2011 to 2021: Celebrating Ten Years at The Clicker Center: Part 7

On Monday we were ready to move horses. That was July 4th, Independence Day – very appropriate. We moved the Iceys first. Both horses loaded like a dream. I do love good loaders! And I never take it for granted when horses load well. They travelled over with the last of the round pen panels and a load of stall mats. We got everything unloaded, the Iceys settled, and then went back for the other three.   None of them had been on a trailer in years. Magnat hadn’t been on a trailer in close to fifteen years. He has a heart condition, so early on I made the decision that he didn’t need to travel. And Peregrine had an early history of being a determined non-loader. I never know what to expect from him. The last few times he’s traveled, he’s been good to load, but I never take this for granted.    

Peregrine was the first on. I love my trailer. It has so many configurations for a horse to travel in – straight load, slant load, box stall, whatever suits the horse best. Peregrine tensed up when I tried him in a straight stall, so I let him get off and loaded him up front in the slant load. That he was okay with. So next came Magnat and finally Robin. Both horses walked straight on as though they’d been trailering every weekend. Good horses!   Five horses – five easy loads. That’s what I like, and I never take it for granted or fail to appreciate horses who load comfortably onto trailers.     So now the horses are living in the middle of a construction zone. And they are taking all the noise and the machinery clattering around outside well in their stride. It’s amazing what horses can be totally blasé about. Loads of stone can be dumped right outside the arena door, and they don’t even lift their heads from the hay.  

The horses are settling well into their new lifestyle. I knew once we got them out of the boarding situation we would see changes. They are already so much more relaxed, so much less testy and fussed by people. Peregrine is the only one who hasn’t settled in well. He’s not bothered by the construction, but he is clearly anxious about not being in his familiar environment, so I’ve been camping out at the arena to make sure he’s okay through the night. The boarding barn where they lived for years had set hours. I couldn’t go see them in the early morning. Now I’m out there every day before dawn doing chores. 

At clinics we always begin by going around the group and catching up on what everyone has been doing with their horses. People will often very apologetically say they haven’t done very much. They haven’t had time to ride. Well I definitely would fall into that category. At the moment there’s no time and certainly no energy left to ride. But that doesn’t mean that good training isn’t occurring. I get to interact with the horses so much more than I did in the boarding situation. I always did all the evening chores, but now I’m there throughout the day.  

One of my favorite John Lyons’ quotes is “Good training should be boring to watch”, meaning there shouldn’t be a lot of Hollywood theatrics going on. There shouldn’t be horses rearing or bucking their riders off into the rafters. Good training should look like a well run classroom. It can be a beehive of activity. There can be lots going on. There can certainly be lots of laughter, but there should also be an underlying sense of stability. I was going to write order and control, but those are such loaded words. Stability and a sense of purpose are better.  

We tend to think of training as something separate, something we do after the chores are done. And I certainly often get asked how to manage all the “mother’s little helpers” who hover about getting into things. How do you do chores when you’ve got a clicker-trained horse glued to your side wanting attention? I know some people solve this by using the presence of their treat pouch as a cue for training time. When they just want to do chores, they take their pouch off. It’s a strategy that works for them, but with my own horses, I would see that as missed opportunities.

When I’m around my horses, I always have my vest on, and I always make sure there’s a good supply of hay stretcher pellets in the pockets. This morning when I was cleaning stalls, Robin and Peregrine had free run of the arena. Robin had taken himself off to eat the hay I’d put out in their “grazing” area. Peregrine was sticking to me like a barnacle. Of all the horses he’s the one who has struggled the most adjusting to the move. He’s needed a lot of reassurance, and a lot of social time. So when he followed me into Robin’s stall, I didn’t send him away so I could get done faster. I let him hover around me. When he asked for social time, I rubbed his face, I stroked his neck. I didn’t click and reinforce him for these interactions. But I did click and reinforce for other things, such as an offered pose. He’s completely at ease with clicker training. He knows the treats are not going to go away, so he doesn’t get anxious when I’m not clicking every little thing. I am always a clicker trainer when I am with my horses, but that does not mean I am always clicking.  

There’s so much good training that can be done while you are doing chores. When I needed Peregrine to shift out of the way of the wheel barrow, I asked for backing, or for lateral shifts of balance. We wove in and out of the stalls with Peregrine making way for me as I needed to move the wheel barrow or bring in water buckets. Who would have thought cleaning a stall could be such a dance!

At the boarding barn the horses couldn’t be loose in the aisle while I worked. That’s something I missed. In some of the small barns where Peregrine has lived, we had the luxury of being able to let the horses wander about as they pleased. That’s been something I’ve been looking forward to being able to do with the horses. It’s so clicker compatible. If we want thinking horses, we need to give them an environment in which we can give them choices and some degrees of freedom.

Now my training time just looks like stall cleaning. Those maneuvers we’ve been practicing in our formal training sessions to build good balance are just as needed here but for very practical reasons. So the training session that I would have had in the boarding barn, out in the arena, in a formal work session, asking Peregrine to back up, to yield his hips, to step over laterally, I can now have cleaning a stall. Next time I work formally, I expect I’ll find I have a tuned-up horse to play with, not one who is stiff and stale from too much time off during my travel season.

I’m enjoying these small interactions. I get to check in on manners. When I bring the hay cart into the arena, are manners preserved? Can I walk down the row of stalls passing hay out to the other horses without Robin or Peregrine creating a fuss. Can I bring the buckets of grain out and have the horses go to their stalls? We hear so much about “respect”. Here in all the small interactions of chores I get to find out what that really means. The horses came into this situation with lots of good training, but definite boarding house manners from years of being fed by kids who just wanted to get the hay and grain passed out as quickly as possible so they could get back to their friends. Now I get to shape better manners. It’s nothing fancy. If you came to the arena, you wouldn’t see horses doing “circus tricks”. Instead you’d see them accompanying me through the flow of the day’s chores, backing when asked, maneuvering out of the way when needed, sharing my time and attention with the other horses. It’s just quiet training that anyone can do, and that has such good ripples into the everything else I’ll want to do with them.  

While I’m in the arena with the horses, I can hear the work crews outside. The excavator is back on the job, building the composter and the ramps. I was impressed by how well the horses handled having the work going on immediately outside the arena. They had one day to settle in, then on Wednesday the excavator arrived with his heavy equipment. With the open wall on the front side the horses can see the bulldozer as it trundles along back and forth across the front of the arena smoothing out the top of the hill and pushing the excess dirt over to build the access ramps. Out the back door they can watch as the back hoe tears down even more trees to punch an opening through the hedge row into the back field. They didn’t mind at all when he dug a deep trench for a culvert pipe or brought stone in to cover it up.  

I’m writing this on July 23rd and the front still isn’t finished. The brush is still there, but it’s been consolidated into one pile. The ramps are shaped, but not surfaced so they still aren’t really usable, and without the final finishing work, we still can’t fence the field, so the horses have been confined to the indoor for almost three weeks.

The composter is almost finished. I’ve been bagging all the manure into trash bags so we don’t attract flies to an unmanaged manure pile. It’s a huge bother, and I now have a line of trash bags several layers thick lining the long side of the arena. I tell myself they serve as temporary kickboards. I shall be very glad when the composter is usable, but I am glad I got to see how the foundation for it was built. It’s much more of a foundation than anything we’ve done for the barns. They dug out the bank and put poured concrete frost walls.

It’s all a work in progress.  And it is very much an exercise in using clicker training principles outside the training arena.  I’ve heard so many stories about construction projects, and they all seem to include a stage where things get behind schedule and are held up.  We’re in this stage now.  The builder can’t leave his other project to come work on ours.  We’ve been promised a full crew in August.  So I’ll end this report here and pick it up later when more of the work has been done.

Alexandra Kurland

theclickercenter.com

July 23, 2011

Postscript: This journal leaves you with the barn half built.  You can read the conclusion of the barn building saga in my blog: theclickercenterblog.com

https://theclickercenterblog.com/2015/07/05/

The next installment will bring us ten years forward. I’ll share some favorite photos from the Clicker Center.
Thank you for sharing this look back at the Barn’s construction.

