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, July 27, 2010

On Bended Knee

Do any of you have those moments with your animal when they suddenly and unexpectedly present you with a situation for which you're unprepared and you have to think fast? And then you sort of sit back and you see the little light bulb appear in front of you and you think, "Oh, wow. That was pretty cool! Can I turn that into something valuable? Can I take this and run with it?" Those of us in education call those "teachable moments" in the classroom and sometimes those moments morph into some very valuable lessons.
Yesterday I decided to play around with more Stand On Your Mat games. Split and Jingle LOVE their mat (yes, they share) and get very excited when they see me coming out of the barn with it. It's kind of funny to see the 2 of them dancing around and nickering or wheezing (Jingle) as I drag it out of the barn. Who knew a piece of plywood could engender such enthusiasm?? Split is getting very good at standing on that mat no matter where I go in the paddock. He might turn his head to look at me but he stays put until called off. Jingle just stands on the mat and looks cute and collects her treats.
When we'd played with the mat for a while, I put it away and decided to do some grooming. Split used to *require* (oh, how far we've come!!) being tied up in order to be groomed but now he will stand at liberty while being groomed to the "nth degree" and will even stand at liberty for the fly spray. After he was all spiffed up and lookin' good, I went to work on Jingle. Jingle loves being brushed and fussed over unless it involves (cue scary music) SCISSORS!! She will now allow me to trim her mane and her fetlocks but trimming under her throat latch is another story. (For the record, I DO NOT trim whiskers!!! I believe they are there for a reason.) Jingle has a lovely "beard" that I try to trim now and then, not so much because I don't like it, but because I think she needs to get used to being trimmed all over in case of an emergency - you never know when I might need to trim hair away from a cut! Anyway...........the minute the scissors came near her neck, she shook that little donkey head at me and away she went..........about 3 feet away! ha ha She never goes too far. We played target with the scissors and pretty soon I could lay them against her neck and then she willingly allowed me to trim the hairs under her throat. Jingle is so short that I do this while on my knees. WELL....Mr. Split was feeling a bit left out
and decided to butt in on the action by mugging me! OOOOOOOH! Bad decision. I asked him to back but he just put his head up. He again came in for the "mug." This time I fixed him with my best "teacher glare" and said, "BACK!" sternly. Instead, he mugged again. So there I am, kneeling in the dirt, right between a big pony and a little donkey and I thought, "Good thing I trust both of these guys 'cause I could definitely get hurt here." And then I thought, "But what if I was already hurt? What if I was laying in the dirt? What if I was a little girl kneeling to pat this donkey and Split came up and loomed over her?" (Split NEVER bites, thank goodness but he can "nibble" with his lips in his quest for a treat.) Those thoughts led to, "What can I do with this?" I waited a second and sure enough, Split came in for the mug again. I reached out and quickly tapped my hand on the ground and said, "Back." While doing Parelli L1, I had taught Split to back by tapping the ground in front of him with the carrot stick - it still works like a charm so I thought, "Why not try my hand?" Back he went!! C/T (I had to really stretch to give him that treat!) Of course, he came forward again and I again sent him back but this time made him wait for the treat. I did not want him to think that mugging was part of the loop. I wanted him to understand that if I am on the ground and I ask him to back up, he needs to STAY back until I call him to me again. We played with this for quite awhile (and I had to spray the knees of my jeans with Shout last night! LOL) and we were actually successful! Sometimes I would put my finger on his nose and say, "Back!" (Well, you never know what a kid might do!) At first he literally went almost cross-eyed trying to see what the dickens my finger was doing ponking him in the nose but as soon as he took one step back, C/T. It was great fun and totally unplanned! And definitely not in any of Alex Kurland's books! But that's the great thing about clicking!! Once you get the basics solid, you can make up your own stuff or tailor the exercises to fit your own particular needs. But DO MAKE SURE THAT THE BASICS ARE SOLID because we all have holes in our training and they WILL show up eventually. I often find myself having to head right back to square one............but that's OK!!
Well, I'll be interested to see what scenarios present themselves when we're playing today. I like to keep an open mind.......which is probably why I keep losing most of the stuff in it! ha ha

Teaching should be full of ideas instead of stuffed with facts. ~Author Unknown

"Just the facts, m'am" is okay for Joe Friday and yes, we do need to make sure that we have all our facts straight (i.e., make sure we understand the basics) but there's a lot of fun in creativity! Happy clicking, everyone!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Goin' To The Mat!

