This blog is dedicated to my friend, my mentor, and the best teacher I have ever had. Without him, I would not have embarked on this amazing journey. Split, this blog is for you!
Ponderosa Misty Icon, aka "Split," is a handsome gray Welsh pony who came to me via a phone call "out of the blue" (actually Peterborough, Ontario). Our first few months together were rocky to say the least, which made me question my ability as a horse owner, as a horsewoman, and as a rider. Forty years of horse ownership had not prepared me for this little gray pony!
But we muddled through and because of Split, I have begun a journey that is both spiritual and enlightening. I hope something here resonates with you and that you'll check back now and then.
We leave you with one of our favorite quotes: "The best whisper is a click!"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Who's teaching whom?

I thought that today I'd start with a quote. This one is from Eckhart Tolle's book The Power of Now. It's an amazing book and if you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it! I was reading it this morning (while proctoring a literature test at the local middle school) and this quote jumped right out at me. Tolle says only that it's "an Eastern saying." He credits no particular philosopher or author.

"The teacher and the taught together create the teaching."

I read it. And then I read it again. And then I thought, "Wow! Is that perfect for us clicker trainers or what?" If we think about it, just who is teaching whom when we click with our animals?? It's sort of like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg?? Certainly there are times when I go out to the pasture with a clear plan in mind and things go according to that plan. More often than not, tho, my plans change and evolve as the session progresses and Split and I communicate with each other. And as I think this thru more carefully, I would be hard-pressed to give you a list of things I've "taught" Split; I think he'd have the longer list - things HE'S taught ME! But either way, it's a joint venture. We both have to be actively engaged in the process; we both have to give and take; we both have to compromise. In order for either of us to learn, we both have to be part of the process.
"The teacher and the taught......." We are both of them at the same time. What an amazing concept - and a humbling one, at that!
Happy clicking, everyone!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Angel on my doorstep

So there I was, minding my own business, sitting in my dining room reading the newspaper one lovely fall afternoon 2 years ago, when my mini pin suddenly jumped up and gave her "intruder" bark! When I went to the door, there stood (did you guess who?) Mary Arena! She was wearing a fishing vest ("How silly!" I thought. "No one is allowed to fish in our pond.") and carrying a bucket of what looked like giant rabbit food pellets. "Curiouser and curiouser," as Alice says in Wonderland. Before I could say, "Why the heck are you going fishing and how are you going to bait the hook with those pellets?" Mary said, "Hi! I thought I'd show you how this clicker stuff works. Let's go play with your pony." OH! The PONY! Duh! (Come on......I knew that............)
Well, there was no arguing with Mary. No time to say, "But.....my orange stick.....Wait! I need my knotted halter........" All I could do was follow Mary mutely to the paddock where she simply asked for Split's halter and lead rope. "Rope halter?" I asked. "No," she replied simply. "His flat halter will do."
How could this be? I NEEDED those knots. I NEEDED that orange stick. But the logical part of me was going, "No, you don't. What you need is to get your act together." Or was that Split talking to me? Hmmmmmmm................
Several minutes later we were all standing in my little riding ring and Mary was clicking and giving Split treats like he was the Prince of Persia. All he did was put his ears forward, brighten his eyes, and appear to be over-whelmed with joy at this recent development. I admit that I was a tad jealous! Here I'd spent hours with dvd's and orange stick and knotted halter and all I got were dull eyes, rolling eyes, stiff neck, attitude, wrinkled muzzle, and ears swiveling in all directions......but enough about me! ha ha Mary shows up in a fishing vest and suddenly Split is a different pony! But still........bribery??? Once Mary had Split's attention and the clicker was, as she explained, "loaded" (the animal fully associates the clicking sound with presentation of a treat), she began working on Why Would You Leave Me. No words were exchanged between her and Split - it was amazingly quiet as Mary concentrated on Split and Split focused 100% of his attention on Mary and what she wanted him to do. And he tried really hard, too! I could see him trying to figure out for himself just WHAT he was supposed to do as Mary "guided" him quietly around the ring. He got pushy; he mugged; he trotted around in front of her and shook his head. Mary quietly repositioned herself and started again. At NO TIME did I see the "pursed lips" or the curled muzzle, the swiveling ears, stiff neck, etc. that were produced by the dreaded orange stick! Instead, because Split is extremely intelligent and highly curious, I saw a pony that was happy and engaged and challenged! He wasn't perfect by any means but he was INTERESTED and TRYING and not once did he appear to be insulted! Frustrated a time or two, yes, but not in an angry way.........just sort of a "Dang it! Let's see......" way, if that makes sense. He was actively engaged in the game and quickly figured out that if one behavior didn't produce the treat, perhaps some OTHER behavior WOULD! It was just wonderful to watch and I admit that I was hooked..............hook, line and sinker, as they say! I needed to know more; I WANTED to know more! I sent for Alex Kurland's book, I bombarded Mary with questions, I took every opportunity to watch Mary work with other's horses...............And we lived happily ever after. Um.....no, that would be a Disney movie and I don't know too many people whose real lives are all that "Disneyesque." Split and I had our ups and downs; our days where I was totally frustrated and angry with myself because I couldn't seem to grasp a concept or "make" Split do what I wanted; days when I embarrassingly resorted to the old "you'll do as I say or else" - little relapses here and there. And Split responded accordingly! He would give me the "horsey finger" by simply trotting away if we were working at liberty; he'd shake his head at me and refuse to move; he'd stare off into the distance on purpose, totally ignoring me.
Sigh............Well, better to admit our failings and short-comings than to allow anyone reading this to think that clicker is a quick fix or an instant miracle.
It's not. It takes patience (I now have A LOT MORE than when I began clicking!), it takes listening, it takes fairness, timing, a sense of humor, and the ability to see the large victories in the smallest steps.
Clicker training isn't just about the animal - it's about the human as well. Once I fully understood and grasped the philosophy behind clicker training, my little universe underwent a huge paradigm shift! I see EVERYTHING differently now and, most importantly, I now try to see things through others' eyes.......THAT'S huge for me!
So, MARY ARENA, thank you for being the angel on my doorstep on that beautiful autumn day 2 years ago! I'm glad that you believed in me enough to take the time to show Split and me what a difference clicking could make - and HAS made and CONTINUES to make - in our lives!