2011 to 2021: Celebrating Ten Years at The Clicker Center: Part 6

The tenth anniversary of moving the horses to The Clicker Center Barn. That was truly Independence Day for all of us. I am celebrating the anniversary by posting a series of articles I wrote in 2011 about the building of the barn. This is Part 6.

Enjoy!

We’re Building a Barn! Continued

Once all the trusses were up, they spent another couple of days adding even more bracing to the roof. They were racing to get the metal on, both so they could secure the building, and also so they could free up their crew and equipment to go work on their other project which was beginning to kick into high gear.  

The metal had been sitting down by the road since early spring. Now the fork lift retrieved it and brought it lumbering up the driveway. The forklift could just manage to squeeze it’s way down the back side of the arena, but there wasn’t room for it on the bank side. So the sheets of roofing were carried up one side of the roof and slid down the other. The men made it look as though they were carrying sheets of tissue paper up the roof, but this was steel they were lifting – hardly a feather weight!

They took great care over the first section, making sure it was absolutely square to the building. Any hair off here would effect every sheet of steel on the roof. Wayne oversaw the process from his vantage point on the peak of the roof. What a view he must have had of the surrounding countryside. I climbed up the side of the building before it was closed in, but I never went up on the roof. I’ll leave that to others!

With the first section of roofing on, the inside of the arena changed dramatically. It felt so much darker and less open. But it also gave me a huge umbrella over head. Now instead of working down in Mary’s house during the day, I could bring my laptop out to the arena and sit under the protection of the new roof while the men worked on the rest of the arena.

I have no idea what they thought of this arrangement, but it did give me time to experience the arena design and think about what we really wanted. I was loving the openness of the space. I loved the arched ceiling trusses. I loved the open front wall, and I wished we could keep that same open feel in the back. The compromise was putting in clear light panels along the top of the gable end and the back wall of the arena.

I’m writing this now, sitting in the arena, looking up at the light panels. What a perfect choice. They let in so much light. Even under the lean to, it’s remarkable how much light comes through the panels. The extra height, the scissor trusses, the open side down the front, the light panels, all make the arena seem so much bigger that it actually is. Everyone who comes remarks on the same thing – how big the arena is, but at 60 by 120 it is really a small arena. Most indoors are much bigger to accommodate larger groups and jumping. For me this is the perfect work space for clicker training.  
 

It was now mid-May and I was getting ready to head off for five weeks of teaching. Wayne had originally thought he could have the initial work on the arena finished by June 1. It was clear that that wasn’t going to happen. They did get most of the roof finished and the first section of steel hung on the back wall before I had to head off, but nothing was done in the barn. The doors and windows weren’t up, the poles weren’t set for the interior stalls, and the hay loft and deck weren’t built. We also didn’t have the lean to or the composter, and the site work still needed to be finished. The plan was to move the horses as soon as I got home at the end of June. That gave them five weeks, plenty of time to get the critical things done that we’d need for the horses.  

It was clear that the barn was not going to be finished in time. That was okay. We could house the horses in the indoor and let them finish the barn later, but we would need water, electrical hook-up, footing in the indoor, the composter, the ramps down to the field and fencing. Fencing meant the basic site prep needed to be done. A couple of days before I left, Ann and I met with an electrician and went over our needs. That piece seemed well in hand. As soon as the excavator was finished at the other project, he’d bring his equipment back to finish up the work that still needed to be done here. I left thinking that we were in good shape for a July 1 move.

At first the reports were I got were of progress progressing. Mary sent me pictures of the arena as the doors and windows were hung and the steel was added to the sides. I had so enjoyed the openness of the space, it was just as well that I wasn’t there for the closing in of the sides. They finished the lean to, and put the posts in the barn in preparation for building the loft.

Mid-way through June Ann met with Wayne for a progress report. I’d gotten pictures from Mary of the barn interior, but it was Ann who spotted the problem with the interior posts and with the doors. We’d designed the barn with five twelve foot wide stalls facing out along the gable end. Those posts were fine. But across the aisle, the various utility rooms were different sizes. When the crew put the posts in, they went on auto pilot. The norm was to have the posts match on either side of the aisle. They didn’t check the plans to see that we had ten foot rooms, not twelve, to give us enough room for an aisle into the arena and for stairs up to the loft.

Mid-way through June Ann met with Wayne for a progress report. I’d gotten pictures from Mary of the barn interior, but it was Ann who spotted the problem with the interior posts and with the doors. We’d designed the barn with five twelve foot wide stalls facing out along the gable end. Those posts were fine. But across the aisle, the various utility rooms were different sizes. When the crew put the posts in, they went on auto pilot. The norm was to have the posts match on either side of the aisle. They didn’t check the plans to see that we had ten foot rooms, not twelve, to give us enough room for an aisle into the arena and for stairs up to the loft.

The dutch doors were also hung wrong. They needed to start at the opposite end of the building so every door would swing open and hinge against the wall of the arena. The way they were hung, the end door had nothing behind it. The doors would all need to be reset.  

The misplacement of the posts triggered many emails back and forth between Ann and myself. Could we change our floor plan so they would not need to move posts? We tried many different configurations and finally settled on a plan that meant moving only one set of posts, but adding in the missing set that they hadn’t yet used.  

I kept hearing that the excavator was going to be there next Tuesday, then next week, then next Thursday to finish the work. Time was running out and we did not yet have a composter. And we also didn’t have arena footing. Wayne’s dump truck was out of commission. They’d had a road accident with it, and it had hit a tree, so he couldn’t bring in stone dust for the arena. We couldn’t house the horses on the gravel. Something had to be done. Thankfully a friend of Mary’s, Marty Gibbons, came to the rescue with his dump truck. He brought in and spread load after load of stone dust.

This was after Ann and I had many email exchanges about what to do next with the surface. The gravel had churned up into huge drifts by all the heavy equipment that had been on it through the spring. There were places where the underlying fabric was showing through. Wayne’s crew leveled the gravel and tamped it down. Should we add another layer of fabric to keep the gravel from working up? Or would that layer of fabric also work up to the surface and create it’s own problems. We simply didn’t know. I’ve been in so many arenas, and no one seems to have a good consensus on how best to build a good surface. Even when they’ve gone strictly “by the book”, people aren’t always happy with the end result.  

In the end we decided to seal the gravel with the stone dust only, no fabric. We’d put that layer in, let it settle and then decide what we wanted to do next. So Mary’s friend brought in truck loads of stone dust and spread them six inches deep across the arena. And Wayne’s crew put in kick boards in the area where we’d be setting up the temporary stalls. All that was good preparation, but we still didn’t have water, electricity, the composter, or any way to get the horses down into the field. And there was still a huge pile of brush making the field unusable.  

Mid-way through June Ann met with Wayne for a progress report. I’d gotten pictures from Mary of the barn interior, but it was Ann who spotted the problem with the interior posts and with the doors. We’d designed the barn with five twelve foot wide stalls facing out along the gable end. Those posts were fine. But across the aisle, the various utility rooms were different sizes. When the crew put the posts in, they went on auto pilot. The norm was to have the posts match on either side of the aisle. They didn’t check the plans to see that we had ten foot rooms, not twelve, to give us enough room for an aisle into the arena and for stairs up to the loft.

The dutch doors were also hung wrong. They needed to start at the opposite end of the building so every door would swing open and hinge against the wall of the arena. The way they were hung, the end door had nothing behind it. The doors would all need to be reset.  

The misplacement of the posts triggered many emails back and forth between Ann and myself. Could we change our floor plan so they would not need to move posts? We tried many different configurations and finally settled on a plan that meant moving only one set of posts, but adding in the missing set that they hadn’t yet used.  

I kept hearing that the excavator was going to be there next Tuesday, then next week, then next Thursday to finish the work. Time was running out and we did not yet have a composter. And we also didn’t have arena footing. Wayne’s dump truck was out of commission. They’d had a road accident with it, and it had hit a tree, so he couldn’t bring in stone dust for the arena. We couldn’t house the horses on the gravel. Something had to be done. Thankfully a friend of Mary’s, Marty Gibbons, came to the rescue with his dump truck. He brought in and spread load after load of stone dust.

