You’ve got to be kidding! You want to play at 40 below?!

You’ve got to be kidding! You want to play at 40 below?!

I’m not sure about your weather, but the weather here a very short few days ago was a balmy 40 below with the wind chill, but this being Alberta it changed from that to plus 8 almost overnight.

I thought I’d share a bit with you as to why I absolutely love clicker training. Now, what you might ask does this have to do with 40 below?

What makes a clicker trained horse different? This question came to me while chasing frozen horse turds across the barn floor during this last cold spell. Why did I like the results I was getting using the clicker better than when I trained all those years, very successfully, without the clicker? For the most part all the ‘behaviours’ were the same: ie picking up feet, standing still for mounting, being light, etc. But something about this work made these and other behaviours just different. Through the clicker training my horses were learning more in-hand work, like canter in-hand and all the lateral movements (wayyy cool stuff by the way, especially for those of us who can’t ride as much as we used to or in weather like this!) . But whether it was a familiar behaviour or a new one, there was something different with all these behaviours now. They were still often taught using pressure and release of pressure (below threshold of course!), something that was common to the methods I had used before, so why was I liking clicker training so much more? What was the difference I was seeing? This shift in connection I was feeling?

My questions were partly answered when I headed out to do chores. Chores at 40 below with a ton of snow to boot are never fun. Bundled to the eyeballs and doing the Edmonton Shuffle (those of you who live in Edmonton know what that is; a definite style of walking as fast as humanly possible all while dressed in so many layers you look like the Michelin Tire Man), I endeavoured to put hay out into the feeders. The blowing wind was adding to the fun time and I was surrounded by hungry snow covered ponies. (insert picture here)

So why was this typical prairie scene so odd you ask?

These ponies were not in the least bit interested in the hay! They were ignoring the hay in the feeders, and in my arms. There was no grabbing or rude manners. Instead they were showing off their favourite behaviours. Snowy was cantering in a lovely, elevated, collected manner beside me as I trudged from feeder to feeder. Her canter got better and better as she tried to engage me in a formal training session. I managed to fumble with the mitts into my pocket so I could click and reinforce a particularly gorgeous bit of canter.

While Snowy has been cantering beside me, both Flash and Lightheart were wrapped around me on the other side in a pas de deux of shoulder-in. No fighting or jockeying for position, no grumpy faces, no pushing into me as I staggered from feeder to feeder. They too got a treat when I was done placing the hay. I had to smile and even giggle a bit (or as close as I could get to a giggle with a face frozen from the wind). How is it that these food-driven ponies will follow me rather than plunge into their hay? My horses in the past certainly wouldn’t have done this!

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