Monty and Heather Begin Their Climb!

Last episode ended with me standing  ‘at the foot of the mountain’ with Monty, trying to control my panic!  Where do I start?  Oh get a grip Heather!!  Come on!  You’ve got this!!!  Start climbing!!!

First – he already understood the clicker/treat connection as Vicki had prepared him well.  So what else did he know?  Well he was familiar with a halter and lead rope – good!  I thought of Mary Hunter’s presentation on errorless learning and prerequisite skills and starting points.

He  understood that when a human had a lead rope attached to the halter, they had some sort of control (sometimes not much!).  My starting point was right there – just walk along a bit – then stop!   We walked a few steps.  I stopped – he walked on a step, then swung around to face me. It wasn’t quite the stop I was looking for!

I fine-tuned my mechanics.  As he slowed I treated him ‘where I wanted the perfect horse’.  He had to step back for the treat.  He started to slow down – and stopped before he thought of swinging around…….. and by the end of the day it was all perfect……

Ha ha!  That last line tricked you!  I was joking!  It was all higgledy piggledy!  But it was certainly better!

In the learning environment my food reinforcers were competing with green grass and new and old horse friends!  It was very much on and off!  Let’s say it wasn’t ideal for a first clicker session – but then that’s what we had to work with!

Even though he was stopping without swinging around, he was still further forward than me.  While I had used the ‘feeding for position’, I now added in some rope handling.  It started with the backwards cue, then forwards.

What is the rope handling I’m talking about?  In simple terms – I slide my hand along the rope – up to the snap – and using a twisting motion, create a feeling of wanting to step back. There I wait – and when the horse makes the smallest of moves in the backwards direction, I release, click and treat.

Hmm – I’ve just reread that!  That’s a poor description and not detailed enough.   Think of it like a dance!  Good dancing isn’t being pushed around, it’s a gentle gliding.  In fact, the best thing to do is to study Alexandra Kurland’s rope handling techniques – you will learn about tai chi walls and bone rotations!  Here is a link to the DVD    She has also started online clinics devoted to rope handling.

I have also looked through my videos.  I have this one which I have shared before.  At about 0.13 you will see I touch the rope and Magnum moves back into balance.  This doesn’t show the sliding up the rope – but it shows it can lead to the lightest touch!

Next it was on to the foundation lessons.  Alexandra Kurland has six foundation lessons which you can read about here.  There is no set order to teach them as they are all equally important.

I had brought a mat so we worked on walking to the mat, with a click and treat for a hoof landing on it, then walking off again.  I then added the rope cue to bring the other hoof onto the mat.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes he would step over it.

By then it was lunch time, it was hot – and we were all exhausted.  January and February are our hottest months in Australia.  As we sat under the trees, while the horses ate their hay, we talked briefly about what we had worked on.  There was much chatter and laughter, and talk about upcoming events.  I was so happy to be part of it.  My nerves had disappeared, and while the clicker session had been full of distraction, Monty and I had enjoyed ourselves.

It would be two weeks before the club met again, so I could review and think about what I could add or do differently.  Here is a photo of Monty and I – just before he and Beau headed home.  I really was delighted to be part of a horse group again!  Both horse and human had a lovely day out!

monty heather 1


Coming up …. progress comes to a standstill……




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