March 2006

March 1, 2006

Before Blue left, my friend Brandy warned me that horses don't always react well to being suddenly alone. I wasn't terribly worried about Guin though, because Blue irritated her. Well, it didn't occur to me that this is the first time she has ever been alone in her entire life. My poor girl is sad and lonely.

I realized just how sad and lonely when I got home from physical therapy to find her grazing next to the driveway. Hmmm. Barn closed. Gate closed. Fence down. Damn. She had somehow gone through the four-strand electric tape fence in the drylot. (The fence wasn't on, but still.)

One post was leaning, and three of the four strands were pulled loose. Not broken, just pulled loose from their terminal connector a couple of posts away. Well, that made it easy to fix. So I put it back together, and then sent Guin back into the paddock. (I didn't move her first, because I didn't have to. Jay had fenced the front of the property, so she was still secure.)

An hour or so later I looked out... and she was out again. Uh oh. I have no clue how she went through the first time, but she learned from the process. Okay, clearly it was time to turn the fence back on. Problem was, it was dark out, and the winter snow had stretched and brought down some of the fence in the pasture. Oh well, sucks to be me.

I fixed the dry lot, and then sent Guin back in. This time, though, I gave her access to the pasture with me, hoping the grass would keep her busy. Then I walked every inch of that fence, tightening and hooking as I went. Thank goodness it's still winter -- at least I didn't have to plow through tall weeds or spiders!

In the end, I got it all done and the fence turned on. I left Guin access to the pasture -- I hope it distracts her from her loneliness. We are trying to get her a buddy. In fact, I may be buying a new horse!

I love to look at horse classified sites like I also regularly check the Columbia Basin Equine Rescue site. I like them because they try to save horses purchased at auction (and other places) by a guy who sells to the meat buyers. So I checked the site the other day, and there was a cute weanling/yearling Perch filly for adoption. The blurb tugged at my heart because it said she was getting bullied by the other horses and was scared and alone. I showed her to Jay, and he said we could try to save her. So I've submitted my application. Hopefully I'll be approved and can bring sweet Tango home.

March 2, 2006

Hmmm. Okay, I thought I turned on the fence. Apparently with all my fussing, I managed to unplug it again. So Guin went through the fence again. I fixed it and got the fence on for real this time. I watched her through the window afterwards... She trotted right to that section of the fence. Sniffed it. Sighed. Walked away. Good -- hopefully, she won't do that again.

Well, I'm not getting Tango. A group of people had banded together to raise the money for the adoption, and they beat me to it. Bummer. I'm sure it will all work out for the best though.

Leslie called me tonight to give me an update on my Blue horse. She said he completely lacks confidence. Completely. She said it's a good thing I didn't try to ride him more than I did because, "he wouldn't have the confidence to stay under a rider." Snort. Tell me about it -- that's exactly how I came off. She said I was really, really lucky that I didn't get hurt far worse.

I can't help but wonder how much of his lack of confidence is due to me. When I got him, I had been away from horses for soooo long, and I was completely insecure about handling them. Now, my confidence has grown a lot in the past year, but still -- what if I was doing something wrong that I didn't realize was wrong?

I'm really not able to judge what his confidence was like before I got him. His previous owner rode him in a Tom Thumb, which is a really severe bit, especially for a youngster. Maybe he lacked confidence then too, and that was how she held him together. I truly don't know. I do know that Leslie said she has found some pretty significant holes in his basic training.

Jay and I are going to go down to Olympia on Saturday. Leslie is going to give me some exercises to do with Guin. Hopefully she'll also be able to coach me on how to radiate confidence when I work with the Blue man. In our phone conversation, she also mentioned that she knows someone who is looking for the right home for a 3/4 Perch filly, just about Tango's age. Jay agrees that we should at least take a look at her.

March 4, 2006

Spent a few hours with Leslie today. It was sooo nice to spend some time with my Blue boy.

Predictably, as soon as I arrived, Blue began to do things that he used to do with me but that Leslie had been teaching him not to do. She was worried that I would think she hadn't taught him anything, but she didn't need to worry. I completely understand about reinforcement history. This is why it's SO important for an owner to be trained as well. If the horse (or dog) goes out for training, and nothing changes at home, then the training isn't going to "stick."

