And now, we're finally to what we worked on today: Backing up. Flash retained ALL of his knowledge about clicker training over the winter, so I didn't have to re-charge the clicker or work on targeting. We did do backing up last year, but I wanted to start here as a refresher for a few reasons.
First, I needed both of us to be successful. For our first training session of this year, I wanted him to catch on to something quickly and have some progress made. I already knew he could back up with a little bit of a reminder, so this was a good choice for us to focus on.
Second, I wanted to ask for a higher level. Last year, I got him to the point where I could give a little pressure (or even just move my hand behind his chin), and he would step backward. However, I want to prepare him for my expectations as a reining horse: backing up straight, over a longer distance, and doing it quickly.
Third, I want to re-train my cue. Last year, I trained him to back up when I turned around to face him and moved the lead rope toward his chest. Now, with my end goal in mind, I want him to back up on a verbal cue ("Back up"). This way, when I do get on,what we've done on the ground will translate as the same cue and behavior while riding.
So here's what we did today:
I took Flash out into the arena in a lead rope and halter. I had a carrot stick without a line on it, but it more or less proved to be more trouble than it was worth. I started out with the end goal in mind by using the lightest cue possible, simply saying "Back Up". Of course, at this point, that meant nothing to him. So, I took a step forward and shook my finger at his chest. Still nothing. Then, that shaking finger ended up poking him in the chest and he took a step back = click and treat! After a few minutes, he was taking a step back whenever I took a step toward his shoulder and shook my finger (I was still saying "back up" before doing anything and continued saying it like I will while riding, though, so that he'll eventually learn this as the cue).
Now, it was time to ask for a little more. He had to back 2 steps before getting the cue. Then three. And before long he was having to back up as long as I was giving the cue, though I limited that to about 5 or 6 steps back since it was just his first time. Occasionally, to keep him going, I did put a little pressure on the halter as well. After a bit, I took the lead rope off and asked him to back without it.
OK, so he's doing good so far, so I want to ask for a little more "go" in his backing! So, I picked up my energy, stepped toward him a little more aggressively, and when I got to his chest (because he was dragging his feet), I gave him some firm (not harsh), smacks on the chest to get a move on. That did the trick haha. Though I only intentionally did this to get him to move his feet a little faster, it doubled to communicate that I don't just wan't him to move his feet, but that we actually needed to GO somewhere! After that lightbulb went on for him, he seemed to really get what I was asking him and was becoming really responsive and successful in getting his treats!
Somewhere around this time, he decided he wasn't interested in the treats. He's usually very attentive and excited about clicker training and we can go for quite a while, but after about a half hour of taking breaks when I said so, he was ready for his own break. So I let him have it :) He went to the middle of the arena and had a good roll, then took a stroll around the entire outside of the arena checking out the fences, and then came back to me ready to work. He's a funny guy Knowing his 2 1/2-year-old brain was getting tired and his tank-like belly was empty, I only asked him to back up a few more times and ended after two particularly good back-ups in a row (he was even starting to back up just with the verbal cue and no movement from me!) complete with extra treats and rubs for a job well-done.
It was a good day! I can't wait to continue our backing up lesson next time!