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...

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...

Finding what motivates a change

This week I worked with Libby, a 30 year old Quarter Horse mare, for the first time. Libby and her owner, Kirsten, were referred to me by Libby’s massage therapist, Heather Davis. Libby suffers from some lameness due to injury and hard use (before Kirsten). Not surprisingly as a result she holds her body very tightly. The massage therapy has helped Libby but Heather believed that if Libby could become more mentally relaxed that it would help her body to relax as well. This is where I come in. Kirsten had started a little bit of target training with Libby before I arrived. I was curious to see how Libby responded to this. Did she ‘get’ it? Was she willing to work for food? How hard? With all of Libby’s prior history I had a feeling that this sort of free shaping work might be too big a leap for her. So I decided to go into the stall with her and work on some basic lessons in feel…. look at me, follow me, turn… on the lead rope. As always my first objective is to capture the horse’s interest and cooperation. With some experimentation I discovered that Libby loved…LOVED…scritchies. Particularly in the udder area. This was, for her, way better than food. So, I began to click and scritch rather than click and feed. Historically, Libby would only put up with any kind of handling (like for trimming) for only a short time. Then she would begin to fuss and struggle making the whole procedure unpleasant for everyone involved. I saw this happen when we opened the stall...

Thoughts on Softness and Breathing on the Trail

Editor’s Note: Laurie Grann is a dear friend and a most excellent horse woman.  She recently participated in a week long clinic with Mark Rashid.  She wrote up her thoughts about how she is working his ideas into her every day riding.  The result is what follows.  Perhaps if we are all very nice to her she will contribute again! Today, my sister and I went on a 14 mile ride–2 loops of about 7 miles each.  The first loop was mostly flat and good footing and took us 1 hour and 20 minutes.  The second loop was climbing and lots of rock and ledge.  Quite challenging so there was lots of walking.  That loop took 2 hours. So plenty of saddle time to think about all the concepts and doors Mark Rashid showed me. I guess I can sum it up to 2 major areas:   Starting with softness and Breathing. On starting with softness, I need to start with a thought and offer that as my first cue and remain soft inside and outside.   Mark would say, from your inside to the horse’s inside.   I just never thought to start that far down the scale.  I could get work on just a thought before but always with a lot of preparation that involved aiding and sometimes quite strongly. My mare, Dulcie, had a real strong desire to go forward on this ride so I had to monitor my thoughts carefully!   If I said to myself, “well maybe we should trot now,”  hup, there we were trotting along.   Very neat.   Also getting into the canter  was...