From good enough to Grand Prix

Several years ago, I wrote a post about Grand Prix clicker training. This was a concept that we discussed at a 2014 clinic that I attended with Alexandra Kurland at Cindy Martin’s ranch in Arkansas. 

“During our discussion, Alexandra offered another perspective on ‘Grand Prix’ that was not limited to top level competitions. Instead, think of Grand Prix level as any behavior that is developed to the point of utmost excellence. From this perspective, you could still have a Grand Prix level jumping horse, but you could also have a horse reach Grand Prix level at trail riding, standing at the mounting block, or even fetch.” 

(You can read the rest of my notes from the clinic in this post.)

When I adopted Apollo, he didn’t have any Grand Prix behaviors. He did have some “good enough” behaviors, such as haltering, leading, and picking out his feet. He was happy enough to do these behaviors if I followed the behavior with a click and treat.

Since I board Apollo, I was thankful that he had enough “good enough” behaviors that he could be handled safely by myself or the barn owner. But, I started making a list of behaviors that I knew I eventually wanted to re-train so that they could move closer to Grand Prix.

One behavior we have been working on re-training is standing at the mounting block. Originally, this behavior wasn’t even anywhere close to “good enough.” Apollo would swing out his hips or walk away if a person tried to get on him. I imagine that riding was probably not a pleasant experience for him in his previous life. 

We are moving in the direction of Grand Prix with the mounting block, and it’s fun to see all the progress Apollo has made with this behavior.

He is now happy and relaxed when I mount from a mounting block, the pasture fence, and even an old dead log in the pasture. What’s more, I can easily get on from his left or right side. 

One of my projects for this winter is going to be to re-train several behaviors so that we can move them from “good enough” toward Grand Prix. For example, one of the behaviors I’d like to work on is haltering. Currently, Apollo will come when called in the pasture and stand still while I put on his halter. 

However, sometimes when I put the halter on, he holds his head higher than I would like, and I can see some tension in his head and neck. Instead, I would love to be able to hold the halter out and have him drop his nose into the nose band. Then, he could stand calmly and relaxed with his head down while I fasten the buckle.

The foundation work that we’ve done over the past year means that Apollo now has many component skills that we can use to teach this behavior. For example, he knows how to touch a target and how to lower his head, and we have been working on adding duration to head lowering. As we work on halter training this winter, I will share some updates about our progress. 

Does your animal have any Grand Prix behaviors? 

Or, does your animal have some “good enough” behaviors that you would like to re-train so that they are Grand Prix?

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