Blue is looking fantastic!

I couldn't keep my eyes off of him -- imagine what he'll look like when he has lost some weight and muscled up from work. The picture really doesn't do him any justice. He's very light colored right now because he's in his winter coat. He'll get darker as he sheds out.

So Leslie showed us how she's working with him to increase his confidence and get him used to being handled, and she gave me a bunch of things to do with Guin girl. She showed me how to teach a horse to yield his hips and shoulders. She hadn't tried the shoulder yield with Blue before, and he got it on the first click. She said he's super smart -- which isn't necessarily a blessing.

She thinks he might be a good barrel horse. Great -- just what I need, right? But she's right. He has the speed and the agility. I can't wait to get more updates on him.

We didn't get to see the draft filly. Leslie's friends are out of town, and she's not sure if they really want to sell the youngster anyway.

We're going to try to go down again in two weeks. That will give her time to make some observable progress. Hopefully we can all go out dinner that day. She's a very cool person, and I enjoy chatting with her.

March 11, 2006

I have found two equine rescue groups that I want to tell you about.

First, a couple of entries ago I mentioned a rescue group called Columbia Basin Equine Rescue. I have been glued to their message board over the past week or so, and I am so impressed with these people. CBER works with a feedlot in eastern Washington. This lot is the last stop for horses before they are sold to a slaughter house. The feedlot owner is willing to work with CBER to let them try to adopt out these horses for essentially the same amount of money that the meat buyers will pay. They have two Web sites: the listing of available horses on the feedlot and their message boards.

A common misperception is that only old or injured/unsound horses are sent to slaughter. This is totally, completely untrue. Everything from weanlings to pregnant mares to well-trained sport horses go through this feedlot. There are ponies, drafts, thoroughbreds, and everything in between. Some of the horses even have their papers! Many are well-trained. A quarter horse gelding on the site right now came in with his mane and trail braided by the little girl whose father traded him for a horse the feedlot owner owned. I bet she didn't know her pal was being shipped to slaughter!!

Each horse on the lot gets his own thread on the message board. There the people who frequent the boards can discuss the efforts to get the horse adopted or fostered. They have group adoptions, where people chip in as much money as they can -- $25, $35 -- until the horse has met bail and is safe from the meat buyers. When a truck is scheduled to pick up the unsold horses, the scramble to raise funds can be incredibly tense. Last week, a GORGEOUS grey thoroughbred was placed on the site at 5PM one day with an $850 bail but was scheduled to leave on a for-slaughter truck at noon the next day. They saved him. They raised his bail, but in the end, an adopter -- an experienced eventer -- adopted him, minutes before the deadline.

The scramble to save horses is agonizing.. and not always successful. They also have a thread about the horses they couldn't save.

The second rescue is a group called Cowgirl Spirit Rescue. They're a drill team that wanted to do more than ride horses. So they rescue, rehab, and rehome them. Many of their horses, in fact, come from CBER. Others come from the monthly auction in Enumclaw, a favorite "hunting ground" for the kill buyers.

In my mind, CBER is the frontline group, and this group is the next step. I'm really impressed with them (and in love with a mare named Patience). If I was a better rider and trainer, I would want to work with them. Maybe some day.

If you're reading this, and you've clicked on the links, please don't just say, "How sad" and forget about these horses. You don't have to have room for a horse to help. All it takes is some money and a little empathy. Please, please help. They just need a chance... and an angel.

March 13, 2006

It's raining horses!

In my last post, I told you about CBER. I've been watching the boards pretty carefully, but I hadn't adopted a horse because I was hoping a draft would come through. I was gone alllll day yesterday, and when I logged in late last night, I found out that a truck was scheduled to ship the unadopted horses to slaughter. Several horses were in danger, including a sweet QH mare I had watched since she first appeared on the site. And to my horror, there had been no interest, even a group adoption, of her.

I couldn't let her go, so I asked Jay if I could adopt her. He said yes, and then said very seriously, "But this is the only one. We can't get anymore horses." I said I completely understood. Paying the mortgage is important to me too. I paid for her last night, got the confirmation of my adoption this morning, and spent the rest of the day trying to find a way to get her off the lot and to my house. Turns out that the grey thoroughbred I mentioned above is moving to a town near mine and is being picked up tomorrow.

