Welcome to the Cardinal Points Farm blog !

Dear friends and fellow animal lovers, here it is ... a blog to discuss training.

My specialty is horse training and dressage, but I’ve applied to my horses many invaluable lessons from other animal trainers. Together we can create a greater awareness of the unlimited potential for greatness that your animals (and you) possess, once you acknowledge that many animal species are intelligent and capable of reasoning and communication.

So let’s get started ! Let's share insights, lesson plans, techniques, videos, pics, stories ... what have you.

Enjoy,

Sian Min The
Cardinal Points Farm

The newest posts are shown first. To read older posts, scroll down, or expand the timeline in the left side-bar

If you'd like to post your training stories, send your stories to me for consideration. Please specify how you'd like the attribution to read, i.e. your full name or your online name.

Shaping behaviors using targets


... Continuing from my previous post Start communicating!

Once the horse is thoroughly conditioned to the bridge (both the Terminal Bridge or TB, and the Intermediate Bridge or IB), you can teach the horse to target an object of your choosing with some part of his/her body.  It’s natural for a horse to investigate new things by sniffing, so it’s easiest to teach a horse to target with his/her nose.

1. Make a two-finger target, or TFT (see picture below)
2. Position the tip of the TFT in front of the horse’s muzzle, and say "Here!"
3. When s/he touches the TFT say "X", and give a treat immediately.
4. Repeat 3 times each with the TFT in front, to the left, and to the right of the muzzle.
5. Repeat, varying the distance of the TFT from the muzzle (if the horse is new at this, don’t go further than a foot or so from the muzzle.

Two-finger target (TFT)


In the beginning, be alert to what may seem like an accidental touch by the horse’s nose to the TFT.  Be ready to bridge with a TB even if this is all s/he does.  Lavish praise on the horse when this happens.  As the horse gains confidence the targeting will become more deliberate.

Teaching duration

You can also use bridging to maintain a behavior for an extended period of time. For example, you can ask the horse to keep its nose on the target for several seconds. 

1. Make a TFT
2. With my TFT held in front of her muzzle, say "Here"
3. As soon as s/he touches the TFT say "xxxx..." (this is the IB) for as long as she keeps contact with the TFT.
4. The first time you do this, withdraw your TFT after 1 second of contact, then say "X" (this is the TB), and treat.
5. Repeat, asking for 2 seconds of contact.
6. Repeat, asking for 4 seconds of contact.

You want to be the one to end the duration of contact by giving the horse the TB.  If s/he stops touching the TFT before you can give the TB, cease bridging with the IB, and repeat steps 1 through 4.  Don’t ask for longer duration until the horse understands that it must wait for your TB to move its nose away from the target.

A common mistake for trainers is to push the TFT into the horse’s nose, so that it’s the trainer who initiates and maintains the contact, instead of the horse.  Stand your ground, and keep your target steady in one spot.  This will become even more important when you use other objects as the target, such as the tip of a long stick.


Next post, naming objects …

Training Approaches – creating a slave or partner?


As a horse trainer my fundamental goal is for the horse to do certain behaviors upon my request; whether it's to come to me, to walk, to halt, etc.  This can be achieved in different ways.  One is by physical force and contact, (this includes gentle touches, and stronger contact with training aids and equipment).  Another way is where, even without physical contact, the horse does the behavior of its own volition because of the promise of a reward.  Most training approaches use some combination of the two techniques. How much of each depends on a slew of factors that make up an individual training case.

For the horse, the process of learning what its trainer means involves trial-and-error, and guess work.  This is stressful. Uncertainty and doubt are always stressful.  The trainer can minimize the guesswork (and thus the stress) by guiding the horse towards the correct response, in the form of hints.  Then, when the horse submits a correct or incorrect response, the trainer gives immediate unambiguous feedback.

Inconsistent feedback can lead to the horse experiencing repeated failures, frustration and losing confidence.  The horse may then express this as anxiety and fear. Horses with a strong flight response may try to escape the situation mentally and/or physically.

