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This is a recent session with Fox at liberty. I was not planning to do any "serious" work with him, just wanted to play for a few minutes before turning him out. We don't normally work at liberty, and it was so much fun to see what we can do. I asked a lot of "what ifs" in this session and looked for a try, not perfection. Thanks to Fox's solid understanding of the clicker game and his extensive toolbox of behaviors, he was a good sport about experimentation and enjoyed looking for the right answers. In the past, he used to get anxious if he did not quite understand what I might be asking for. His confidence now is a tribute to the sometimes slow but always progressive process of finding physical, mental, and emotional balance that is a signature quality of clicker training. We both had fun!

We started in WWYLM to the left.

Then changed directions. Clockwise is harder for Fox, and it takes him about a quarter of a circle to organize.

Then we took it to the fence. In the corner, he gets to stand on the mat.

This is an experiment. I am walking backwards along the fence, and Fox brings his haunches in. He is thinking very hard about this novel request. On the second photo, he steps too far to the inside with his inside hind, losing his alignment. We regroup and take another balanced step, not shown here, and he gets a click and a treat. I included the picture of feeding him, because his pleasant expression shows just how all right he is about trying something new.

I am not even sure how he understands that haunches is what I am asking for. I think that this comes from a cue for "parking up", bringing his haunches closer to me, that emerged out of the

teaching process. He understands to bring his hips closer to me when I make a beckoning gesture in that direction. The position I am taking on these pictures resembles "park up to me", but I also keep backing away along the fence, which tells him to keep coming forward. He put together two component parts. I am thrilled. What a smart horse!

Now I am asking Fox to walk on a circle casually. We have been working on collecting when I am in a lunging position instead of right next to his shoulder. On the second photo, he is considering my imaginary lead rope request but is not certain what to do: his head goes up in a momentary tension. It is not until I walk into my in-hand position that he organizes himself.

After a click and a treat, we give it another try. He walks out casually. When he thinks about picking himself up, I reinforce each of his tentative attempts.

And now we get this: collecting on a longer "rein".

He gets to stand on the mat, his all-time favorite. Even though his "equine Pilates" are hard work, and we always keep adding new layers, he loves doing them. Our current stage is narrowing the stance. He is looking ever more athletic as he discovers how he bring his hindquarters more under his body. On the second photo, his pelvis and stifles are engaged, and he is just starting to feel that his hocks may be called into play. This is exciting!

I want to see if we can take WWYLM into a trot. This is what we get. Even with his nose behind the vertical, these few strides are nice and soft. Then I ask him to trot out casually and stretch his neck and back. We go back to a few strides of WWYLM at a walk, and then I increase my step, and he springs into this pretty, elevated trot. Click and treat!

Thanks to Fox's owner, Violet Dawe, who took great pictures of our session, I can now share the fun!

June 2, 2011


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