himself into a canter depart motion at the walk-trot transition. I cannot help but think that is the result of him wanting to find collection.
Tobiah now goes where I ask until he decides he wants to do otherwise. He is really soft when he is listening and cooperating. Today I tried just responding to his show of full donkey resistance by jumping off and asking for a few trotting circles in a halter driving exercise. That seemed to impress on him that if he attempted to mutiny, there were consequences he didn’t like. We finished our ride nicely. Asking a donkey to trot on the lounge is not exactly a good show of ones prowess as an animal trainer. I am glad no one is around to watch.
Electrolux is driving well. He understands walk on, whoa, gee and haw so I don’t know what more we can get done before we ride. The groundwork is complete. I worry about his back and not having a saddle, but I might try putting a blanket on him. With the sway on his back, I doubt that he could buck very hard. Maybe tomorrow.
Cisco Kid is also driving, but not so calmly. Will he ever just settle down? Tonight we worked in the new mustang roundpen, just driving around the perimeter. I am hoping to work on whoa enough that it becomes a conditioned reinforcer. None of my animals wear bits much. I thought about putting one on the Kid, but I am ambivalent, so it doesn’t get out of the thinking phase. He will yield his nose with just a slight tug on the lead rope and halter. He will stop and back on voice command, but the problem is that voice command is not the same as yielding to the necessity of stopping when he is in panic mode. I am thinking about riding him with a double outfit… his rope halter as the main direction, and then a narrow snaffle, which he would have to be thoroughly conditioned to totally respect. I don’t like the idea of using a tool of force, but he has to respect my command to “whoa” unconditionally or he will never be safe to ride. This may or may not get past the “thinking about stage”.