by Sandy Rakowitz
What a series of adventures we had at the Oakland Zoo last week! And, I am so glad to see my horses, dogs and the queen cat herself, Scarlet!
I will be writing more about the Zoo, but for now, here are some ‘ horse tails’ from home.
My friends came over this past weekend to see pictures of the Giraffes and to watch Zoey and I with the progression of our target training. I would love to turn all this into a dance routine! Since we began around Christmas, we have developed a few fun moves that I think we can continue to build on and develop.
At liberty without a halter, we can do a side step with a cross over and stop in both directions; a spin type turn also in both directions; a super slow walk – or what I call a half walk, a medium walk and a longer strided walk; she is touching a target (usually my hand) in various locations in front of her, to the side, along her torso, down her front legs, way up high in the air; trots with square halts; and now I am proud to say we can easily go through the labyrinth. This is 6 poles set up in a maze like pattern with multiple turns in both directions.
We are still working on individual movements that I will begin to sequence together. Using a combination of Operant Conditioning with Targeting or Clicker Training, Shaping and TTouch/ TTEAM ground exercises we are developing our relationship in a really fun way. She is alert and interested. She politely waits for what I am going to ask next and stays very focused with me. Her balance has been improving along with her getting more and more supple throughout her body and she is using her hind end more and more.
Initially, she was pretty disconnected from her back end. When we went around a turn in the labyrinth for instance, she would move her front legs, but forget she also had back legs to move and would get stuck. And, turning to the right was much harder for her initially. So we really focused on those right turns with me standing on the right side. Now, she is using herself pretty evenly with me standing on both sides, and turning in both directions while continuing to use her back end!
My friends commented on how happy and relaxed she now looks. Even in the rain! It has been raining for days now and it was pretty sloppy out. She handled herself really well though!
It is so much fun to be learning something new together. I have used Clicker Training for years now in combination with training both the dogs and the horses. But I have not used it to develop dance steps before! Both Zoey and I have the dance bug!
I know Ibis is listening in when Zoey and I practice even though he hangs out in the shed eating his hay. Ibis does not always want to ‘play’ and things usually have to be on his timing.
After I finished chores the other night, he came around looking for something to do. So I asked him to do the side step cross over. He did it the first time! Both directions. He had fun showing off and loved the attention. And then he went to get a drink of water and was done for the day. He just wanted to show me what he could do.
I just love that horse. He is my buddy. A few weeks ago, I was working Zoey and Ibis in tandem. It was a joy to see them both shine so readily. And what a thrill to find this way of working with both horses together.
I have begun to write more Giraffe, Elephant and Zoo adventures, and I have tons of pictures from our Zoo visit, so keep coming back for more posts this week!
Sandy and the critters at One Heart