There is no doubt that certain training methods rely on removing independent thought and free will from the animal. These methods aim to instill learned helplessness where the horse feels it has no control over its fate, leaving it no option but to do what the trainer demands.  In these cases when a horse allows itself to be led, or obediently stands motionless during saddling, it may actually feel it has no other choice.  In the uneducated public perception, these essentially enslaved horses are the "good" horses.  But some horses rebel, and these are the "bad" horses who need to be taught "respect".  More on respect in a later post.

I firmly believe that horses, being the intelligent creatures that they are, do not thrive when they feel helpless and enslaved.  A horse will display joy and beauty in its movements, if it performs them because it wants to, rather than because it’s been made to.  The opposite would be behavior that, while obedient, is mechanical and tense.

I train my horses to know that they have a say in what's happening to them.  While some may caution that this could lead to dangerous defiant behavior, I have never encountered that.  While there must exist genuinely rank horses, I believe that for the vast majority, a horse will repay treatment in kind.  This earlier post is an example of  a horse who decides, on his own, to agree to a procedure that must be unpleasant to him: paste worming.   The trainer (me) is actually the one confined, while the horse is at liberty and free to stay or leave.

How do I do this?  The simple answer is through a relationship with the horse on the basis of a clear two-way communication (no ambiguity as to the rules of the game, and the empowerment of the horse to “tell” me what it needs/feels), trust (consistency and fairness in implementing the rules, and TIME to allow the relationship to develop (patience) and prove itself.

When I ask the horse to do something, I need to be able to tell it when it’s done the correct thing, AND encourage it towards doing the correct thing.  This is done with bridges and targets, Bridges are promises of reward (think of a paycheck: low intrinsic value, but it guarantees something of value). Targets are physical objects/locations that have been identified to the horse to guide its behavior. You may have heard of these terms, but here's how I use them:

My bridges are vocal sounds, and sound like the letter X.  I either say it emphatically as one syllable, or as a string of "x"s strung togeter "xxxx..." (it will sound like you're saying "sex-sex-sex-sex..", so be prepared for others giving you strange looks!).  So my vocal bridge is much like a clicker, except I don’t always have to remember to carry a clicker.  Plus, I can vary the quality of the sound of the bridge.

Next post, the detailed how-to … 

Start communicating!


... Continuing from my previous post Training Approaches – creating a slave or partner?

In the previous post I explained how bridges work.  I use a Terminal Bridge (TB) to tell the horse that s/he made the correct response.  It’s the Stamp of Approval, so to speak.  If the horse almost gets it right, but isn’t quite “there” yet, I encourage using an Intermediate Bridge (IB).  The intensity and enthusiasm of my IB is like the crowd cheering an imminent touchdown.  Judicious use of the IB and TB dramatically reduces the guess work (and the resulting frustration) for the horse.

In order for the bridge have significance for the horse you must first associate the sound "X" with a reward (treat).  This is a crucial first step, as this association must be so strong that the horse will actually choose his/her actions in order to elicit the sound "X" from you.

Conditioning the bridges

Where safety to the trainer is a concern this activty can be done through a physical barrier (such as the enclosure of a pen or stall), until the horse-trainer relationship has progressed to allow closer contact.

The Terminal Bridge

1. Face the horse
2. Make an emphatic, sharp sound: "X"!
3. Immediately present a treat so s/he can receive it immediately (i.e don’t make the horse “hunt” for it).
4. Repeat 3 times.
Then,
5. wait until s/he looks away (is distracted).
6. Say "X"!
7. As soon as s/he returns his attention back to you, give the treat.  If s/he does not, repeat steps 1-4.

The horse MUST be convinced that every time s/he hears you say "X" s/he will get a treat.  Without this association, subsequent steps will not work well, or at all.

The Intermediate Bridge

1. Hide a treat behind your back.
2. Say "X", and reveal the treat but at arm's length from the horse's muzzle.
3. As s/he reaches for it, keep the treat steady, and say "xxxxx..." (sounds like little "x"s strung together), increasing the volume and pitch of the sound as s/he approaches the treat.
4. Allow the horse to take the treat, and say "X"!
If s/he stops reaching for the treat, or goes in the wrong direction, immediately stop making the “xxx” sound.  When s/he resumes on the right path, you resume the IB.
5. Repeat 3 times.

