The saga surrounding the horse piano continues into 2011. Robb Roberts took my third floor piano, folded the ends under and created three wooden keys which are attached at the front edge of the piano with hinges. He also placed two hand-holds at the top near the piano’s electronic box so now I can carry this version of the piano by myself! The six foot long piano wasn’t heavy, but it was extremely awkward for one person. It’d be oh so nice if I could teach the boys without needing extra people to help. It’s not easy finding helpers!

The plan was to present this to the horses and get them touching the keys individually this winter so that when the warm weather arrives I can bring out the long piano and we’ll be able to play a short tune.

To start with I did have a helper (so much for being able to teach this by myself). I decided to try teaching with the new piano in the aisle of the lower barn, as opposed to dragging the portable unit an additional 70 metres to the arena. We placed the four feet by three feet abbreviated piano on top of two stacks of bags of shavings (three per stack) and rested the piano horizontally. The helper ended up with quite a few jobs (probably need TWO helpers!!!). First of all the helper tried to keep the piano ON the bags of shavings. Turns out the horses are extremely powerful and a slight move of their heads sends the piano sideways. The second job was to use the clicker and “click” when a horse touched the piano correctly. Using the clicker required one hand. Holding the piano securely in place required two (perhaps

three) hands.

I brought Zelador out of his stall and led him to the piano. He was positive that he knew what to do: slide his head sideways across all of the keys. But, the three wooden keys set on top of the piano blocked that motion. However, the big wooden keys are set a few notes apart. This facilitated touching ONE note at a time!

I took Zelador back to his stall and brought out Zeloso.

Zeloso took one look at the piano and put his teeth at the top of the wood of the key to the right. He grabbed the wood and lifted the key towards himself. All this was done incredibly quickly. Neither the helper nor I could stop the process! Robb had built in a safety tab at the base of each wooden key so that it wouldn’t swing up and over and under the board that the piano rests on. Well, the safety tab was severely bent…

My helper and I were able to slow down Zeloso (with the clicker and treats). After a few nice tones and no BIG bites we took him back to his stall.

For Zelador’s second adventure we placed the piano against the stall door and set it up vertically. This change of venue did not bother Zelador. He must have been watching his brother because Zelador perfected biting the wood. The good news is he didn’t lift the key off of the piano.

We retired him and brought out Zeloso. He totally ignored the vertical piano. But, two days later he thought “vertical” was fine and was happy to touch the keys.

Alexandra Kurland is excellent with Clicker Training with horses. She talks about “chunking it down” to the smallest component. So, looks like it’s time to simplify things and take a few backward steps.

Which brings me to: I have a 2×4 board with three plastic yogurt-type lids attached to it. I’ll take the boys BACK to touching (not pushing) the lids and doing so ONLY when they’re asked. The lids are three different colours. Once we’ve got that exercise down pat (again) I’ll find out from Robb what I need to purchase that can be attached to these three discs and result in a musical tone for each of the plastic lids when the horse LIGHTLY touches them.

Meanwhile, out into the early morning fog to feed the sweeties their breakfast. The trees are covered in a frozen mist and look gorgeous!