We leave you with this quote for today:

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
"Pooh!" he whispered.
"Yes, Piglet?"
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. "I just wanted to be sure of you."

Sometimes it's nice to do that with our beloved animals and they always respond in kind.......a kiss on the nose for no reason, a hug, a pat, a smile, a pony or donkey nose whuffling through our hair "just because".............just to be sure.........

Have a wonderful day, friends!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


"Clicker trainers are getting loopy!" The first time I heard that was last summer when I attended a 3 day clicker clinic with Alexandra Kurland in Wilton, NY. I thought I was in for 3 fun-filled days watching other people work their horses while I lounged lazily against the rail or leaned back in a comfy lawn chair and absorbed useful information while scribbling notes in my spiral notebook. WRONG! Within the first 10 minutes of the clinic, I knew that I was in way over my head and was looking desperately for someone to throw me a life preserver or the rescue boat to come along and scoop me up out of those deep waters!! There were women there from California, Canada, Scotland, TASMANIA, for heaven's sake! They were experienced. They were knowledgeable. They were light years ahead of me in every respect when it came to clicker training. So I slunk down in my plastic chair and hoped that when it came time for me to introduce myself I would somehow become invisible.....please, please, please.........But no, there I sat with everyone looking at me, smiling encouragingly, waiting for me to tell about myself. What was there to tell after hearing about all of their experiences?? "Um, hi. I'm Karleen and I have no business being here and the next time I see Mary Arena, I'm going to wring her neck!" ha ha No, of course I didn't say that! I simply told them my name, that Mary had recommended that I take the clinic to further my education about clicker training which, at that point was pretty slim pickin's (and in most ways still is!!), and oh, I was so happy to be there. (Scared to death is more like it!)
But these women are CLICKER TRAINERS - they know a thing or two about positive reinforcement - and I soon felt very much at home, if still terribly unsure about myself.
One of the things we discussed was "loopy training," i.e., working on 2 or more skills in a predetermined sequence. Simply put, behavior A leads to behavior B, leads back to A, leads to B, leads back to A, etc. At some point you can even throw in a C behavior so that now you have: A, B, C, back to A, B, C....and so on. You want your loops to be clean, i.e., devoid of any extraneous behavior not related to A or B (which is very difficult to do, let me tell you!!). It's as hard for the human as it is for the horse!!! But Split and I have been working on it here and there as weather and footing have permitted over the winter and one of our favorites has become: Why Would You Leave Me (WWYLM), Grown-ups Are Talking (GAT), back to WWYLM, etc. The other day we did Target standing still, walk to target, target standing still, walk to target..................
Yesterday was absolutely gorgeous and I decided to head down to the ring to do some work. Split hasn't been down there since October and because of its location, the ring can present its own set of issues. Some of the ring is in bright sunshine and some corners are in deep shade (ooooh.....boogie men!); it's right beside my pond which right now is full of honking geese and quacking ducks; the long sides are bordered by heavy brush which is a haven for killer rabbits and raptor robins! And then there's that terrifying red canoe! AAAGGGHHHH!
But down we went. I did have the presence of mind to put on my helmet. You know....."just in case." Anyway.............As soon as we got through the gate and Split stood quietly, C/T. What a good boy! We began with something he loves and is good at - WWYLM. I paid particular attention to my shoulders which, I've discovered, tend to bunch up around my ears, which raises my arms and hands, which raises the lead.............I kept reminding myself to keep my shoulders down and relaxed and whaddya know?? NO spooks, NO scary places, and we even walked deeply through the "boogie man corner" quietly and confidently! Naturally, Split was getting his C/T at a high rate of reinforcement. And THEN.....
He saw the scary blue tarp fluttering in the breeze next to the pond! He stopped and stared, he snorted a little and then, wonder of wonders, he offered head down! I let him calm himself as long as necessary and when he was willing to step off again, he did so with ears up, eyes soft, and a spring in his step! Wow!
So, what would our loop be today? I decided that it would be WWYLM, walk quietly to mounting block and stop; WWYLM, walk to mounting block and stop.
Great success! Split even started lining himself up next to the block! So I upped the ante: WWYLM, stop at block, Mom steps up onto block. Perfect!!! We did this over and over, smoothly, ending with MOM GETS ON SPLIT AND RIDES AWAY! Yes, folks, we did it! It was a short ride and only at the walk but we were very proud of ourselves and I'm starting to get that old joy back! That sensation of "Aaaaaahhhhhh.........yeah. This is where I belong" as soon as I sit on a horse's back. But one funny thing did happen. I practiced my one rein stop (why wait til I really need it, eh? LOL) and all was going well. Split even earned one or two "jackpots" (peppermints!). We were walking along and suddenly Split stopped and turned to get his treat. Hmmm....this was interesting since I hadn't asked him to stop. Perhaps he thought he would offer it and see what happened? Well, nothing would happen so I just sat there. In a "previous life," I would have circled him or kicked him on but now I'm interested in the WHY of things so I waited.........He offered head down. Nope, that's not it. I saw him thinking things over. I shifted my weight and then I heard it - "the noise!" Split immediately turned his head to get his treat! (Remember, I'm hearing impaired so unless it's extremely quiet, I often don't hear environmental or extraneous noises.) I shifted again. Yep, there it was - the sound of peppermint wrappers crackling in my vest pocket! HA HA HA Split had heard that and thought he was going to get a jackpot!! Poor guy! I asked him to walk on and of course he did so, with a sigh that said, "Well, OK, but you can't blame a guy for trying." We walked thru the "boogie man corner" without incident and that's when he got his jackpot and we called it a day with that!
Note to self: UNWRAP peppermints before putting in vest pocket! But perhaps I'm onto something. Maybe if Split ever decides to bolt again, I can lean forward and simply crackle some peppermint wrappers in his ears!!!!!!! "WHOA! CANDY! GOTTA STOP!" ha ha ha

