Tranquilo’s First Outing

Sharon Madere and I have been investing time into preparing 2 year olds, Tranquilo and Bailador, for riding in the trailer.  We did this over the course of a month or so in several sessions.  We first ensured that they were happy to get on and get off.  Check.  Then we drove 100 feet, unloaded, loaded and quit on that.  Next time we drove around the barn.  So a couple of minutes drive.  Check.  Another time we drove a couple of minutes to Sharon’s ‘obstacle playground’ and unloaded there.  Walked around the playground, had a snack, loaded back up and drove back to the barn.  Check and Check! Having handled all of that very well we decided the next adventure would be off of the property.  So we took the boys to the farm of a friend which was maybe a 10 or 15 minute drive.  They both unloaded nicely and were calm in the new environment.  No problem!  We hung around a bit and then loaded back up and went home.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy. A week or so later I heard about a little obstacle challenge competition.   We had visions of our wonderful 2 year olds showing off their obstacle skills.  It turned out that we weren’t going to be able to get onto the course as there were quite a few people ahead of us and we didn’t have time to stay all day. Just as well, since apparently THIS amount of new stuff and excitement was just Too Much for poor Quilo who definitely lost his tranquilo ways in this environment.  We just walked around...

Working with a Suspicious Mare – It Takes the Time it Takes

June 9 notes. “You really should be documenting this process!” says my wise amiga, Sharon Madere. Although the progress has been slow, we are miles ahead of where we were back in February.  Of course, I should have kept a daily journal.  It would have been interesting reading! I have been doing lots and lots and LOTS of groundwork.  My number one priority throughout the last few months has been reinforcing signs of relaxation and attention.  Her willingness to accept food is a clear indicator of her state of mind.  There is a hierarchy of acceptance.  Although she still isn’t super keen to the click she knows the click means stop and good things happen.  If she doesn’t stop then I know she is over threshold – gotta find a place to backup to and start fresh.  Sometimes she stops but doesn’t take the food.  In those cases, I offer some scritchies which is sometimes preferred.  I know that the scritichies are reinforcing because she will stop when she hears the click and glance at me expectantly.  Plus, if she is really itchy she will wriggle her nose in ecstasy. 😉  But, I know we are getting somewhere when she will take the food. At this point, she is doing great on the ground – up to walk, trot, and canter, nice and relaxed, balanced, and light.  The intention is to ride so I went through a process of having her wear a surcingle, a bareback pad, and then a saddle.  When we got to the saddle she said, no effin way.  She goes ballistic when the thing moves...

Working with a Suspicious Mare – When Food isn’t a Motivator

In February, 2018, I started working with an 11 year old mare named Corazona.  Prior to this point she had been a brood mare.  However, this year she is not pregnant.  Seeing as she is a very nice horse, athletic and sensitive, we decided, although we have a bit of a late start, perhaps we can start her under saddle. February 22 notes. Although she’s been exposed to clicker training for some husbandry stuff she isn’t what I’d call ‘keen’ to the idea.   When I work with clicker training, I like the horse to really ‘get’ it.  You can tell that the light bulb is really on when you click and they stop everything.  Shaping behaviors with a horse like that is so easy.   For Corazona, her worry cup is a little too full to be able to just relax and enjoy training.  So, this is going to be an interesting challenge. She is very friendly and approachable — unless you have a halter in your hand.  Then she just leaves.  I suspect that for much of her life, humans arriving with halters have resulted in unpleasant experiences.  Can you say, “poisoned cue”? So once I do get a halter on her she won’t even take food, much less be open to new training ideas.  I do encounter horses from time to time who are more motivated by scritchies than food.  That’s cool, everyone is different.  But this gal doesn’t indicate much interest in scritchies either. So, these last few weeks have been a process of getting to know her by experimenting with different ideas.  Meanwhile, as so often...

