It's six months since I wrote about my troubles getting Sunrise to trot to me.. WOW!
She now trots to me, canters to me, and even RUNS to me bucking and head tossing and kicking. Last night I tried for the first time sending her away from me, then calling her back. She went off at a trot, trotted around me a circuit, then when I called "HERE" she became really excited, leaping and kicking on the spot, then running straight to me. It was really obvious that the "here" signal made her feel happy, excited, energised, expectant.
So, reading here again, I'm trying to figure out what changed, and how... When I wrote last, I was already following all the steps to the letter.. I just couldn't seem to motivate her to move any faster towards me, so that I could reward her. In fact, it seemed to be the opposite.. the more I tried to communicate that I wanted her to trot (without any pressure), the more she resisted. If I moved faster away from her, she would just wander off. She didn't want the reward, she prefered to exercise her choice. She understood what I was asking, but understanding my request made her want to not honour it.
SHe's a really smart horse, and super independent, and she just seemed to want to exert her own will. "Now that I know that you're not going to MAKE me if I say no, Yippee.. I'm GOING TO SAY NO whenever you ask me something, and you can't talk me out of it."
So.. now I'm trying to figure out what changed..
Well, I stopped asking her to do it for a while. We just worked on other things that she liked doing, her favourite being pedestal on anything she could get her hoof on. And I kept on really scrupulously just letting her go when she resisted and wanted to leave... which was often.. whenever the treats weren't forthcoming quickly enough for her, whenever she had to work harder for a reward, whenever I asked her to try something new that she didn't understand, whenever she was bored with an activity, whenever something else seemed more interesting, or sometimes just to show me that she was in charge. Our training sessions consisted more of me picking up rocks and waiting for her to show some interest again than anything else.
I made up an adaption of Miriams run to me formula.. where if, after leaving, she just LOOKED at me picking up rocks, I'd stop, suddenly "notice" her, and walk to her to give her a scratch, saying, "Oh Sunrise.. how nice to see you here!" I made it almost impossible for her to lose, or win..
Often I'd just turn her out, and go get another horse to play with. Then she'd watch us out of the corner of her eye. You could hear her mind ticking.
She really needed to explore her freedom to it's limits... it took her a long time to move on from the "naive" phase of understanding that she had freedom and choice and could earn a reward, but prefering to exercise her independence, (like a three year old child), to the "sophisticated entrepeneur" stage when she elected to come to work and follow my will.
At the same time, I also worked on her fitness, taking her jogging or cycling with me regularly, to overcome the "too fat and lazy to run and play" part of the problem. And encouraged and rewarded her for any spontaneous displays of more energy, speed, motivation, so that she knew that when she was ready, she could always get my attention (and praise and rewards) by upping the voltage a little.
After a while, she started spontaneously trotting up to me when I went out to the paddock... although if I asked her to.. she wouldn't. Hah! Very very contrary this horse. So I just rewarded and praised for that when ever she felt like giving it to me.
Then, quite suddenly, it was as if she had tested the limits enough, and was ready. She let me know, during training, that she was up for anything.. She wanted to figure out what I wanted, wanted to comply, wanted to learn new things. Her attitude completely changed. She stopped wandering off when she'd had enough, stopped refusing, began to try a variety of things if she didn't understand. Began to deliberately show off for praise, began to hang around the gate if I was working with another horse, then burst off into energetic displays to get my attention. Of course,it worked.
So.. then running to me was reintroduced, and of course, she knew what I wanted, and the steps that Miriam described worked just perfectly to encourage her.
So.. I think that how quickly this works depends a lot on the nature of the horse, and how well they have already adapted to positive reinforcement training. If the horse isn't ready to "volunteer" then no amount of coaxing and explaining and rewarding will work.. until they are really confident of their position, and have let go of any past negativity from the more pressure/no choice, style of training. It's difficult.. because when they resist, the temptation is always there to just provide a little pressure, and achieve the goal... but this upsets the proccess and sets everything back. My fault for a long time I think...
I guess this is why in NHE, running to you, and picking up a ball to pass to you, are the first two tasks to accomplish before you move on to anything else.. they're really the test of how well we have established the new relationship of free choice.
By contrast, Harlequin, who has had very little training, and is naturally a follower, not an independent leader like Sunnie, using this same technique, took just a couple of sessions to be CANTERING around after Ella,and coming at a run from the paddock when she calls him... and she doesn't even know what she's doing! HUH!
He'll do ANYTHING to try to get a reward....even though he's not a foodie horse.. Whereas Sunrise... who is a real PIG.. will turn up her nose and say no thank you to carrots, if she decides that she has no interest in my requests.
Which tells me that it's not the food in itself that is really providing the motivation.. it is the food as a symbol of payment, acceptance, reward..
And Rosie, who didn't have such a closely bonded relationship with me as Sunnie, but who is very discliplined, and feels safe when she can understand and follow instructions, also very quickly understood the training sequence, and began trotting to me, not really caring about the reward at all. Just being able to understand that that was what i wanted was enough... although now, as her personality is opening up, she's beginning to enjoy rewards more and more.
Some horses are just easier than others..
Last night, I was watching four horses play in the paddock... Harlequin, Rosie, Bella and Sunrise. Rosie, the ex racehorse wreck who had to run with her neck stuck out.. Bella, ruined show pony who has a mortal fear of collection.. Harlequin, untrained baby who six months ago looked funny and gawky, neck upside down....all spontaneously collecting in their own ways, prancing, extended trot, collected canter..magnificent..They've all just developed this with six months of play encouragement, and a little bit of stationary collection training.
And Sunrise.... an unspoilt four year old, after all the work I've put in... still roaring around with her head in the air and her back hollow.. aRgh!!! I'm so jealous!!!
.. when you're already doing the right things.. sometimes you've just got to keep on doing the right things for longer....