Stop for the day!  Time to absorb

This absorption interval is very important for the learning process: it allows the horse's brain to process his/her new experiences. I work newbies for only a few minutes per session, but I may do a couple of sessions in a day.  If I sense burn-out or any sign of stress I quit for the day.  Never let it get to burn-out. This is supposed to be fun and interesting for the horse, and it’s better to stop with him/her still wanting to do more.  NEVER DRILL - three successful trials of any exercise will be more beneficial than twenty.

Start each new day with a brief review of the previous day.  Progress of some behaviors may be unbelievably fast (the horse will “get it” in a few minutes); others will be like watching grass grow.  Always remember that training is a never-ending process that lasts the life time of your relationship with the horse.


Next post, shaping behaviors …

New horse owners: training is not just for the horse


As a riding instructor, often to beginners, I regularly hear: "I'm taking riding lessons because I'm getting a horse." Or this: "Should I buy a pony for my child so she can practice her lessons at home?" Whereupon I ask the eager student or parent if they have experience handling or owning horses. The response I usually receive is "no."

This worries me. Many people who are not "horse-people" are unaware of the tremendous amount of knowledge, work, dedication and energy required to keep a horse ... properly. And cash of course, because horse ownership is a money-pit.  There are people who plunge into horse ownership without worrying about such details. It is a pipe dream: if you own land (even just one acre), you should put a horse on it. The result is sadly predictable. Malnourished, unhealthy, poorly-trained, unhappy animals. The price of human negligence and/or ignorance is paid by the horses who have no say in their fate.

Providing for the horse's physical needs is only one part of ownership. An owner is also responsible for the horse's mental and emotional well-being. Horses are intelligent beings who, like humans, need mental stimulation to avoid boredom and destructive behavior. They are also social animals that thrive on emotional bonds with other living beings. In a natural herd each horse relies on its herd mates for these interactions, but an isolated horse on a farm only has its human owner. Even in larger facilities with multiple horses, horses are usually stalled by themselves, and seldom turned out in large enough groups for sufficient lengths of time to allow natural herd dynamics to develop.

I focus this and the next several posts on training both the horse and its human partner-to-be. Aside from being a practical necessity, training provides the interaction that horses crave. Training is a must if you plan to work or compete with your horse. It is also beneficial for the horse that is a pasture buddy, or a pet. In other words, training is what you owe to your horse; whether as a friend or as a partner in work.

Let's begin.

Training must precede putting any equipment, let alone riders, on the horse. As a new owner you must learn to safely handle your horse. In turn, your horse must understand what you want it to do, and it must agree to do it. This is true even if your new horse has already been "trained" by someone else. You and your new horse are strangers, who must get to know each other first before eventually forging a mutually beneficial relationship. Like human relationships, the key ingredients to a successful partnership are communication, trust and respect. And time.

TRUST

For most people this is a no-brainer. Obviously both you and the horse need to believe that one is not going to harm the other. Horses cannot speak human words, but they are eloquent in their body language. An experienced horse-person notices and understands behavioral cues. A horse that trusts a human in its presence will display typical behaviors, such as: relaxed ears and facial features, ambling with its head and neck relaxed and low, and perhaps nibbling on grass. At the very least, the horse should be willing to stand quietly next to you, allowing you to touch it.






RESPECT

Respect is very closely linked to trust. The horse must respect you, its trainer. You must respect the horse, your trainee. Respect is NOT fear. If you try to control the horse with fear, you will lose its respect. Many new horse owners unintentionally instill fear in their horses. How does this happen? The horse does not understand your intentions, and being a prey animal it finds this scary. Putting the shoe on the other foot, you may be scared, or at least wary, of coming close to a strange horse, for the same reason. You don't know what this big animal is going to do. So, lack of understanding between two beings generates mistrust and fear. To overcome fear, and gain trust and respect, both horse and human must learn to understand each other's language, verbal and non-verbal. This is communication.

