Thursday, April 8, 2010

Coaching with David Lichman

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take advantage of David Lichman's "Hitching Post" long distance coaching. I got Mark to film me and Iona playing the Circling Game and doing some ridden Point to Point. Right on cue, she pulled lots of grumpy faces when circling and did her little bucky kicking out thing during the riding. So I figured out how to put it on a DVD and sent it off to David for help.

Watching the DVD, and particularly thinking what to write to send with the DVD got me thinking about where I'm at in my own head as far as me and Iona go. I will share with you, with David's permission, what I wrote to him, and his replies. My email and later questions are in blue, David's replies in brown.

Hi David-
Thanks so much for offering this service. I am looking forward to your input!

I am about to send you a 12-13 minute DVD of my impulsion problems with my Fell pony, Iona.

We passed L2 in 2006. Have been rather busy, and a change of location has meant less opportunity to ride her out (she's bored with my 160 acre property already!). As you can see, she is quite short, although we have enjoyed many long canters and gallops in our time. These have been mostly, but not all, in company. The impulsion problems come and go over the years to some extent, but I never really solve them.

I am struggling with the eternal question for the LBI owner - when to go to a big phase 4 and when to wait-wait-wait. No big phase 4s on the video, but I am more of a stick person than a carrot one, so there have been plenty. Also, I guess a big part of my interest in PNH has been to improve my horsemanship, not just to progress with this particular pony. Although I am not a perfectionist, I think I have tended to be too thoroughin covering all facets of the many tasks I have been presented with in the ever-changing Parelli Levels program! The result may be that my very smart pony now feels like a child genius who has been asked to repeat the 3rd grade a couple of times...
I would like to have progressive fun with Iona, but am losing confidence in my ability to reach an agreement with her these days. Help me get the handbrake off without destroying her spirit!
I will include this link to a description of a recent session where we concentrated on circles, so that you can understand how I'm thinking, in case that is useful. If you feel it's not important, that's fine.
Kris Hughes

It didn't take David long to get back to me. I'm sure that it would have been even quicker if I had uploaded the video to the internet, but I found it easier to mail a DVD. Here's what he wrote -
Hi Kris,
First of all, this should be a lot of fun. Mainly because you are so close!!! You already have cantering, and with a good expression at that!!

Ok, so here are my suggestions. I'd love to have seen the running off, because I think I can help you with that also. It looked like in the early circles she made some half-hearted attempts at leaving... tossing her head as if to pull the line from your hands. I'll save that for another session; I have a suspicion it's related, and the information I'm giving you now may eliminate it, or it may be that you must address it first. I won't know until you try.

1) Try not to use the big wave down the rope as a correction on the circle. It's to much against the forward you are looking for.

2) I don't think the change of direction on breaking gait is working. Disengage and try again. Same thing for snotty look on departure. Disengage and try again. Remember #1 in there, don't put impediments to forward in any of this... meaning the wave down the rope.

3) Need to fix this NOT on the circle. Go point to point on the ground, and have a TON of food waiting at the target point. I'm expecting she will drag you there. The whole thing seems pointless to her; let's give her a big point that she'll appreciate. If Iona is not so food motivated, then do this before her regular meal, when she's hungriest. Point to point with a treat on the fence or barrel. Every time to start, and then vary the reinforcement schedule. Use "encouraging energy" as you run along side to the second point. Build up to a trot to the barrel.

4) Add in an obstacle... a pole or a tiny X jump. So that you can initiate a send... go along for the allow, negotiate the obstacle in the way and arrive at the destination point together. At a trot, same as without the obstacle.

5) Next - in your mind - substitute the obstacle with a new one... a little turn. Turn and run to the barrel. Build up to an arc to the point... then half circle to the point, etc. No stopping at the point unless she's trotting. Build up the entire exercise, over time, to a canter.

6) Fix this strong before riding. Then ride the same exercises starting at #1. If you get any resistance to forward - hop off and send and re-establish leadership on the ground. Then hop back on and try again. Also, check to make sure you aren't bracing with your legs in the stirrups.
Also... I'll throw this out there... is there a high speed internet connection anywhere you can play? I can watch live via web cam, for free on Skype, while we converse via cell phone (if you have a hands free earpiece...).

Hope this helps, and please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you further...

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to help!


Whoa! A webcam and a cellphone!?! Too high tech for me at the moment, but I'm sure it could be good...

