The Art of Natural Dressage

Help my horse tries too hard!!! Reward or not?
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Author:  windhorsesue [ Fri Mar 14, 2008 1:23 am ]
Post subject: 

The funny thing is that his canter actually got better when I installed the other movements back in again, probably because Blacky was more assured in what he should be doing, and could really focus on doing it well.

This is what I've just been finding too Miriam.
I was a little nervous at first to NOT reward these wonderful offerings, thinking they might not come back later when I want them. But I am finding that it's helping her to become more confident and focused on what I do ask her. But the terre a terre definitely was an accident when she was having trouble getting all her legs in the right place for collected canter.. I hope it comes back one day.

And the tricks are in the spots !! Is your horse a bit cheeky and cocky?

Tricky, cheeky and cocky! Absolutely! :D

Author:  Romy [ Tue Jan 22, 2013 12:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Help my horse tries too hard!!! Reward or not?

I am reviving this old thread so that I do not have to open a new one for a topic that has to do with yet another aspect of dealing with unwanted behaviour. Or actually the term "unwanted behaviour" does not quite capture it, because what I mean is behaviour that actually is wanted, but not in the quantity in which the horse is offering it. This post will not be that much about the question whether the behaviour should be rewarded or not (or when or how or why), but I will try to explain how I use such behaviour to generate something positive.

There are several examples of this in our training. One is Titum who often picks a certain exercise and then offers it again and again, often in a quality that is not as good as it could be. For example, right now he has rediscovered the single canter jumps, so most of the time when I am walking somewhere, he follows me in little hops and wants a reward for that. Now hops are nice, but after the 500th one it can become a bit boring. However, not rewarding his offer also wasn't something I wanted to do if there was another way. Therefore, I decided that hops were fine, but then sideways, please. So when he was hopping next to me, I moved my hip towards his shoulder area, asking him to move it away from me, and then rewarded the combination of the hop and the sideways shift. In that way, we are about to get a canter shoulder-in now. :)

The same goes for other exercises. We have started to combine his constant backing up with forwards jumps, which is a great strengthening exercise for his hindquarters, and his sideways towards me is being turned into a trot half-pass. But it also works for behaviour that arises in the context of a horse's emotional reaction to dangerous situations. For example, when Titum is nervous and jumpy while we go for a walk in the forest, I often do not only praise this behaviour but actively cue him to do more of it by joining in with my body language and asking for high energy moves. That's how we got some of our more energetic exercises in the first place, such as Titum's passage, which somehow never really worked when we were just doing the controlled Spanish trot as a preparatory exercise. And as a nice side effect, it seems to make the scary situation much less scary. Some emotion theories suggest that the experience of an emotion is not so much the prerequisite but the consequence of one's own perceived emotional behaviour and its evaluation, so I guess displaying power moves in a scary situation won't hurt. 8)

Now an obvious concern might be that the behaviour could actually go up in its frequency instead of down. But I think this can be regulated quite easily. For example, when turning the behaviour into something positive like I described above, I usually ask for just a tad more than the horse would have offered on his own accord, and I make sure that the combined new exercise is a hard one and nothing the horse can just mindlessly perform hundreds of times. So while this combination technique results in the new behaviour being offered much more readily than it would have been otherwise, the original component behaviour is performed less frequently.

Besides the benefits in terms of the horse's behaviour, I think for me personally the main advantage of this approach is that it helps me not to perceive my horses' unwanted offers in a negative way and get annoyed by them. Instead, they can form the fertile ground which enables things to grow out of it that would have been far out of reach otherwise. :smile:

Author:  Barbara [ Thu Jan 24, 2013 7:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Help my horse tries too hard!!! Reward or not?


very interesting to read how you use an offer and change it bit by bit. I started thinking about Beau always wanting to do a stretch where he puts his front legs as far as possible to the front and his back legs as far as possible to the back. He loves doing this, do you have any tips on how to change that stretch into something a little different? Because the other way around, getting his legs together is more difficult, so I don't really like it if he does this too much...

I'm interested to get some ideas
big hug

Author:  Romy [ Fri Jan 25, 2013 6:37 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Help my horse tries too hard!!! Reward or not?