COMMUNICATION

This is where training comes in: you must train the horse to understand your signals. I actually prefer to think of it more as teaching the horse a new language. There are many good trainers with very effective techniques of communication with the horse. Some may be similar, others very different. The "how" is less important than that it works, AND it achieves the mutual trust and respect needed for a productive relationship and collaboration. Whatever the technique used, the trainer must have:
  • fluency in the technique, 
  • consistency and fairness in its use, and 
  • the skill to adapt to, and address the idiosyncrasies and needs of, the individual horse. 
It is a two-way street: you as the trainer must take it upon yourself to gain as much understanding as possible about horse behavior in general, and about your individual horse's character and abilities in particular. You must train yourself to understand your horse's signals.

TIME

"You mean I can't train in a week? Two weeks, then?" 
 No. It takes time and patience, and there are no short-cuts. Even in the most skilled hands, training progress over time looks more like a jagged mountain range, with lots of ups and downs and plateaus. Be leery of programs with fixed time-tables and "guaranteed results".


In the next post I'll describe how I communicate with my horses, and show you examples of applications.

It's a new day !


It has been five years since my last post.  My soul-mate-in-pitbull-guise Bosco passed away in 2009.  Bosco taught me about caring and empathy, and about communication and relationships. She was the inspiration for this blog.  After she died I was unable to touch this blog, and I considered closing it.
Time heals however. I now realize that this blog is Bosco’s legacy to responsible horse (and dog) training. 

I’m reminded of that song You Are The New Day by John David:

I will love you more than me
and more than yesterday
If you can but prove to me
you are the new day

Send the sun in time for dawn
Let the birds all hail the morning
Love of life will urge me say
you are the new day

When I lay me down at night
knowing we must pay
Thoughts occur that this night might
stay yesterday

Thoughts that we as humans small
could slow worlds and end it all
lie around me where they fall
before the new day

One more day when time is running out
for everyone
Like a breath I knew would come I reach for
the new day

Hope is my philosophy
Just needs days in which to be
Love of life means hope for me
borne on a new day

You are the new day


Listen to the King’s Singers perform You Are The New Day:

Coping with thunder, and other boogeymen


Here's an article I wrote last year for a dog forum. Event though this is about my dog, Bosco, I use the same technique to help my horse cope with scary stuff (and you know in the equine world, there's SO much of that).

An explation of my vocal cues: the sound "X" reinforces of a behavior. For more on this technique, send me an e-mail, or leave a comment.

End of June 2008: Bosco is terrified of thunder. It doesn't have to be loud, and it can be very distant rumblings, for her to tremble so hard to make her chair rattle. It's pitiful. I always feel sorry for her.
Then, I realized that by feeling pity it confirmed her suspicions that thunder is a BAD thing.

Sunday's storm: she had been cowering and trembling for a while. Then I said "ready ? here comes thunder" ... BOOM ... "that is thunder, X!" BIG smile from me. I did that about 3 times to name the thunder sound. She does her all-over-body tremble.

Then I said "at the next thunder, easy right shoulder" ... (lightning flash) ..."are you ready?" ... BOOM ..."thunder, right shoulder easy (CR by massaging her right shoulder), X! (when the right shoulder stops trembling).

"At the next thunder, easy right shoulder, then easy right hind" ... BOOM ... (again CR on her right shoulder and also right hind, and TB the minute she stops trembling for an instant).

As the storm progressed (and it was a long one), she got the idea. Then I had to start dinner, so I couldn't massage her with every thunderclap. I just had to say "ready? here comes thunder ...BOOM... is your right shoulder easy? X ! is your right hind easy ? X!"

She got some beef gristle when her relaxation was particularly good, and I made a big deal of it.

Eventually, she rested her chin on her front paws, and closed her eyes. No more trembling, even as the storm raged on for a while longer.

That was the first time I truly felt she succeeded in conquering the thunderboogeyman.

July 24, 2008 update: There have been few thunderstorms since the above , but with hurricane Dolly making landfall (thankfully way south of us) we had some thunderstorms. Bosco dealt with these on her own. I did not intervene, because I didn’t have to: most of the time while the storm raged, she slept.

