I love those giant steps forward!!!! Today I took my box with the letter ‘A’ on it and added two cylinders, one red and one blue. One had the letter ‘E’ on paper taped to the cylinder and the other had the letter ‘R’. I figured I should find a word that no matter where I was the object would always be right there! So ‘EAR’ it is! Each of the horses has words written in chalk in the stall, including: water, hay, door, window and the horse’s name. I know it is a HUGE leap for the horse to grasp two new letters ‘E’ and ‘R’ AND an even bigger leap to grasp a totally new word, ‘EAR’. The good news is, every (and I mean EVERY) time I put the halter on a horse I say, “Here’s where your nose goes. Now for your ears.”
I started with Spring Song. I placed the three objects on the tall pedestal and she inspected them. I brought her to a low pedestal, placed her on it and showed her the three feet long pink bunny. I touched my ear and the bunny’s ear. I explained each time that I was touching an ‘EAR’. I touched her ear. I asked her to touch the bunny’s ear. She did. I explained that EAR is spelled ‘EAR’. I asked her to find ‘E’. I had positioned ‘E’ a bit to the front of the other letters. With a little help from my body language she indicated ‘E’. Next letter, ‘A’. She let me know that she totally understands that when I say ‘A’ she’s to indicate the green box. Eight days of ‘A’ in the stall and one day of ‘A’ in the round pen have helped her understand ‘A’. For the other two letters she let me help her. The most important thing I wanted from today’s outing was for her to try to do things for me and for her to feel that she was successful.
Eleven year old Zeloso was the next horse. Since he was a weanling he’s preferred to call the shots. I don’t see this changing any time soon. I let him check out the three objects, then helped him to his pedestal. I had the big bunny in hand. Instead of waiting on the pedestal for me to present our game he went to the three letters, fetched ‘A’ and tossed it happily.
Change of plan! He went cavorting to the far end of the arena. With clicker in hand and a pocket of treats I fetched the three letters and presented them one at a time. Zeloso was able to join in and indicate each letter as I asked him to do so.
The third horse was Zelador and most certainly the “third time was a charm”. The previous two horses had helped me solidify my game plan gearing it for SUCCESS.
I let Zelador check out the three objects. He happily went to his pedestal and waited for me to explain the new game. I asked him several times to touch the bunny’s ear and he took it a step further, holding the bunny by the ear, then giving it a wee toss. I positioned the three letters on the tall pedestal so that the one I wanted him to fetch was up front and centre. EASY for him. He was letter perfect. To keep the game quiet and under control I had him return to the pedestal between indicating letters. We reviewed the word EAR with me pointing out my ear, the bunny’s ear and Zelador’s lovely ear.
Then I took the isolation of the letters a step further. I placed ‘E’ on the other low pedestal, ‘A’ about 15 feet away on the arena floor and ‘R’ another 15 feet further. I walked towards the first letter and he fetched it and returned to his pedestal. He was so calm and focused that I did not have him return after indicating ‘A’. I asked him to go from ‘A’ to ‘R’. He did.
I ended our session.
As I was leading him from the arena to the barn I told him he did a great job and I spelled EAR several times during our journey.
A few hours have passed and I’ve been thinking about how I presented things this morning. Most certainly I did a much better job with Zelador than I did with Zeloso. Whenever I teach Zelador anything I’m super aware of the importance of focus, slow movements and a calm atmosphere. He’s able to string many tasks together and loves doing this, but for him to learn something new I need to help him slow down.
In working with Zeloso I expected too much. I should ALWAYS remember The Butterfly Project and ask for one tiny SIMPLE thing and reward it. I should have started with only the letter ‘E’’ on the pedestal and progressed from there when Zeloso indicated that he understood what I wanted.
I do have to remind myself that these horses are at liberty in a big arena with tons of toys close by, windows open and horses in paddocks not very far away. In spite of this even Zeloso was able to play with me when I slowed down. He only went cavorting once! As a youngster he would take off leaping and dancing many times in one session. Today, as usual, Zelador and Spring Song stayed with me through clarity and confusion!