We leave you with this quote for today:

"Marry me and I'll never look at another horse!" Groucho Marx

He cracks me up!! Have a great day, friends!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Where did Monday go?

Where DID Monday go? Sure flew by me like Chuck Yager on a misson..............
I first met Mary Arena back in the '80's when we both rode at a place called Sunrise Hill Farm. Sunrise Hill focused on Sally Swift's principles of centered riding and we often had Sally herself in for clinics. I liked Mary right away - she always had a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, even when falling off of her beloved horse, Duncan, while saluting the judge at a dressage show! The saddle slipped and so did Mary but I have to say that her aim is impeccable - I believe her bottom landed directly on X!! (Sorry, Mary, but that's one of my favorite stories! ha ha) Sunrise Hill underwent some changes and moved out of the area, and Mary and I lost touch. Many years and horses later, we found ourselves at a cook-out hosted by a friend who founded CRNY-Horsewomen, an on line group for women interested in all facets of horses and horsemanship. One member whom I had already met walked over and said, "This is my friend, Mary Arena."
I was so surprised and delighted at seeing Mary again after all those years that I impulsively threw my arms around her neck and squealed, "Mary!" I'm sure I shocked the daylights out of her - how rude! But Mary being Mary, she just smiled and laughed at my enthusiasm. While getting caught up with each other's lives, I told her my tale of woe about Brick and about being run away with while riding Split. I then went on to tell her that we were currently following a natural horsemanship program that involved a big orange stick, knotted halter, and very expensive dvd's. I expressed enthusiasm for the program and blathered on and on about how much it had helped Split and me but you can't fool Mary Arena. She has this uncanny ability to "read" people's energy and to see right through all the "b.s." The truth is that this "system" was not working for us. The premise of "upping the phases" was insulting to Split and exhausting for me. If he didn't do as requested by my poking him with a finger or the orange stick, I was supposed to poke him harder, then harder still, then harder.......you get the idea.
Never was it suggested that I try to understand WHY my pony wasn't responding.....just "poke harder." That's a simplification but basically if you didn't get the response you wanted with the "lightest phase," then you "upped the phases." More than once Split gave me his, "But I'm trying as hard as I can! Why are you poking me harder?" look. It broke my heart but hey, the dvd's told me and showed me that's what I should do. And the people who made the dvd's were gazillionaires with this system so it must be ME doing something wrong!
My relationship with Split was one of, "Here's your hay. Here's your water. I'll groom you now. I'm going to clean the stall now. Bye." It was surface only. I loved him because he was so kind and gentle to be around but there was no deep connection, no real communication, NO FUN! Not wanting to cry "uncle" again, I persevered with my orange stick and knotted halter but every time we worked together, Split and I ended up being frustrated and angry with one another. But was I going to admit that to Mary Arena? Heck, no! She suggested that I might want to try giving clicker training a go. Yeah, I'd heard about that. But NO WAY was I going to resort to bribing my horse to behave. I wasn't about to have a horse who wore a sign that said, "Will work for food." Uh-uh. MY horse was going to do as I asked because I SAID SO. Mary smiled and said, "Ok." She respected my opinion. Of course she did. I'd had horses for almost 40 years! I knew what I was doing! Naturally, I skittered out of that conversation as quickly as possible. She had to know I was lying through my teeth about that orange stick......I WAS lying about that orange stick. Still.................bribery? I don't think so!!
We always seem to get angels in our lives just when we most need them. We might not even know they're angels at the time but looking back...........