This was after Ann and I had many email exchanges about what to do next with the surface. The gravel had churned up into huge drifts by all the heavy equipment that had been on it through the spring. There were places where the underlying fabric was showing through. Wayne’s crew leveled the gravel and tamped it down. Should we add another layer of fabric to keep the gravel from working up? Or would that layer of fabric also work up to the surface and create it’s own problems. We simply didn’t know. I’ve been in so many arenas, and no one seems to have a good consensus on how best to build a good surface. Even when they’ve gone strictly “by the book”, people aren’t always happy with the end result.  

In the end we decided to seal the gravel with the stone dust only, no fabric. We’d put that layer in, let it settle and then decide what we wanted to do next. So Mary’s friend brought in truck loads of stone dust and spread them six inches deep across the arena. And Wayne’s crew put in kick boards in the area where we’d be setting up the temporary stalls. All that was good preparation, but we still didn’t have water, electricity, the composter, or any way to get the horses down into the field. And there was still a huge pile of brush making the field unusable.  

They tried burning the brush pile. They waited for a rainy day to set it ablaze. In theory it should have been the answer, but they neglected to tell the town they were going to be burning brush. When the state troopers across the road saw the flames, they thought the barn was on fire. They called the fire department and the rescue squad. I heard about this via email. It’s something else I’m glad I missed. Apparently, it was perfectly okay to burn the pile. They just needed to let the town know that’s what they were going to be doing. When the fire department arrived, they decided the arena was getting too hot, and they put the fire out. So we were left with a half burned, but still enormous pile of brush and logs.  

So that’s what I came home to. We did have temporary water. They had hooked up a line so we could use Mary’s well water, but it was looking very doubtful that we would be able to move horses. I flew home on Wednesday, June 30th, and Thursday I stood in the arena surveying one incomplete unit after another. There was so much to be done, and no one was on site getting anything finished. The parking area in front of the arena was cluttered with rolls of fabric, unused steel, lumber and equipment. Even if the barn had been ready, there was no way we could bring a horse trailer up on the pad.

The 4th of July weekend was coming up. This was the weekend we had to move if we were going to move at all, and nothing was ready. Every now and then you have to be a squeaky wheel. I started calling. The messages I left were polite, but clearly not happy. They got action. Chris left the other building site and came and cleared the parking area so we could at least get the horse trailer up to the arena. There wasn’t much else he could do at that point. We went over what we needed for the horses. We needed the ramps, the composter, the brush cleared away. And we needed water and electrical.  

I know from experience this is how construction projects work. The initial phase goes so fast and then things slow down. Builders have to keep their crews and their equipment in use so they never have just one project going at a time. We’ll see lots of progress for a while, and then the crew will get called to another site where something equally pressing needs to be finished. I understand the process, and I can flow with it – up to a point. But my own schedule locks me into certain constraints. I thought five weeks would give them time to get done the basics of what we needed, and perhaps if the dump truck hadn’t broken down, or we’d had a little less rain in the spring, we would have been on schedule, but I also know with construction, there is no such thing as staying on schedule. There is simply working with where you are and what you have.

So on Friday we began the process of setting up temporary quarters for the horses. We had given our thirty day notice to the barn owner where the horses were. She had already rented out the stalls. We could delay for a couple of days, but not much longer. And I was locked in by my travel schedule. I had given myself most of July at home. After that I was away almost every weekend. If I didn’t move the horses now, we would have to wait until November. I wanted to get them settled while the weather was still good. So Friday we went shopping. We bought extra round pen panels and floor mats and hauled them into the arena. We set up five stalls along the back wall. Four of the stalls were made out of the John Lyons round pen panels that I already owned. Only one stall had to be made with the new panels. These new panels are not as safe as the others. The spacing of the rails, for one thing are not as horse friendly as they should be. We lined them with the plastic fencing I use to keep the deer off the evergreens in the winter which made me feel better using them.  

We also ran panels across the opening for the back door and across the near end of the arena. So once the horses were in the arena, they were in a safe, fully enclosed space. Even if we forgot to close a stall door properly, they would still be in a fenced area. I used my extra light weight panels to create an ante room beyond the first gate, so again, even if we forgot to latch that gate, they were still contained.  

It took us three days to get the arena set up and most of our stuff moved out of the other barn. Most boarders have only a tack trunk, a saddle, bridle and their horse to move. We had five horses, all their normal stuff, plus the round pen panels, about twenty stall mats – most of which had to be pulled out of the ground and scrubbed clean.  We also had three very heavy steel stall doors which had to be swapped for the original doors that were stored up in the hay loft. We’d put these doors on our horse’s stalls because they gave them better ventilation than the original doors that were on the stalls when we moved in. The barn owner had allowed the swap though she really didn’t like them. They didn’t match the rest of her barn, so she was well pleased to be returning to the original doors.

The saga of the barn construction continues in the next installment.

2011 to 2021: Celebrating Ten Years at The Clicker Center: Part 5

July 4, 2021 marks the tenth anniversary of moving the horses to The Clicker Center Barn. That was truly Independence Day for all of us. I am celebrating the anniversary by posting a series of articles I wrote in 2011 about the building of the barn. This is Part 5.

Enjoy!

We’re Building a Barn! Continued

The following day the first of the trusses went up. They brought in a long metal brace to keep the trusses from bending as the crane lifted them. I watched each step of the preparation. They had to get the straps even on the brace. And then they had to lift the first stack of trusses to the ground to get to the gable trusses. The lumber yard had stacked these trusses in the middle of the pile instead of on top.

That brought some grumbling from the  crew for the extra work that created. They took great care pulling the stack of trusses down onto the ground. The last thing they wanted at this point was to damage any of the trusses. They dragged them across the gravel into the center of the building, ready for the crane to lift them up onto the headers.

They normally would have taken the gable truss outside the building to lift it up, but the space around the building was too tight for their equipment so they had to bring it down the middle of the building and out through the gable end. Only it didn’t really fit through the gap between the posts. They tied a rope to one end to guide it through. It started out looking like the gentle guidance you’d give a boat as you tried to nudge it through a lock system. But it ended up looking more like calf roping as they wrestled both with the truss and the wind.  

The truss could only take so much wiggling. Something had to give and it was the gusset plate joining the two halves together. Oops! They did a temporary fix to keep the truss from falling apart even more while they somehow squeezed it through the opening. They set the truss back down on the ground and hammered it back together. By the time they were done driving in extra nails it was stronger than the original.

The truss was raised back up and worked into place. Again there was the attention to detail, to getting the truss exactly set to the marks they had made. They nailed it into place at the ends and then nailed it more solidly to the gable end posts, checking again and again the placement to make sure the building was truly square. 

The next truss went up and then the two trusses were tied together through cross bracing. The process was repeated three more times that afternoon for a total of five trusses. More braces were added, then the whole building was chained. This was the vulnerable stage in the building. Until the roof was up and the whole building was wrapped in steel, a strong wind could take it down. So at every step in the process they would pause to set the cross bracing and to add more chains. The chains kept the building from twisting out of square. Inside it was like walking through a giant spider’s web – one that kept growing as they added more trusses.  

I left for my next clinic having seen the first five trusses go up. When I returned five days later, the roof trusses for the indoor were in place and the first three trusses for the section of the building that would eventually become the barn were up. It was looking more and more like a building!

I sat on the stack of remaining trusses and watched as the bracing was put in place. I was feeling stiff after a long transcontinental plane flight. Watching the crew maneuvering in the trusses made me feel even stiffer. As the crane lifted each truss into place, I couldn’t help but think of images of a ship’s mast. The trusses sailed up into the air and were swung around with a rope to bring them into place on the headers. Each truss meant more bracing. By the time they were done with each section, there was a huge amount of wood holding that roof together.  

I’d missed seeing the holes dug for the posts, but now I got to see the final holes dug for the gable end. They weren’t nearly as impressive as the ten footers they’d had to dig at the opposite end of the building where the fill was even deeper. These only had to go down about four feet into the ground. They brought the big, stegosaurus truck in and lined the drill up over the marks they’d painted in the gravel. The drill bit through the layers of gravel and dirt and had the hole dug in minutes. 

They got the posts in the ground and then decided that after all they had put the shorter poles in the wrong holes. Rather than leave it looking not quite right, they brought in the forklift and used that to help maneuver the poles back out of the ground and into the right holes. The posts were now as they wanted them. They lined them up and leveled them, and when they were satisfied with the placement, they poured in a bag of dry cement, and then back filled the holes. With the gable posts in place the framing of the building was almost complete.

