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...

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...

Does your horse have the right to say No?

Much of my appreciation for classical dressage training comes from my lessons with Karl Mikolka. One of the (many) things I remember him saying (probably while my horse was having a fit) was, “the horse is allowed to say NO!” I’m not saying that fits are desirable! Of course, what we’d prefer is a resounding YES. But if you want to be more than ‘just’ a rider you need to be willing to listen to the horse and if he says No then you need to accept responsibility for that feedback. Then you need to ask yourself, What’s it gonna take to get a Yes? What got me thinking about this topic today was reading Mary Hunter’s blog post about her encounter with Steve Martin (the bird trainer!) at the 2010 Art and Science of Animal Training Conference. I love hearing about how people are successfully using positive reinforcement with all manner of species. Especially species that can just fly away so you’d better be right on the money with your training philosophy. It is a real inspiration to learn that good training practices are Universal. So it wasn’t much of a surprise (more of a validation) to read that Steve had made the very same point as Karl did: “A good trainer is able to give the animal power over their environment. This builds confidence and trust. We can do this by taking responsibility for what the animal does and giving the animal the right to say no. When things go wrong, it can be really, really easy to blame it on the animal. The animal is being...

Are you training with a jackhammer?

In my Secret Weapon post I talked about how important it is to remain focused on what we want and rewarding that and only that.  Read it here if you want to be reminded about it or missed it the first time. In her article in Psychology Today titled, Trainers with Jackhammers Need Not Apply, Susan Friedman, Ph.D. talks about this very issue from a slightly different point of view.  And, hearing the same thing said differently is always a useful learning strategy.  She brings up two key points to consider when training (any animal, horses included): Identify what you want the horse to DO and reward THAT. Consider what is motivating behaviors that occur. The first point is pretty straight forward and I’ve talked about it a gazillion times before.  The second one is important too but maybe doesn’t get as much play as it could. Behaviors don’t just happen.  They happen for a reason… the Behavior somehow works for the “Behave-EE”.  By works I mean on some level the behavior is getting reinforced.  And the reinforcement may not have anything to do with YOU.  Horses (as we all do) are driven by needs that need to be fulfilled.  Safety, food, water, sex…  Safety is always high on the list and if often the source of problem behaviors with horses.  If they believe that their safety is at risk horses will do what they believe they must to feel safe again.  This is just one example but when ever stuff is happening, and it keeps happening, you have to accept that something is reinforcing it.  If it weren’t...

My secret weapon

Lots of rain and mud means I’ve only managed to say hello to my girls at feeding time. On nicer days I’ll visit, groom and massage. Actual riding is a distant memory. Ha! So posts have been thin at best as I await the inspiration of spring and more riding exploits! Something interesting did come up recently in conversation, though, that I thought I would share. The topic was what I call my “secret weapon”. Do you want to know the secret to getting along with pretty much every horse? It isn’t a very secret secret since it is available to anyone for the asking. But, still, few horsefolk seem to know about it. Now, while I did come upon this secret weapon by way of clicker training it isn’t about ‘clicker training’ per se. There are non-clicker trainers out there who apparently know the secret. People like Harry Whitney and Mark Rashid come to mind. But these are, it would appear, rare souls who somehow just get it. The rest of us, mortal folk, need more help. Enter clicker training to open the door to the secret weapon. It sounds a little ‘new agey’ to say it. But, it is true that you get more of what you focus on. So, here’s Part A of the secret: Always, always, always reward the behavior you want. Part B is to reward the teeniest, tiniest particle of that behavior the instant it occurs and then nurture it from there. Part C is, while all that is going on you Ignore what you don’t want. Perhaps you are thinking, what? Should...

If I Knew What I Wanted

Those who have hung around me for some time will know that I’m very fond of saying, “If the horse knew what I wanted and believed he was able to do it, he’d BE doing it.”   I used to say “…and was able to do it…” but people would just say that they knew a horse who knew very well thank you very much what they wanted and simply didn’t WANT to comply.  So, I adjusted the phrase to include the word “believe” because it is my opinion that those horses who “don’t want to” usually have something else on their mind, something that is preventing them from going along with our ideas.  In that state of distraction they really don’t believe that they are able to do …whatever. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter how we word it, if we approach each horse assuming “they would if they could” (rather than looking for ways to make excuses) well, things have a way of working out for the better. Recently, on the Classical Dressage group on Yahoo, someone posted this quote by Colonel Carde–Ecuyer en Chef (Chief Rider), National Equitation School, Saumur, France: “If I knew where I wanted to go,and was clear and precise in my requests, with my aids, that I would achieve everything I wanted.” This, to me, is basically the same sentiment as mine only expressed from the rider’s point of view.  It is our clear and precise requests that convinces the horse to believe he can do what we...