We leave you with this quote for today:

"A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape." Mark Twain

Neither can a round pony! We're still modifying.......and I don't think that either of will ever be totally "square!" In fact, I don't think I WANT us to be square! Good-bye, orange stick!
Have a great day, friends!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

My favorite recipe

Everyone has a favorite recipe and in the fall of 2005, my specialty seemed to have become "Recipe for Disaster." I had just sold one Welsh pony with whom I had failed miserably when into my life stepped the "perfect" pony - a small gray Welsh named "Split." Get out the wooden spoon and the bowl and start mixin'! If any of you are interested in my "Recipe for Disaster," here it is:
Take one gray pony and separate from his herd and his owners; transplant him to another country. Add one overly-distraught human being, an ill-fitting saddle, a pack of coyotes, and a cold windy day. Mix well and turn out in the middle of a very large field. No need to stir - the ingredients will mix themselves. When fully blended, mixture will explode, sending all participants in opposite directions. Wait for human to land on the front lawn and pony to be caught by neighbor. Serve with a large helping of "crow" several days after the recipe is "done."
Poor Split. He had been taken away from his equine buddies and his beloved human family and brought to a "foreign" country to boot! He was a total gentleman about it all, though! What a refreshing change from my previous aggressive pony. Split has impeccable manners and from the get-go he allowed us into his personal space with no hint of unhappiness - he was quite happy to be groomed and petted and fussed over! Our first ride was 3 days after he arrived here. I hopped on bareback and rode around our very large backyard and even took a little jaunt out into the meadow. The only problem occurred when we rode through a narrow opening between 2 large fir trees. As we emerged into the meadow, Split suddenly tossed in 3 big bucks! I think the fir tree branches must have whacked his hiney. I stayed on, though! I figured if I didn't fall off after riding through 3 bucks bareback, with a saddle I was NEVER coming off this pony! HAH! Split was fun to ride and he was agreeable to pretty much everything but there were a few "spooky" moments where he jumped sideways, snorted and stared off into the distance. I must admit that those frightened me - I was always poised for the rearing or the backing up (because of Brick - he had really taken the wind out of my sails!) and would get tense and worried. Naturally Split would pick up on that and then think, "Uh-oh! Mom's worried! There must be something to worry ABOUT!" LOL
Then came that "fateful Friday." It was mid-November, cold and windy, and getting dark early. I decided to go for a quick ride around our meadow. Split's behavior SHOULD have been a warning to me that perhaps a ride that day wasn't a good idea. Instead of standing quietly as usual while we saddled up, he was very antsy, fidgeting around in the stall, snorting, etc. The logical part of me said, "Karleen, this is not a good idea today." The "I will not let another pony scare me" part of me said, "Nonsense! You get on this pony and ride! You're a very good rider. You can handle anything. Stop worrying." Gulp! So off we went..........Things went pretty well at first but then Split really began to fidget. He danced in place; he turned and "bit" at the girth; he snorted and blew and spooked at things........
We walked and trotted and even galloped where it was safe. But I was very tense and nervous because of all the snorting and prancing, and had a death grip on the reins. As it was seriously getting dark, we ended our ride at the top of our meadow and I decided to turn and go for home. We were dancing and prancing along when Split began to pick up a good-paced trot. I asked him to walk which he did but he was clearly nervous about something and didn't settle. He trotted again. I asked for a walk................With a huge snort and the blast of a fart, Split tucked his hind end and bolted! I'm talking galloping so fast that everything around me was a blur!! I remember those first few nanoseconds of shock, followed by hauling on the reins to no avail, to thinking, "Please don't step in a woodchuck hole!" In a heartbeat we were in the backyard where Split slowed down enough for me to bail off safely onto the kitchen lawn. He kept on going - tail up over his back, head up and eyes rolling...................I was devastated and so very angry and disgusted with myself. I got up and started running after him (like I could catch a galloping pony!) and was surprised to see my neighbor Larry walking calmly toward me leading Split and carrying a plastic bucket. Larry knows nothing about horses but he did have the presence of mind to grab a bucket from his porch, toss in a few pebbles and rattle them, hoping that he could fool Split into thinking it was grain. And it worked! He said that Split slammed on the brakes and walked over to him as calmly as could be and wasn't even insulted when he discovered rocks in the bucket instead of food! Indeed, I took the reins and Split followed me right back to the barn and into his stall. However, within a few minutes of being unsaddled and checked for injuries, he began pacing and would go out into the paddock and stare into the meadow, run back into his stall and stare out the door, then back out into the paddock.......He wasn't interested in his hay, either. He'd grab a mouthful and then trot around the paddock, staring out into the meadow. I knew then that he was crazy as a loon. Or could it be me? Perhaps I was doing something to MAKE horses crazy. I was totally deflated. I beat myself up emotionally all that night. I cried, I yelled (at myself), I told my husband that I was sending Split back to Canada because clearly I was UNFIT TO RIDE EVER AGAIN! John remained extremely calm while listening to all my tirades. Finally he gave me a big hug and said, "You're not getting rid of that pony." My first reaction was, "Hey, who are you and what have you done with my REAL husband?" LOL Instead I said, "WHAH? Whaddya mean? Obviously I'm not going to ride again. What if I never ride again?" (Are you seeing a theme here?) "If I never ride again, why should I even HAVE a horse? Why keep Split if I never ride him again? Huh? What if I never ride again?" John smiled, hugged me again and said, "Well then, you have a....a......REALLY BIG PET." Clearly he understood that I really did love this little gray pony and that there was a relationship developing between us. He also knew that I needed time to "recover" from the shock of having been run away with. Forty years of riding and I'd never been on a run-away; never felt out of control the way I had in those fateful few minutes.
That night the coyotes descended on my paddock and John could hear them baying and howling right in back of the barn (I was clueless because of my hearing loss). Split was FRANTIC, as you can imagine. I kept going out and checking on him and yelling at the coyotes (who would shut up temporarily and then begin howling as soon as I was back in the house). John asked me where I was riding when Split bolted and when I told him, he sighed and said, "I guess I should have warned you. That's where the coyotes come out into the meadow every night but I didn't think you'd be out there at dusk this time of year." Hmmm....There was one ingredient I didn't know about. And there were others, it turns out.......My saddle (my beloved Pessoa) didn't fit Split at all and in fact had caused some bumps on this withers! Shame on me for not noticing. Split does NOT like windy days AT ALL and even now will "fret" when the wind picks up speed.
I had not yet been fitted with hearing aides (that's a long story) and when outside was virtually deaf (especially on windy days) so that if Split spooked, I would have no idea what had caused the behavior or what the noise was or where it was coming from.
Which also means that I wouldn't have heard the coyotes come out of the woods (probably couldn't have heard them even with normal hearing and most likely Split smelled them before they appeared or made a sound anyway). Add all of that up and you get my "Recipe for Disaster."
Did I ever ride again? That's a story for another day. It's been an amazing journey and there's lots more to tell. That wild November ride set me on a path I never anticipated....

