Dog agility – more jumping exercises

Recently I have felt that I’ve been lacking in inspiration for Rusty’s agility training, so it sort of ground to a bit of a halt for a while. We were working on improving her technique with the weave poles and tunnel, however she is an intelligent dog and as a result quickly becomes bored with simple repetitions of an obstacle. I can add in other things and create sequences but due to her inexperience with the weaves in particular I have to ensure that her approach to the weave poles is straight and easy for her to see – unfortunately this does limit what we can do, especially with our few pieces of equipment.

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Over the past couple of days I set up the weaves and some jumps with the intention of just having a play to keep her feeling enthusiastic about her training.

It’s actually quite amazing how versatile a set of three jumps can be: there is a huge number of different arrangements of varying difficulties that can be set out, and even when I think I have exhausted all of the standard sequences, there really is no harm in just making something up and then figuring out how to handle it.

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The diagram below shows one of the exercises we practised. The red route drawn on is the easier of the two options I have shown – although this did still require skills which take time to learn. These include 180 degree turns and rear crosses (both of which I have written about previously).

Agility layout for blog

The first jump is very simple: I can just direct Rusty to it – however then I have to curve my body away a bit and head along the line of jumps to encourage her to turn and come back across the second jump. For the third jump, things become even more complicated as I have to ask Rusty for another 180 degree turn, but I am on the wrong side of the jumps and on the wrong side of Rusty to be able to ask properly. Needless to say, we’ve been struggling a bit with this!

So far, the best I have managed to do is to perform a rear cross (where I cross Rusty’s path behind her as she runs) and then ask her to swing back to the third jump. As you will be able to see from the video at the end of this post, this isn’t particularly smooth but I feel that with practice it may become easier.

The blue route is even trickier… I ask Rusty to jump the first hurdle, then wrap round the jump and jump the second in the same direction. This is then repeated for the third jump. Again, I can’t seem to handle this in a way that makes it a smooth sequence. I have a feeling that this may be because Rusty is constantly looking at me for instruction at the moment, and I really need her to look at where she is going more.

In fact, the other day she was so fixated on me that she walked into a chair! I use a combination of treats and toys as rewards for agility, and I am wondering whether me carrying the tennis ball more frequently is the reason for her increased attention. Although I have been doing this for a while with no problems, I may experiment with using a different reward to see if that helps her – I really do need her to watch her step on the course as it could potentially be dangerous if she doesn’t.

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The video below shows our training recently – there are some other clips in there of the weaves and some other simple jumping exercises as well.

Thank you for reading today’s post on Wild Call, stay tuned for more!

 

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Dusty – kissing spines update

Some of the people who have been following my blog for a while may remember that I help out with a horse called Dusty. Last year he was diagnosed with kissing spines – this is where the spinous processes are too close together, causing pain for the horse.

As a result of the kissing spines, Dusty had several problems in his ridden work. These included him being reluctant to work in a proper outline (he would lower his head but wouldn’t actually be working over his back), he would struggle to bend and pick up canter on the left rein and would often trip up.

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Last Summer he had steroid injections in his back to alleviate the pain: these worked for a while and I think his owner made quite a bit of progress with him out hacking (I was still struggling with learning how to ride him properly!) However, after a few months the effects of this treatment wore off, so at the end of February this year Dusty went back to the vets to have his back operated on.

Initially I thought that the surgery would involve pieces of bone being cut away to create more space between the spinous processes (and I think this is what was originally suggested) but Dusty actually had a different type of surgery where the ligament in between the close spinous processes is cut.

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After his operation, Dusty then stayed at a yard in Burnham Market for six weeks of rehabilitation. This began by him going on the horse walker every day for four weeks (and yes, apparently he was bored by the end of it!), followed by him being lunged each day for two weeks. He was then ridden a couple of times at the yard before returning to the field.

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However, the rehabilitation does not stop there! It is important that Dusty now realises that he isn’t in pain anymore – he still has habits such as tossing his head and lifting a back leg when I go to tighten his girth, but seeing as he often does this before I’ve even started to do it up I think that this may be a learned response to the old pain.

