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!"

Friday, November 25, 2011

She Shoots! She Scores!

Well, not really, but Jelly is really catching onto our soccer ball game!! After she got the hang of touching the ball with her paw, I began withholding the treats in order to encourage her to offer another behavior. Naturally, she went to the ball several times, touched it with both her nose and paw and returned to me for a C/T. She would cock her head and look at me, asking, "Well?" I waited until she "batted" the ball with a paw and then clicked and treated her. Of course, as round objects are wont to do, the ball rolled away. This provided an interesting scenario! Once she received her treat, Jelly returned to where the ball WAS, looked perplexed for a second, then ran back to get her treat! LOL I was wondering if she'd figure out that she had to look around for the ball but apparently she hadn't made that connection and she continued to turn around and look at the spot where the ball had last rested! I finally went to the ball and nudged it with my foot so that she could see where it was and then returned to my spot by the counter. Jelly looked at me, looked at the ball, and then went to the ball and pushed it with her paw! C/T! From then on, she knew she was to find the ball, go to it and bat it with her paw. This has been a fun game and one that Jelly seems to really love! Her tail starts wagging and she has this big, ol' beagle grin on her face! I'm not sure what our next game will be but my daughter's fiance asked me yesterday, "Could you ever teach her to bat it into a little net like a goal?" Hmmmm..........Well, of course!! I'm thinking I could cut the bottom out of a box and make a square goal...........
100 Things To Do With A Box...and a ball!!! Clicking really allows us to use our imaginations. If we can imagine it, we can click it!

"I myself have known some profoundly thoughtful dogs." James Thurber

Yeah.......me, too!!! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pony Manners

The other day I decided to clean the stall area of my barn while Split and Jingle were enjoying their meager handful of hay pellets. Split's pellets always go in the old wooden manger; Jingle's go in a little rubber tub on the floor. For some reason, Jingle will only poop and pee on Split's side of the stall.....right in front of his manger! Some sort of statement? Who knows........Anyway, while Split was tuckin' into his pellets, I grabbed the manure fork and started scooping up the piles in back of him. He turned and looked at me, clearly saying, "Seriously? I'm eating here." Ooops. I guess I wouldn't want the waitstaff vacuuming around me while I was dining, either. "Sorry," I apologized. What a funny pony! He shook his head as though saying, "Geez. Humans!" And he turned and walked away and stood in the stall doorway with his butt to me! I started laughing and he turned and communicated, "Please. Just get on with it so I can get back to eating." I quickly finished the job at hand, stepped aside and called to Split, "Ok. I'm done." He looked at me and I bowed slightly and motioned toward his manger. "Your pellets, Your Majesty." Without a word, he walked politely back to his manger, snorted slightly, and resumed eating. What a hoot!!!

A man's manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Perhaps that's true of horses as well?? 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Watching The Paint Dry..........