Well, when I got this we were in the middle of a big wind storm. Tumbleweeds just about pushing the fences over and there was no way I was going out to play. As soon as I read the email, I noticed that I had a lot of "yeah, but" spots. "I've done this before" "I don't want to go back to NOT doing circles" I didn't really want to think about it. However, after a couple of days in the house with the wind howling, and chatting to Mark about it, which really helped me understand that I had more questions, I sent David another email in preparation for actually giving his ideas a try. David interspersed his replies into my text this time, so I will just copy and paste it like that.

Hi David,
Thanks for your input! We are now having a spell of bad weather here, so I haven't been able to try things out yet. However, in the meantime, a couple of questions/thoughts -

1) "the forward wave" I have had my doubts about this one, as I feel it causes confusion. However, it sometimes appears to result in some very positive exuberance and play. I think this happens more when I am really assertive with it and have good timing. Perhaps it has turned into a form of nagging now.

I don't believe you need to shut down zone 1, when you are trying to bring life up. It's a mixed message.

2) Dinsegage and try again - any thought on same direction vs new direction? I am also interested in why this might have a different effect than changing direction.

It's more polite. "Nice try - let's try again." should be in your mind. The change is more punishing.

3-4) I believe I understand these instructions. Treats/piles of hay are fairly effective with Iona, and I think I do pretty well with "varying the reinforcement schedule". I think where I get stuck is how to be progressive over the medium and long term. We do pretty well building something up over the first few's a week, month, year down the line where I'm clueless.

You can always go back and rebuild. That's what I am seeing. Not enough positive reinforcement. The horse always asks, "What's in it for me, NOW?" The variable reinforcement schedule helps get you through the gaps when there is no primary reinforcer, but it doesn't last forever. It's the chance there might be one that keeps them motivated. And when there is an occasional jackpot - large amounts, or special treat (i.e. sugar cubes) that just elevates the desire more... like a lottery or slot machine.

5) Am I right in thinking that after the half circles we move to a full circle, then eventually laps?

Yes, exactly. You can fix it it up with a moving circle, so she doesn't have to pass the barrel on a circle very close. Move the circle so the second lap ends her there. Or if you are clever... move the circle so you are on the barrel for the second lap. Bonus = improving draw.

6) Will check on the bracing thing. Not doing longer rides for the past year, and mostly bareback, seems to have caused me to have really bad leg position/control.

I'm pretty confident on the saddle fit - it's a really wide Balance Felix fitted by their person back in the UK. We tried a bunch - this is the one Iona liked. Theraflex pad shimmed to the best of my ability. Possibly a little short for me. Ponies are always a slight compromise. However, I was a bit bigger for awhile and she wasn't bucking then - and does the same sometimes bareback. Jerry Williams will be staying with us in May, doing a clinic, I will ask his opinion...

I would like to stick to email/video for now. In order to be fair in what I pay you I will need to keep the time we spend down, anyway. I'm looking forward to going out and trying your suggestions. I'm sure the first session or two will be fun, just not sure where to take it from there!

Thanks for your time!

Be happy to have a look either way. Sometimes it's faster if I can see what you need, and offer it right away, with any corrections needed. Today I spent 5 minutes on your email. I'm reading and typing as fast as I can!


Today I finally managed to play with Iona. Not surprisingly she loved doing Point to Point on line, from one pile of hay and carrots to another. Even so, as we played I thought of a whole bunch of new questions. I will post them here, along with our progress and David's replies when I receive them.


  1. Having read this, I'm now even more keen to have DL teach at our place in August !!
    You and I talked about getting a 5* to Scotland, I didn't really think it could happen.............then! Even if it only happens once, I'll be delighted that the seed sown so many years ago, has burst into life.

    Good job Kris, sending off a dvd to him, I hope it inspires others to use his expertise in this way.

    Sending lots of love from a currently sunny Fife. xx

  2. Hi Sue,
    As you know, I've been doing a lot of thinking about this advice, etc.

    Maybe, for all the scientific labels one could put on David's approach, it's as simple a helping a horse to want to try! I've been thinking, though, about what it takes to help me to want to try. (I almost typed "to GET me to want to try" but that's NOT the same thing!) However, even supposing I figure our what motivates me, I am not a Fell pony, I am a human.

    Would be doing more with this in the practical vein, but we have your weather. I will be sending it back ASAP - I know how you must be missing it!

    I am thrilled that you have a 5* instructor coming to Scotland. Have sung your praises to DML.