I like to knit. I’m not a good knitter. I don’t know how to do any fancy patterns. What I knit are blankets, warm, soft blankets. You may be wondering what this has to do with training. Well, for starters I knit these blankets while I am editing video. All the videos I have produced for the DVDs and my on-line course have required hundreds of hours of editing time. I can only sit for so long before I need something to do with my hands. That something is knitting.
I also knit because I can’t resist beautiful, hand spun yarn. I visit the local farmer’s markets not so much for the fresh produce, but to see what yarn the spinners have brought. As I make my selection, I feel like a cat luxuriously kneading the wonderfully soft yarn. The spinners have yarn made from alpaca wool, and my favorite, sheep’s wool blended with mohair. How can anyone resist?
I don’t necessarily need to do anything with the wool I buy. It’s beautiful just to look at, but I have mice in the house so a while ago all the yarn had to be put away in rodent proof containers. Sad. There’s no point in having beautiful yarn if you don’t put it to use, so last fall I made myself a promise. I would not buy any more yarn until I had used up everything that I had. So over the winter I went on a knitting spree. I knit a beautiful grey and white blanket that is made from alpaca roving a friend gave me years ago. And I knit a second blanket that is made from a blend of Lancashire sheep wool and mohair.
Mohair comes from goats, and goats can be fun to train. And there you have the next connection to training. While I was knitting and editing video, I was thinking that it might be fun to get a pair of goats. But I wouldn’t want just any goats. I’d want angoras. What fun to have goats that could produce the fiber I was so very much enjoying. So I got on the internet and began reading about Angora goats.
That was in late March. In early April I was listening to a program on the radio about upcoming art and entertainment events in the area. The featured event was a fiber tour. Farmers in a neighboring county who raise sheep and other animals for their fiber had banded together to promote their farms. One of the representatives was a Sister from Saint Mary’s Convent who raises cashmere goats. Cashmere! I hadn’t even considered that most luxurious of fibers. I was on the internet immediately. What did cashmere goats look like?
I was in town the weekend of the fiber tour so off I went. I took a friend with me, and we drove around Washington County looking at sheep, goats, and even rabbits. The first stop was a farm that raised Angora goats. The farm was built on the side of a steep hill. The goats were at the bottom of the hill, at a distance, protected by their guard dog. We could sort of see them from the top of the hill, but that was as close as the farmer wanted us to go.
The next farm had Icelandic sheep. That was fun for me since I have Icelandic horses. Next we saw angora rabbits. They were more like tribbles than rabbits. Somewhere under all that fur we were assured there was indeed a rabbit.
We visited a factory that spun specialty yarns from the wool these growers provided. I yielded to temptation. I had indeed used up my supply of yarn, and here was the perfect excuse to begin again.
The last stop of the day was to Saint Mary’s Convent, home of the cashmere goats.
Now at the outset I should say that one of the reasons I love horses is for their physical beauty. “There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse.” This may be an over-used cliche, but it is very true. Horses are aesthetically pleasing. So one of my many hesitations over adding goats to our little clicker family is – how should I put this politely – many goats really aren’t very pretty. The goats I’m used to seeing have been bred for their milk and their (sad to say) meat. Pretty was not an important criterion. So imagine my delight when the first cashmere goat I met was a stunner. I won’t try to describe her. Instead here is her picture.
Regal would be a good word for her. What a classic goat face she had, and that wonderful long silver coat. Never mind angoras. Cashmeres were the goats for me!
I spent a delightful hour watching goats and talking to the Sister who managed them. In addition to breeding them for their fiber, she also ran a 4-H program. Her young goats were leased out to children in that program. They were all there that day, proudly showing off this year’s kids. They sat on benches outside the barn, cradling the goats in their arms. One thing was for sure, these were goats who were going to grow up being used to handling!
I left enchanted, but still very much on the fence about adding goats. It would mean new fencing. It would mean taking time away from Robin. But it would also mean I would have animals who would make great teachers for people coming to the barn. I straddled the metaphorical fence all the way home.
The following day I sent the Sister an email introducing myself. It was a step. I wasn’t yet committing myself to getting goats, but I was pushing the door open a bit.