Yeah, that's pretty much what clicker training is all about.....watching the paint dry or the grass grow. Ho-hum....at least to the casual observer. To those of involved in the process, it's really exciting to see those little, tiny steps toward success. And sometimes they're so microscopic you think, "Did I just really see that?" Take Jelly and that soccer ball........
So...I bring the soccer ball into the kitchen and place it on the floor in front of Jelly. She glanced at it, walked around it and sat in front of me. I nudged the ball with my foot. Jelly gave it a cursory glance and went on staring at me. No interest whatsoever. I got out my treat-filled fanny pack and suddenly those little beagle eyes lit up like high-beams and her tail started wagging "to beat the band" (my grandmother's expression!). She knew then that she was in for some fun! 
Jelly hadn't yet associated the ball with the treat at that point so I gave her a little help. I nudged the ball with my toe again and when Jelly looked at it, I clicked and treated (C/T).
It took several minutes for her to associate "look at the ball" with getting a treat but once she got it, you could see the wheels start to turn. She looked at me, cocked her head, glanced at the ball, and then looked at me again, clearly asking, "Is that it?" I then added lavish verbal praise. (I tend to be quiet when I'm clicking for a new skill because I don't want to confuse or distract the animal. Occasionally I will add a quiet "good, good.") When "look at the ball/CT" was established, I stopped C/T for looking at the ball and simply waited to see what Jelly would offer once she figured out that just looking wasn't working anymore. She looked at the ball and then at me several times - not receiving a treat - and then stood up and looked at the ball - C/T! She remained standing and looking at the ball. We repeated this loop several times. Because Jelly was clearly enjoying the game and wasn't frustrated by it, I decided to add another criteria - would she go to the ball and put her nose on it? I helped her out a bit by pointing to the ball and saying, "Touch it." As soon as she did, she got a small "jackpot" treat (3 treats instead of 1). She caught onto that right away! I probably could have gone right to "touch it" from the get-go since Jelly has targeted a box before but I thought I'd try starting at the beginning. Anyway, after 10 successful nose touches, I again extended the period between clicks, wondering what other behavior she would offer. She touched the ball with her nose several times and returned to me for the treat. She never gets disappointed when the treat is not offered.....she simply stares at me (and one must have a lot of patience at this juncture! LOL). I smile and wait, hands behind my back, smiling and waiting, smiling and waiting.......She finally went to the ball, touched it and tentatively put a paw on it!! Exciting stuff!! I immediately clicked her and gave her lavish praise and a jackpot. When she had completed 5 successful paw touches (being C/T after each one), I called it quits for the day. I have no idea how long that all took us. I've discovered that when you're first teaching or wanting to shape or capture a behavior, you should take off the watch and just allow things to develop on their own. If I'm pressed for time, I find I WANT IT NOW and that just makes things more difficult so I choose a time during the day when I know I have "all the time it takes."
We're doing more with that soccer ball and I'll fill you in as we go along.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

100 Things To Do With A Soccer Ball

Jelly and I attended our final agility class for 2011 last Thursday. It was a MOST WONDERFUL experience thanks to the warmth and positive attitude of trainers Cathy and Glenn. We'll resume again in mid-January, somewhere inside - place to be determined. But what do we do til then????? 
Neither Jelly nor Lucy have ever shown a bit of interest in dog toys. How odd. The first time I presented either one with a squeaky toy, they literally shrunk back in horror! "GAAAA! What IS that thing? Take it away!" No amount of fooling around, tossing it, or even holding it in my teeth and growling could get them interested. I was used to my old yellow lab who, when presented with a new toy, would virtually turn herself inside out! "For me? For me? YAY!!! I can toss it and bite it and gut it? YAY!" 
My theory about Jelly and Lucy is that they spent all their "formative years" in cages as part of puppy mills - their lives were to produce litter after litter. They don't know what toys are or what to do with them. In fact, they were afraid of lots of things when they first came into our lives - snow, grass, loud noises, TREATS! Yep, the first time either dog was presented with a hand-fed treat, they pulled back, then stepped forward and sniffed cautiously. They nosed it, licked it, and finally - reluctantly - took it in their teeth. They spit it out and walked around it suspiciously. Once they actually ate it, however, they were HOOKED! LOL But I digress.....(what else is new?)
So here we are - Jelly and me - with no agility class for 2 months. What to do? Karen Pryor has an exercise she calls (I'm paraphrasing) "100 Things To Do With A Box" and it's about capturing and shaping behaviors with the click. I was in the garage the other day and spied a soccer ball left over from the days when my kids tried (and failed miserably) to be soccer players. ("A speeding ball? AAGGH!! Get it away from me!") I had a light bulb moment - we could play with that ball! 
I brought the ball inside and set it on the kitchen floor in front of Jelly. She looked at it, looked at me, and then went off, sniffing the floor in search of crumbs. Well, clearly this was going to be a challenge! I donned ye olde bum bag full of treats and thought, "Well, let the games begin!" How's it working out, you ask? I'll let ya know..................