So Princess will be home tomorrow afternoon. I can't wait to get her cleaned up!

But Princess is only part of the story. This morning, out out of the blue, my former instructor, Brandy, e-mailed me. She said, "You know, I was thinking. You need a friend for Guin. Why don't you just take Sid? You can pay me whatever you can afford. I want him to go to the right home, and I can't think of any better than yours."

Sid is a four year old half Perch, half thoroughbred I've been in love with since the day I met him. (These pictures and description are from last spring.) I couldn't afford to buy him though, even though he was untrained at the time. (He's been in eastern Washington for the past nine months. Supposedly being worked, but I dunno for sure.)

Anyway, I didn't think I had a prayer of getting them both. (Jay likes to eat and pay the mortgage. So picky.) So I didn't even TELL him about Brandy's offer. But I mentioned it to my friend Debi, and she decided to harass him about it, not realizing that he wasn't aware of what was going on. So poor Jay calls me wondering if he should change his medication because he sure didn't remember any conversations about Sid.


Long story short, he said if I can work out an acceptable financial arrangement with Brandy, I should go for it.

So in the last 24 hours, I have doubled the number of horses I own (and I still don't know if any of them are rideable).

But speaking of riding, when I called Brandy to talk about Sid, she asked if I could take over responsibility for riding Smokey, the horse of hers that I usually ride. Brandy is off her feet after major surgery, and the girl who had been riding Smokey hasn't had time to come out. So she wants me to keep her exercised and, "Oh, it would be great if you'd use her for lessons too."

In case you ever wondered... God provides. (There's a reason I claim to be the most blessed person on the planet.)

March 14, 2006

Princess is home! She got here about 5:30. Prior to that I moved Guin into pasture number one and gave her water and hay. Then I set up pasture number two the same way for Princess. I figure I ought to plan on keeping the two of them separate until the vet gives the okay. Both pasture two and the dry lot are within sight of pasture number one, so Guin can see her new friend, but there's about twenty feet separating them, so they can't touch noses.

Thanks a million to Vivian and Karen for bringing my girl home. I took her from the trailer directly into the dry lot and released her. She looked around and rolled (as if she weren't muddy enough). She has spent most of the last hour wandering the perimeter of the lot, checking everything out. I fed her treats over the fence, and she took them very politely.

She's filthy, and her nose is a little snotty. Probably good that I'm keeping her separated from Guin. I'd like to try to move her to pasture number two tonight, but I'm not going to chase her to do it. If I need to let her settle in first, that's okay.

I took pictures right after she arrived. Most came out blurry, but here are a couple:

March 15, 2006

9:00 am
I am officially "The Treat Lady" in Princess's eyes. (I haven't decided yet whether or not to keep that name. Some people say yes, some say no. I'll have to decide soon, or it will be confusing to all of us to change.)

Jay and I went out first thing this morning and fed her and Guin some carrots, and then I put out some hay. I stood beside her and gave her scritchies while she ate, and she was quiet and gentle.

Then a couple of hours later I went out again, gave her a few more carrot bits, and then got her halter. She walked away initially -- I don't really blame her for being apprehensive. But she thought it over and decided to risk it and came back. She stood quietly while I haltered her and then led like a dream out to pasture number two. She's out there devouring grass right now, and Guin is much perturbed that her new friend is ignoring her.

I'll probably bring her back to the dry lot in a few hours -- no telling how long it has been since she was on grass.

How's this for a view out the back door?

While I was at it, I snapped a picture of Aslan digging to China:


I don't have a shedding blade -- I'll get one next time I go out -- so I took a hand towel out to the pasture to rub Princess with. I figured it was rough enough to loosen some hair but gentle enough that it wouldn't tickle her if she's thin skinned. She didn't try to avoid me and stood quietly while I worked on both sides.

First thing I discovered is that she ADORES to be scratched on her neck near her mane. Her forehead was itchy too.

