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!"

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!

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