Once Fat Pony was happy going through 2 noodles, it turned out not to be a problem to make it up to 4 noodles, then 6 noodles (Liberty Silver course) and then 8 noodles (Advanced Level on line course). Before long, he was walking through, trotting through and happily standing in the middle! Backwards needed a little more care to build it up, but soon that was no problem either. In fact, the noodle walk quite quickly became both the ponies favourite new toy! They would offer to do it if I was around and they also went through it on their own when they didn't know that I was watching. I don't know whether they enjoyed the noise it makes when they go through or whether they liked the feeling of it "massaging" their legs, but they definitely enjoy going through it! :-D
With any new obstacle, I build it up slowly, even if I think the ponies will be fine with it, but they do like to surprise us like that. It's not uncommon for horses to not bat an eyelid at things we think might worry them and then to be completely sceptical about something we think they should be ok with, lol.
So I built version 1 of the noodle walk with just 2 noodles. In some instances, I might then have started with the frames further apart, leaving a gap in between the noodles. However, in this case, I decided to begin with the noodles overlapping by 3cm, as per the competition instructions. The ponies appeared whilst I was still building (they have a 6th sense about such things ;-) and the New Girl (aka Mrs. Confident Dominant) walked up to it and walked straight through. Satisfied that it was New Girl 1 Noodles 0 she then moseyed on off to go and have a drink and a snooze.
Fat Pony, on the other hand, was more sceptical. That may seem strange, since Fat Pony is now at Advanced Level in Horse Agility and is also very playful, however Fat Pony came to me with a history of fear issues and restraint and things around his legs are a particular cause for concern for him. I decided to try to work it out at Liberty, giving Fat Pony complete freedom of choice and engaging his curiosity and play. I used "draw" rather than "drive" i.e. I put no pressure on Fat Pony to come through the obstacle, rather I positioned myself on the other side and I invited him to come through. Fat Pony wants to do things and he also knows that there will be a reward waiting, however I must stress that I never "bribe". I never hold treats under their noses, trying to get them to follow. The treat is retrieved and offered only AFTER completion of the desired action. But I digress. I invited Fat Pony and then I waited. I was ready to give him all the time that he needed to investigate and to puzzle it out for himself. After some sniffing, Fat Pony decided to try going through. He didn't like the feel of it on his legs and he shot off to a safe distance, but turned to face the obstacle and he was watching intently. So I decided to demonstrate that the new "thing" was safe. I walked slowly backwards and forwards through the obstacle myself (feeling like a bit of a twit, thankfully no-one else around to see, lol ;-) and eventually Fat Pony came over to try again. This time he was fine with his front legs and then did a funny bunny hop with his back legs to clear the noodles at the back. The 3rd time, he didn't hop with his back legs, the noodles brushed them and he shot off again. Again, I did my "look this is safe" demo. Again, Fat Pony came back to try again for himself. This time, he went through, a bit rushed but he didn't run off, he stopped, turned and looked for his reward. I then took him through the noodles another half a dozen times and by now he was much more calm and relaxed about them. A good place to end the session and leave him to process the experience over night :-)
I have been seeing Noodle obstacles pop up in various "unofficial" guises within the Horse Agility and Trec communities and it has now been adopted into the International Horse Agility Club (IHAC) Handbook, in the horizontal format, as "The Noodle Walk".
In all cases, the thinking behind the Noodle Walk appears to be the simulation of pushing through soft branches or undergrowth whilst out hacking (although for horse agility it is very much a led obstacle). The IHAC version of the Noodle Walk starts with 2 noodles at Starter Level and increases to a total of 10 noodles at Advanced 1* Level. The noodles are attached horizontally to a frame of either fixed or moveable height and should, ideally, be at the horse's chest height. As this was the first time I was building one of these, I used the only "frame" that I had to hand and the noodles ended up first at leg height and then, as they drooped, more at ponies' knee height, lol.
In the Trec world, the noodle obstacles that I have seen have a vertical format, possibly to avoid the horse trying to jump the obstacle, or perhaps this is felt to be more representative of a ridden horse having to contend with an overgrown path. I have yet to try this one for myself! This is not an official TrecGB obstacle and the idea seems to have originated in the US, however it has been used in the UK in Fun Trecs and I suspect will become seen in competitions more often as the idea spreads.