Starting a Young Colt with Clicker Training

In April of 2017 I purchased a yearling Andalusian colt who I named, Tranquilo.  He’s kind of my last ditch effort to have the horse of my dreams before it is too late.  At this writing he’s a coming 2 year old and I could not be more proud of this young man! Right now he’s living in a pasture on the farm of my dear friend, Sharon Madere, with her 2 year old colts.  Her place is only 2 minutes away so see him quite often.  As long as he remains his sweet, tranquil self, he’ll remain intact so that he can grow up and fulfill his natural physical potential.  If he takes a little after his daddy, I will be very happy indeed.  Since I don’t ‘need’ a stallion he’ll most likely be gelded at some point in the future. Anyway, he has been a lot of fun.  I got him started with clicker training right away, with him out in the field.  He was SO EASY.  In fact, he was so chilled I thought at first there was something wrong with him.  However, I found out as soon as I took him out of the field that he was, indeed, a normal horse who would need to learn how to be chill everywhere.  LOL He’s doing much better now. 🙂 We had a lot of fun with him at a clinic Sharon and I put together at her farm with Shawna Karresch.  Shawna is a blast!  I really enjoyed getting to know her.  We taught Quilo to go to a target and then we did “A...

Why I’m OK With Combining Positive and Negative Reinforcement

This evening I read a post on HippoLogic titled “The Difference between Positive and Negative Reinforcement” by Sandra Poppema.  It inspired me to share some of my own thoughts on this subject. After explaining (accurately) the scientific difference Sandra goes on to make her case for R+ being a better approach than R- for training horses leading to a conclusion that R- should be avoided. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a huge advocate for positive reinforcement.  I hand feed a LOT of food while training horses – much to the chagrin of many ‘never hand feed’ traditionalists.  However, I don’t necessarily agree the R- is something to be avoided. In her post, Sandra states, “The ‘release of pressure’ is not a reward: the horse will not offer ‘more behaviour’ in the hope of a more severe aversive ‘in order to earn a bigger sense of relieve’.” I take some issue with this because that isn’t how it works when done well.  I will explain. This anti- negative reinforcement mind set assumes that the horse is not actively engaging in the training.  He works only to avoid aversives and does the minimum to stay out of trouble.  I will grant that many horses do seem to be operating like that.  However, it doesn’t need to be like that. The way that I learned horsemanship assumes and cultivates a mentally engaged horse.  For the engaged horse discovers that there is, in fact, something in it for him.  Like us, horses appreciate being acknowledged.  Horses are intelligent, curious, and are wired to want to get along.  As such they appreciate and seek...

The Importance of a Balanced Mouth

I talk a lot about setting a horse up for success.  You could go back and read this article on My Secret Weapon for a reminder.  In that article I talk about seeing the little things and how they add up for the better or worse! Horses are remarkably quick studies.  They are also designed to want to get along.  In Mary Hunter’s kind review of my book she quoted one of my favorite sayings:  “If the horse knew what you wanted and was confident that he was able to do it, he’d BE doing it.”  So, if it seems like your training issues just never seem to get resolved you need to look at the bigger picture.  It is truly mind boggling sometimes how little it takes to block a horse from being able to cooperate with us. It could be your equitation is the source of the block and I see that a LOT in my teaching. But that isn’t the source I wanted to talk about today. Since moving to East Tennessee three years ago I’ve been without the support system that I had access to up north.  This included quality dental care among other things.  I’ve been having the local vet (who I do like as a vet) float my horse’s teeth.  I would have preferred an equine dental specialist but finding someone who would come to this area was a challenge.  So, this was on my radar but not until recently did the stars align to get the person I was looking for to me. For the last couple of years I’ve been encountering...