Wormers, and other oral “nasties”


Oh joy, you think to yourself, time to paste-worm your horse. Or is it paste-bute this time? Regardless, visions of broken cross-ties and spat-out medicine float by. Or, you brace yourself for a battle of wills with that 17H joker who’s figured out all he has to do is raise his head out of your reach.

Truly, your horse is not hell-bent to make life difficult for you. The simple fact is, you’re violating his space, as well as insulting his intelligence, by presuming to stick a foreign object with a nasty taste into his mouth. The first time you did this, he was na├»ve and trusting, and the everything went off without a hitch. As the same unpleasant experience is repeated every other month (as can be with rotational worming), you must credit the equine’s excellent memory for recognizing that white tube in your hand.

People don’t like surprises either; especially if it involves some invasive medical procedure. A skilled physician/nurse can elicit a patient’s cooperation by taking the time to explain the procedure and to prepare the patient mentally for what is to happen. This approach respects the patient’s feelings, intelligence and personal space.

Why, then, don’t we treat horses with the same respect? It would certainly make life easier. Can it be any easier than when the horse offers it’s full cooperation, no strings attached? Check this out ...




Don’t take it so personally! How to conquer fear



So one day your horse dumps you after a buck or a spook; or you have a big welt on your arm where his foot hit you while you were crawling under his belly trying to spray him for flies.

Most likely you were in some pain or discomfort after these happenings, and most likely you felt a torrent of colorful language rising to your lips. As well as the desire to “whup his a—“ ... so to speak.

Truly, people do have this tendency to attribute mishaps to some “thing” that must be “out to get them”. This society’s bent to sue is a symptom of that. I do believe that a good part of the fear of horses, or of riding horses, stems from a deep suspicion that the animal has it in for you. Particularly so, if serious injury or worse is the consequence. Then your verbiage changes to “dangerous unpredictable animal”, or something similar.

Isn’t this a somewhat egocentric view of our role in the universe? Why does it always have to be about US? Sometimes it’s just an accident in the purest sense of the word. It's not the horse's fault (it may actually be our own carelessness). The proverbial “s—t” just happens. I firmly believe that we humans do not rank that highly in importance for an animal to spend his precious feeding hours contemplating ways to hurt us.

In my younger days I, too, experienced a fear of horses. It was not easy to conquer but I did. There were a few things I had to do for this. I learned to get to know, understand and communicate with the horse. I accepted the horse for what it is: an intelligent, expressive prey animal, with very strong survival instincts. I also acquired the physical skills and fitness necessary to minimize the likelihood of accidents. And, I wear safety gear.

So, due diligence has been done. Now riding horses is no more frightening to me than driving on the Houston freeways at rush hour.

To spook, or not to spook


Day after day your horse happily grazes, totally unconcerned, within a few feet of a flapping tarp. He yawns and dozes off on one side of a pasture fence, while chickens are noisily squabbling on the the other side. Totally unflappable, you think happily – a seasoned trail horse.

So you saddle him up one day for a hack. A short while into your ride, you notice a flapping tarp. And you feel it: his gait no longer swings, and his ears are pricked. Just as you notice this transformation, he violently shies away from the tarp, and you’re desperately hanging on to stay with your mount.

Later, when your ride is about to take you past a hen house, your horse stops dead in his tracks. The chickens, who are peacefully pecking about their yard, seem to come across to your horse as vicious (horse)meat-eating dinosaur descendants. Actually, the only way you make it past the poultry is to dismount and lead your horse in hand.

What the ... ????

This is a phenomenon that baffles the most seasoned horsepeople. It used to intrigue me, too. Until I realized that, to horses (and if you think about it, humans also), the context in which a stimulus is presented must determine how it is perceived.

Some horses are more sensitive to it than others. I have a horse who will perceive the same object differently depending on where it is, whether it's upside-down, or whether I’m holding it in my hand, etc. It’s not inconceivable then, that your presence on his back could change the context of a perceived object.

If you have experienced spooks on multiple occasions under similar situations, it is also likely that you have become “sensitized” to these situations: you may anticipate your horse’s spooking, and will therefore tense up. The horse can feel this. Unless you're one of those yogi who can control all subconscious reactions, this is likely to always be the case - I know I'm that way. From the horse’s perspective, your alarmed posture confirms his suspicions: the upcoming situation must be nasty indeed.