We leave you with this quote today:

"This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook -- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!" Julia Child

I'll never be a good cook but life itself is full of new recipes. I've tried out a few - you should, too!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

May the force be with you!

"May the force be with you!" That catch-phrase has been around for at least 25 years now. Fortunately, it has no place in our "world o' clickin'!" (Must be close to St. Patrick's Day - I'm talking like a leprechaun! LOL)
I was thinking about that yesterday when I was playing clicker with Split. Split is the kind of pony who will do just about anything you ask of him. I can even force him into doing things and he'll comply but the look in his eyes clearly says, "Why don't you just ask me politely?" And forcing the issue, of course, brings out tenseness and a heightened sense of "flight or fight." He would never knock me down or push me aside to get away but at the first sign of an opening, he's outta there! And who can blame the poor guy? If someone was always pushing us around and forcing us to things that are new and maybe even scary or contrary to what we felt was safe, we'd run, too.
Split is very good at backing, both on line and at liberty. He'll back straight up as far as I want him to and then return to get his treat. Taking hold of his halter and asking him to back in a square, however, is another matter. What is it about me holding onto that lead and halter and asking him to back as opposed to him backing straight up by himself? Well, I suppose that when he's backing under his own steam, he feels that he's in control. He can stop when he feels unsafe or unsure; he can make his own decision. When I take hold of his halter, perhaps he feels like, "Oh, crap. I'm trapped."
Split's also a bit of a claustrophobic when it comes to his stall. To "set the stage" for you, I'll describe my barn. It's small but very old. It's constructed of mortise and tenon which gives you an indication of its age. It has a good-sized open floor space, small hay loft, and originally had 3 standing stalls.
Over the years, the pins in the mortise and tenon had started to slip out of the joints and the sides of the barn were beginning to literally bow out. When my husband offered to buy me a horse, we realized that our first job was restoring the barn. Unfortunately, this was no job for your run-of-the-mill carpenter; we had to call in barn restoration specialists. So, for the price of a small foreign country, the barn was rebuilt and the 3 standing stalls ripped out and made into one long, narrow stall area with a dutch door at either end. Split is an outdoor kind of guy. He's out there in the rain, the snow, the wind....whatever. He refuses to eat his hay inside. I'm as financially savvy as the next guy (ok, I'm cheap) and I hate to see my hard-earned money (flakes of hay) blowing out into the meadow when it's windy out. So...on those bad-weather days, I always put the flakes inside. Jingle the mini donk is content to munch inside but Split uses his nose as a bulldozer and methodically pushes his flakes outside where he can dine al fresco. Sigh..........There goes another 5 bucks. I give both Split and Jingle a "treat" of a handful of hay stretcher pellets with their evening hay and Split will eat them out of the manger but as soon as they're consumed, he's out the door! He's also very "antsy" inside when the vet and blacksmith come. He's cooperative and behaves nicely but as soon as that halter comes off, he's outta there!
Yesterday we started off in the paddock with Why Would You Leave Me (simple explanation: Split walks beside me politely - no mugging for treats allowed) which was a huge success. Split is so good at this now that I can focus more on what I'M doing than what HE'S doing, both of which are intertwined. I tend to be very stiff with my body which brings out some interesting behaviors in Split. Yesterday I really concentrated on keeping my shoulders down and soft, and using my hips to influence where Split went. It was amazing! I could actually go from being deliberately stiff to opening up my shoulders and loosening my hips and get markedly different responses!!
We also did some targeting with a new target I've created. I took an old soda bottle and fastened it to the end of a lunge whip. I covered the bottle in duct tape and - voila! - a "follow me" target. (Feel free to copy any of my genius ideas! ha ha) This was a HUGE success! Split loved it. At first we just targeted at a stand-still. Then I moved the target a few feet away. Clever fellow that he is, Split simply stretched his neck and targeted the bottle. Each success was clicked and treated (C/T). I finally moved the bottle far enough away that he had to actually walk to it but he would walk just close enough to streeeeeeeetch his neck and target. No treat. He finally figured out that he had to actually walk up to the bottle and touch it. This didn't take long and in the end he followed that target all around the paddock and right into the barn.
Here's where things got interesting. I sensed immediately that Split tensed up as soon as he came into the barn. Aha! Here was something new for us to play with!! As stated previously, Split has always had "sticky feet" when it comes to Backing In A Square (backing from points A to B to C to D and back to A - picture the 4 corners of a square - with me at the helm, i.e. guiding him with the halter). Sounds easy, right?? (Ok, you go out and try it! LOL) It's hard enough when you have a large open space and a square laid out with an orange cone at each corner. Picture me doing this in my stall area - narrow and confining. I first turned Split so that he was going to be backing down the "long" side of the stall; my goal was to back him far enough that we could then "back in a square" in front of his manger (that part is a bit bigger than the rest of the stall). I asked him to back. He tensed up and his feet got sticky. The look on his face was clearly, "Oh, crap. I can't do this. Why am I doing this? I don't know what's back there." (He's only lived there for 4 years! LOL) But he did it! He got his C/T for those first few steps. We successfully completed "back in a square" but it was quite evident that Split was not happy about it. In a "previous life," (before clicker), I would have been quite happy with that. But I wasn't happy now. I knew that Split had done as I'd asked simply because I'd ASKED him - he was still unsure of himself. We walked forward and started again. I asked him to back and the MOST AMAZING THING happened! He dropped his nose to the floor, sighed, and just stood there!!!! Clearly, many of you are thinking, he was ignoring me or disobeying my command. No, he was CALMING HIMSELF!! We've been working on "head down" for a few years now but never has Split OFFERED it to me in a "nervous situation" before! It was just thrilling!! I waited and waited and finally he raised his head again. I asked him to back and his nose again went right to the floor! He sighed and stayed like that. Now I was really getting excited! He was communicating to me that he needed time to think about things. He was telling me that he was unsure of himself; that he was nervous about backing up into such a small space. He was saying, "Just give me a second, Mom, to think this over and get my act together." We stood in companionable silence until the head came up again. He used "head down" three times. The third time he raised his head and I asked him to back, he willingly backed 2 steps!!! C/T and much praise! The look in his eyes was soft and his ears were up and indicating interest in the game as opposed to swiveling nervously in all directions. In the end, we were able to complete "back in a square." THIS time the difference was that I had a pony who was doing it WILLINGLY because I'd ALLOWED him to take his time; I'd ALLOWED him to make the decision about when he felt comfortable moving his feet. And the fact that he actually OFFERED head down as a self-calming exercise.........well, I'm still walking on air about that!
So....May the force be with you???? No. We can force our animals do to our bidding but at some point that's going to come around to bite you. And I have the scars on my butt to prove it! ha ha ha
We leave you with another quote instead:

