David and I set off in opposite directions this morning with him going off to Fritham to put up the round pen and do other work at the fields and me off towards Chippenham to work with a wild pony. He had a wildlife encounter of his own with these pictures captured by the camera trap.
Rumble is a three year old Dartmoor Hill Pony and pretty sharp to work with. He's such a beautiful creature, with his Appaloosa coat and pretty head. His owners have had him for two months and have come so far with him in just a few weeks but still have a long way to go. Coming off the Moor so late he was then gelded and I don't suppose the manhandling that went with this would have helped at all. He's certainly very wary of letting anyone near his head again and I strongly suspect that he has had a head collar forced on him or been restrained by his head in some way.
I wanted to help his owners to fill in some of the gaps in the training they have done. He will follow a bucket into the stable and will take food from the hand but he tends to snatch it and then take his head away and this can lead to him biting accidentally and on purpose. Rather than attracting him to a hand I wanted him to come to a target and to learn that he only gets food when he hears three clicks in a row first. In this way one click starts to mean keep on doing what you are doing and the three clicks means job done! This helped to instil some patience and stillness in him and to reduce the ambivalence he was feeling - it just slowed everything down.
I also felt that he need to be touched much more consistently over the rest of his body (and here I do mean over, rather than under which would be too much for him right now). We used a deep flat rhythmical touch across his body rather than a stroking action along his body.
For the first time he started to allow his ears to be touched...
...although he has allowed K to touch his face while he has been occupied by a very sugary and minty lick. Today she began to touch him with the scarf instead with a view to being able to use this to befriend his face rather than going straight to the head-collar.
With ponies like this it is absolutely essential to take your ego down to the lowest point so that you don't become disheartened by what seems like a lack of progress. It's only when you can let go like this that it all becomes a lot easier. The ego carries its own energy which then goes through the end of your fingers, into your jaw and your voice. To my mind, this pony has found himself into an ideal environment where he will be given all the time he needs to get to wherever he needs to get to.
"Thank you very much for coming out to Rumble yesterday, it gave me a bit more confidence that I had started in the right way and that I wasn't handling him too much, in fact need to do as much as I can." KB
23.5.14: "Just thought Id send you a quick Rumble update. He is clicker training without lick, he is a smart little cookie picked up very quick. Big breakthrough this am, was touching face with scarf and moved to neck, he let me touch his neck with and without scarf :)" KB