Such situations may be hair-raising, but they’re also valuable trainng opportunities – both for you and your horse. I deal with potentially scary situations using the SATS technique of Name & Explain, and Conditioned Relaxation. In a nutshell, my horses are trained in SATS, and I can literally name objects and situations for them. I can also ask the horse to physically relax, and bridge him when he does.

So, for example, as soon as I realize he has noticed the flapping tarp I might name it “tarp”, then ask him to be “easy”. It may take several cycles during one encounter with the tarp, or even several encounters, for the horse to master the relaxation and be comfortable with the presence of the tarp. Yes, it works, but it does require that the horse and rider be trained in SATS.

Ok, so that’s for the horse. I have to work on my body's reactions, too. Meditation, anyone ?

One more thing I want to add: don't worry about being too specific when you name something you think he's reacting to. Why? Because you can't be sure what exactly he's reacting to. Is it the entire tarp? The cobweb six feet up? A shiny object under the tarp ? One of my horses is so into the naming of things that I risk losing credibility if he realizes I'm naming the wrong thing !

You're ready to own a horse when ...


... you have the time and ability to care for, train and ride it yourself, OR can pay a professional trainer to do this for you. Otherwise, the horse will end up as a (very expensive) lawn ornament; or worse, parked in a stall like a prisoner serving a sentence.

Texas wildflowers



Had to share this ... spring in south-east Texas after a wet summer brings out this profusion of wildflowers. Mostly Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes. I wish I were a better photographer: I tried to capture the seas of color stretching into the distance.

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OWN the training outcome: mitigating dog aggression


As animal trainers, whether of horses or dogs, we are accountable for the consequences of our training: we own the results. We should not shift responsibility to the animal, nor to the training tools we use. Why? Because we humans are supposed to be, and some have insisted that we are, superior in intellect and dominant in role.

For example, how people deal with animal aggression is often based on emotion. News reporting is rife with terms like "vicious", "mauling", "attack", "killer", "dangerous", "rogue", ... you get the idea. These words are eye-catching, but they offer no solution to the problem. What is needed here is understanding and appreciating the animal for what it is, and skillfully channeling its behavior to productive outlets.

Here is an article by Julie K (a familiar contributor to this blog), originally written for a discussion group on the SATS methodology for animal training:

“ Since we have many members here who own pit bulls, I wanted to start a topic here we can discuss this characteristic.

” What is aggression? It is a chemical activity in the brain. It is the expression of and surrender to that chemical release.

” The breed was created for combat (as were many other breeds), and if presented with the correct conditions and ingredients, and allowed to develop to fruition, you may one day experience the perfect storm. Much time is wasted in trying to discern what caused it or which label to give it.

” Our emotional reactions are useless as this is not the way to end the problem, which in truth is only a problem in keeping any animal as a house pet.

” One of the keys to being successful is management. This is a SATS themed list, so I won't discuss that here, other than to say if your dog is expressing, it is your job to stop it from happening and that you should always think in terms of safety first.

” SATS can help us to replace the expression of aggression in many ways. Learning can fill the same neural pathways; aggression cannot occupy the same spot at the same time. We can teach them conditioned relaxation and we can teach them to control their impulses. What you want to teach your dog is up to you and the individual dog; here you will find and learn to use tools to help you teach your dog. Dogs can learn far more than conventional expectations of dog training allow, much of which is designed to repress behavior.

“ The (pit-bull) breed, perhaps more than any, needs useful outlets for its' courage, determination, and intelligence. You may, at first glance, not see the value of some of what we teach, but it is learning and building a communication system with your dog. This is an integrated teaching method, designed by a Master of Ed(ucation), with a lifetime of experience with many species, where the results can be amazing once put together.

“ I recently saw a man in a blues bar with a bad case of Asperger's; think Jerry on Boston Legal--- then he picked up a guitar and all his 'ticking', both verbal and physical, went away as if he had switched neuro-channels. We have the ability to teach our dogs to do this. We encourage you to explore, read, and ask questions, whether your goal is a dog who is well behaved in the presence of others or a title in your chosen venue”.