Second thing I discovered is that she's protective of her belly. The further back I went, the further back her ears went. When I touches her belly (not the girth area, but her belly), she threatened to bite. She *didn't* bite, even when I tested it a couple of more times, but she wasn't comfortable with my being near her there. She also didn't seem to like to be patted. Stroking was okay, but not patting. I didn't persist to her hindquarters, so I don't know if this is an issue with her entire back half, or if it's just her belly. No reason to rush her.

I don't know if her sensitivity is pain or if it's a training issue. If it's the latter, clicker training will be great for her. The vet is coming tomorrow, so he can help me figure out if there's pain involved.

It's kind of scary working with a horse I know absolutely ZERO about.

Third thing I learned is that she doesn't like the dogs. Her pasture shares a fence with the yard, and she pinned her ears flat against her head when they came up behind her, even though they weren't barking or jumping. I may have to switch her and Guin. If she kicks the fence, she could hurt herself and them.

Miss Princess has now had two clicker training sessions! Around three o'clock I haltered her and took her up to our little arena. At first I just let her explore. I stood outside the arena and clicked when she turned toward me. She had no reaction to the click, but she was happy enough to get the carrot I tossed toward her. For several minutes we repeated this as she wandered around and around the arena.

Gradually, though, she began to focus on me. Her circles got smaller, and her time away from me got shorter. It was clear, though, that she and I don't have much of a relationship. Even though I had treats, she was just as likely to wander away and snack on the grass in the corners. Blue and Guin, on the other hand, will ignore grass in favor of the clicker game.

Fairly early in our session I introduced a target -- an empty water bottle -- to touch. She took longer to really "get it" than other horses I've worked with, but like I mentioned earlier, I think she's still a bit shell shocked from the past few weeks. I stayed outside the fence through the whole session. She wasn't pushy, but a couple of unexpected things happened.

First, she blew at me one time and was so cute I leaned down to kiss her nose. She responded by threatening to bite me -- not a fun thing when your face is the target! That was my mistake. I know better than to put my face up to the face of an unknown horse, but her overall calm demeanor lulled me into being sloppy with my safety.

Second, I got a good look at her mouth and discovered that her bottom lip has an ugly, jagged cut. It's healing, and I can't tell how long ago it happened. But it was an ugly tear, and I know it was painful. She eats very carefully, and that could be part of why. I'll have the vet take a good look tomorrow.

Half an hour ago I went out to the dry lot to check on her. She was at the far end of the lot chatting with Guin. Impulsively, I called her... and after considering it for a few seconds, she took a few steps toward me. Encouraged, I got my clicker and treats and waited. She came all the way to the barn!

I did a second targeting session, this time without a barrier between us. She clearly had figured out that touching the target "made" me give her a treat. For the most part she isn't pushy. One time she took one step towards me and slowly reached her head toward me treat pouch. Despite her slow approach, I'm ashamed to say I stepped back. Interestingly, she backed off and walked away for a few seconds.

She came back and we went back to clicking for touches on the target. Then I threw her for a loop -- she put her head to the ground, and I clicked. Normally I don't click for two things in one session, but that's one of the key safety behaviors I'll teach.

We clicked for a few more minutes, then I gave her a good forehead rub and called it a night. I wish I knew more about her. She so sweet 99% of the time -- and not horrible the other 1% -- but there's such a huge unknown factor. I don't know what her buttons are, what issues she has. Alex would say that I just have to go slowly, progressing only when she and I are both comfortable with the current step. "There's always a smaller step."

She nickered at me!

I went out at 10:15 for a final goodnight. She was standing in the barn eating, and she immediately left the food and came to the fence. Got a carrot for that! I grabbed some hay, told her goodnight, and headed out to the pasture to tell Guin goodnight. I wasn't expecting to talk to Princess again, so I gave the hay and the rest of my carrots to my Guin girl. (She's such a love.)

On the way back to the house, Princess nickered when I got close. She left the food, came to the gate and nickered again! Man, I wish I had a carrot left!!! I stroked her face and told her what a good girl she is. Wish I could have kissed her.

Who knows -- she and I might even be friends. :-)

March 16, 2006

2:00 pm
Miss Princess met me at the barn bright-eyed and eager this morning -- and with another sweet nicker. Oh, I could grow to love that.