I loved how the building looked at this stage. I loved the openness of the space, and the shadow patterns in the gravel formed by the roof. After the work crew left for the day, I stood under the canopy of the open roof and visualized how the barn was going to look. For the first time ever I understood modern architecture with all of its glass. Standing there in the bones of the barn, looking out at the sky framed between sections of the roof, it seemed a shame to close it in. It was such a beautiful building just as it was.

To get to the barn I drive past two other construction sites. Both are building large multiple unit condominiums. Perhaps if I stood inside the framing as I was able to do for the arena, I would see the same beauty in form, but I think not. The large arch of the arena creates an amazing space. One thing the builder had talked me into was using scissor trusses instead of the more conventional flat trusses. I’m so glad I listened to him. They make the building. It’s a beautiful roof line. Especially with the open side, they make the building seem so much larger and more open.  

The last trusses finally went up. These extend the roof another eight feet beyond the end of the building. The stalls for our five horses are at this end of the barn. Each stall will have a dutch door going out into a small turnout run. We needed some form of protection for these runs so there will be a deck above them, and protecting the deck will be this additional eight feet of roof. 

The saga of the barn construction will continue in the next installment.

 

2011 to 2021: Celebrating Ten Years at The Clicker Center: Part 4

July 4, 2021 marks the tenth anniversary of moving the horses to The Clicker Center Barn. That was truly Independence Day for all of us. I am celebrating the anniversary by posting a series of articles I wrote in 2011 about the building of the barn. This is Part 4.

Enjoy!

We’re Building a Barn! Continued

As I watched the headers go up, I was again impressed by the flexibility and athleticism of the crew, not to mention their seeming lack of concern for heights. They balanced at all sorts of impossible angles to nail in the headers. I was especially impressed by the foreman, Chris. I’d watched him through the spring take on any job that was needed. When we needed to cut further back into the hill to reduce the erosion concerns, he’d been up on the hill with a chain saw clearing brush.

What a hard job that was! We had to make the very difficult decision to take out four or five mature trees that were just too near the edge of the hill. The trees were all leaning the wrong way. They needed them to fall across the pad so they could cut them up and remove them more easily. But they were all threatening to fall back into the woods, so Chris shimmed up the trees to tie ropes into the upper branches. With a couple of them, the men could wrestle the tree into falling in the right direction, but with the last of them, they had to bring in their mini digger to add a bit more pulling power.

I’ve cleared a lot of brush in the woods surrounding my house, but it has always been by hand, never with power tools. Watching how fast three men can cut up and remove a felled tree was indeed impressive.

And now with the headers going up, I was watching that same lack of concern over heights as they hung from the edge of the lift or walked along the headers to get to the next section going up. They were part way down the second side when they were interrupted by the arrival of the truck bringing the roof trusses.  

The truck was 85 feet long. I especially wanted to see how something that long was going to maneuver its way up the drive way. If it could get up, then we would certainly be in the clear bringing the horse trailers up. The first challenge was turning off the road into the driveway itself. I thought they were going to take out the stone pillars of the neighbor’s driveway, but the driver managed to get in off the road without doing any damage.

However he did need a little assistance getting around the first curve of our new driveway. Wayne went down with his forklift and tied chains to the front of the truck. The added pull gave them just enough power to get the truck past the culvert ditch and onto the straighter part of the driveway. But now they faced an even bigger challenge. The driveway curved past Mary’s barn. It was a pretty line to look at, but a hard one for something that long and heavy to manage. The driver said this was the heaviest load of trusses he’d ever carried. When the trusses were finally unloaded the men kept commenting on the size of the lumber that was used in them. The engineers who had approved the plan gave us trusses that hopefully will more that hold up in the snow loads we get here in the Northeast.  

But before we could worry about snow, the driver first had to get the truck over the still settling curve of the driveway. He ended up having to make a choice. He could keep his back wheels or his front wheels on the roadbed, but he couldn’t do both. He opted to keep the flatbed tires on the driveway. His cab rolled off the side of the drive, down the ditch and across to the other side where it became mired down in spring mud. It was well and truly stuck. No amount of rocking back and forth was going to dislodge it’s tires from the grip of the mud.

However he did need a little assistance getting around the first curve of our new driveway. Wayne went down with his forklift and tied chains to the front of the truck. The added pull gave them just enough power to get the truck past the culvert ditch and onto the straighter part of the driveway. But now they faced an even bigger challenge. The driveway curved past Mary’s barn. It was a pretty line to look at, but a hard one for something that long and heavy to manage. The driver said this was the heaviest load of trusses he’d ever carried. When the trusses were finally unloaded the men kept commenting on the size of the lumber that was used in them. The engineers who had approved the plan gave us trusses that hopefully will more that hold up in the snow loads we get here in the Northeast.  

But before we could worry about snow, the driver first had to get the truck over the still settling curve of the driveway. He ended up having to make a choice. He could keep his back wheels or his front wheels on the roadbed, but he couldn’t do both. He opted to keep the flatbed tires on the driveway. His cab rolled off the side of the drive, down the ditch and across to the other side where it became mired down in spring mud. It was well and truly stuck. No amount of rocking back and forth was going to dislodge it’s tires from the grip of the mud.

Now this is the kind of situation where you’d like to say, “oh well, better luck next time” and walk away. Except you can’t. You can’t just leave the truck stuck there. Nor did anyone want to have to unload the trusses at this point and carry them one by one up to the building site. They had to get the truck out. This is also where I watched some great horse training characteristics. People become great horse trainers not because they are born with some special talent. Talent will get you just so far with horses. It certainly helps to be athletic, but I’ve seen lots of athletic riders who never really developed into great horsemen. No matter how good you are as a rider, there’s always a horse out there who requires more from you. So great horsemen develop because they are persistent. They don’t give up. If one approach doesn’t work, they try another. They are creative. They look at tools and see not just the standard way in which that tool can be used, but the new ingenious way that cracks the puzzle.  

I saw these same characteristics in the work crew. The truck was stuck. There was no possibility of failure. They had to get the truck out. So Wayne brought his forklift back. Watching it lumbering towards us out of the gravel of the building site, I couldn’t help but think that whoever had designed these giant machines must have played with model dinosaurs as a child. It looked for all the world like a Stegosaurus with it’s spiky front end. They attached chains to the fronts of both trucks and pulled. The mud pulled back, holding the truck ever more firmly in its grasp. It was like watching two giant dinosaurs fighting over a bone. The little stegosaur fought and pulled, but the bigger dinosaur wasn’t going to let go.

So the little stegosaur was sent away and the truck that dug the bore holes was brought in to have a go. At first it looked looked as though the mud it was going to defeat that truck as well. The chains broke. The front bumper on the bore hole truck bent. They retired the chains, changed the angle they were pulling from, and tried again. The wheels of the big truck began to inch forward. And then finally the mud released its grip, and the truck regained the solid ground of the driveway. The drama was over for the moment.

The truck pulled up onto the building site and slid the trusses off its back end. There was the roof, stacked in a pile in the middle of the building site. They were sixty feet long, the width of the arena. The truck was built like an accordion. The flat bed had been sixty feet to carry the length of the trusses. Now it rolled itself together and became a normal length truck. Turning around in the cramped quarters of the pad was just a minor inconvenience. He was soon back down the driveway, and the work resumed on setting the headers.

While the remaining headers were lifted into place, Wayne’s son, Zack, worked on bracing the walls. By the end of the day the back wall was essentially done, but the last of the headers still needed to go up on the pasture side.

Overnight we got more torrential rains, and this time the building site was not spared. But the gravel did it’s job. We were surrounded by mud. At the barn where my horses lived, the driveway was essentially a duck pond, but on the gravel pad the water had drained away and everything was dry – everything that is except the electrical system of the forklift. The lift still worked to go up and down, but the motor that drove it wouldn’t turn on. So again they had to practice those horse training skills of ingenuity and persistence. Both the mini digger and the forklift were called into duty to move the lift along and to keep it level as the tires sank into the soft ground around the poles.

