Bicycling with horses, newsletters & a great quote

It’s Friday! And what a busy week it has been. The end of the semester is fast approaching, so I’ve been pretty busy at school. However, even though it’s been a busy week, I’ve been having a lot of fun posting things on my blog and chatting with friends online.

I’ve finally finished posting my notes from the 4th annual Art and Science of Animal Training Conference at UNT. ORCA puts on an awesome conference every year, but I thought this year was one of the best! You can read all of my notes from the conference by visiting this page. We had great talks from Joe Layng, Bob Bailey, Alexandra Kurland, Ken Ramirez, Steve White, and Kay Laurence.

This year I’ve added a newsletter to my site. If you haven’t joined it yet, I encourage you to join by filling out the form to the right or by visiting this page. Every Monday I send out a short newsletter that lists the blog posts from the previous week, as well as bits of additional information about what I’m up to with my animals.

In this past week’s newsletter, I talked a bit about how I’ve just started training Amy, one of my new rats. I also asked my newsletter subscribers what they think about and do when they first start training a new animal. Since asking that, I’ve been corresponding by e-mail with one friend, Paula. Here’s part of her answer to this question: “The first and most important thing is for them to know I think they are wonderful.”

I asked her if I could share this quote because I thought this was a great statement and a wonderful attitude. I know of many training situations that would have gone much easier and much more successfully if the trainer had started with the assumption that the animal was wonderful and if the animal already had learned that the trainer liked him and wanted him to be successful.

What do you think about when you begin training? What assumptions and ideas do you have when you first start interacting with an animal?

Now, a bit about bicycling with horses, because I know you’ve been wondering about the title of this post!

My friend Hertha recently sent me a great video of her horse Boots. Recently, she and Boots have been going for bicycle rides together! Letting Boots trot along beside her is a great way for both of them to go on outings and get a bit of exercise. However, this definitely required a well thought out teaching process!

Here’s Hertha’s description of her bicycling video:

Since my hips have given up riding and my knees have given up decent running, I’ve taken to my bike to help my horse maintain some good sustained movement that is more interesting for her than circles.

Free-shaping means giving positive reinforcement when the horse displays behaviour you want to encourage. The treat earned causes the horse to display more of the behaviour that earns the treats. Once the horse gets comfortable with the new behaviour and offers it willingly, the treats can be spaced increasingly further apart. On our 3km trip with the bike we only stopped twice for a nibble of grass and a bit of apple.

Watch on YouTube: Free-shaping: Boots and the Bicycle

Since watching the video, I’ve corresponded a bit with Hertha about how she taught this to Boots. I was impressed by how calm Boots was in the video, since I’ve known many horses who were terrified of bicycles. Apparently, Boots wasn’t always this calm around bikes!

Several years ago, when Hertha originally taught Boots about bicycles, she had to break the process down into lots of little steps. She started with her son riding a bike and her and Boots following (with Boots on a lead rope). It took awhile before Boots was confident enough to approach the bike.

Once Boots would approach the bike, Hertha had her son walk with the bike, so Boots would feel confident to approach closer. Eventually, Boots even offered to sniff the tire. After that, they did lots of ‘follow the bike’ at the walk and jog, and continued to practice ‘sniffing the bike’, until Boots was completely relaxed around the bike. Then, Hertha switched things up so that she was the one riding the bike. She practiced riding toward and away from Boots, until she could ride right up to her and give her a treat.

This is one of the coolest behaviors that I’ve seen in awhile for a creative way to exercise a horse. Do you have any unique or unusual behaviors that you are teaching your animals right now? If so, I’d love to hear about them!

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