The vet was supposed to get here at 11:00. So I went out a few minutes before and did a session of head down with her. She got it pretty quickly. In fact, I had trouble ending the session because she kept dropping her head to beg for treats! The vet was late so I gave her a break, then went out for a second session.

This time I started with head down, but progressed into "Can I touch you here?" Only once or twice did I sense her feeling worried about what I was doing. Those times I froze and waited until she turned her head forward or dropped it. I covered her entire right side (minus her legs), including her belly. I started on her left side, but the vet arrived before I got very far.

Miss Princess got a good report from the vet. All her vitals and such were normal, and she's at a good weight -- remarkably good, considering where she came from. I didn't have him do a flex test or anything like that. If we ever ride her, it'll just be light riding.

He said the cut on her lip is healed and shouldn't be hurting her. He checked her for parasites and guessed that her considerable itchiness is due to shedding rather than lice or fungus. He has to come out in a couple of weeks to give her booster shots, so if she's still itchy, he'll do more in depth checking then.

When he finished, I took her out and put her in the pasture. I'll bring her in and do another session this evening. I can't believe how well she's doing. She hasn't made a single threatening move today!

March 17, 2006

Jay and I went out yesterday afternoon and ended up out until after dark, so Princess didn't get a second session. She also got to spend the night in the pasture, which I hadn't intended on doing.

Today I took her to the little arena and took off her halter. I just hate working with a halter and lead rope. I know I should, especially with a horse I don't know, but I just prefer to work at liberty. This time she didn't walk around and explore at all -- she just tagged along with me wherever I walked. (Hmph. She did that better than Blue and Guin do.)

I did a few reps of clicking for head down just to get her in the game, and then I brought out a shedding blade. I started at her neck, and clicked when her head was forward and either turned slightly away from me or dropped to the ground. I don't want to click her with her head turned toward me and my bait bag because that encourages mugging.

She was soooo good. I was able to go over her whole body (minus her legs), including her belly. She wasn't completely clean when I was done -- she still needs a good grooming -- but you could have made another horse from all the fur on the ground in my arena.

I didn't get any photos then, and of course she went out and rolled, but still she's looking better, don't you think? (I also have to tell you that she's an absolute HAM. I swear she poses for the camera.)

Guin has run the gamut from being elated at having a new companion to being utterly pissed that said companion is getting all the attention. She was tired of being in the pasture all the time, so I let her go to the dry lot this afternoon. Princess immediately threw a fit because her friend went away. Although her pasture doesn't have quite the view of the dry lot that Guin's does, I was going to leave her where she was until she and the dogs got into an altercation.

I've mentioned it before: Princess doesn't like dogs, and my dogs don't like horses. Unfortunately her pasture and their yard share a fence, and not a fence that is "kick proof." She got one kick off and threatened several others before I got her distracted. I decided then that she needed to move into Guin's pasture. She was happy to do that... until she realized Guin wasn't there. Then she trotted around and neighed and pawed and pretty much threw a bitch fit. I guess she's living up to her name, eh?

March 20, 2006

Not a whole lot to update you on. Princess is an absolute love. She didn't especially like the pasture Guin was in, so I moved her back to the pasture she was in originally. To manage the issue with the dogs, Jay and I put up a line of temporary fencing a couple of feet off the "real" fenceline. I needed Jay's help to do it because once I was in the pasture, Princess was all over me. She's not rude, just snuggly. She's like a big dog.

Saturday I had two sets of friends come out to see the horses. Unfortunately, it was raining, so they didn't get to spend much time with them. Brandy looked at Princess and guessed that she was riding horse until recently. She said she's got the right muscling, plus her teeth and hooves are in good shape. I'm betting she was a riding horse or 4H horse that some kid outgrew, and so she got sent to the Enumclaw auction. Unfortunately, she was purchased by a kill buyer.

We have a gorgeous sunny day today. I'm going to try to get out there and get her groomed.

Oh! I almost forgot. Leslie, Blue's trainer, called with an update last night. She loves him! She was so enthusiastic about him. She said he has a great attitude and is always willing and eager to work. She said he's very smart and very opinionated, but being opinionated didn't stop him from having a good attitude.

