Building duration in exercises
When you start teaching your horse an exercise, your first goal is to make him understand the movement you're asking from him. For example the flexing the poll. Then you want to place that movement on command; the horse (only) flexes his poll when you ask for it, because then you can ask for different head movements too. When that all works out good, you will need to start working on the duration of the movement: your horse needs to realise that it's not about flexing his poll once, but about keeping his head and neck in this position for a longer time. The question is how to teach a your horse that it isn't just the movement you're looking for, but most of all the duration of the movement. Of course building up duration in a movement means that you have to be patient, your horse should like both you and your training and if that's all right, then the duration of the movement will come in itself...
But you have to teach him that you're looking for this duration too!
With Blacky and Sjors I realised that building up duration is something that they can understand really good by just counting out loud. When I ask Sjors for stretching his head/neck down, first I teach him to do so. Then when he responds to mycue (srtoking his neck) I start counting out loud the moment he responds. My goal is to be able to count two seconds before I reward - or
two tries before I reward. So Sjors' actions can be this:
- Sjors holds his head down a second longer (because after one second there still isn't a reward) and when I hear myself say 'two' I click and reward
- Sjors puts his head down on my cue, but when I say 'one', his head goes up again. Now I will reward whenever he puts his head down the second time.
So Sjors can take two learning paths: right from the start that he should put his head down longer, or he starts to put his head up and down. As the latter is much more tiring, soon he will switch to holding his head down longer and that's what I would want to see.
Then it's just a question of add one second every time and again untill Sjors has realised that actually it's not about hodling his head down for as long as I count out loud, but for as long as I give him the cue to hold his head down (with us it's me stroking his neck).
But the overall key is to be patient and not to expect to be able to count to 60 the first day. Start with one in order to give him the idea: when he puts his head down, you just reward like you usually do. Then you set as your goal that you will now reward when you have come to 'two' or have had two head down attempts. Then three, four etc. But do try to be fair in your counting: don't make the numbers longer as you go, just hold the rythm of the seconds. Because the smaller the steps you ask from your horse, the faster he will understand.
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Never stop making mistakes! Natural Dressage