Bucket; a Very Special Horse
Bucket is a very special horse, not only is he very handsome and a rather impressive +18hh (and still growing) but he only has one eye. Sadly he got an infection in one eye when he was younger and it led to his eye having to be removed but he can function perfectly well and had learned to compensate.
It has been about 6 months since I last saw Bucket and, not only has he grown a lot in that time, but I was delighted to see that we seemed to just start up from where we left off last year. His owner, Jane, has not done any training with him in that time (we can all appreciate that life can have a habit of getting in the way) so it was a real delight to see how much he had taken on board when I last saw him.
The thing that really struck me was the change in his confidence. When I saw Jane and Bucket last year Bucket was really insecure on his blind side. He would put Jane back on his sighted side at every opportunity and even if she stayed on his blind side he would try to turn his head to see her with his sighted eye. So it was clear that Bucket needed some help in building his confidence on the blind side.
Last year we started out with some ‘Why Would You Leave Me’ (WWYLM). The aim was to ask him to step up and out from Jane with each step. We started out on his sighted side to see how he moved and how quickly he would pick things up. Then we moved to his blind side.
To build up his confidence on his blind side I asked Jane to do two things; keep a hand on him (at his shoulder) all the time. This is a variation on Tai Chi rope handling where your release should be complete (both hands off the lead rope) but I wanted him to have some physical feedback from Jane. The other thing I asked Jane to do was talk to him. This would give him auditory feedback so that someday we could build things up so that he could work at liberty with her.
Bucket was also stuck with forward, in that he planted. And he also took ages to chew his treats before he could focus and try again. This meant that we had very little to reinforce and so his rate of reinforcement was low.
We implemented the Tai Chi rope handling and, since Jane also knows Tai Chi for Equestrians, I could talk her through releases in her body to find what she needed to release to get forwards.
The other thing we did was, when Bucket gave us some good steps on his blind side, we then immediately went to his sighted side to work. It was a great way to make sure we didn’t spend too much time on one side.
Very quickly we had a horse who could go forwards on cue, walk and ‘chew gum’ at the same time and it was no time at all before we started to not be able to notice a difference from his sighted side to his blind side…he was building confidence on his blind side an amazing speed. We were watching him go from strength to strength.
Then fast forward to Apr 2011….
Now, remember that Bucket has had no clicker training since the visit about 6 months ago; I asked Jane just to start out with some WWYLM and he was there almost immediately. We refined some of what he was doing but the opening up of his shoulders was just wonderful (all the more impressive when the horse is the size he is !).
I was stunned at how little his confidence had changed since that session 6 months ago. Jane also said that since that last session Buckets confidence had been fantastic. He had just come along leaps and bounds since we set up those very simple changes for him.
With this fantastic shoulder movement came the inside hind engagement we wanted. It looked superb. So we asked him if he could do some three-flip-three (3F3) and the lateral movements were absolutely there.
It just goes to show how it pays off to make sure the foundations are securely in place so that the next level starts to pop out on its own.