Hi Barbara! :kiss: So cool that you are here, and isn't it funny and interesting to read our old posts from 2008, like in this thread?

I was thinking and thinking about your question and felt that I had no idea at all. This is because that stretch is something that locks the whole horse, in the sense that there is no movement (such as walking or jumping) that he can do in this position. Nothing that you can use to combine it with. I already wanted to write that I have no idea, and then I asked myself what Nora would do. This made me realize that I don't even have to ask what she would do but what she did - because for us she has solved the problem already.

The situation had been that I was a bit fed up with Pia offering that same as-long-as-possible stretch a lot. And then last weekend Nora came up to me and told me she had discovered how to ask Pia for the compliment. This is an exercise that Pia had offered sometimes before when we were trimming hooves, but I could never reproduce it intentionally, or not reliably at least. She simply did not go back and down with her body. So I was very curious and asked Nora how she had done it. She told me that first you have to ask Pia to stretch and then simply take the frontleg and help her move it to the ground (she also explained that in Pia's diary, by the way). She showed me and indeed it worked every single time. :)

Now the compliment isn't one of my favourite exercises either, so nothing I want to ask for a lot, but then I realized that during the whole week Pia has not offered her stretches. Could be a coincidence because with the boys being so enthusiastic, she used every one of the rare opportunities to have me for herself and therefore made sure that she did the things I liked most. But I will observe it further, and perhaps Nora's compliment training has really decreased the stretch frequency to that of any other exercise.

Oh, and once I was busy thinking about Nora's creative ways to train some exercises, I also thought hat I might try some sort of worm-like chain with the stretches: asking for the stretch and then asking the hindlegs forwards until we are in GOTM and then the frontlegs again until Pia is stretched, and so on. Perhaps not useful, but funny. I will try it next time. :smile:

Big hug to you and I am looking forward to seeing you at the summer meeting. :)

Author:  Volker [ Fri Jan 25, 2013 9:57 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Help my horse tries too hard!!! Reward or not?

I'm not too familiar with that certain kind of stretch as Mucki does not really offer it. But I've often had the situation where he was so fond of an exercise that it was hard to stop him doing it ;). If ignoring doesn't help I usually ask for an incompatible alternative behaviour. Like when he was just coming at me with Spanish walk, I asked for an engaged back up. Of course at first the backing up was not nearly as interesting to him as the Spanish walk. But I constantly rewarded the backing that he soon switched to that exercise very willingly :).

How does Beau get out of the stretch again? I guess he's getting back up step by step? What if you highly reward the process of getting out of this position? That way the opposite becomes very interesting, which means you can interrupt the behaviour any time and maybe even turn it into a GOTM eventually, if he likes stepping together with his legs rather than apart...

Author:  Barbara [ Fri Jan 25, 2013 7:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Help my horse tries too hard!!! Reward or not?

hi everyone,

I do try to read here, I couldn't miss you guys! Beau started offering the compliment out of this stretch on his own about half a year ago, he needed to impress me because I wasn't enthusiastic about the stretch and so all of a sudden I got a perfect compliment, without me helpin. Funny because I tried to teach him that about 2 years ago and back then he did not like it.
Normally I ask him to come forward with me and ignore the stretch and then he puts his hindlegs forward with a big step and that is how he gets out of it. I sometimes let him back out of it and I have also been practicing getting him to do a bow without putting his legs forward. That is much better for his hips, it tilts his pelvis in a way I would really like him to do. So reading all of your ideas is very interesting, I did try most of them already and still do, but getting this exercise out completely is difficult for me, I should never reward his stretch ever again, and I don't want to do that! I do think it is ok for him to do sometimes, he even does it when I get on him or when I am already on his back, it seems to be really easy for him!
I will however try to find as much ways as possible to get his legs closer together, and still have fun. I think I'll try the worm exercise, I do change between the stretch and the GOTM, but never thought about getting them together into a fluid movement.

Keep writing and I'll keep reading... and sometimes I'll try and give you some things to think about, things that keep me busy ;)
Big hug

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