Split LOVES mat work! I mean, he "hangs out" and makes all these funny little nickering sounds in his throat when he hears me click......he gets uber enthusiastic, actually! So we need to work on some emotional control but that's what this journey is all about - for both of us!
Split knows when that big piece of plywood comes out that he's going to get lots of treats 'cause all he has to do is stand on it. Oh, boy!! Today my loop was: stand on the mat, C/T; mom walks away while Split continues to stand on the mat then calls Split to "come," CT; Split is told "on the mat" (and I walk over and tap it) and back he goes. This isn't really too difficult or complicated for him because we've been working on this off and on for a while. Split was a prince while I walked away from him while he could see me, however, as soon as I walked away by walking BEHIND him, well, that was a different matter! He would immediately leave the mat and try to follow me. Interesting! (Meanwhile, Jingle continued to stand politely on the mat and wait for her share of the treats! LOL) Obviously I had to break this down. I started by walking past his shoulder. If he stood on the mat, C/T. He quickly caught onto that. Then I walked past his rump.....and so it progressed. I was able to walk behind him and all the way to the corner of the paddock while he stood looking away from me, waiting until he was called. Great progress!!! He did get a bit frustrated at one point and I may have been walking too far away, i.e., not breaking this down into small enough segments, because he repeatedly turned and walked off the mat to follow me. I simply asked him to walk back to the mat. When he repeated the "turn and follow mom" behavior 3 times, I realized that there was a big hole somewhere and we needed to address that. And so we began again.............I did not click and treat when I had to ask him to return to the mat because I didn't want him to create his own loop of "stand on the mat, mom walks away, Split follows, mom brings Split back to the mat for a treat." I wanted him to understand that I want him to stand on the mat even when I walk away unless I cue him to leave. It's going well - can't wait til tomorrow!
The only "problem" I had was when I bent down to pick up the mat...........both Split and Jingle came running and stood on it!! ha ha ha I had to ask them to back up, of course. Jingle would back off and as I was asking Split to back off of it, Jingle would step onto it and vice versa. Finally I got them both to walk off at the same time and I quickly picked up the mat and made off with it! Those guys..............

"The two most powerful warriors are patience and time." Tolstoy

I've got lots of time...............need to work on the patience!!!
So long for now!


Monday, July 12, 2010

Ms. Personality!!