"Men cannot think like dogs.... [There exists] a sharp difference in the mental capacity of humans and canines. For example, a human who is given an intricate problem will spend all day trying to solve it, but a canine will have the sense to give up and do something else instead."
Corey Ford

Yeah.....ain't THAT the truth??

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Under where? UnderWEAR!!!!!!

I found this very strange creature in my laundry basket! Is it a rat with mutant ears? Is it a zombie dog? Is it a grannypantsasaurus?
Oh, wait! It's just Lucy the minichi! LOL
I love this picture and just wanted to share with you. Lucy loves to burrow down into my laundry basket when she comes for sleep-overs and sometimes I even forget she's here until I go upstairs into my bedroom and notice that the laundry is....aliiiiiiiiiiiiiive! Sometimes I bring laundry up from the cellar, warm from the dryer, set it down in the hallway and leave it. Imagine my surprise when I go to pick it up and fold it and instead of grabbing hold of socks or shirts, I reach in and grab..........Lucy! ha ha She always gives me THE LOOK - "Excuse me. I'm trying to SLEEP HERE, MADAM!" I'm way past worrying about a little dog hair on my clothes. It's a given around this place.

Even the tiniest Poodle or Chihuahua is still a wolf at heart Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

Yep, that's true! That little Lucy.....she's all wolf! Well, until she sees the cat staring at her and then she runs for the hills...............and hides. Under where? UnderWEAR of course!

Monday, November 7, 2011

OOPS.....A Daisy!

Kathleen Kelly: I love daisies. Joe Fox: You told me. Kathleen Kelly: They're so friendly. Don't you think daisies are the friendliest flower?

I love the movie "You've Got Mail." And I love daisies! In mid-summer, the entire perimeter of my paddock is covered with daisies! It looks like I deliberately planted a border of thousands of daisies. And they ARE the friendliest flower - they're always so sunny and bright and they make me smile every time I go out to the barn. I miss them, especially at this time of year. BUT.........I was riding in the paddock last week, just 2 days after the big snowstorm, and I looked down and THERE WAS A DAISY! I took a picture of it because I thought, "No one will believe this!" I got down on my hands and knees and just relished looking at its bright, yellow, smiling face! I thought, "What a wonderful gift!" This little daisy popped out just to brighten my day! It was only there for a day or two and then............gone again. I'm sure he'll come back next summer. Maybe he missed me, too!

"Daisies are like sunshine to the ground." Drew Barrymore

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Soccer Ball Training

I never realized just how hard dog agility is! As you can see by the photo above, most of the time it's the handler getting the exercise and many times we have to give our dogs a little "boost" to help them understand what we want them to do! The secret to success (besides "practice, practice, practice") is for the dog and handler to be able to read each other's body language. I realized that Jelly and I were sadly lacking in that department when I'd point to an obstacle and she'd go off in the other direction. One afternoon when we were practicing, I decided to try to block her with my feet as she skittered off in yet another direction. She would dodge to the left and so would I. This made her stop and think. She dodged to the right and so did I. We continued this way until suddenly Jelly found herself directly in front of the jump. "Hmmm...." I'm sure she was thinking. "This is interesting." She looked at me. She looked at the jump. I was pointing at the obstacle and saying, "Over, Jelly, over!" She thought about it for a second and then over she went! I immediately clicked and treated her. I pointed to the next obstacle (the tire) and said, "Tire, Jelly, tire." "Boring," says Jelly and off she went in another direction. Again I blocked her with my feet and I thought at the time, "This is like playing soccer." Of course, my goal is not to kick Jelly over, thru, or onto an obstacle, but rather to guide her to where I want her to be. As we practiced this over the weeks, I began to realize that were anticipating each other's every move. She now watches my feet and ankles to see where I'm going and I've become much quicker at anticipating which way she's going to scoot! We've become much more successful at negotiating a course of obstacles! Does that mean we're ready for competition? Uh....I don't think so. But we're getting closer. And it just reinforces what most of you know already - body language is SO important when we're communicating with our animals! I have to be very clear when communicating with Jelly. Of course, she still sometimes sits down, glares at me, and then sticks her nose in the air, and gazes off in the other direction. THAT body language clearly says, "I'm thinking about it!" She's a funny beagle!!!