Overnight we got more torrential rains, and this time the building site was not spared. But the gravel did it’s job. We were surrounded by mud. At the barn where my horses lived, the driveway was essentially a duck pond, but on the gravel pad the water had drained away and everything was dry – everything that is except the electrical system of the forklift. The lift still worked to go up and down, but the motor that drove it wouldn’t turn on. So again they had to practice those horse training skills of ingenuity and persistence. Both the mini digger and the forklift were called into duty to move the lift along and to keep it level as the tires sank into the soft ground around the poles.

The morning was spent, stop and go, lifting headers up, and then pulling the lift out of whatever ground it had become mired down in. The last header went up mid-day, then then the work continued on framing the sides. 

They used the building itself as a ladder. Rung by rung, the structure was taking on more of its final form. The back wall was fully framed up to the headers. 

On the front wall, overlooking the horse’s pasture and the hills beyond, the framing only went up two tiers for a total of four feet. The rest of the space was going to remain open to the sky. This got more confused comments from people visiting the site. They just couldn’t understand why we were leaving the front open. They kept telling us how we could get curtains to close it off.

We had our set answer ready for them: “We can always close it off later, if we decide to, but we really do want the arena to be open.” Indoor arenas are not warm, even when you have them all closed up. If you are building an indoor in the Northeast because you think you’re going to be warm and toasty inside in the winter, you are in for a rude shock. Yes, they keep the wind out, but they are still ice boxes. Ice boxes with very limited airflow. I want the open sides. I want the air flow, and I want the beautiful views.

Digging out the side of this hill to create a building site may have its problems, but it has created an amazing setting for the arena. It feels as though we are up in the tree tops looking out. As I watched the framing go up and spent time in the space, visualizing how the arena was going to evolve, I knew the decision to have open sides was very much the right one.  

More preparation followed the framing and bracing of the walls. Each of the trusses had to be measured and marked so they would know where to place the cross bracing. This was a tedious process that took up a good part of a day. 

The saga of the barn building will continue in the next installment.

2011 to 2021: Celebrating Ten Years at The Clicker Center: Part 3

July 4, 2021 marks the tenth anniversary of moving the horses to The Clicker Center Barn. That was truly Independence Day for all of us. I am celebrating the anniversary by posting a series of articles I wrote in 2011 about the building of the barn. This is Part 3.

Enjoy!

We’re Building A Barn! (written in 2011)

When I returned the pad had been transformed yet again. When I left it was mud, ten-pound mud the builders called it, meaning as you walked across it, that’s how much stuck to your boots and more. Now it was an ocean of gravel. 

Next came the trucks from the lumber yard. They brought in the posts for the arena and stacks of lumber for the bracing and the arena walls. The first line of posts went in while I was again out of town. I got home to see the line, like perfect soldiers all standing at attention, planted down the back side of the arena. Each post was braced. I snapped lots of photos, marveling at the images I was seeing through the camera lens. 

The following day the second line of posts went in. The holes had all been dug for them. At the far end the holes went down almost ten feet before they hit untouched ground. I tried taking pictures, but the camera couldn’t do justice to the depth of the holes.

Getting the posts up was an exercise in perseverance. They leap-frogged the posts into the holes. Three men would get under the post. To push it up they swapped places, moving closer and closer to the base of the post until it was standing upright in the hole.

That was actually the easy part. Then each pole had to be lined up and leveled. This was string day meaning the posts had to be aligned to a string that ran the length of the building. You want to set posts on still days, days when there is at most just a puff of a breeze. That’s not what we got. We got a strong spring wind blowing in the change of seasons. You could see the posts that were already set swaying at the top from the strength of the wind. That played havoc with their ability to set posts.

You had to have a few moments of stillness in which the string wasn’t moving in order to align the posts. And they had to line up. You needed to be able to stand at one end of the line, look down the row of posts and see them as only one post. There couldn’t be any sticking out. The builders explained that getting this part right made the rest of the building go smoothly, everything would line up. (Sounds like horse training.) But if you let the building get out of square here, you’d have problems with every other step in the building process, especially getting the steel on later because things wouldn’t be lining up. 

So I watched them struggle with every pole. They’d check the string again and again. Check the level, check the string. It’s a hair off, I’d hear one of them say. A hair off wasn’t good enough. It meant the pole had to be shifted. And that meant wrestling with a pole that was ten feet in the ground and swaying in the wind at the top. Not fun.

They’d wrestle the pole into a slight shift, check the string, check the level, check the string, shift it again, check again, until finally they were satisfied that it wasn’t just good enough, it was exactly where it needed to be. At that point they would empty a bag of cement down into the hole and then back fill around the post with the dirt that had come out of the auger hole.

This process was repeated for every post they put in. They were hoping to get all the posts done that day, and normally that would have been very doable, but the wind finally defeated them. They had to call a halt with about a third of the posts still to go.

A heavy rain overnight was in the forecast which would have created another hardship for them to work with. At my house I heard the rain pounding on the roof through much of the night, but it missed the building site. So the following day the rest of the posts went in. Each post was braced, creating a dramatic line of triangles marching down both sides of the arena. In just three days the building had sprung out of the ground. All the time the bulldozers had been working, you couldn’t see the arena from the road, but now suddenly it was there!  

With that work well in hand, the posts for the gable end at the far end of the building were set. This was an easier process. The wind had died down, and the holes were not as deep. Near the back side they were only about four feet as compared to the ten feet they had had to go down to get past the fill on the bank side.  

The same diligent care was given these posts checking for level. Again off a hair was off, and they didn’t set the post until things were exactly right. When I left at the end of the day the building had three sides. The posts were all braced, and the headers were set in place at the base of the posts. 

The following day they brought in their very ancient lift so they could mark the top of the posts to know the exact height for the headers. When that was done, they brought in a crane to lift the headers into place. Again, I heard “off a hair” as they checked the header against the marks on the pole.

Wayne was operating the crane. He would adjust the boom up or down, ever so slightly to bring the headers into perfect alignment. I’m glad I was there to eavesdrop on the care they gave to getting everything right. And I know this wasn’t just a show for my benefit. I could see the result of this attention to detail in the work that was done on the days when I was out of town.  

The Saga of the barn going up will be continued in the next post.

Independence Day 2011 to 2021: Celebrating Ten Years at The Clicker Center Barn: Part 2

July 4 2021 marks the ten year anniversary of moving the horses to the The Clicker Center Barn. I am celebrating that milestone by posting the series of articles I wrote about the building of the barn. This is Part 2.

Enjoy!

We’re Building a Barn! – Continued

When I got home from the Expo and saw the building site for the first time the following Tuesday I was both astounded and appalled by what I saw. 

Mary did indeed have a barn! It was almost completely framed. And what a pretty structure. I do like looking at the bones of a building, especially barns. There’s something very pleasing in the lines of a barn. It’s almost a pity we have to close them in with siding.

I could see all this from the road, but I couldn’t actually get up the drive. A huge tractor trailer was blocking access as they unloaded a load of lumber. I had to drive on, turn around further up the road, and by the time I got back, they had gone and I could get up the drive.

I drove in past what looked like a wrecking yard. There were piles of steel, stacks of lumber lining what is a very long driveway. The trucks had made huge ruts in the soft spring grass. I found what looked like a solid piece of ground to park on and walked up past the house to the future site of the indoor. I felt as though I had just stepped into a disaster zone. It looked like those terrible pictures you see after a tornado or a hurricane has gone through an area. There were huge brush piles of uprooted trees, and mud everywhere. What a mess!

They had begun their cut half way down the hill. So picture a long hill sloping down to merge gradually into the field that was to be my horse’s future pasture. Now imagine you are a giant sculptor, and you can take a knife to make a vertical cut straight down into this hill and push all the dirt beyond that cut forward towards the pasture. You cut and push, cut and push to create a broad flat pad, but what you leave behind is a straight vertical bank at the back of the pad. And what you create is a sharp ten foot plus drop into what is supposed to be horse pasture. And sitting at the foot of this drop off are huge piles of brush and mud.  

I was horrified. What had we done! And how do we make it stop! Of course we couldn’t make it stop. The steel had been ordered. The process was moving forward. I had to keep repeating to myself: “Don’t take score too soon. Don’t take score too soon.”

