Peregrine taught me about determination. I was told that most horses outgrow locking stifles. I just needed to wait. Peregrine’s stifles got worse, not better. By the time he was two, they had infected our entire training relationship. Everything was difficult. Everything was dangerous. I never knew when his stifles would lock up, and he would explode forward in an effort to release them.
I was told by my trainer that horses with bad stifles do one of two things to relieve the pressure on their joints. They rear up, or they bolt forward through the hand. Thankfully Peregrine never chose rearing, but blasting forward was definitely something we experienced often.
I taught him to lunge to try to strengthen his hind end. Keeping to a circle was a nightmare for him. His stifles would lock up, and he would explode forward to release them. I didn’t let go of the lunge line. I didn’t need to. Peregrine’s leap forward sheared the top off the metal snap of the lunge line. I was left with a line in my hand, but no horse at the other end.
Talk about a horse being instantly reinforced. And how do you stop that!
I was incredibly frustrated. Peregrine as a two year old was a tough horse to love. His stifles always meant he got the “last word in.” I’d ask him to back up out of my space. He’d comply, but when he stopped, his stifles would lock up, sending his weight forward again into my space. The result: he was always pushing into me. That’s not a good thing for a young horse. You don’t want them thinking they can push you around. He began to feel threatening. His stifles were most definitely creating an attitude I didn’t like.
I was told there was a surgical option. They could cut the medial ligament that held the patella in place, but the surgery might increase the risk later of a fractured patella. I teetered on the brink of choosing surgery many times, but always I held back. I was determined to find a training solution. And I was determined to get things right with Peregrine. As much as he frustrated me, frightened me, angered me, he was “my kid”, and I would stick by him.
Slowly we worked things out. I heard John Lyons say that the strongest lead rope is the one in a horse’s mind. I needed that lead rope, so I taught Peregrine to be a super liberty horse. This was long before I ever heard about clicker training. By the time I went out to the barn that first time with a clicker and treats, we had become friends. He was a good working partner both on the ground and under saddle. I didn’t need clicker training to help me fall in love with my horse. I had already done that. What clicker training gave us was a true conversation. The more I have put our old ways of working behind us, the richer and more interesting that conversation has become.
Clicker training has given Peregrine a voice that can be heard loud and clear. He has a voice that I listen to. And I have a way of talking to him that he can truly understand. When I fill my pockets with treats, I am filling them with so much more. I am filling them with information, with appreciation, with love.
Happy 30th Birthday Peregrine!