Waiting to play..pick me! No pick me!

Waiting to play…pick me! No pick me!

For some folks this would be a dream come true, but what does this have to do with clicker training?

Let’s start by looking at the idea of getting paid to do nothing. I even thought it might be fun… that is until I got to sit on a tractor and help rake this year’s hay crop (not that I get paid to do this..lol). Now this isn’t exactly doing nothing, but pretty close. Once you figure out where to line the tractor up with in relation to the swath and get the speed figured out all you really do is cruise along.

Well it turns out that doing nothing is an acquired skill and SKILLS NEED TO BE TAUGHT. After about one round, I was ready to do something else. I was bored!!! It soon became apparent that I had never been taught the fine art of doing nothing (and being OK with it). While my kids seemed happy enough to just plug into their iPod and drive mindlessly around and around in circles, I wasn’t coping nearly as well. So, rather than relaxing and enjoying ‘the nothingness’, my mind was going a mile a minute thinking of other things. I like to do things and I see that tendency in my ponies as well now that I am clicker training, they want to do things when we are together.

This feeling I was having while raking, I thought must be what a lot of horses experience when being lunged mindlessly for circles on end. I was one of those horses who would be getting in trouble while being lunged as my mind kept saying ‘I’m bored, I need to do something.’ I’m sure those of you out there may have a horse like this.

Why we don’t ‘do nothing’ for several months… too chilly to just ‘chill’.

Why we don’t ‘do nothing’ for several months? Too chilly to just ‘chill’.

I know that once we start clicker training with our horses they tend to turn into ‘what can I do for you’ animals rather than ‘the kid on the tractor raking hay’ kind of animal. I’m not from the generation that could (or was allowed to) just sit. After my tractor experience I saw even more clearly the need to feel good about doing nothing for both myself and my ponies. We both needed an off switch.

I could, especially after my raking experience, see the value in having the ability to enjoy doing nothing, and could see it even more so as a skill needed in my ponies.
There are many places you can start to pay with high rates of reinforcement to encourage doing ‘nothing.’ When I groom my clicker ‘super stars’ they like to see what they can do to get ‘paid’ so I actively have to pay very well for ‘just chilling’ too. Can I brush for one stroke? How about two strokes and just have you stand relaxed? I look to reward the quiet mind as well as the quiet body. I find that my body and mental ‘energy’ need to be relaxed and ‘zen like’ to get them to relax, which is good for me too. In this day and age of hurry up it is good to find that moment of peace.

I may ask for head down while grooming, as that is a calming exercise as well, and I can pair head down with just standing and make a training loop. ( More on loopy training in a future article!)


Darcie, my daughter a master at the enviable skill of chilling anywhere, anytime. Photo by Briarwood Photography

Why are my ponies are so eager and have an on off switch that seems stuck on ‘on?’ I’d like to put some of it down to the fact that I train for several months of the year in rather cold temperatures so don’t want to do a whole lot of ‘nothing.’ Perhaps it is because their person doesn’t have an off switch either. I’d like to think that maybe we all just love to play and don’t get enough time together so we ‘MAKE HAY WHILE THE SUN SHINES.’ Next week we will learn the foundation lesson for this skill called grown-ups are talking.

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