When the work crews left for the night, I paced out the pad. It was too small. “Don’t take score too soon.” It wasn’t long enough. There was just barely room for the building itself, but there was nothing left over for outside turnout for the horses. And there wasn’t enough room along the sides. It felt as though the building would be in a straight jacket caught between the uphill side of the hill and the drop off down to the pasture. “Don’t take score too soon.”

The next day I walked the site with the project foreman, Chris. Wayne was out of town working on another project, so Chris was in charge. We paced out the pad, went over the plans, and talked not just about the physical size of the building, but also how it had to function for the horses and for vehicles coming in. We needed access for hay wagons, and for horse trailers. We couldn’t be squeezed in tight on the pad. 

The following day the excavator began another cut down into the pad. They went down another four feet, digging a deep trench with the back hoe and then pushing it out over the edge with the bull dozer. I brought my lap top out and sat in the house working. Periodically I would walk out with my camera and take photos of the huge piles of earth that were being rearranged. I’ve never spent any time in a construction zone. To these men, and I’m sure to any builders who are reading this, my descriptions will seem incredibly naive. And indeed they are. This is the one and only time I am going to be building anything of this size. Twenty plus years of planning and preparation have gone into this building, and I intended to enjoy the construction process – hiccups, major glitches and all.

As I watched the men work and saw how much they got done in the course of a day, I thought about how much work they were putting into this building. But then I also thought about the twenty plus years of work that this really represented, and not just on my part, but on Ann’s as well.  

Watching the bulldozer move back and forth across the pad was oddly mesmerizing. I could have watched for hours, but I had work to do. So I would watch for a bit, go back inside, and then several hours later I would go back out and see what transformations they had created.

Bit by bit the pad grew and took on dimensions that came closer to our needs, but there was still that deep cut at the back of the site. And there was still the substantial drop off into the field. And the brush piles seemed to be growing ever larger – not shrinking and going away.

Mary’s barn by now was fully framed and the steel was on it. The day they put the roof I arrived early at around eight thirty, and they already had the back side completely finished and had started on the front. Her barn looked almost ready – so near and yet so far. The work had gone so fast on her barn, but now it slowed down to a snail’s pace as the work crew shifted over to the arena.  

The first major next step was the building of a driveway. The quarry truck arrived mid-morning and dumped the first load of stone. By the end of the day there was a driveway curving up past Mary’s barn to the arena. It was going to take a lot of heavy trucks pounding over that surface before my little car was going to be able to make it up the drive, but those trucks were coming.  

They brought gravel for the pad first, truck load after truck load of gravel. I saw the first couple of trucks arrive before I had to head out of town once again. 

The building of the driveway

This look back after ten years of the building of The Clicker Center Barn will continue in the next installment.

Independence Day 2021- Celebrating Ten Years at The Clicker Center Barn

July 4 2011 will always feel like Independence Day to me. That was the day we loaded up the horses and drove them to their new home: The Clicker Center Barn.

I have always had to board my horses. Boarding certainly made it easier to travel, but it didn’t give the horses the life I wanted them to have. So I teamed up with Ann Edie and Mary Arena to build a home for all of our horses. Mary was bought the land and the house. She built her own barn and took up residence in the house. Ann and I built the arena barn together and on July 4 moved our horses to what was still an unfinished shell.

Today is July 4, 2021. Ann and I are celebrating ten years at the barn. This seems like a great time to revisit the description I wrote about the barn building process.

So in Celebration of Ten Years at The Clicker Center Barn here is the saga of what it took to get the barn built in the first place.

If any of you are contemplating building a barn for your own horses, this is the blog for you! You’ll see in grim detail what is involved.

Ten years on would I say it was the right decision to build? Absolutely!! And the horses would agree! So don’t let all the photos of the mud and the horrendous site prep put you off. Being able to provide our horses with a good life was well worth the effort.

Ten years has brought many changes, especially this last year. In 2020 Mary sold out her portion of the property to Ann’s eldest son. He’s a superb land owner. The property has never looked so good under his care. I’ll include a few photos at the end showing the evolution of the barn over the last ten years.

We’re Building a Barn!

The Clicker Center has a Home

Originally published in my web site: theclickercenter.com in 2011.

In March 2011 construction began on The Clicker Center’s  home barn.  Throughout my horse owning career I have never been able to keep my horses at home.  I have always had to board them out.  Boarding has allowed me to travel and to share clicker training through the many clinics, workshops and conferences.  But as good as a boarding stable may be, there’s no place like home!  So we are building!

So who is the “we” in this project?

Mary Arena, a long time friend and client owns the farm where we are building the indoor.  She will be the full time resident on the property, making sure all the horses are well cared for when I am traveling.  Mary has three Icelandics who are already in residence on the farm.  A new barn for them began construction in March 2011.

Ann Edie, another long time friend and client, is also a major investor in this project.  Ann’s three horses, Magnat, our most senior horse at 33, and our two Icelandics, Sindri and Fengur, will be joining my own two horses, Peregrine and Robin, in their new home.  Ann’s guide horse, Panda, will be a visiting resident, traveling with Ann to the barn for their daily visits.

Alexandra Kurland: When I finished the riding book in 2005 I began looking for property for the Clicker Center.  It was time to move on to the next phase of developing clicker training.  I needed a home for clicker training, a site where we could hold longer trainings, develop an instructor’s program and explore in greater depth details in the training.  When I began the search, I had no idea how long it would take!  In the spring of 2010 Mary joined Ann and myself in the hunt for the perfect property and a short time later we found exactly what we had been looking for.  

The future home of the Clicker Center is located just outside of Albany NY.  It’s the perfect location.  It’s not far from the NY Thruway so it provides easy access for people trailering in with horses. For people flying in for a visit, it’s only about half an hour from the Albany International Airport.  And most important it is only a short drive from my house.  It’s a beautiful property, thirty-six acres with two ponds, plenty of pasture for the horses and access to great riding trails.  We have literally carved out the side of a hill to create a site for the indoor arena.  We’re going to leave one long side of the arena open so we’ll be able to see the beautiful views of the surrounding countryside while we work horses.  

As we become settled in our new location, we’ll be planning many events there.  I hope to welcome many of you to the new Clicker Center home barn.

I’ll be sharing the barn building as it unfolds. If you’ve ever thought about putting up a barn or an arena, you’ll want to visit often to see the updates.

Alexandra Kurland

The Clicker Center’s Home

I never intended to build a barn.  I was too busy creating books and DVDs to focus on anything like that.  My original plan was to move the horses to an indoor one of my long time clients was building, but the property she eventually found was just too far away to drive to on a daily basis.  So for the past way too many years I’ve been keeping my horses at a local boarding stable.  The care was good.  I knew I could leave town without worrying about the horses, but since I moved there, the resident population has more than doubled to over fifty horses.  With so many horses there were always limitations and restrictions on what could be done.  As I became increasingly involved with clicker training, it became clear that I was outgrowing what the stable had to offer.  So when the riding book was published, I began looking for property.  

The plan was to find a property that would suit both myself and Ann Edie and her family.  We’d move our five horses, and Ann and her husband would be the full time residents on the property leaving me still able to travel for clinics. 

I looked at well over a hundred properties both here in my home town area and also across the United States.  Wherever I traveled, I always had my antennae out.  Would this be a good place for the horses?  I could have moved anywhere, but at the end of the day, I discovered that I really do like my own backyard.  Upstate New York is very beautiful.  A good many people flee the Northeast because of our tough winters.  Perversely, I really enjoy them. So I narrowed my search to remain within a reasonable driving distance of the Albany airport and kept the local realtors busy looking at potential horse properties.  

I saw some beautiful houses.  And I saw some gorgeous land, but nothing that would suit for a horse farm.  Often there simply wasn’t anywhere flat enough to build an indoor, or the winter access would have been just too hard, or the asking price was too high.  Surprisingly I saw only a couple of horse farms.  Most of the properties were just a house and land.  Or if they had a barn, it was a hundred year old cow barn in need of major repairs.  

