Gwen, it would seem, does not appreciate the fact that I'm "ignoring" her. She came up to me yesterday after eating her dinner and said, "I want to do something." Well it's hard to argue with that. I dug out her mat (a piece of plywood), put it on the ground and waited for her to put her feet on it. Mind you she wasn't wearing a halter or anything, so there was no way I could direct her to stand on the mat besides body language and her memory of what the mat means.
For those of you who may not know, standing on a mat is a foundation clicker training exercise. Horse get a high rate of reinforcement for placing both front feet squarely on the mat. It teaches impulse control and how to ground-tie. For many horses who really love standing on the mat you can use it to help a horse get comfortable in the "scary corner" of arenas or trailers or trails. It's a very handy exercise.
So there we were, looking down at the mat when Gwennie did what she normally does at first sight of the mat (which btw is not good) and pawed at it. Normally I back her up or step her forward to approach the mat again when she does this, but without a halter I couldn't do that. Fortunately this wooden mat doesn't stay put when she paws, it skates over the ground- which doesn't get her rewarded. So she tried that a couple times before her lightbulb went off and she planted one foot squarely on the mat. Reward!
Then I waited. "You have to put the other foot on it, babe," I said, pointing to it. Up went the other foot, plopped down squarely next to the first. Reward, reward, reward! I then slowly walked around her, rewarding her for remaining still when I left her head. At one point, she fidgeted and a hoof came off the mat. No reward for that, so I walked a few feet in front of her and asked her to target on my fist. She came off the mat to my hand for her reward and I figured that would be the end of it- that she would take the opportunity to walk off and graze. But no, she turned around and went right back to the mat! And she didn't paw at it!
To me, these are the moments when clicker training is the most rewarding. When the horse obviously chooses to do the exercise, when they're involved 100% and having a good time. It was also one of those moments when one of my horses approaches me and I know exactly what they want. It kind of feels like a thought pops into my head that's not my own, it feels strange but completely true, know what I mean?
|Here's a picture of a horse standing on a mat by his own choice. This is not Gwen, sadly I had left my camera at home.