I have been schooling him in the field since he returned home: he isn’t really allowed to canter yet but I’ve had so much to work on in walk and trot that I haven’t minded at all. We’ve been doing lots of circles of varying sizes – from large 20m circles to tiny loops around tyres laid on the ground. I also set out a variety of trotting pole exercises – as well as ordinary trotting poles in a straight line, I’ve had some at angles so that I can ask him to bend over them. Spacing the poles in an irregular fashion encourages him to think about where he is putting his feet more, which is also good for him.

Despite all of this (and my best efforts to correct the bad habits which I know have crept back into my riding) I still felt that I wasn’t quite ‘getting it’ – that he was still just putting his head in a pretty position and not actually working over his back.

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In an attempt to fix this, I had a lesson with Dusty yesterday at the field. The lady that taught me is a ‘ride with your mind’ instructor. It may sound a bit strange (or at least that’s what I thought when Dusty’s owner first told me about it) but since I had my first lesson a year ago it’s completely transformed the way I ride.

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Having begun my journey with horses in a riding school, I was constantly told ‘heels down, shoulders back and sit up’. This was fine when I started out, but when I wanted to learn more than how to go forwards, steer and stop it suddenly wasn’t enough and despite lots of help from various different people, I still really felt like there was something lacking in the way I rode.

I’m still a long way from where I want to be, but the ride with your mind techniques have brought me so much closer and as I discovered yesterday, when I am riding properly Dusty is able to work over his back correctly, without me fiddling with his mouth or kicking him.

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Over the next few weeks I am going to continue to practice what I learnt in my lesson and I will try to gather some more videos to share. The video below was taken two days before the lesson, so there are a few mistakes in there which I am going to work on but it shows some of what we’ve been up to…

Thanks for reading!

Wildlife Wednesday – observing wild birds

Last Saturday I went to another one of the work experience days with the National Trust at Quarry Bank Mill. This one was focused on the observation and recording of bird species on the estate – the data we collected from this is important as it allows the populations to be monitored so that any changes in numbers can be seen and conservation strategies can be put into place if necessary.

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We set off from the university at five o’clock in the morning and then spent a couple of hours walking and listening out for birds. We were accompanied by an ornithologist who volunteers at Quarry Bank – his knowledge on birds was incredible… what sounded to me like a jumble of many different bird songs coming from all directions worked almost like a map to him: he could point at a tree and tell us what species was perched in it without evening catching a glimpse of the bird! This was an important lesson for me. The majority of my bird watching (with the exceptions being species that I know well, for example the buzzard) has revolved around me walking along with binoculars, scanning the trees trying to spot something. Now I see how backwards this is – if I could learn bird songs then I could identify the species using my ears, and seeing them would just be an added bonus. It does also help if you know exactly what you are looking for.

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There are other important factors to be considered when heading out to watch birds: the time of day is clearly a very important one. Early morning is probably the best time to observe the usual garden birds, although I have noticed that the woods appear to come alive with noise again at dusk so this can also prove to be a suitable time (the fading light can make it difficult to see though).

I often see buzzards in the daytime – particularly in summer when the sun is shining I watch them swooping over the tops of the trees. Other birds of prey such as kestrels and marsh harriers do also seem to be around at dusk; I don’t know if it is just chance that I have seen them more frequently at this time though. Nocturnal species such as owls are definitely more likely to be around in the evenings.

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One thing is for definite: you are more likely to be able to observe birds at a time when few people are around. During the day when dog walkers and gamekeepers are passing by, birds are disturbed and will retreat into the trees away from the main paths, whereas in the early hours they are not likely to be bothered by a lone walker with a pair of binoculars.

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Walking quietly is essential – birds have remarkably sensitive feet and can pick up vibrations from heavy footfalls. At home I tend to walk in wellies; these are actually very noisy and I feel that walking boots are probably more suited to the role as they don’t rattle around so much.

When we were on the work experience we did make a fair bit of noise as there were fifteen of us walking in a group, and our guides kept stopping to explain things to us – some birds are not at all bothered by this disruption, but more elusive species would have steered well clear of us.

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Another factor to take into account is the weather. During poor weather it is less likely that you will see smaller birds as these will take cover in the vegetation, and the conditions can interfere with the hunting patterns of birds of prey. However, some weathers can later bring life to a habitat: for example after rainfall, worms come to the surface of the soil and garden birds such as blackbirds take full advantage.

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I hope that you enjoyed this blog post, I am hoping to do some more focused write-ups about specific bird species I have been observing at home so stay tuned for those!