I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the property search.  It was such a roller coaster ride of emotions.  I’d find a listing that looked possible.  I’d study the photos, and all the property details.  I’d find it on google maps, so I could see a satellite view of the surrounding area.  I’d get excited that this was going to be “The One”, the property that met our needs and our budget.  Then I’d go out to see the property.  The easy ones were the ones that were clearly not right.  I didn’t even need to get out of the car to know I had just wasted an afternoon. I could have been working on a DVD.  Instead I was looking at a run-down farm with the noise from a nearby highway roaring in the background.  

The harder ones were the ones that were almost, but not quite. Could we make things work?  Was there enough land for the horses?  Was this just too far from anywhere?  Was the house in need of too many repairs? The questions would mount up, and I’d cross another hopeful candidate off the list. 

Going into the winter of 2010 I had a couple of properties on my list to go see, but I was waiting for the snow to melt enough to make the trip worthwhile.  That’s when Mary Arena let me know that she was going to be moving.  It made sense to team up. I knew of one property that was just outside of the town where I lived.  Ann and I had looked at it the previous summer, but turned it down.  Now with the housing market continuing to tighten and no buyers in sight, the asking price had dropped by $100,000.  That brought it more in line with our collective budget.

We looked at it late April, liked it and put a bid in, only to learn that someone else had beaten us to it.  But then that deal fell through when the buyer couldn’t get financing for it, so the property bounced back to us.  Our offer was accepted on Peregrine’s birthday, a very good sign!

What followed were all the building inspections.  That is definitely not a fun process.  The purpose of a building inspection is to find things that are wrong.  And what a list it was!  By the time all the inspections were done, it was a wonder the house was still standing!  But really there was nothing wrong that a little routine maintenance and updating would not take care of.  

I headed off for my annual trip to the UK leaving Mary to sort out all the closing details.  I returned just in time for the final closing.  The three of us celebrated with a picnic lunch overlooking one of two ponds on the property.

So we had the land. Now we had to get the horses moved.  Mary took the first great leap.  She moved into the house in August, and set her horses up in a run-in shed and small paddock area made out of round pen panels.  It was far from ideal, but we were planning on getting the barn build as quickly as possible.  

We drew up plans, staked out potential areas for an indoor, and started interviewing builders.  The first builders who looked at the site convinced us to move the indoor.  We were originally going to put it behind the house just past the pond.  This would give us access to turnout, and it would tuck the indoor in to a low spot so it would not be quite as imposing a structure in the landscape.  But it was going to be a tight fit and when the builders looked at it, they hemmed and hawed and thought we’d be better off moving it to the front of the property.

So we took another look at our options and chose a rounded knoll to the side of the house, overlooking the main pond.  It was a very pretty building site and much more practical than the first.  It would give us better access to the front turnout.  It would tie in well to the existing driveway and give us easy access to utilities.  But again it was a tight fit.  On paper it looked as though we could easily site the indoor and an attached barn, but when we staked it out, nothing fit.  

We got more builders out to give us estimates.  The numbers that came back were scary.  The site prep alone was a budget breaker.  I began redrawing the building plans.  What if we split the indoor and the barn into two separate structures?  We could level one area for the barn, have a short ramp down to the next level and place the indoor there.  Would that work?  We got more estimates.  The numbers kept going up not down.  And we were running out of time.  If we were going to build anything before winter we had to make a decision – now.  Only we couldn’t decide.  Nothing was right.  The location wasn’t working, the barn wasn’t working.  

In November we changed plans again and decided that if we couldn’t fit a full size arena into the space, we’d build a covered round pen instead.  We’d gone up to New Hampshire to look at the Merry Go Round arenas and liked them very much.  Was that the answer?  They are certainly very appealing structures, but when we paced out the area yet again, we just weren’t convinced that it would fit into the space along with the needed barn.

The building season was closing down and we were no closer to an answer. It was looking more and more as though we’d be able to build a barn for Mary’s horses, but finding a location that would work for an indoor and that would stay within our budget was looking more and more like a pipe dream.  As Christmas and the first snowfall of the season approached Mary was left caring for her three horses in just their run-in shed.  And it left my horses in their boarding situation for another winter.  

I kept drawing barn plans, but basically when the New Year came our building plans had ground to a halt.  But shortly after the Holidays, Mary sent me an email.  Her neighbor across the street was building a barn!  

We were literally knee deep in snow and there was a pole barn going up!  We walked across to look at it.  It was in size very much what Mary wanted for her horses.  It was well built, but it clearly wasn’t costing the astronomically high prices that we had been quoted for barns.  We called the builder and arranged a meeting.

We spread our barn plans out over Mary’s kitchen table and explained what we wanted.  That’s all doable, the builder assured us, and for a price that he was sure would surprise us.  

We went for a walk outside to look at the building site.  Yes, he agreed, it would be an expensive area to develop.  Why did we want to build there when the flat land was in the front of the property by the road?  

I didn’t want to sound like a toddler throwing a fit because she couldn’t have vanilla ice cream instead of chocolate cake.  But if the only alternative was to build the indoor down by the road, quite frankly I didn’t want to build it at all.  The property is fronted by a busy highway.  The house is set far enough back to be somewhat buffered by the traffic.  But if we built near the road we’d be right next to it.  Apart from the noise, there were safety concerns.  This was not the location I had dreamed of for The Clicker Center.  Thankfully there was an ATT cable right of way that cut through the front of the property.   It ran directly down the middle of the area he was proposing for the building site.

I redirected his attention by saying that the area I had always thought would work well for an indoor was behind the house on the hill side of the pasture, only there wasn’t enough room.  That’s when Mary reminded us that the property extended beyond the hedgerow that bordered the pasture.  We had another acre of land beyond what looked line the logical property line.  We waded up through two feet of snow to have a look.  The builder loved the site.  He could take out the hedgerow and create a level pad here.  As long as there wasn’t a rock ledge to contend with, this would work.  He’d have to dig test holes first, but he thought we could easily build here, and it would be using an area of the property that would otherwise go undeveloped.  

I looked up the hill beyond the hedgerow to the house that was nestled into a horseshoe of hedgerows.  The neighbors I was sure would have a very different view of his proposal.

But it all sounded like forward movement.  We’d been stuck and now things were starting to unlock again.  We had to wait for the weather to warm up enough for the builder to get his equipment back on the site to dig test holes.  He went down four or five feet and hit nothing but dirt. We could build here!

He got his excavator out to get an estimate on the site prep and the following week we were looking at a set of plans for an indoor.  That was the end of February.  We’d gone from zero to sixty in what seemed like about four seconds.  He had a major building project starting in the spring, but if we could get started in the next week or two, he could fit us in.  

If we’d had more time to think about it we might have found a hundred good reasons not to build on this site, but we didn’t have time, and anyway we’d already done all our hemming and hawing over the project. It was time to move forward.  

Two weeks later on Wednesday March 16, 2011 I flew out to Chicago for the Clicker Expo, and the same day the excavators arrived on site to begin the barn. Through the weekend I got reports from Mary. On the first day they got her run-in shed moved and her horses relocated to temporary quarters on the driveway in front of the garage. They starting bringing in lumber for Mary’s barn. On day two they leveled the area for her barn, and they began clearing the hedgerow for the arena. Mary reported that the whole back was opened up and it looked quite nice.

On day three the email said: exterior posts for my barn are up!  

Progress was progressing fast!

My look back after ten years at the building of The Clicker Center Barn will continue in the next post.

A Year of Goat Laughter

We’re heading fast towards the end of January and I feel as though I haven’t yet caught my breath after the race that was 2019.  Revising my book, “The Click That Teaches, A Step By Step Guide in Pictures”, devoured huge amounts of my time, but that wasn’t my only project.  There were all the clinics and conferences, and the production of the weekly equiosity podcast.

SBS front cover in pictures revised edition

The new edition of the Step By Step Book

In October I decided my plate wasn’t yet piled high enough with things to do so I added a second podcast, “Horses for Future”.  Equiosity focuses on training.  Horses for Future explores what horse people can do to help mitigate the climate change crisis.  Please take a look.  This is something we all need to become involved in.

Filling in the non-existent gaps in my day were the goats.

IMG_0657 (1) Elyan looks on

Elyan surveying his domain from a high platform.

I haven’t written anything about the goats in a very long time so I have quite a lot of catching up to do.