With last weekend's clinic out of the way (in the nicest possible way :-) I have been able to turn my attention to this month's International Horse Agility Club course and a very exciting course it is too :-D Lot's of new challenges - again :-) but at least I have most of the equipment this time, or at least materials to build!
The most exciting new obstacle is the Noodle Walk, depending on the Level that you are at, from 2 Noodles up to 10 Noodles, attached horizontally to a frame (2 meaning one each side of the corridor, 10 noodles being 5 each side of the corridor). The Noodles are soft foam swimming pool noodles, or tubular pipe insulation works just as well and can be found from as little as £1 for 2 x 1m lengths (perfect for the Starter competition :-) The idea is that the horse has to push through the noodles, preferably at chest height, although mine have ended up more at knee height due to the limitations of the frame I had for attaching the noodles to.
Another new obstacle for us this month is to pick up a closed umbrella, open it whilst standing next to the horse and then carry the umbrella over the horse's head whilst walking 4 metres. Fat Pony LOVES flags on poles, but an umbrella is new and a bit of an unknown quantity!
The S bend is also back this month and for the Advanced Level, the requirement is for the handler to stand in a fixed spot outside the poles, whilst guiding the horse through the S without the horse knocking or stepping outside the poles!
And the stand and wait has morphed from "horse to not move it's feet" to (at Advanced Level) horse and handler to stand COMPLETELY still for 10 seconds! Eeek! That'll be a challenge then! Pony to not move a muscle, not lick his lips, not move his ears...... Ha, ha, ha! I expect that blinking and breathing are allowed, but not much else.
There is another park the pony at the curtain this month, which I'm not too worried about as Fat Pony's stand and wait is pretty good these days. But at Advanced Level, the horse then has to join the handler at a trot (from a standstill and not allowed to pull on the rope). We can do this in walk. Time to work on our cues for trot then, methinks!
So, LOTS of challenges, again, but the ground has dried out, the weather is lovely and the course looks really exciting (and buildable!). Have a feeling I'm really going to enjoy this one :-)
One of this month's obstacles that is new to me and Fat Pony is the "Leg Lift". At Starter Level, the obstacle reads "The horse must place one front foot up onto a solid block (any height) he must not step up just rest the foot on the block for a count of three. You may lift the foot on or he may do so himself."
At Advanced Level, the obstacle reads " The horse must place one front foot up onto a solid block (any height) without the handler lifting the foot. He must not step up just rest the foot on the block for a count of five."
Well, of course, I didn't read the Starter Level course (getting lax!) and so it didn't occur to me to teach this obstacle to Fat Pony by lifting his leg onto the object and then rewarding him! In fact, that would be a very good way forward and a very good analogy would be to think of the farrier's stand. Or, in my farrier's case, the farrier's knee! Thinking of the farrier's stand then also gives you a purpose for the leg lift obstacle. In the case of the farrier's knee, I'm sure he's doubly grateful for a horse that lifts its front leg politely, places it gently where asked and then holds it still until released!.....
But, no, this didn't occur to me to start off with and I went gung ho for teaching by modelling. Meaning that I perform the action, wait for the horse to copy me and then reward. Now, there's nothing wrong with teaching by modelling either. Once your horse is quite tuned in to you s/he will naturally start to mirror you and then teaching in this way is great fun and quite cool :-) With Fat Pony it would have worked very well, except for the other mistake that I made, using a log that would roll! The log just happened to be what was lying around and it was a reasonable size, but also quite round. Fat Pony got the leg lift pretty much straight away, but then the log rolled, my timing was off with the reward, Fat Pony thought the task was to roll the log and, hey presto, I've taught him to paw the log :-o Taught very effectively too, I might add!
Back to the drawing board....
I started Horse Agility as a way of making groundwork more fun. It was something I could do with my semi-retired old boy and his small, cheeky, pony companion. What amazed me was how much it improved the ponies' general confidence in the process. I compete at Advanced 1 star level on line and at liberty.