‘Touch, touch’ Swift

On so many levels, I am delighted to say that Team Swogi and I have started getting out and about more regularly again. A lot of fitness to work on and muscle to build, so ride-outs are steady and short but oh so sweet!!!! That doesn’t mean that it’s ‘business as usual’ – as I’m still loving the learning of new things with Swift so the teaching continues.

Now, I would describe to anyone that Yogi is my soul mate – we think and act the same and have such a similar outlook on life. He is impatient, sometimes over dramatizes a situation or exaggerates. He likes to work hard and will attack any challenge with enthusiasm and optimism. He is pretty amicable in most situations and only gets high-spirited when backed into a corner – but that fight and grit is in there! He also likes to get things done quickly and efficiently then enjoys a good feed at the end of the day with the satisfaction of a job well done. However, I really hope this is where we differ… (sorry soul mate) but he is extremely boring to teach! His fixation on the end point (treat) overpowers all the interesting bits in the journey to get there and you can repeat and repeat the learnings but it doesn’t really stick as the treat seems to wipe the memory card of how he came by the treat in the first place. I don’t think I’m like that to teach as I always want to know every why and reason and so am probably therefore, challenging to teach in a completely different way. I’m hoping most view challenging as interesting here lol!

Swift however, oh well that is a VERY different process altogether and I’m LOVING it! The advances we’ve made in our relationship in such a short space of time of going back to the basics of teaching something new is phenomenal. Swift is and has never been a horse that likes to be touched. She’d just rather you stayed out of her personal space altogether thank you very much. The places she approved of being touched before this process started (lets say on a scale of 1 to 10) sat at around 1 – that 1 being the tip of her nose / upper lip. The other 9 places or anywhere else for that matter were no go zones unless she was in a VERY good mood.

The game of ‘touch touch’ with positive reinforcement that I’ve now instigated has currently opened up another 5 places – the bridge of her nose, her girth (both sides) and her hips (both sides). There’s also the bonus move of being allowed a kiss ‘kiss kiss’ on that oh-so-soft-bit just above each nostril that only a horse person will understand…

Today we’ve been working on saddle placement – something she has also always been stroppy about. I’ve done the usual back checks, saddle checks, ulcer check, hind gut build up etc etc etc – but this appears to be learnt behaviour which has either come from past issues or is something I’ve inadvertently taught her. Either way, I’m going to have a good go at unteaching it and then maybe I can believe what I’ve just said here – that it truly is just learnt behaviour. If not, then I need to go back to the drawing board of investigations from nose to tail!

Today’s session started with trying an ‘up up’ command with the saddle and getting her to face forwards rather than turn and mare-glare at me as I popped the saddle up. Boy she’s a quick learner and so impressive how quickly she worked that out. I’m probably straying from true positive reinforcement here (my impatience like Yogi’s coming to the surface) as I give a ‘ach ach’ negative response when getting an action I don’t want and a ‘gooooood’ when I do, then the treat follows after however many seconds (or smooches lol!) I deem appropriate.

It was a ten minute session in the dark, but it was a start and a good one at that. I still can’t believe I ended up with such a long break from teaching something new. Why did it take both horses being ill to re-light my coaching passion and for me to start to address those minor imperfections that sometimes actually are more than inconvenient? I don’t know why, but I’m glad it happened.

The ‘Journey to my horses’ – as I describe in my book – has just moved to a brand new level!

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