Monday night Bill and I watched the TV program “House”. There was a very brief segment where House was teaching a preschooler how to play with some toys. He used clicker training and was surprised that it worked.

Tuesday dawned warm enough to ride, but House had inspired me to retry some old games and attempt some new ones.

It’s been about a year (possibly more) since I placed a hula-hoop on the arena floor and asked Zelador to step his front feet into it. This has always been highly entertaining! Zelador delights in picking up the hoop which makes it very difficult to put both front feet into it. Often he picks it up as he’s standing near it. Other times he steps one or two feet into it, then picks it up. He’s broken a hoop or two, thus explaining the duct tape on several hoops.

Tuesday I was armed with the clicker and an Allen Pogue wand. I called Zelador to me. The hoop was between us. I said, “In the middle” and walked into the hoop. I clicked when my feet were in the hoop and said, “Good”. Now it was his turn. I backed out of the hoop and said, “Zelador, in the middle”. He lowered his head, preparing to pick up the hoop. I lightly rubbed his nose with the green ball on the end of the wand. He raised his head to look at me. I repeated “in the middle” and he stepped into the hoop. Click/treat. We took a calming walk and came back to the hoop. I said, “In the middle” and he did it. No lowering of the head to play games. Click/treat.

I was amazed. This horse has a tremendous capacity for inventing nuances. What a surprise to have him play MY game. Yeah, Clicker Training!!!!

With Zeloso I tried a few new things. Allen Pogue teaches his horse the “salute”. For this movement the horse is standing on a pedestal and it raises one front leg and holds it there. Often he also has the horse hold a Texas flag in its mouth at the same time. Don’t know that we’ll add a flag…

Allen also does this with the horse’s hind legs on the ground and front legs on the pedestal. I’ll try that variation today.

To present the idea to Zeloso I placed him with all four feet on the low pedestal. I stood in front of him and said, “Salute”. I lifted one of my legs with the intention of holding it in the air. Well, I’ve never tried this is winter clothing. Turns out my toasty, warm winter boots really change my balance! My “salute” wasn’t held for even a second and it wiggled a lot. (Some example!)

In spite of my ineptitude, Zeloso figured out something new was wanted. His front leg hovered for a split second. The precision of the clicker marked that hesitation. I repeated the demonstration with my own leg. Things did not improve with practice. When I asked Zeloso to “salute” he’d figured out what had created the click/treat and held his front leg a bit longer (probably still less than a second). The third time I asked he held the leg for two seconds.

My second game was teaching Zeloso to have his front feet on a low pedestal, his back feet on the arena floor and then to walk sideways, maintaining the hoof position. In one direction he was a star, in the other he was confused. After a few attempts Zeloso was able to walk two steps on his tough side.

Later in the day there was a quiet moment at our house. We’re babysitting one of Bobbe’s four-and-a-half-month old puppies (Mr. Purple, a.k.a. Scout). I had a few doggie treats and the clicker. Scout figured out “sit” in less than a minute. I positioned my hand just above his nose. He sat. Click/treat. After a few repetitions I added the word, “sit”. Scout is a “sitting” genius!

Time to head to the barn. The temperature is just below zero. (Yippee! A heat wave!) I’ll take Robb’s latest prototype of the piano (the one that looks like a picket fence with a piano behind it) and show it to the boys.