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.


Sian Min The
Cardinal Points Farm

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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.


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

Fool-proof humane animal training, or ... ?

Animal training is complicated. There's no 'one-size-fits-all' training approach. Did I say complicated? Add to this a good dose of moral confusion (thanks to the media and some special interest groups). In the context of animal training, few terms are as emotionally charged as 'punishment' and 'abuse'; and few terms are as misapplied (intentionally or otherwise) as 'humane' and 'cruel'.

Professional dog trainer Lori Drouin was recently asked to explain her beliefs and values in this arena. The result is a superbly insightful article that applies equally well in the training of dogs, horses and, indeed, any animal:

" ... First of all, I value dogs for their humor, for their reflections of the social interactions that we seek and don't always find among other humans, for their many talents, humor, and their very real view of the world. However, I KNOW that they are animals, as are we all, but they as animals don't get quite the philosophical or religious or social welfare information given to them on a global level that we do as humans. They are models for us to prove that xenophobia is not a prejudicial choice, but a survival mechanism in the wild, and one that we as humans can speak about overcoming, but obviously don't succeed too well at it in all cases. But that's another list. They show us that aggression is sometimes just a conversation about fear or uncertainty; but if you're the one on the receiving end of it, you're not going to be happy about the message. So while I get all of that, and understand that in an ideal world kindness is the best way to engender reciprocal kindness from others, I find it necessary to sometimes accept that physical communication is also part and parcel of being a dog.

" My belief as a trainer is that I should be as gentle as any particular dog will allow me to be. But in order for that to succeed, I have to be very clear in my own mind about what I want to teach, or what sort of behavior is socially acceptable in every context I am going to put my dog in. And frankly, I think that a complete communication system involves a means of saying, "That is wrong, and you will stop it right now!" That is different from, "That is incorrect, try again." If you have a dog that requires that message, the message must be timely and obvious enough for the dog to perceive it, and it must be delivered with committment (sic) and no apology. Sometimes the means is physical.

" However, I am not in favor of abuse. What is the difference between punishment and abuse? Abuse is when the intensity of the message exceeds what is needed to stop a behavior. Abuse is when the efforts involve physical pain NOT for the purpose of stopping the designated "bad" behavior, but for the purpose of making the trainer feel better, or for the purpose of making the dog feel extreme fear for the trainer's personal empowerment. Sometimes punishment is needed for bad behaviors; but it stops as soon as the bad behavior stops, too, and then the dog should be taught how to behave instead right away when possible.

" I am concerned that some aspects of dog training are getting too remote. People know how to click and feed, but forget how to pet and play. People forget that dogs will mirror behavior and emotion, but you have to give them some emotion to mirror. If you don't, then your dog may sit to get a treat, but not because he's pleasing you, because he actually doesn't know that it pleases you. Reward withdrawal is an effective training tool, but sometimes the "bad" behavior has its own rewards, and your dog will not even know that you withdrew a reward. It would be helpful if he knew that certain words, voice tones, and postures were indicative of a need to change his current behavioral tack.

" Finally, I believe that if you're going to own a dog, or be its guardian if you prefer, you have to be willing to be decisive about what you want as a trainer, clear about it on the dog's level, consistent in your expectations, and open-minded about the means of communication you have available to use because not all dogs (or people) will interpret a particular medium and it message the same way.

" I think in the world of dog training, there are very few roads that haven't been walked by others before us in terms of methods and tools. But always the road is a new one with each dog, and even further changed by the being on the other end of the leash. There are certain training techiques (sic) that are widely used in competition obedience training that I have used, and hope never to use again because I've found another way that works for me on a lot of dogs; but I understand the techniques, I understand why they work on a host of dogs, and I do not criticize other trainers who use the tools or techniques when they achieve clarity and consistency and have very happy dogs who are confident in their interactions. Frankly, I've met some clicker trained dogs who were basket cases in a constant state of anxiety about what they should do next. But I do feel critical of trainers using ANY method who stubbornly adhere to an approach that patently isn't working on the particular dog at the particular moment, especially if it's an issue that is imminently dangerous, and if not stopped with alacrity would result in an unsafe outcome for either dog or human. There are no moral or ethical excuses for continuing a process that is frustrating and ineffective for the subjects at hand.

" I believe that professional trainers NEED to listen to the needs of the owners and embrace them first; then we need to assess the importance in each case of expediency. Some things can be shaped out given enough time, and are only mildly annoying to live with in the meantime, while other issues need resolution or extreme management right away. Then we look at what we can do that will make this all happen in a way that will improve life for both the client and the dog long term. Just because you know a slick and esoteric progression for teaching something doesn't mean it's the best approach for a real person who is NOT a professional trainer.

" I used to be a member of APDT, but I gave up the membership because the tone of communications about training approach became militantly exclusive in favor of pure positive training, and vehemently vitriolic about the awfulness of punishment. Well, I've seen some dogs that were greatly helped by one well-timed and executed correction after months of shaping and desensitization efforts excecuted (sic) with POOR timing had actually escalated the aggression displays. I decided the organization was no longer encouraging open communication and exchanges of experience, and decided not to support it anymore as a member. I appreciate the strides many of its members have made in developing positive strategies. But in the end, we train dogs. Dogs don't have a non-egocentric view of morals and ethics. They respond to their own desires until taught otherwise. Sometimes we have to react to that reality. ... “

Lori Drouin, February 2009

Thank you, Lori !

A “good” horse gone “bad”?

Having always been obedient, sweet and generous, Orion quickly became my favorite horse to train. Any mistakes he made were honest (e.g. bird-in-the-bushes spooks) ... until recently.

The work had been getting harder: I’m requiring more engagement of the hindquarters, more strength, and more stamina. So lately I notice he’s been pouting, and finding “excuses”. Yesterday he actually ignored me (gasp!) when I asked for a trot. When I insisted, he gave me a half-hearted but defiant buck before complying. And he gave me that “look”.

What happened to my Perfect Boy? The answer is, he WAS the perfect boy. I never reprimanded him because I never needed to. He loved everything he did, so I never had to force an issue. In other words, I had neglected to teach him to accept and constructively address the “unpleasant” things in training.

My mare Chipper didn’t hesitate to test the boundaries the first time I rode her. She’s a brat, but as a result, she knows my rules inside out, and she is now fun to ride. She will always be an opinionated horse, but I enjoy working with her because of her confidence in the rules, and that I, too, will follow them.

So, what to do with Orion? Push on. Teach him how to accept and actually make the unpleasant tasks work in his favor. Show him that, while the schooling exercises may be boring and hard, he will have successes. And as he gets stronger, they will become easier. He’s still my Perfect Boy, and I’ll show him how to stay that way.
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