They are small like dogs, eat hay like horses and behave like goats – which is exactly what they are.
But these weren’t just any goats. They were Cashmere goats, producers of that most luxurious of fibers. They belonged to St. Mary’s Convent. Long story short the Sister in charge of the herd had offered to let me have the pair for a couple of weeks. How could I say no? It was going to be fun to train something other than horses.
So here they were in the back of a covered pickup truck, two yearlings huddled together in a bed of hay, trying to stay as far away from us as they could get. The Sister crawled into the back of the truck and pulled out the smaller of the two. She sat on the tailgate holding him in her lap. These goats were used in a 4H program. They had been cradled in children’s laps since the time they were born.
This goat, Sir Elyan, was incredibly cute. The first cashmere goat I saw was a beautiful silver doe with long, flowing guard hairs. This little one was going to have a coat like hers. How perfect!
He was tiny for his age. He weighed only about thirty pounds. The Sister could easily lift him down from the back of the van. The other goat was his full brother, but they looked nothing alike. He was much bigger and had short guard hairs instead of the long coat of his brother. Good, I thought. I won’t have any trouble telling the two of them apart.
The Sister handed me Elyan’s lead and climbed back into the van for his brother. He was too big to easily lift out. The Sister managed to pull him to the back of the truck. He stood on the tailgate of the van surveying his new surroundings.
“Now what do we do? How do you get a goat down?” I wondered, but I didn’t say anything out loud.
Not to worry. He took care of that for us. He jumped nimbly down from the truck and joined his brother. We pointed them in the direction of the barn, and off they went!
“Great!” I thought, “they pull like sled dogs!” Leading was definitely going to be high on my training priority list.
We got them headed into the stall I had prepared for them and turned them loose to explore. I had lots of questions to ask. What could they eat? What mustn’t they eat? Apparently they were picky eaters, but they did like peanuts and pretzels. That’s what the children had taught them. I had neither at the barn. Oh well. Surely they would like hay stretcher pellets.
No, the goats told me after giving these treats the briefest of sniffs. That is not something goats eat. Nor will we take the grass you are offering us, or the hay. We will eat the hay, but only if you go away.
I brought a chair into the stall and sat down. I was not unfamiliar with goats. I’ve had clients who had goats, and there were goats at the barn where I boarded my horses. I’ve been around goats enough to know that they are perfect candidates for clicker training. They are agile, greedy, and very smart.
These goats were also very afraid. They did NOT want to be touched. They may have curled up in the laps of the small children they knew, but they were making it very clear that they wanted nothing to do with me.
I was still enchanted. Talk about cute! I spent the evening sitting with them, observing their behavior and letting them observe me. In my on-line course this is how I have people begin with their horses. Before you start introducing the clicker and making it contingent on behavior, spend time just getting to know the animal you’ll be training.
(It is worth noting that I am writing this sitting in a chair next to Robin. I enjoy spending time with the animals I train. He is having a snooze. His chin is resting on the top of my head. It is perhaps the most charming way in which to work. The only thing that would make it better would be the absence of flies.)
Spending time with our animals is a luxury. That’s especially true of our horses. We groom them, we ride them, but do we spend time just being with them, sharing quiet moments like this together? For many of us the answer is no. There are too many pulls on our time, and often barns are not set up for quiet visiting. Certainly many of the boarding barns I visit aren’t. You groom, you ride, you go away. That’s the expectation. If you want to spend time just hanging out with your horse, that’s something you have to create on your own.
I knew with the goats food would get me a long way forward, but fear could also pull me back even further. I wanted them to want to be with me, just as Robin wants to stand here by my side. We are all social animals. Once you remove the fear, the pull to be together is a strong one.
So I sat and watched, enchanted. Sometimes good training is as simple as sitting in a chair. At least that’s how it begins.
The goats settle in:
Coming Next: Goat Diaries – Training Day 1