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!"

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!

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