She has had to move slow with his training because he's still sore in the heel of his back right hoof. She thinks he's trying to blow an abscess, but it just won't blow. She also thinks he may have a tooth problem.

He hates a bit, she discovered, which might be related to the tooth issue, or it might be related to the Tom Thumb he was ridden in when he was a youngster. Regardless, I told her I'd be happy to ride him bitless. Prefer it, in fact. If it were up to me, all horses would be ridden in a halter.

March 26, 2006

Went to see Blue last night. He's different. Not bad, just different. He was calmer, easier to pet. His ears were cranky most of the time though. He blew the abscess in his heel, but the hole was tiny, and so he's still in some pain. I took Leslie some Icthammol so she could make a poultice to draw out the rest of the infection.

She showed us some of the neat stuff he's learning. Since he has been lame, she hasn't been able to do as much "feet moving" work as she would like. It seems like working with a lot of still behaviors would be calming for him, but she said that she gets better results when she can get the moving and teach them that they can do that without bad things happening. She likes to teach them to go up in energy and then come back down quickly.

I'm wondering how much of the crankiness I saw is due to the abscess and how much is due to the pressure she uses. She uses mild pressure -- strongly John Lyons' influenced techniques -- coupled with the click and treat. From my own awkward experiments, I know that he really doesn't like pressure and release. The only time he isn't cranky is when the training is positive. (Sorry -- not trying to step on any toes, but I just don't believe that horse training using pressure and release, even when coupled with a click and a treat, is positive training. I'm not saying it's cruel. But it isn't positive training.)

I don't know how I would positively teach the behaviors she's teaching him though. That's the big issue with positive horse training -- no one knows how to do it. It's not that it's impossible. It's that it's virgin territory. Someday when I win the lottery, I'm going to hire a bunch of applied behavior analysts to figure out how to positively train common horse-related behaviors.

I hope Blue cheers up. I like being able to hug and pets and kiss on him, but I miss the mischievous look in his eyes and the happy vibes he used to exude.

On the Princess front, I officially introduced her and Guin, and they're now sharing the dry lot together. They get along pretty well. On first introduction, there were two mare squeals and nothing more. There was some kicking (by Guin) when they both came into the barn aisle at feeding time, but it wasn't serious. As long as each goes in a stall, they are able to eat more or less peacefully.

Finally, Brandy heard from the guy who has her horses in eastern Washington. He said he'd try to bring them over during the first or second week of April. Brandy says to give him until June. That's okay with me. She's going to have the horses brought to her house, and when they've settled, she'll bring Sid over here. If Smokey hasn't sold, she'll bring her over here as well. I'm kind of wondering whether I should put Blue at her house when he's through training. He would be most likely to be ridden there, since there are not only trails, but people to ride with. It's worth considering anyway.

March 27, 2006

I went riding today for the first time since I came off of Blue. My friend Lesley wasn't feeling well, and she asked me to ride Auggie for her this evening. Auggie is a former schoolhorse, a wonderfully calm, safe horse, so I thought he'd be perfect for a "first ride."

My friend Tanja helped me get Auggie ready, and then I spent about half an hour just walking him around the arena. He was actually a little spooky. Lesley said that he can be spooky in that arena, but I expect my nerves didn't help matters much. I wasn't comfortable enough to get out of a walk -- I was afraid a spook at a trot would be disasterous.

I have a long way to go before I feel confident on horseback again.

March 29, 2006

I took the day off and went down to Olympia today. One of things Leslie and I talked about when I was down there last weekend was Alex's "300 Peck Pigeon" exercise. The point of this exercise is to teach emotional control (not duration, a common misconception). Leslie and I agreed that it would be good for Blue, but it was too time-intensive for (me to pay) Leslie to do. So I decided I would take a day off and see what I could accomplish.

This is an exercise that is best done with a very simple duration behavior. I chose standing in place. I've seen it done with standing on a mat, but I've always preferred to teach my horses to just stand stay without a mat. So all I required for this exercise was for Blue to keep his feet still.

Blue was eager to get to work. His abscess is finally feeling better, and so all that energy he hasn't been able to expend over the past two or three weeks is ready to explode. Not surprisingly, then, he wasn't overly anxious to stand still and do nothing. Before I could even build to 15, he wasn't just frustrated, he was pissed.

