Have I written about some of the leading problems I've been having on the road with Siog lately? Well, she has been either stopping and growing roots in the ground or else lagging behind, torking her head sideways and pulling to the side from behind me. She didn't used to do this and I feel I have been confusing her in some way.
I've tried several ways to try to change this, including walking with a target stick held out, patience, begging etc. etc! Finally I really felt as stuck as Siog and decided we needed help! So I asked a good friend and very experienced horse-woman to walk with us, watch what was happening and see if she could think of things I might do to improve this.
What a fantastic idea that was! Chris came yesterday and we had a great lesson! She immediately saw what was going on and gave very helpful advice which seemed to work. Now to practice and see how we do.
In a nutshell, I had been wanting Siog to walk with her shoulder next to my hip and felt she should match my pace not visa-versa. So with the target stick held out, I was trying to get her to quicken her pace.
This created several problems:
1. She was chasing the target stick (I corrected this by asking her to stop before I clicked and treated)
I didn't think this was a problem because Alex always says that this creates a chance to ask her to move forward again, hence another opportunity to practice. But in this case, Chris felt I was impeding the forward momentum too frequently.
2. I hadn't been able to phase out the target stick. Even though I traded the stick for my hand, if my hand went down, Siog would either stop or get frustrated ... not good!
3. Siog hates pressure from the lead rope so I had been using my hand/ target as an "invitation" to walk.
But I was also sliding my left hand towards the lead shank and applying gentle pressure as a move forward signal, waiting for a lean or step forward, clicking and treating and trying to increase the number of steps before we stopped.
Chris wants me to stand by her shoulder with complete slack in the lead, extend my right hand as I had been doing and then begin to transfer this cue to another - we chose the clucking giddy-up sound that horse people make. So now as soon as she takes a step, I do the giddy-up sound and lower my hand.
I can use the word "good" to tell her she's doing the right thing without clicking and treating.
4. And here's the key: I match my pace to hers (for now) instead of trying to make her match mine
(which, by the way, she will do when we are working at liberty in the paddock.) So if I stay at her hip, face forward and keep her straight, she can't get behind me. Elementary Watson!
5. Half-halts: if I keep both hands on the lead, with slack in the lead, and keep my hands at my belly, I can do half-halts with my right hand (again, I had been using my left hand to slide up the lead but this was pulling her head slightly towards me, which in turn was affecting her alignment.)
Add in some bone rotation and no pulling or yanking has to happen. Since we live on a hill, this is very useful for slowing Siog down when she puts too much weight on the forehand going downhill. She's good at responding to my cue "easy" to slow her pace but not without the small half-halts.
This is so much easier and more elegant than reaching across with my left hand, as I thought I was supposed to do. It's just a little flex on the lead and my hands don't have to move. Important to remember to release immediately though!
I think that's it and hopefully, Siog and I can practice until she's moving nicely from just the giddy-up sound. Yesterday, it did take awhile before she'd get going sometimes. I just stood by her shoulder with my hand outstretched and waited. Hopefully the waiting time will decrease!