Racing: The point of point to point
Well, it needed a title.
But in the UK there actually is a type of horse racing that's called point to point racing, where the race starts at one landmark (church tower for example) and then goes cross country to another landmark.
Thus the origin of the term "Steeple Chase," and I suspect, "point to point," as well given the visual aspect of church steeples, points up in the sky.
It's main aim was to go from one to another by the shortest fasted route. Motorcyclists "Cafe Race," but I think there's a bit of imbibing of spirits so that the end of the race may well turn bad for those unable to hold their liquor. LOL There's even a "Caferacer," style of motorbike ... very low slung, extremely short handle bars to ride through very narrow paths and streets, and duck below limbs and clothes lines.
You're not running in circles, but really moving from one point to another. There are two visible boundaries and in between all of it has to happen. That idea can also be used to spice up a dressage training at liberty.
Training dressage manouvres can be quite boring and pointless for the horse: shoulder in somewhere along the rail, collecting the trot somewhere on a circle, it all can be quite arbitrary from the horses point of view, as the question which exercise is done where and why and how long, is all in the human mind. Before you know it you're just directing the body as the mind is zoning out. Point to point racing is a way to allow your horses' mind to get back in the game, as the more he starts to think about what he's doing, the better he will understand what you are up to, and the closer he gets to the reward. Point to point racing for the horse is a way of visualizing where the carrot will be in space and time.
Not to mention the same motivation for the horse handler/rider. This sounds like super fun, Miriam.
The game: actually also a kind of sandwich game
The game itself is simple: place two landmarks a couple of meters apart in the training area, for example two traffic cones, plateaus, car tyres, logs, whatever you can think of. At first I would place them 5 to 10 meters apart: place them too close together and your horse won't have enough time to react, place them too far apart and he will lose focus and the point will lose it's attraction.
Then: park yourself and your horse next to the first (let's call it A
), then point to B and tell your horse 'We're going to B in walk'. Then you cue and walk to B and when you get there, you ask for halt at B and reward. I always tell Speedy out loud what we're going to do and he's so good at anticipating that when I now point at tyre B I have to say 'To that tyre in.. No, stop, don't go yet!... In shoulder in - yes, you may go now.'
Ah, you bring up a point that I've often wanted to address but hesitated because I did not want to offend nor could I think of a way to say it that would not risk offense.
It is the question of whether or not we ethically should tell our horse, or ask our horse.
You inspired me to envision, imagine, the horse and I doing what you suggest above and though it appears bossy, I know that humans LOVE to play games that have challenging rules - and even pay people to be the rule keeper and enforcer. Football (soccer as it's called here) is a great example.
Or even hide and go seek, the child's game. So the remark about ask or order that I'd offer is that if the horse is having fun ---
At first I simply rewarded every time we got to point B, in whatever manner Speedy thought of (mainly a boring walk). That way both point very quickly turned themselves into rewardpoints, which in horse language stands for Very Positive Things. After a while though, if the principle is understood, you can become a bit more picky: we're not yet that far that we can go from A to B in passage, but if that's the assignment, I now want to see at least one elevated trot step in between. Otherwise no reward after the halt but a cuddle, and then back to point A in another way.
I cannot recall if you ever read or commented on the Dakota thread posts I wrote, but you are describing how I changed the behavior of a very playful but dangerous Morgan gelding (he had hurt people, one very badly, before) by making a game of touching all things that frightened. See something scary, feel anxious, go touch. When it used to be, see something scary, startle, dive out from under the rider and bolt running half a mile at a time to "escape."
Very soon your horse will try and put more and more of the movement you asked for between the two points, simply because he knows he only has that much meters to show what he's got in order to get the reward.
Powerful stuff. And based on play. Who would have thought -
There are tons of things you can do between A and B:
- regular gaits: walk, trot, canter
- collected gaits: passage, Spanish walk, terre a terre, piaffe
- backing up
- all sideways movements
- jumping: place a jump between A and B (A and B acting like a kind of target for direction)
I do so wish I had thought of a point to point exercise with Dakota. Work would have gone even faster and I think he'd have been even more stable than he because under saddle. If I have a chance to work with him again I know I'll use your idea. He is a horse that must be engaged to think or he losses control of his body mind connection.
Of course you can also vary: at Speedy's place there are a lot of car tyres, so we have those two points now, but when there were eight tyres left, I placed those in two rows next to each other, creating a corridor of about 40 cm wide. There we play the same game: we stop in front of the corridor, then I give a cue and Speedy has the length of the corridor to show it. The funny thing about this is that it's easier as Speedy now has an even more fixed idea of direction, but it's harder as he's in the corridor alone as I have to stay outside, at a greater distance. And of course when we get bored with all the precision stuff we simply run around it, attack it from the side and jump over it.
And of course, when you just have the two tyres, you can also lunge around them in ovals, make figure of eights around them in several gaits, even combined with sideways movements.
If your horse is already an enthusiastic point to pointer, of course you can also start to vary to distance between A and B: put them close together and you can also use it for difficult or extremely collected exercises like piaffe and terre a terre. Put them further apart, and you can encourage more forward movement and speed like extended trot and canter.The benefits
- Because of the fixed points your horse can now visualise the assignment: not only how long the exercise will last (x meters), but also the exact direction (which can be a bit vague in the middle of the arena)
- As he can anticipate on what's going to come, he will likely also become more energetic, especially the more slow, lazy horse as this task is very well defined. It's like the slow horse that starts to pull when he sees a jump in front of them: suddenly he is in control as he can now see what to do and where to do it, instead of blindly following the trainers' cues whenever they come.
Very easy to understand that clear analogy.
- You can turn the race into a pattern: in passage to the first point, then back in walk, then in passage to the first point - with rewards of course. That way your horse can anticipate what's to come and can already start thinking about how to optimize that before even starting it.
- Both you and your horse will become more precise: if you always start from a halt at the first point and stop to a halt at the second point, your halt-cue will become much sharper. Also: your horse now only has those X meters to complete the task. If you ask for Spanish walk, it means that he can't do ten regular walk steps first and then slowly start lifting the front legs: he will realise that he has to respond faster to the cues if he want the reward attached to them - and you will realise that if you usually take a few steps to build up to a cue (me
) you're way past point B before you even got the message over to your horse.
But for me the best thing is that it puts the fun back in dressage if the exercises have become a bit dull for the horse. It's another way of making dressage work for your horse, instead of making your horse work for dressage.
Am I understanding correctly - you are using the "point," marker as a cue itself? Or is it the behavior completion marker point for reward?
This is most thought provoking.
Donald, Altea, and Bonnie Cupcake