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
Winnie the Pooh

Why rush through the rapids when it's so much more fun to float through calm waters? You'll get there eventually. Enjoy the ride!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday Morning

"Monday, Monday! Can't trust that day!" Does anyone remember that song? This Monday morning is just gorgeous! The sun is shining, I can smell the mud in the air (spring must be right around the corner), there are bluebirds in the backyard, my horses are munching their hay in the sunshine and there is a mini pin asleep on my lap. Oh, and the coffee is hot! Doesn't get much better than that.
Since this is the beginning of the week, I'd like to start at the beginning.....when Split first arrived here at Crow Frost Farm (that name is a story for another time). So.......................
There I was in September of 2005 - horseless, depressed, nerves still shot from my husband's "near death" experience, and seriously doubting myself on many levels. Because John (husband) had recovered from a surgical complication that should have killed him (he still holds the record at Albany Medical Center for having had the largest pulmonary emboli they've ever seen - and he survived!), I believe he was a bit giddy and delirious with joy when he told me to go ahead and start looking for another horse. But the offer was out there and he couldn't take it back. I placed an on line ad on the Welsh pony & cob list and also advertised on the breed registry home site and soon received several phone calls about ponies for sale - none of which worked out. I had decided that perhaps I should just wait until spring when I got the phone call from Marie Howran of Howran Hills Farm in Ontario. I'd met Marie in 2004 at the Syracuse Welsh Pony & Cob Show. I'd gone to the show with a friend who was showing her ponies and we had the good fortune of being stabled across the aisle from Howran Hills. Marie, her husband, Jim, and daughters Hilary and Janene, were delightful! They had beautiful ponies and were fun, friendly and knowledgeable. Best of all, they offered to help anyone with anything, whether it was imparting knowledge, sharing equipment, or offering us green apple soda (yeah, that's a taste I'll never forget!). When Marie read my ad on the Welsh pony site, she remembered me and gave me a call. She was selling Split because her daughters had out-grown him and he was the only gelding on what had now become a large breeding operation; in short, she felt that he was being "neglected" (not a possibility on that farm!). She'd had many families with children come to look at him, however, Marie was hoping to find a "forever" home for Split - not a home where he would be out-grown and sold on many times. Lots of phone calls and photo exchanges later, I agreed to buy "TM Splitter," aka "Split," registered as Ponderosa Misty Icon. Jim was strong-armed into trucking Split down here from Canada (with the caveat that if either I or my farm were not acceptable, he was to pack Split back up and bring him back home! ha ha). The first attempt to cross the border in Buffalo was a disaster. Jim and his friend, Dave, were detained several hours at the border and told that they had to have a livestock ID number (which usually only pertains to commercial shippers - not privately owned animals). The border guards were very gruff and finally turned them away and they returned to Ontario. Maried called me to ask if I'd like to try again; perhaps they could get an ID # quickly (they did). Of course I wanted to try again - that was MY PONY they were trucking! This time Jim and Dave chose a smaller crossing post and the guards were most friendly. They asked what was in the trailer and Jim told him "a little gray pony I'm taking to his new owner in New York." One of the guards looked inside the trailer, said, "Yep, it's a pony, alright," and waved them across and into the U.S.
When Split stepped off that trailer and onto my back lawn, it was love at first sight! I remember that my words were, "Oh, my god! He's PERFECT!" Of course, I eventually had to eat those words..............and they didn't taste very good, either.
No one and no thing are ever perfect. We all know that although we'd like to believe differently. By declaring Split "perfect," I had set myself up for a series of disappointments. I wasn't looking at him realistically. I saw a beautiful gray pony who would carry me off into my dreams; who would never put a hoof wrong; who would obey my every command; who would be at my beck and call................Wake up, sister! It was a tough wake-up call, too, I'll tell ya.
I hope everyone has a good Monday! If this weather keeps up, the icy footing might actually disappear in my paddock (to be replaced by mud - the 5th season here in the Great Northeast) and we can get back to playing clicker outside.
We leave you with this quote today:

"Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world. It wouldn't be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there?" Anne Shirley, "Anne of Green Gables"

Go out and discover something new today!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday reflections

For many of us, Sunday is a time of reflection; a time to go to church and pray and meditate. For me, this Sunday is a time to drink my coffee, feed my pony and donkey, clean the barn and then get to the theater by 1:00 for rehearsal.
I love the theater. I love being a part of the illusion and magic that is inherent in each production. I've participated in plays as an actress and as stage manager and I have to say that I think I prefer the latter. Being stage manager allows me to help create the magic; to orchestrate it, choreograph it, arrange it. I set the stage; I MAKE IT HAPPEN..........sort of. I have a stage crew, of course, but usually it's one or, if I'm lucky, two adults and a whole bunch of kids ranging in age from 9-18. It would be great to be able to clicker train my stage crew. "Hey! You got the chair in the right place! Click!" "You remembered to turn the pillar around the right way this time! Click!" "You got the backdrop down in time! Click!"
But that's not the way it works. I do all the grunt work. I go to every rehearsal and consult with the director about what should go where. I spend months gathering props and working with the scenery/set designers (if there are any - usually it comes down to the director, myself and some poor, over-worked, kindly dad).........And then I write up what has to go where, scene by scene, and tape it in prominent places backstage. But of course nothing goes smoothly. The confetti cannons won't fire; the backdrop gets stuck and I have to run out and "unstick" it; the fog machine over-heats; the kids are eating the prop cookies backstage......................I do my best to "set the stage" but somehow, always, something goes awry.
Clicker training is sort of like stage managing. I do all the "grunt work." I read the books, I go to the clinics, I watch the dvd's, I buy a fishing vest (for treats, of course), I buy the right treats. In short, I set the stage. And then it's "opening night" for a new task or behavior. And the "leads" (my horse or dog or donkey and ME!) get "stage fright." One of us freezes and "forgets our lines." UGH. That's so frustrating!! So what do we do? Do we close the show? "Split - I ASKED you to take this treat politely! Did you not read the script? That's it! You're fired! I'll get another actor to take your place!" "SPLIT! WHY are you in my face? That is not called for! Read the stage directions! Forget it! This play is shut down! I can't find any decent actors who will read the script and do as I direct them!"
Or can I reset the stage? Can I rearrange things? Can I REWRITE THE SCRIPT? Yes, yes, and yes.
Clicking is about "setting the stage," certainly. We have to make sure that we have all the foundations in place before we start asking for bigger and better. But if there are "props" missing or the "scenery" is in the wrong place, the show must still go on. We just have to adjust and work around it, that's all.
I've discovered that if Split isn't doing as I'm expecting, then I need to step back and ask myself, "Hmm.....what am I missing? What's in the wrong place here?" Because most likely I've missed a step along the way - there's gap in our training; I've set the stage incorrectly. And Split WILL tell me - I only have to listen.
One night I was backstage at a play and one little boy, Peter, had been a handful since the beginning of rehearsal. He was a real cut-up and could not keep his mouth quiet backstage. I was concentrating on what was going on out on stage when I heard a loud whisper, "Mrs. Hayden! Hey, Mrs. Hayden!" I recognized that voice - Peter! I didn't want to hear that "So and So" had poked him or that his shoe was untied or that the lights hurt his eyes so I hissed, "Quiet!" Again - "Mrs. Hayden! Mrs. Hayden!" I glared at him to "BE QUIET!" and refocused my attention to the action on stage. And then I heard him again.
"Mrs. Hayden! THE CURTAIN IS ON FIRE!" ha ha ha Oh, yes, the curtain WAS on fire!! Apparently, one of the children had hit a spotlight with their foot and the bulb was directly against the stage curtain!! (We've since replaced both the lights and the curtain!)
Little flames were licking along the bottom so I ran out and stomped them out. Imagine if I hadn't listened to Peter that night!
That's how I feel about listening to my animals. If I don't listen to them, the "fire" will escalate until I CAN'Tput it out. I've learned that it's far better if I listen to what Split or Jingle or Jelly or Lucy have to say to me. I'm working on that but I'm still a pretty stubborn human sometimes.
Enjoy the day, everyone! We leave you with this quote (I love this one and I think it applies to us clicker trainers):

"You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles." (Miracle Max; The Princess Bride)

Don't rush your miracles!!!!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Poetry On A Saturday

The Irish are known for their literary accomplishments and my friend, Dorothy, is no exception. Shortly after perusing my new blog, she emailed me with a poem that was inspired by that most handsome of fellows, Split the Wonder Pony. It made me laugh and really summed up Splitty's spirit! I am happy to share it with you! With thanks and credit to Dorothy Gaydos of Druid Meadow Morgans ........

