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Friday, February 28, 2014

'Tailored' Lead Training for Our Show Juvies....In a Hurry!

Wow, time has really flown by! What did we do in the time frame since we last posted??

We attended the Great Western Alpaca Show in May, sheared over 70 alpacas at end of May, fretted over our pregnant dams and welcomed many fantastic crias, made a round trip to Oregon to retrieve our dams out for 'dates', got hay, dyed alpacas rovings and made drop spindles for the upcoming show and orders, attended the ABR Fall Festival and accepted two more crystal boot awards, met a TON of people again at the National Western Stock Show that are interested in alpacas, still did not get the fiber sorting done over Christmas school break :(, put up a new shelter for 'the boys' so the girls can expand into a campus of connecting or adjacent shelters, made ads and banners and tried to take more current pictures of the crias (arghh!!) for the postings, ...and now getting ready for the halter show of the TxOLAN Spectacular.

And, somewhere in all that are three boys, school, work, a sundry of dogs and cats, trailers, and car care! Hmmm, I feel tired looking back at this brief overview of last year! Anyways... what's the point of this long list of details of our past endeavors?

We are busy. And, that can lead (pun intended) to time constraints for our farm tasks.

Which leads (haha, pun again) to my confession that we just started teaching our juvenile show alpacas that are going to TxOLAN to lead just last weekend. I know, I know, I would have liked to had started earlier so I could let them acclimatize to the halters and standing with the leads on them before we started walking. But, while choice influences tasks, life dictates the timelines and time bounds our endeavors.... In other words, we ran out of time.

So, in the interest of providing the most effective training in the shortest amount of time, we employed our two oldest boys to help with the leading. In order of experience and dare say capability, it would be Mike and I followed by Big C (13 yrs going on 24 with his 3 yrs of alpaca experience) and then Middle C (10 yrs but 1 year active with alpacas).

To start, we performed a 'triage' of the crias for a tailored ~half hour to 45 minute session of progressive lead handling.

a) Hesitant:
M-C got the most willing crias first, maybe the one that appreciated the kisses doled out, sweet talking compliments of their good behavior, and his gentle leading (who was leading who sometimes was a question).

b) Pouters:
Big-C got the one that was reticent, walking but with a stiff legged protest march of indignation. He played the 'ignore' game with these, walking with his hand behind his back leading them behind him. After they realized no one was witnessing their pouting, they eased into a mostly slack lead pace (unless he looked at them) as he strolled endless around the paddock.

c) Mules and Broncos:
Michael and I got the heavy hitters -- the broncos (ones rearing and bouncing around) and the mules (ones rooted to the center of the Earth by a previously undocumented force). Michael tended to do well with the broncos as he could passively resist until they stopped testing the endurance of the halter/lead (and probably the handler). Then, he would start the stiff legged walking.

Having raised three willful boys, I was practiced at the out-wait game and would stand with the mules until their heads came up. Then, I would rhythmically rock on my heels, so that the lead pressure pulsed until they took a step. Using their momentum I would then take a couple of even steps and a 'reward' them with moments of lead slack carefully engineered by my 'relaxed' arm movements during walking. This was done in the attempt to convince them that there was no harm in walking with me. If they became stubborn again, this repeated until I could at least get them to move if at a prance or stiff legged march.

It seemed that they progressed in attitude from Mules to Broncos to Pouters to Hesitant. By the time we got to the Hesitant state of mind, we had them walking at our side though usually a bit behind us when side-by-side is desired. They sometimes balked and/or 'muled' with their heads down but for the most part were walking okay. At any point, we could have 'walked into the ring' though it would not be the total ease of movement we desired.

All this in one session! I was impressed with our progress. So, I thought about why that worked. I think it was a couple of factors mainly. We tailored the kind of leading we were doing to their state of mind but always kept pushing the training to the next level. And, we were switching between the four us in walking so that they weren't learning to walk 'one way' and/or figuring us out!

That being said, this is not a replacement for the slower paced training, and we definitely need to squeeze in a couple of more sessions and have plenty of walks at the show to continue their familiarity with walking on a lead. But, with time of the essence, I know that we will use this training method again in the future!

The moral of the story is to tailor the training to the animal. ....Well, and to start earlier next time!!