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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Importance of a "Good Girl!"

Today was Gogo's day off, although she also got Christmas day off. She's been a bit weird under saddle this week, meaning really locked in her neck and resistant and tense for most of our ride, then suddenly melting into this perfect, animated, moving-forward-correctly-into-the-contact, performing excellent and accurate movements, brilliant animal... which, needless to say, is great when you get there, but such a horrible mess to deal with until she gets to that point. She's like that, and she has been like that ever since the creep trainer screwed her up, but lately I've been feeling like it's either her being HORRIBLE for 45 minutes and then BRILLIANT for 15, or fairly decent but nothing special for the entire length of the hour ride. I want there to be brilliance for the ENTIRE ride!

We'll get there, I think. Something that really helps her is a good lengthening, but it has to be done at the right time. If we do a lengthening too early on in the ride when she hasn't fully given her back, she just tenses her back up further and runs, and continues to rush when the lengthening is long over. When she's ready and pliable in her body, the lengthenings make her connection stronger, and she becomes straighter, more animated, and happier in her work. Love how it works.

But the point of tonight's post isn't about all that. It's about the importance of a verbal reward and a pat sometimes, and how, for a horse like Gogo especially, praise builds her ego tremendously and makes her want to work with me as a partner instead of someone who begrudgingly is forced along for the ride.
Gogo has never liked her mane to be pulled. I can't blame her for this - who wants their hair ripped out repeatedly? When I first got her, I had to have someone hold her with a chain over her nose, and we always backed all the way down the length of the barn aisle over the course of a mane pulling. The first time I tried to pull Gogo's mane by myself with her in the crossties, she sat back fairly calmly on purpose (looked just like a mule when she did it), then launched herself forward, then sat back, then launched herself forward, and continued to do this methodically until her halter broke and she walked away triumphantly and calmly. Smart mare. Well, some more long work later and now she stands in the crossties for a mane pulling, but she still shakes her head like crazy when you get up to the top half of her neck. Tonight, a pop with the lead rope did not get her to stop. A quick verbal reprimand did not get her to stop. What DID work? Patting and rubbing her with a lot of "good girl!!!" when she didn't flip her head like crazy. And you know what? She turned her head as best she could in the crossties to oogle at me in a joyful way when I did it, and leaned into my touch. I went to pull some more hair, she tensed but didn't shake, I said "good girl!" and she relaxed. And relaxed. And relaxed. By the end, she was almost dozing, basking in my neverending stream of praise. Her Highness really does enjoy being told what a lovely, beautiful princess she is, and the more you tell her and really MEAN it, the more relaxed and willing she becomes. Negative reinforcement and punishment are fairly useless with her, but she always responds beautifully to positive reinforcement.

Sometimes I forget how much further you get with sugar than with vinegar, especially with her. Thanks for reminding me, wild mare.

1 comment:

dp said...

Raven is exactly the same. You can see her physically relax after a verbal reward and a pat when she is all worked up about something. She will try her heart out for you if you praise when praise is due and you ignore rather than fight her drama queen moments. I have never had a mare before, but I wonder if it's a mare thing.