Thank you Volker
I actually managed to sneak out to the horses between loads, while waiting for the big hay trucks I am unloading.
The horses have been locked in the corral with the cattle for the last few days, because this time of year the dugouts begin to freeze and it takes a few days for the ice to get strong/safe enough for dumb cows - sometimes cows walk out to the middle of them looking for water, and then the whole herd falls through and drowns.... I don't think the horses would do this, they aren't as lazy about walking to the yard to drink as cows are
Anyway, they are getting kind of impatient, especially since I haven't done anything with them because it was sooo cold and so busy...
So as I walk through the herd with the pool noodle, which they have never seen before, I certainly had their attention
It was so cute, Indy was staring at it intently and then began lifting his front legs
as if he knew... -I think it's just his way of asking to "please let's do something, I am bored!"...
Anyway, I just grabbed Special and found a spot out of the wind and a little away from the other horses. He wasn't scared or curious about the noodle at all, which surprised me.
I wanted to stick to my plan and begin small and really re-train this from scratch, like Volker suggested - but it didn't turn out that way.
Right now I don't use pressure/release for the SW. It is mostly volunteered, or maybe I will look at the front leg, at the most I might point to it or say "step". And then just somehow encourage the duration of the exercise, possibly with my body language, I am not sure. But Special has learned that I like alternating steps, and I don't really have any control of which leg he should lift. Which is going to be something I would like to work on as well, to be able to do "the waltz" (I think it's called).
My plan was to hold the target and when he bumped into it with his knee, to reward and remove the target. So I tried to stand on his right side and he immediately lifted his RF, touched the noodle and got a reward. However, he kept trying to move himself so I would be on his left side, so I let us switch.
Then of course he would offer SW steps without the target there, which I ignored. I tried not to project any hint of displeasure or anything like that, just stood there and tried to appreciate his efforts, but without giving him treats. Then when he paused, I put the noodle back in front of him and treated when he bumped it. It took about 3 tries before he got it.
I wasn't sure whether to treat only for the leg I wanted him to lift/touch with? Volker? Eventually I would like to have control of which leg, and as he basically knows the exercise, maybe it's ok to differentiate already?
I was able to test his understanding (maybe too quickly?) by holding the target farther away in front of him - and then he did SW steps until he hit it with one leg, then treats... thoughts on this? He was very involved, interested and excited! it was wonderful! I really got the feeling he was thinking.
And happy to hit the noodle
It looked like he was working hard to figure out the coordination needed to put his leg up where the noodle was, when I moved it farther away. I am guessing the horses don't have quite the same "hand-eye" coordination as humans
This is very exciting stuff.
So with this: moving the target far in front of the horse, should I just stick to only having the target in a position where it's realistic to touch it with a single leg lift? Or do I use it to maintain the SW? - like holding/moving it in front, but un-reacheable to get the horse to move forward in SW? As my goal for this is to change the way of lifting the legs, I think I should only use it as a target for single step/lift right now, to shape the steps.... So the horse touches it with every leg lift. Then later use it as a signal to "keep doing that"? Or do I plan to only use it for "more" ? and for "hold"?
So we did about 3 tries of this, with lots of treats. Then (man, am I ever impatient!) I figured I would try working on duration. So I wanted him to lift his knee, touch the target and hold. I tried once by saying hold and just not treating when he touched and lowered his knee. I tried treating after 2 repetitions, which prolonged the duration slightly on the next try. But then I presented the target, said hold and when he lifted his knee, I reached in front and held (gently, of course) his forearm up so his knee remained in contact with the noodle. Then lots of praise. And it was unbelievable - the next try, I presented the noodle, said hold - and he did it all by himself!!! he stood there with his leg up, the knee touching the noodle
sooo cool! And no way that is an accident, either
This little story represents what I would like in my training, I think. I want to be able to show the horse what I am looking for, guide him there with touch if need be. Then let him do it on his own, unless he needs help. This is exactly how I understand the negative reinforcement, after a possible initial stage (like right when you begin to work with a horse for the first time, not with every new exercise!) when the pressures might still get heavy (or the whip taps get more frequent/annoying), it doesn't go past a "guiding touch" anymore. Then it's about understanding and helping...
So now the big dilemma - in my conventional training, the quitting point is the ultimate reward. Also because I give the horse something to eat after our work session. But now, I knew it's different. So when he gave me that "knee hold", I gave him most of the treats I had left, and walked away as he was still chewing. I went straight to my little tack shack and poured some oats into a bucket and walked away while he was eating. I really didn't want him to offer something and me just walking away! any thoughts on this? how do you guys quit? (without feeling bad about it!)
I will just copy this into my diary, but feel free to answer my questions here, thanks