"The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too." - Samuel Butler

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Permission Granted!

Despite our early snowstorm on Saturday night, it's shaped up to be a beautiful autumn week here in upstate NY. Daytime temps have been in the upper 50's and it's been sunny every day - perfect for some bareback rambles around the paddock. Those of you that know me or have been reading this little blog for a while know that my Welsh pony, Split, is a real gentleman. For a variety of reasons, I haven't sat on him since sometime in August yet I hopped aboard on Sunday and he was as well-behaved as if we'd been riding every day. Yesterday, tho, he gave me a most amazing gift!
Because I am short of stature, I have a mounting block (yes, I even need it to get on a PONY! LOL) and I usually lead Split over to it and line him up. He never protests. He just stands quietly while I shinny onto his back. When I first got the mounting block, he wasn't sure what that big, green plastic thing was and wasn't too keen on getting near it. However, we clicked and clicked and he finally figured out that a) it wasn't going to kill him and b) he got a treat every time we stood next to it! But the treasure eluded me. I was hoping that at some point Split would INVITE me to ride, i.e., I would love to have him - at liberty - walk up to the mounting block on his own and "invite" me to hop on. Haltering is easy - I show him the halter and 9 times out of 10, he will walk up and simply put his nose into the nose band, letting me know he's willing to play or ride. But he never walked to the mounting block of his own volition.
Yesterday I carried the mounting block out into the paddock and plunked it down in the mud. Then I fiddled with the halter and lead rope (I don't use a bridle), straightening everything out and as I was doing that, I noticed Split moseying over from the other end of the paddock. I assumed he was going to come to the halter. But NO.........He walked over with a very peppy step, ears up, nickering. He walked to the mounting block, lined himself up perfectly, then turned to look at me, clearly saying, "OK, Mom! Hop on! Let's go!"
I think my heart actually stopped for a second. I was speechless, that's for sure! I was totally gobsmacked - completely over-whelmed with emotion. A little gesture from a little pony, to be sure, but it meant the world to me! You can have all the championship ribbons gathering dust in my closet. They pale in comparison to the "award" I got yesterday - my pony INVITING me to go riding! There are no words............................

To understand the soul of a horse is the closest human beings can come to knowing perfection.

Author Unknown

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Poor Man's Manure

This is our garden. This is our garden with snow all over it on October 29!! My grandfather and father-in-law always referred to these late autumn/late spring snowfalls as "poor man's manure." There are any number of explanations for this, including some that are very scientific - adds nitrogen to the soil, etc. I'm not sure that my farmer relatives were into the scientific reasons for it - they just knew what they observed and, as farmers, they had to be very observant when it came to weather patterns! Today we have satellites and doppler radar and computers to keep us apprised of what's ahead weatherwise but "back in the day," it all came down to being in touch with the earth - the old-timers observed the sky, the wind, the animals' behaviors, plant growth........I'm thinking that, as wonderful as all the new technology is, perhaps we're losing those senses that once served us so well as hunter/gatherers.
There was an old farmer in Arlington, Vermont who, back in the '50's and '60's, based his haying on whether or not the Detroit Tigers were able to play home games during the summer. He loved baseball and would listen to it on the radio and read about it in the paper. He realized that whatever weather Detroit was experiencing would reach Vermont within 48 hours. If the Tigers were playing a home game in good weather, he put down the hay! No doppler radar or pretty weather girls for him!
"Poor man's manure." I love that expression. I wonder how many people (excluding farmers) today even know what that means?

"When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization."

- Daniel Webster