First, I think you are doing great and there is nothing that really needs to be changed.
I think that even if you continue in the exact same way, lots of things will get solved all by themselves, just with time passing and Outlaw getting more confident. However, I think there are also some things you can do to help with that. The main focus of what I will write will be the following things: to get more initiative from him, to get him more tuned to your actions, and for you to get more tuned to him in your own reactions.
As for initiative, I think it’s great that you already go with his suggestions, for example by rewarding him when he decides to step on the wood thing, and then asking for it again. I would go with his initiative even more, and not only for specific exercises but with a focus on his movements. For example, when he is looking at you at 13:00
, I would immediately use this: By drawing your body away in exactly that direction, you could use (and simply increase) the movement he is already offering by himself, turning it into a joint activity.
Another aspect of getting more initiative is the way you set up your interaction. At the moment it looks like he was half-asleep most of the time, and he can do that because he can be sure that you will take the initiative and make sure he understands everything you want him to understand (for example with the leg lifting that you repeat until he does it). There isn’t much of a need for him to get faster or more proactive. To change that, I see two ways which may seem contradictory but I do not think they are mutually exclusive. The first is to train in a way that makes it necessary for him to make an effort if he wants to play along (e.g. by switching more, being faster) and the second is to leave the temporal initiative to him completely: doing nothing at all until he initiates a movement, but then being very fast in reacting to it and making him see that this is exactly what you wanted.
With regard to the first point, I have to say that I switch even more often. That is, I suggest something, and if there is no immediate reaction, I don’t wait or cue it again until there is a reaction. Perhaps I repeat it once more, just to make sure the horse has really seen it, but that’s it. If I switch, I preferably switch to something easy that is certain to elicit a reaction, so that it is guaranteed that I can reward at once. In Hannah’s words, I try to make the wrong thing impossible and the right thing inevitable.
However, in order to keep some fluency in my training and avoid that “You have not done the right thing, so let’s try something else” component, I actually try not to switch but rather to change gradually and fluently, depending on the horse’s reactions. Therefore, I am not a big fan of exercises like leg lifts, at least not at this stage, because they have a “correct answer” which is a complete action and therefore they don’t allow me to flexibly adjust my cue according to the horse’s reaction (whatever tiny move that might be). This would be different for example when working on more body language centered activities like turning towards you while you step away. Here you can simply make sure to be in tune with the horse.
One component of this “staying in tune” is that you could try not to lose the connection with him in the first place, by adjusting to him some more. When walking away and he stays behind, for example at 4:07
, I would try not to lose him and then only act when he is gone already but to get his attention focused on me first. It’s like the glass grasping analogy I had described in Summy’s diary last week, to first get a good grip of the horse’s attention and only then start trying to move it around. Therefore, as long as the horse is still trying to communicate but is just slow, I guess I would not even walk away but do that on the level of single steps, doing them very slowly and only at the speed at which he is following me (with his focus and weight), and then constantly adjust.
I know this sounds contradictory to what I have said in an earlier post, that when the horse is not playing along, I simply walk away a few steps and then he can come if he is still interested. I guess that for me what decides over which of both strategies I use is whether with that particular horse at that moment I am focused more on eliciting his own initiative (with the message being “You are welcome to do something with me, but it has to come from your side”) or whether I am trying to take him by the hand a little more, doing it together right from the start and explaining to him how we can do it better. I cannot pinpoint exactly when I use the one of the other, though. I just do what feels right at that particular moment. But in any case, I try to differentiate between them rather clearly, either doing the one or the other but not both. In your video it sometimes looks as if you were walking away, but then still somehow hoping that he might follow, still waiting for him a little bit. I would try not to do this but IF you decide to walk away, then really do that with a clear intention, and remain inviting but not drawing.
By the way, getting immediate “walk with me” reactions is easier when not walking forwards but a bit more to the side and with your body turned more towards the horse, like pulling him towards you (a bit like what you do here
, something like a turn on the hindquarters combined with walking). Actually I would do lots and lots of this at the moment, because it’s a very easy way for the horse to follow your moves, it allows a constant adjustment and it is the safest way to get that binding between your moves and that of the horse. You can not only do it as a singular exercises but combined with other moves as well, for example when he is backing up here
. You could, after two or three steps, move more sideways away from him so that he follows you in a turn. Or the same thing goes for combinations of these turns and forwards movement. I think that in this way horses also learn not to think in terms of singular movements that have a certain cue but in terms of “moving together”.
Something I have already tackled in the previous paragraphs is adjusting to him by changing your moves together with his. To do this, I think it would be helpful to add some flexibility to your moves. In general, I would try to get the body language to a smaller scale that is not just cueing whole actions (e.g. walking with you or moving a certain body part away) but the tiny movement components within those actions. More specifically, you could play around more with tension and its variation. At the moment, your tension seems to be rather constant. Instead, it might help to use a marked increase in your tension whenever you are asking something (e.g. to move with you) and a sudden drop of it as soon as he responds. In that way, he gets a precise and immediate feedback on each of his actions. So the trick actually is to get quicker in your
reactions to him
, more precise and more temporally coupled to him.
Besides the reactions of your body, you can also tune the timing of your reward to his reactions in a slightly different way. That is, I would try to reward more immediately and specifically whenever he is starting to do something together with you. For example when he is starting to walk towards/with you
, I would reward right at that moment. Not for the complete activity of walking together, but specifically for the initiation
of the joint movement. If he is supposed to learn that quick reactions are good, then I think he needs to be shown this more clearly. At the moment it doesn’t really make a difference for him how much he is tuned to your moves, because your reaction to his reaction looks similar, regardless of the immediacy of his reaction and the degree to which it mirrors yours.
Oh, and then there is one more tiny thing: I don’t intuitively understand your musketeer-like cue that you give here
for example. If you want the hindquarters to move, you could try to move your hips and shoulders more towards them, because with the musketeer cue they are even taken away from the body parts you want to move. So I’d try to keep the upper body more upright and just push the hips a tad more forwards than the rest of my body.
Well, this was a very long post, but again, I do like your video a lot and I think you are doing really, really great! Lucky Outlaw, and lucky you to have such a good teacher.