And clicketysplit, away he trots...
A maneful of burrs, a noseful of snot!
Cool weather is taunting this pure gaelic soul...
"Come play with me pony, we'll never grow old!"

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Ruminations

At school today (I substitute teach), one of the teachers over-heard me telling someone else my age. This teacher said, "Wow! I hope I look as good as you when I'M that old!" Hmmm.........I'm still lickin' and chewin' on that one! ha ha ha I suppose it was a compliment.............
I certainly don't feel old, in fact usually when someone asks me how old I am, I have to stop and do the math! It just doesn't matter to me. What I find fascinating is that, even at "my age," I still have the ability to change and grow and learn new things! I was stuck in a rut for more years than I care to remember but then along came this cute little gray pony................I think the first time I fell off him, he must have jarred some brain circuitry because that's when things began to change.....
I'm sure we've all had the experience of buying a horse or adopting a dog or taking a job or dating or marrying someone, all the while a nagging little voice in the back of our head was going, "Something's not right here. Don't do this." That happened to me with my first Welsh pony. I had been working at AppleCreek for 5 years and had had the very great honor to care for and ride "Big Al" (I know he's listening right now so.....Al, I love you and I miss you!!!!), Penny Apple's retired thoroughbred hunter. But it was time for me to get my own horse and a friend talked me into buying a green 3 year old Welsh cob. I was assured by the breeder that this horse would be "push button" to train and that he would give me many years of pleasure, both under saddle and in harness. I had my doubts but WANTED to believe, so the deal was struck and Brick came to live with me. From the get-go he was aggressive but I thought perhaps he was just lonely for his small herd of companions. He actually was very easy to back and to ride and the first autumn he was here, things went very well until about December. For some reason, he began to become very tense under saddle and would buck and rear and whirl around..........
I did everything - vet check, teeth checked, chiropractic work, saddle fit checked, farrier called out........nothing "clicked." (Pun intended.) I tried Parelli - for us that just exacerbated the issues.
This horse began rearing and striking out and even throwing himself over backward (I was never on him at the time). He began literally attacking my husband if he ventured into the pasture. Many times I heard my husband holler and when I looked outside, I'd see him rolling under the fence, the compost bowl and compost flying through the air, and Brick on the warpath! The final straw, however, was when he bit me in the face one night when I simply went to put his feed in his manger - something I'd done every night since he'd arrived at my place. I asked the breeder to take him back and sell him; I would pay for his expenses until she found a more suitable home. My husband told me to GIVE him back and we would just forget the money but I was told, "My horses are not teenagers. Once they leave home, they are not welcome back." I sent him to a trainer who agreed that this horse was not the horse for me and agreed that I should try to sell him. At the end of that summer, I found a buyer who wanted him despite full disclosure about his issues.
That experience plunged me into a dark funk - I'd failed. I'd never failed with a horse before but boy, I failed this one - big time! At the same time as all this was going on, my husband was injured and subsequent surgery left him with 2 pulmonary emboli from which the doctors were not sure he would recover. I was as far down mentally and emotionally as I've ever been........
(Thank you, Al and Penny for saving my sanity that summer and fall!!!) My husband recovered (it was truly a miracle) but I still had no horse of my own. My confidence had taken a severe beating but I was determined to find another horse. I wanted something dead broke - so dead that it would have no emotions and no opinions; it should be at my beck and call. I would be the boss. I would run the show. I would call the shots.
And then came the phone call from Peterborough, Ontario...........................
Of course, there's more. LOL!!! But I'm off to walk my little beagle, Jelly. She's a rescue. She was a mom in a puppy mill in Georgia who was transported to Mississippi and then here to upstate New York. Thanks to Split and our clicking, I was able to give this sweet beagle what she needed to become a member of our family. But that's a story for another day...........
Here's our quote for today (thank you, Eeyore!!!):

"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily.
"So it is."
"And freezing."
"Is it?"
"Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

First Post

This is my first attempt at blogging but it's been in the back of my mind that it's something I should do for quite a while now. Why today? Who knows? The stars aligned, I didn't get called to substitute teach, I got all my housework done, the dog told me to.......you can choose your own reason. But I'm here to share my experience with clicker training and how it changed my life in ways completely unrelated to just animal training. It's created a paradigm shift in my little world. I am exploring animal communication, energy work, spirituality....and all because of one little gray pony with a great big, heart and a lot of patience with this silly human.
Split is a registered Welsh pony who resembles a little draft horse. In Wales, these ponies were originally bred as draft ponies and Split resembles those original hard workers. No slim, trim, hunter/jumper pony type, Split is built for durability. He is, without question, the smartest equine I've ever run across, in fact, I'd venture that in many ways he's smarter than I am! That's probably why we got off to such a rocky start - Split does not suffer fools gladly!
Now that I've floundered through the set-up steps for this blog, I'm quite out of thoughts for today as my feeble brain is going, "Enough!" But we'll be back. Oh, and I have to get batteries for my camera so I can share photos as well.
Thanks for stopping by!