My Book Gets a Shout-Out

Mary Hunter, over at stalecheerios.com, wrote up a really lovely review of my book on her website.  I so appreciate when people really ‘get’ the message.  Here’s a quote from Mary’s review: “Sharon Foley’s underlying philosophy is that the “horse would be doing what was asked of him if only he were clear about what was wanted and was confident that he could do it.” Our horses aren’t trying to be brats or challenge us or make us angry. However, they often don’t understand what we want or why they should be doing what we are asking. The goal of good training should be clear and precise communication between horse and rider. In Getting to Yes, Sharon Foley shows us how to break training down into small steps and show our horses exactly what we are asking. By doing this we can build a mindset where we work with the horse, rather than against him, and help the horse be right every step of the way.” Thank you, Mary, for the your kind...

In Memory of Roxi – May 10, 1998 to August 10, 2010

This week we lost our beloved Shepherd, Roxi, at age 12.  I wrote this for her. There is a hole in the Universe where you used to be. I go through my day tripping over the impressions you left in my routine. Like a photograph negative I see the outline of you. But it is not you. At the door. Under the coffee table. At my feet under my desk. I get out of bed – late because you didn’t make me get up. I wander aimlessly in the morning thinking there is something I’m supposed to be doing. You would have told me. You knew our every move.  Time to go out.  Time to eat.  Time for pop tart. We were so predictable.  So trainable. I know with time the tide will wash over your footprints. Soon the movement of the Universe will fill in those holes. Too soon routines without you will feel normal. But I’m not ready to let you go. I leave your dish with three bits of kibble from that Tuesday morning where you left it. I leave your nose prints on the windows unwashed. The dog hair un-vacuumed. We want you back home. But not like this, in a metal box with the inscription “Until we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge”. by Sharon...

Prelude to a Scratch (Solving a Problem with Hoof Handling)

I bought Libby for my non-rider husband and she came to me as a 25 year old with some age-related issues:  arthritis, sore hocks, and lameness in her left spavin.  Yet she impressed me by making a ten hour trailer ride from northern Ohio and trusting me enough to follow a stranger (me) off that trailer (in the dark) and into her new stall.  In the glaring light of day I could see she needed the attention of a good farrier before I could even consider riding her, so all I asked of her in the beginning was to stand still for grooming.  She stood well enough for grooming, but resisted picking up her feet.  I persisted, and was twice bitten on the calf when I tried to pick up her right fore.  A more experienced horsewoman would have known that Libby was saying “OUCH!” but it took me a bit longer to figure it all out. Over our next four years together Libby grew to love grooming and scratching but was always, no matter what, difficult when it came to lifting her front feet.  We went through several farriers (the ones that bullied her and used a twitch were never called again) and by now I had figured out that she was in pain but even a dose or two of anti-inflammatory prior to the farrier visit wasn’t enough to allow her to easily hold those feet up for trimming. We also weren’t able to ride her because of her physical limitations so she became a companion horse.  One day she slipped and fell in a wet pasture and the ensuing...

Grass – The Carpet of Motivation

I wrote this article several years ago.  It had gotten lost in the shuffle of updating my website.  Unfortunately the video that had gone along with it is among the missing.  But, here is the article anyway.   –Sharon Here in New England one of the things I really miss in the winter is the ability to ride outside on grass.  Or, as we like to call it, the ‘Carpet of Motivation’.  The reason it has earned that name is because of all the food rewards we’ve offered—and we’ve used just about every possible treat under the sun—none have the reinforcing impact of grazing.  I started the practice a few years ago and have since introduced several horses to it with excellent results.  The rule is let the horses tell us what they find reinforcing.  The horses tell us grazing is good! Getting Started The first thing you have to do is explain to your horse how the Grazing Game works.  Before starting your horse should already be familiar with the clicker, targeting, head lowering, and backing. Begin on the ground with the horse in a halter and lead rope and let him lower his head to take a few bites of grass, then ask him to raise his head by following your feel.  Click for any response, even a momentary hesitation in chewing.  Then let him graze again.  Just a few bites, then ask him to lift his head.  Click for reply then let him graze. If your horse doesn’t respond to your request to lift his head don’t jerk it up.  There are there several ways to illicit...