AA Milne knew a thing or two about donkeys when he came up with Eeyore! That "hang dog" expression, the head lowering, the "well, ok, you can do it but I'm not gonna like it" attitude...........I have a mini donkey just like that! She's the cutest thing on 4 hooves, I think.
When she first arrived here, plucked out of a huge free roaming herd in Nebraska (she'd started life at a mini donk farm in Vermont), she'd had little interaction with humans and considered us all the devil's minions. But slowly, very slowly, she began to see that we aren't all bad and now she believes that we live to scratch her hiney or her chest! ha ha
Jingle is clearly an old soul (and perhaps all donkeys are). She is patient, she's tolerant of over-zealous children, and of dogs and cats strolling through the pasture. She's curious about everything and will stick those long ears straight up and stare at something til she's figured it out. She's very smart, too, and catches onto the clicker work simply by watching Split and me. When Split and I play Why Would You Leave Me, Jingle walks on one side of me, Split on the other - I'm like the filling in a horsey sandwich. Jingle steps right along with us, stops when we stop, and switches directions when we do. I didn't teach her this - she literally picked it up on her own! She does all of this without a halter or lead rope. When Split and I began working more with Stand On A Mat, Jingle figured out that if she, too, stands on the mat, she will also get a treat! What a clever girl!
But what I really love about little Jingle is her ability to intuit when someone needs some extra TLC; a warm body to hug; someone to absorb their sadness or loneliness. Sometimes if I'm feeling over-whelmed or sad I will go out to the barn and just sit with Split and Jingle. Both of them will come and stand with me; both will let me pour out my troubles; both will take on some of my negative or sad energy. But there's something about Jingle that's more "grandmotherly." I really can't put my finger on it.
Last month my youngest daughter's best friend for the past 20 years suffered a break-down due to some extremely difficult and over-whelming circumstances in her life. She came here and asked to stay with us because things were not working out at home. Known to take in strays of all sizes and descriptions, my immediate answer was, "Sure! Stay as long as you want." As days turned into weeks, I listened, counseled to the best of my ability, and finally got Friend into a professional counselor. But in the meantime, Jingle took care of things very nicely! One afternoon when Friend just couldn't seem to get a grip on her crying or sadness, I suggested that she come out to the barn with me and just sit and hang out with Split and Jingle while I did chores. Both equines are equally friendly but Split preferred to hang around with me after greeting Friend. But that Jingle.......Friend sat down on the step going into the barn and just stared off into space. Jingle watched this for a few minutes, clearly sizing up the situation. Finally, she took a few steps toward Friend; Friend looked at Jingle and smiled. Jingle took a few more steps; Friend reached out and touched Jingle's face. After a few minutes of this interaction, Jingle sighed, put her head against Friend's chest and just chilled out there with her. Friend patted Jingle and hugged her and leaned against her and talked to her. When I was done with chores, I suggested to Friend (who, among other things was suffering from severe sleep deprivation) that she sit in the old Adirondack chair that I keep in the barn (for quick naps, of course!). There was a lovely breeze and it was so relaxing..........Within minutes, Friend was SOUND ASLEEP! I don't know exactly how long she slept but I walked around her with hay and water buckets and the manure bucket.....and still she snored on. When she finally woke up, she looked 100% better than she had in weeks! She told me later (she is a physical therapist) that she's read about the healing abilities of animals but it was so cool to actually EXPERIENCE IT! Friend's road to recovery actually began that afternoon and she continues to do well, even being able to move back home and cope admirably with things there. And to think we owe it all to a little red donkey who if asked would say, "Aw, shucks. Just doin' my job!"

"A little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference."

Here's to Jingle the mini donk!!!!!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mr. Personality!

I've been learning about the clicker and the CAT approach but haven't heard much discussion about how the personality of the animal plays into things. Or maybe I've just not done enough research......At any rate, I was thinking about this the other day when I was riding. Split is easily frustrated by my ineptitude and doesn't hesitate to show it; Jingle just waits til I figure out what I'm doing and then goes along with whatever it was I was attempting to do. Split flips his head and flaps his lips in frustration; Jingle waits patiently for me to figure things out. Split will argue with me - stop, step sideways, flip his head, walk in a circle...Jingle never argues - she just waits patiently.
Through the course of the years I've dealt with lots of animal personalities and I do think that they play into how the animal perceives the world and the humans around him/her. Some horses are more forgiving than others; some are naturally braver, more athletic, smarter, have a sense of humor, etc. Just like we humans.
I think, though, that many humans probably lump all horses - indeed ALL animals - into one unthinking mass and treat them all the same. That's pretty sad.
Despite Split's low frustration level and his high flight or fight response, he has many, many wonderful personality traits! He has a great sense of humor (did you know a pony can tip toe??), he's extremely loving, he takes care of me whenever I'm around him (he knows exactly where I am at all times to avoid stepping on me or knocking me down), he's patient with children, he's patient with clicker newbies, he's adept at reading my moods and has at times absorbed my sadness for me................................
I'd love to hear from others about their horse's distinct and different personalities and how they play into your training approach!

"When your horse follows you without being asked, when he rubs his head on yours, and when you look at him and feel a tingle down your spine...you know you are loved." John Lyons

Have a great weekend, everyone!!