So let’s continue on from last week’s blog…
After a week’s worth of practicing you should be ready to bet that $100!
Once this ‘going to the target’ behaviour is solid and predictable (see the Eggo stationary targeting video in last week’s blog) you can start to build on the blanketing behaviour. As always, we are going to break this down into small steps so that the horse is successful, ideally every time. How far you need to break the steps down will depend on your horse. Some horses are bold and brave and won’t need as many steps, others are not, or have issues and they will need a lot more tiny steps. Keeping in mind, all the time, the emotions of the animal and not make him force down a negative emotion in order to perform the task. Remember it has to be a good experience for both of you!
How you proceed to the next step will depend a bit on how tall your horse is and how he is about putting his head under something. Start with something easy, say a lunge whip held horizontally far above his head but between him and his target. Can you give him the cue and will he walk under the whip and station at the target? Click and treat for that and do a backward food delivery to get him into position to repeat the behaviour. Gradually lower the whip until he has to lower his head a bit to go under it and touch the target. For smaller ponies, you can try having them go under your outstretched arm.
Once he is comfortable doing this, you can change things a tiny bit and perhaps wrap a towel around the whip with the ends of the towel hanging down and have him go under that. Next have him have to push under the towel a bit, doing these changes gradually and only after he is ok with the previous step and is looking calm and relaxed. Remember when you change a criteria you need to lower your expectations of the behaviour for a bit. Remember to keep your rate of reinforcement (clicks and treats) high when learning a new behaviour.
Next step might be draping a big towel over your arm or over the whip, making a loop out of it so he has to put his head through the opening. Remember also to do some easy ‘freebie’ clicks and treat of a behaviour he likes to keep things positive for him especially if he is finding this hard. This can be just touching your fist target three or four times in a row, doing grown-ups or even head down if he enjoys these behaviours.
Work your way up to holding up a summer sheet (It will be lighter and easier to hold up for many times you will need to do it than a winter blanket). I like to fold and hold the blankets as shown as it makes it easy for everyone, especially me.
To put the blanket on: You can do this with by holding at the wither part and bringing the tail flap to it, then place over your arm and folding a second time.
To take the blanket off do the same thing while it is on the horse, then slide over the head.
Now it’s your turn to do some planning. See if you can plan out the lesson for taking the blanket off (hint: think about doing a rewind of blanket on behaviour using backward food delivery to have him back out of it). Remember time spent in planning is worth every minute it will save you in your training.
Eventually the blanket being held up can become the cue to walk towards it and put their head through, and then you can stand at the stall door, hold up the blanket, have the horse come out of the stall put on his blanket, stand while you do up the straps, and put on his halter and be ready to go out. Fast efficient and fun.