Julie K, April 10, 2009

Thank you, Julie!

Get your horse's attention ... with another fun game


... and in the process teach him to reinback.

These attention-getting exercises (or games, as my horse sees them) can be very brief and ad hoc. Here's a clip taken on a windy day. In it, I ask my big brown gelding to step back, pause, step forward, then place his chin in my cupped hand. All the while, a flapping yellow object on the fence barely merits a glance from him.

Some observant readers may note the lunge whip in my hands, but they'll also note I do not use it (it's there in case my other horse decides to crash in on the action).



When I speak, he listens. That's what will save me at a show, when tarps are flapping and plastic bags are flying in the wind ...

What happens when the show doesn't go just right?




Here is a wonderful account of a REAL day at a dog show. Horse folks, substitute in the trappings of a horse show, and can you just picture yourself in this situation?
Thank you for sharing this with us, Julie K !



" This Saturday we went to a dog show. It was painfully cold, gusty, and in a covered cowbarn out in the country. I debated whether we should just turn around and go home, donating the entry fee. This particular show is an old one, run by a kennel club which supports my breed, offers trophies, etc., and I wanted to give it a try. It would have been great to have earned a title there, but things just didn't go that way.

" The ring gates had fallen over and were staked into the ground. In the time before we showed, we walked around and investigated the area, saw the sights, named and explained all sorts of different objects, people, and other dogs. The area was roped off with that plastic tape which they use for crime scenes and many of the dogs were afraid of it. I had my little dog investigate it and jumped her over it, which she enjoyed.

" The judge was an old friend and a very nice man, but seemingly dyslexic, often calling the wrong direction in the heeling patterns, and taking a looong time to get through his classes. We didn't show until almost five in the afternoon.

" She did me proud on the heeling, she had rapt attention and great rhythm. I got a bump when she passed the judge, some foot pattering on the stand, lost a bit on the off lead, had nice recall with front and finish. It felt good, like we were really clicking.

" Then came the group stays. On the sit stay, I turned to face my dog from across the ring, and the wind started gusting. The ribbon behind her began to flap. A few seconds into the exercise, it occurred to me I was in the recall position, arms down at my sides--- but it was too late to change it now. About 20 seconds in, she looked at me, and trotted lightly across the ring. We were invited to complete the stays and I had to tell her twice to down, she didn't want to. The three minutes was extremely long, even worse than with most novice dogs; I didn't want her to bust both exercises. The wind was blowing dirt around and the ribbon was making a lot of noise. She tried very hard to comply, even laid her head down several times while her ears were swiveling around. She did it!

" I was disappointed not to have qualified, but will reflect upon what we did right and will work on the things we can better. We have a long future of showing and titling ahead of us, we're in it together, for the duration. What I will remember in the long run is not each individual show, title, win or loss, but our teamwork and relationship".

Julie K, March 30, 2009

Cross-training


Well rounded athletes do cross-training. I believe that this should apply not only to the musculoskeletal structure, but also to developing the mind in problem-solving and stress management. And I'm referring to the horse's mind. It’s fun, especially in disciplines that are prone to monotonous routines, like dressage.

Below are videos of two of some games that I play with my horses in training. All my games have a practical purpose in making my horses more manageable, more cooperative, and more focused on me as their trainer.

In one session, I showed my horse Orion how to put his foot in a rubber bowl (harder than it sounds: he kept missing it at first), and then to keep his foot in the bowl. Not perfect yet, but we’re working on it. Handy, if I ever need to soak a foot for an abscess.

Then, in another session I wanted Orion to stand at his ‘station’ (a yellow disc that I’d placed on the ground), while I gave my other horse Q some treats in the same pasture. Orion is the dominant horse and ordinarily would chase Q away from me. This game has now evolved to the point where I can ask Orion to stand at his station in the pasture, while I bring in other horses into the pasture without Orion harassing the newcomers (video of this coming soon).

Foot in Bowl


Wait at Station
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