The Sister responded. She was very excited about the clicker training. Her neighbor next farm over was an agility trainer. They’d been over to watch her dogs. She was intrigued. Could clicker training really be used with her goats? Would I be interested in doing a program in the summer for her 4-H group?
Well, that was a way to take one more exploratory step. I could get to know her goats a little bit better, so I said yes.
More emails passed between us. Sister Mary Elizabeth asked if I would be interested in having a couple of the goats for a week or so before the 4-H program.
My first reaction was to say no. I didn’t have fencing for goats. I wasn’t ready for them. But then I remembered my deer fencing. We have one open stall in the barn. At the moment we use it as a grooming stall for our Icelandic, Fengur. He sheds literally bucket loads of hair practically year round. If Ann grooms him in the stall, it’s much easier to keep his hair from flying around everywhere. But it was summer. He was taking a brief hiatus from shedding. We could use the stall for the goats and line the outside run with the deer fencing. That ought to keep them contained.
So it was decided. Right after I got back from my trip to England at the end of June my adventure in goat training would begin.
Coming in October: The Goat Diaries
Impatient to read the Goat Diaries? Great! You can have a sneak preview of my adventures in goat training at the Training Thoughtfully Conference in Milwaukee WI Oct. 20-22, 2017. I’ll be sharing a brand new program: “Lessons From A Goat” which will draw on the Goat Diaries posts. I’ll begin posting the Goat Diaries after the conference.
Registration for the conference will remain open until Oct. 15 so there’s still time to reserve your spot.
This conference is the creation of Kay Laurence. Those of you who follow my work know that Kay is a trainer whose work I greatly admire. Any chance I get to collaborate with her, I jump at. I know good things for the horses will always come from the time I spend with her. You can learn more about the program at: TrainingThoughtfullyMilwaukee.com
P.P.S.: My original plan was to begin posting the Goat Diaries in August or September, but they have taken considerably more time to prepare than I had anticipated. Now that my fall travel schedule has kicked into high gear, I find that it is better to wait until after the Training Thoughtfully conference to begin posting this new series. Anticipation is part of the fun! (I will share this statistic – my venture into goat training has produced over 80 new videos so I have lots to share and lots to say about how goats can help us to be better horse trainers.
Oh Alex! I am so excited! Horses, nice to look at but not for me (its Mo). Now fibre. There is a thing. I am a textile and fibre addict and I have just started to experiment with wool. Felting mostly but taking it from fleece to felt. My daughter has also just moved to the farm and she has discovered spinning and knitting and crochet. Her work is amazing. We are just about to join our local Weaver, Spinner and Dyer association and then plant half the veg garden up as a dye garden. Now. I love clicker training, as you know and Nick and Mary are doing a lot of courses. A goat. There is an idea. We had dismissed sheep as they die for a pastime. I shall follow your blog with great interest and talk to Becca and think about cashmere goats. I have to say I love cashmere socks (a present) and nick has a cashmere jumper that I covet so what an exciting idea.
I am planning my UK June visit for next year. Icelandics and fibre! Hmm. I would love to see what you and Becca are doing. I’ve enjoyed felting, as well, but knitting is easier to do when I’m editing video. I can see a herd of cashmere goats side by side with the Iceys. Secure fencing would be the issue. Goats are known for being expert escape artists.
Ooh the anticipation!!
Oh boy, can’t wait! I have two goats who live with the horses. Not pretty goats, they are retired milking goats from a local farm, saved from the abatoir. The farmer chose his two favourites and begged me to take more, but two is enough. They clean up weeds in the horse field, and I have become very fond of them. Intelligent, affectionate and playful – I haven’t tried to clicker train them – yet, you may inspire me!
Exactly – intelligent, affectionate and playful, plus I would add greedy for treats. It makes the great candidates for clicker training.
Hi Alex. Exciting cannot wait to read more. Look forward to these and seeing cross overs and what your learnings are.
Hi Shirley, I was so sorry to hear about Lizzie. I know she is deeply missed. When I think of her, it is always with a smile. She was such a wonderful horse and the relationship she and Hannah had was a delight to watch. My heart goes out to you all. I hope the goat diaries will provide a welcome distraction to your sadness.