Part 128 – Ducati and the Cone Circle – Loopy Training

It’s been a while since my last post in the ‘Long Road’ series.  To refresh your memory, I had finished a four month project, restoring old photos and attending a very special reunion…… now it was time to get back to the horses!!

It was November of 2016 …  Now I could indulge myself in the horses.  I had completed the Magnum ‘hoof trimming’ project…. what was next?  Well!  I still had so much to learn – and   I longed  to ride again.  Alexandra Kurland has a book on riding with the clicker, as well as covering it in her online course.

That would be my goal for 2017.  It had been a long time since any of my horses had been ridden.  As Ducati was the most experienced horse, I decided to focus on him.  However, Magnum wasn’t going to be left out –  so they got most of the arena time over the summer of 2016/2017.

I wasn’t going to hurry anything.  There would be plenty of cone circle time – then I would introduce the bridle and the mounting block…. and so on.  I wanted to teach Ducati to walk around the cone circle on his own, with me in the centre.  It was time to review the Loopy Training DVD again.

Loopy Training – what is it?

Here is my simple understanding of it – in clicker training, we tend to think of training as ‘straight line’.  You cue the horse to do a behaviour which leads to a click (the marker for the behaviour) then the reinforcement.  After reinforcement we put a ‘full stop’.  However to be a better trainer we need to think of behaviour as a loop.  We present a cue – the horse offers the behaviour, we click – and reinforce – and that leads to another cue, behaviour, click, reinforcement – and so on!!!

In good training we need to have clean loops – which means no hesitation, no alternate behaviours, great timing, and good food delivery…. so that means the human needs to pay attention to their mechanics of food delivery – and be observant of their timing – and anything else that is going on.

Having the loops clean builds a good emotional foundation for the horse – everything is clear – the training pair both understand the parts of the loop, so there is no conflict.  This allows you to create more complex behaviour chains without causing stress to the animal or yourself.

Well, I think I’m going to provide two links which give some detail.  One is from Mary Hunter’s Stale Cheerios blog  and the other is a recent podcast – Ryan Cartlidge from Animal Training Academy interviewed Alexandra Kurland last year.  Also, of course, it’s best to buy the DVD Loopy Training available here.

Loopy training is a great way to think about training…  .  In the DVD, Alex shows how she started to build this with a mat – and cones placed in a tiny circle.  Her horse started on the mat – walked around this small circle, and ended up back on the mat.  There he was reinforced.  When this loop of behaviour was clean she expanded out to asking for more complex behaviour.

I decided to teach Ducati  something similar – to walk around the outside of a cone circle, while paying attention to my ‘loops’.   In the past Ducati had anxiety about any form of ‘lungeing’.  He would suddenly stop – pull pack – and sometimes rear a little.  I had been told he was ‘just emotional’…. that didn’t sit well – it troubled me.  I now wanted to make if fun and easy.  I started with a small circle, which included a mat,  and gradually made it bigger .  Here is an early attempt.  I started with a lead – just as a guide for him.

The next video shows another session.  I love the ‘chortling’ as he gets to the mat.  In this clip I see so many things I need to ‘clean up’ in the loop.  My food delivery is often not balanced – and I confuse him when he lands on the mat – did I want him to land square – or is landing on the mat any way okay?  Here I was still using the rope – but I see it’s really getting in the way…. so lots of things there that I needed to work on – I think Ducati is doing so much better than me!!

He loved this game!!  Doing it this way allowed him to let go of any fears he had regarding circles.  The feature photo shows where he regularly waited for me – in the middle of the cone circle!!!

Here is a more finished product!

Now it was time to expand the circle.  I was excited with how things were going – but I was about to face some opposition from Ducati!!!  It’s when the alarm bells should have first started ringing!!




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