Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Aglity Horses

Well. Sort Of...

A post and some youtube videos of horses doing agility courses similar to the kind dogs do, inspired me to try some fun ground exercises with the Boys.  Tucker's free lungeing the other day was, of course, the other inspiration.

I set up a raised pole, about six inches off the ground--kind of a cavaletti and decided I was going to teach the Boys to "Step over."   Procedure included first leading them over the pole and saying "Step over," and then giving them a treat.  I tried this will all three of them in the arena at the same time, leading them over again and again.  Once that chaos produced no real results, I took each horse in individually and tried a similar exercise.

Revelation. The horse needs to understand the concept of going around me in a circle at the trot first, as if he were on a lunge line. Both Tucker and Toby have had a little round penning, but a lot of lunge/longlining, so the idea was easy for them to grasp.  Chance doesn't quite get it. I never round penned him, and although he's been lunged a fair bit, the habit is not well established with him.

Tucker. Tucker seemed to pick up the concept quickly.  Getting him to trot around me on the circle was easy. Then I simply used my body language to push him into the area of the jump and said, "Step over" as he approached.  While I cannot tell if he fully associated the command with the action, it was a relatively easy thing to get him to trot over the obstacle in both directions. One thing he did quickly connect was that once he'd gone over, he was going to get a treat. He really liked that part and seemed quite pleased with himself.

I took Toby in next as the treat idea was very appealing to him.  Once again, the circling was relatively easy, although at first I did not have the same kind of control over where he was as I did with Tucker. By nature, Tucker seems to want to relate to me and be closer on his circle than Toby.  Toby made a bigger circle and did not always react to my movements. But again, it was fairly easy to get him to steer himself to the obstacle and then "Step over."  However, then, even though I made a noise with the treat bag and called him to walk over to me, he traveled on a bit on autopilot before realizing I was going to reward him. On the last pass, however, he seemed to catch on that going over the little jump was the "thing to do," so before I could give him his treat, he took it upon himself to make one more circle and jump over it again on his own as if to say, "See! I get it! Let me show you!"  Lavish praise and a handful of feed made him quite happy about the  whole thing.

Chance was a whole different story. His general reaction to my spinning the lead rope and urging him to trot on most often resulted in his meandering around in an erratic pattern, alternately trotting a little, walking, and then stopping to kind of look either at me or the scenery.   Unable to get much beyond that, I finally slipped the lead rope around his neck and repeatedly led him over the pole, each time saying , "Step over" and treating him on the other side.  I did get him to go over it once on his own, but it's pretty clear I have been remiss in the ground work with him, so he just doesn't know how to respond as well as the other Boys.

This just means I need to do a bit more work with Chance--no surprise there. But, he's so much fun out on the trails, I'm just not sure I'll stick to it.  Riding through the woods on a crisp autumn day just might be too tempting. *G*

I'll think up a few more little agility exercises as time goes on. If my knees prohibit serious riding at least I will have some fun things to do with the Boys instead.  It's really an interesting challenge.


  1. I have seen those. The horses who are trained to do the tunnels and the really "hardcore" stuff are SO into it you can tell! And it makes sense. Horses love to have a good time and run, and the smart ones love something to challenge them mentally, so a course they do without a rider is obviously a win!

    Although it doesn't sound like poor Chance is getting the idea just yet! LOL! Tucker might make a good one yet though!

  2. What a great idea to get them working. I always use the work to treat ratio because they seem to catch on quicker than with just a pat. I read a study where they came to the conclusion that even though a pat is nice horses learn quicker when the reward is a treat. I'd love to write to them and say something to the effect , 'Really, and you needed a full blown study to figure that out"!

    This is beautiful weather for some nice rides, hope your knees hold up and you get some saddle time in.