I really don't like cranky horses, and I'm tired of seeing Blue with that pissed off expression. So I stopped and switched to clicking him for happy ears. After a few minutes of that, Leslie arrived, so we took a break and I chatted with her for a bit. WHile she and I talked, Blue exercised himself in the arena -- running, bucking, and having a generally glorious time working off some of that excess energy.

When I went back to working with him on 300 Peck, we progressed better. His attitude was better, except when he made a mistake. When he would move -- a "mistake" -- I would walk forward and ask him to back up to his starting point. He got very frustrated by that and began threatening to bite.

The point of 300 Peck is to create emotional control. It's not at all unusual for the horse to get frustrated during this process. In fact, the way they develop emotional control is by learning to deal with the ever-present frustration. That, however, doesn't mean I want to be on the business end of Blue's teeth. Leslie considered it, and first we tried to avoid the situation by changing how I asked him to back. That helped, but he still had some seriously snarky moments.

So Leslie suggested that when he tried to bite, I send him out and get his feet moving. I'm not a fan of "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard," and as a general rule I don't like teaching my horses that I do unpredictable, aggressive things like forcing them to run. However, in this case, part of Blue's problem was his pent up energy. So we decided that getting a chance to move would help him settle.

I also made one other tactical change. When he moved out of place, instead of resetting him, I gave him the "consequence" of hugs and kisses and pets. If he stayed in one place, he got a food treat. If he moved, he got hugs and kisses. And if he snarked, he got to run around. Leslie laughed at my hugs and kisses consequence and said that he had been settling into that so much lately that he might find it rewarding. That works for me!

We made pretty good progress from about 50 on. I spent about three hours on this exercise today and got all the way 150!! Blue made a lot of progress in being able to stand still. (I only sent him out to run twice, by the way.)

March 31, 2006

I want to wrap up this long month of posts with some thoughts I wrote to Blue's trainer about my book Click for Joy and how it relates to, or maybe reflects, my R+ outlook. It's because of my grounding in the dog world that I'm so R+ based now. I came into the horse stuff with a bias against pressure/R-. My feelings about R- have changed in the last couple of years. I now believe that when you're dealing with something in the envornment that the animal doesn't like, a combination of classical conditioning and R- (escape) is the kindest, fastest, most elegant solution.

But I haven't changed my mind about the trainer using R- to get behavior. I still don't like it or think it's the best way. HOWEVER I finally accept that we simply don't know enough in horses to get the behaviors we want positively. I don't think it's impossible. But it will likely not happen until an experienced horse person becomes dissatisfied with the results he or she is getting through pressure and is willing to take a HUGE risk to figure out alternatives.

It has been interesting watching Blue at Lesley's. I'm not surprised he's perpetually cranky. I expected it -- but I had been told that it was my fault. During the time I've had him, I've experimented a bit on him. When he was boarded at my friend's barn, she coached me through some ordinary (non-clicker) pressure/release techniques (and she demonstrated on him as well). He was, understandably, cranky about it. Then I tried some of Alex's techniques -- very, very mild pressure (point of contact and wait) plus a click and treat. He was *still* cranky, though less so. The only time he wasn't cranky in training was when I shaped behavior. He had to work harder to figure out what I wanted, but his demeanor stayed positive.

When I mentioned that on the clicker boards, I was told repeatedly that it was my skill or my attitude that caused the crankiness. That if I believed in pressure/release and was good at it, he would respond just as positively to it as he did to shaping. So, though I don't like seeing Blue cranky, I feel validated knowing that Lesley's soft R- coupled with R+, with me involved in no way, is still eliciting the cranky demeanor. He is, simply, a horse that doesn't like being "made" to do something. But when you let him work out what you want and offer it, you've got him body and soul.

Lesley wrote m back and said she is an experienced horse person who might be willing to take a big risk and try R+ training. She said she's having trouble getting her mind around where to start, and she isn't convinced that it will produce a horse that can be used the way horses are used. She said that perhaps she needs a theory geek to help her get started. Hmmm. Where could she find one of those?

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