The obstacle is the path

Today was the third day since Dragon had his “sugar overload” in the form of 18 oz of meltaway mints on Easter Sunday and the Monday after. I know in dogs, changes due to nutrition manifest in just two days, so I was hopeful the worst effects of the sugar would be on the down-swing by day three since he last had any (today). Sugar must be particularly fast acting, as he was already very affected on Monday, so I was assuming it leaves the system just as quickly. All of these were my best guesses as I could not find any solid research on sugar and horses.

He was very calm in the cross-ties, unlike yesterday and did not show any conflict behaviors, except a few toward stalled horses who were nosing at him. He felt very different in general and I was immediately relieved, although I did not allow myself to make assumptions about how the rest of the training session would go.

Once we were in the arena he was energetic and a bit over-motivated, which for him translates into fairly extravagant movement and some offering of uncued behavior without much ability to wait for cues. He did lip at my arm three times, but not with intention or energy. We worked on the “capture the saddle” game on the ground using cones. Initially he was trying to offer flexion and was very forward, not tuned in at all, but not conflicted or “crabby” either. I simply continued to work the exercise on my cone circle until he was quiet and focused and only offering behavior when cued. We worked on the ground for 30-40 minutes: walking to a cone, stopping, giving the hip, backing up from each side, and I added in a brief stay  as well.  He became very focused on me, his walking slowed down significantly, his head lowered and he started to be able to give one yield of his hips for one request on the rein instead of the huge clumsy slide sideways he offered initially. Calm and thoughtful. Once he was quiet and successful, I moved to the mounting block since it IS the natural progression of the exercise.

No conflict today. No head shaking, tail swishing OR kick threat. Hooray! He did so solidly at the mounting block that I got on and we did 15 minutes of WWYLM from the “Capture the Saddle” lesson, riding him on the buckle and tuning him in to my core. He did beautifully even with one ridden horse in the arena and one fairly wild horse playing on the longe. Success. There wasn’t quite enough room to truly work the lesson so after mild success and his remaining attentive and even improving a touch from our last ridden lesson, I dismounted and we were done for the day.

The most sobering thing about these recent events is how much sugar I used back in the day when I was clicker-training him (3 years ago or so) and it just wasn’t working. He acted the way he acted on Monday almost all the time and I thought it was the method, it didn’t even occur to me it could be nutrition based. [There were other problems as well, like my own lack of experience and not enough focus on foundation behaviors/skills, not understanding cues and stimulus control as well as a horse trainer should.] But, based on his behavior I would consider him highly sensitive to sugar. Cane Molasses is fine, it’s the refined white sugar that he is so reactive to.

I will longe him tomorrow or Saturday, but I will start him to the left, which he prefers and only work a very short session, walking and trotting, to avoid over-excitement and any rehearsal of the behaviors from Monday. It’s been a trying and ultimately fascinating week. The obstacle is the path.

3 thoughts on “The obstacle is the path

  1. Hi, Jen–

    I just found your blog after I posted on my blog about my mare and gelding getting ready for summer riding season in Alaska. I like the thoughtfulness of your approach and hope to read more about your clicker work, since clicker work seems to work well with my gelding Sam.

    Can I add a link to your blog on mine?

    –Cindy in Fairbanks

  2. Hi Cindy,
    Of course you are welcome to add a link to my blog:) I will be writing a lot more about the clicker work from groundwork to undersaddle throughout the summer as I continue work with Dragon, Fig and possibly a new horse at the end of April. Horses in Alaska sounds like so much fun!
    I’m excited to have a read,

  3. Hi, Jen–

    Here’s the address of my blog, Mattie’s Pillow: . I’m not sure it came through on the comment. It’s pretty eclectic–horses, dogs, gardens, dance, poetry!

    I look forward to following your progress.


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