To recap my goat adventure, the first of the goats arrived in 2017. These were Elyan and Pellias, two yearling wethers. They belonged to the Community of St. Mary’s. I won’t go into the details here. You can read the whole saga of these goats in the Goat Diary blogs beginning in October, 2017 (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/25/)

IMG_1567 Elyan Pellias 7:17

Elyan and Pellias new arrivals in 2017

Elyan and Pellias came originally for two weeks in June of 2017. They are still here.  I always feel as though I should quote from Edward Gorey when I write this:

“They came seventeen years ago and to this day they have shown no intention of going away.”

I certainly have no intention of sending them away.  I am utterly charmed by them. My goat herd reached a peak last winter of eleven. It is now down to a much more sensible five.

20191123_105538 goats grazing

Out for a walk – From left to right: Wren, Thistle, Finch, and in front Pellias. Elyan is not in the photo.  He was staying glued to my side which made it much easier to get a picture of the others.

These are all cashmere goats. Elyan and Pellias are very stylish silvers with long guard hairs.  Over the first winter, they were joined by two does, Thanzi and Trixie.

IMG_2175 Thanzi March 2018

Thanzi –

IMG_2177 trixie March 2018

Trixie – Can you see the difference in their personalities.  Thanzi is bold, smart, powerful, an enthusiastic learner.  In contrast to Thanzi, Trixie is very timid.  She was however, a much more attentive mother.

I wanted the experience of raising baby goats, handling and training them from the very beginning to see what difference there would be between hand-reared babies and the somewhat shy behavior of Elyan and Pellius.

Trixie gave birth first. To both my surprise and delight she had triplets, three darling little girls, all black with short curly fur. For the first few weeks they looked like poodles, until they turned around and showed you their pretty goat faces. I named them Patience, Prudence and Felicity.

IMG_4198 Felicity as newborn

Felicity and Prudence napping on my lap. A quick glance might mistake them for puppies.

Thanzi gave birth a few weeks later to twins, a girl Verity and a handsome boy, Valor.

IMG_2216 baby goats on planks

Every day I set up a new playground challenge for them.  Thanzi is looking on while the little ones play.

The goats stayed with me through the spring. In June just before I left for several weeks of teaching, all the goats went back to the convent.  In July Elyan, Pellias, Felicity, Patience, and Verity came back for more training. Prudence had been sold to a wonderful family and Valor stayed behind.

Handsome Valor was living up to the promise of having two grand champions as parents. Sister Mary Elizabeth hoped he would become a breeding buck for her herd which meant he needed to stay behind to be integrated into the herd.

I thoroughly enjoyed the three girls, but my camera didn’t. Their features were lost in their black fur.

Patience puts on her collar

Patience learning to put her collar on.  The behavior is great, but the camera struggled to capture her beautiful face.

And I was still wanting to have kids from the mother of Elyan and Pellias.  So in December 2019, just as I was starting the major project of revising the Step By Step book, I was also welcoming two more goats to the barn. Thanzi returned. She was joined by Yeni, the mother of Elyan and Pellias. They were both bred to Lancelot, Elyan and Pellias’ father. His health was failing so this was the last year he was able to breed. In fact it had looked for a while as though he wouldn’t be able to breed at all, but we got lucky.

IMG_1426 Lancelot

IMG_1431 Lancelot

Handsome Lancelot

I wanted January babies because of my travel season. Thanzi obliged. In the depths of one of the coldest January’s we’ve had in years she gave birth to twins, Thistle and her brother Thaddeus.

Thanzi baby goats photos day 1 1:4:19.001

Thistle and Thaddeus Day 1

IMG_5705 (1) Thaddeus on Thanzi as newborn

Thaddeus uses his mother as a jungle gym

I spent many hours sitting in the hay watching them play or acting as a hot water bottle as they slept in my lap.

Thistle Thaddeus 1:10:19 12

Thistle is on top.  Thaddeus is squashed underneath.

Thistle Thaddeus 1:10:19 1

Thistle – January 2019

In March Yeni gave birth to Wren and her brother, Finch. These were the two I had most looked forward to, full siblings to Elyan and Pellias.

IMG_5796 (1) Wren Finch newborns

Newborn Wren (left) and Finch (right).  They had lots of warm cozy hay to curl up in, but chose to nap by the door with a cold draft on their backs.

I’m not sure how I managed to get anything done, much less a book written with four baby goats in the barn. Through the winter they lived in the barn where I could keep better watch over them, and it was a little warmer than out in the goatery.  Because of the age difference I kept them separate which meant I had to make time for two separate play sessions. Wren and Finch would have been completely overwhelmed by their much larger cousins. IMG_5831 (1) Thanzi Thistle Thaddeus 3:20:19     IMG_5806 (1) Wren Finch 3:19

 Size comparison: The photo on the left is Thanzi with Thistle to the left and Thaddeus to the right.  To the right is Yeni with Wren looking up at the camera. Two months makes a huge difference.

IMG_0220 (1) Wren finch on upper platforms

Wren (standing) and Finch at 1 month

IMG_0086 (1) Thaddeus Thistle in goatery

Thaddeus with Thistle behind him  – three months old

 

IMG_0104 (1) Thaddeus Thistle in goatery

Handsome Thaddeus at 3 months.  They have just been weaned and moved out to their own section in the goatery.  Thaddeus left a few days later to join the larger herd at the convent.  He was also going to be a breeding buck for the herd.

Thaddeus was gorgeous. The year before Valor had stood out as a potential breeding buck, and now Thaddeus was doing the same. So when he was three months old and it was time for weaning, Thanzi and Thaddeus went back to the convent, along with Felicity and Verity. I was worried about the two girls fitting into the larger herd. They hadn’t grown up within the social structure of their age cohort. They were much larger than the other goats of their age, but sadly that didn’t give them an advantage.

Sister Mary Elizabeth put them in with a small group where she thought they would fit in. The other goats were all much smaller, but they ganged up on my two girls and bullied them. That didn’t last. Thanzi was a herd leader, and her daughter took after her. When I saw her at the end of the summer at the county fair, she was very much THE ONE IN CHARGE.

Verity at fair 8:19 2

Verity with Sister Mary Elizabeth at the County Fair.  They were getting in some clicker training practice in the ring before the start of the show.  The jacket was keeping her beautiful fleece clean.

All the goats moved out to the goatery in the spring. Wren and Finch were weaned in June and Yeni and Patience went home. I missed Patience. She had become a little super star through the training. Felicity and Verity had picked on her, so she was always eager to scoot through the gate ahead of them. That meant that she was easy to bring out on her own for extra training. It was striking how much of a difference that made. A few extra minutes every day added up. Her repertoire expanded. She was great in the obstacle training. I taught her weave poles in addition to the platforms and jumps. She loved racing through the course, and I loved how eager and always up for every game she was.

Patience sitting

Patience with Wren joining in.

I also taught her to lie down on a verbal cue. When she went back to the convent, this later behavior turned her into The Favorite. Her training gave her freedom. I went up for a visit just before the county fair. Patience was out on her own, following Sister Mary Elizabeth around like a dog.  While Thaddeus was up on a grooming stand getting combed out, Patience tagged along trying to be “mother’s little helper.”.

20190927_144545

Patience “helping out” while Thaddeus is groomed.  Training gives animals freedom.

 

I barely recognized Thaddeus. He was huge. And as for Valor! I truly didn’t recognize him.

20190927_145222 Valor

Handsome Valor

 

IMG_2250 Five babies 2018

It’s hard to believe he was ever this little. Valor is to the left in the foreground. And now he is this very magnificent young buck.

We waited until fall to wether Finch. Apparently there are long-term health benefits when you wait until at least six months before withering a buckling. That meant that Finch had to be separated from the girls. He spent his summer in with Elyan and Pellias. He learned very fast to stay out of their way, and for the most part they left him along. The girls got on great together even with the difference in age and size.

In November I redid the interior of the goatery so the goats could live together in one group. That’s where we now.

So let me introduce each goat properly. I’ll do it by sharing a morning training session. When I open the gate, I can be sure that little Wren will be the first to scoot through, even ahead of Elyan. She is the smallest of the goats and just darling.

Wren

Over the summer I taught her to lie down. From there I taught her to rest her chin in my hand. That part of the behavior was like super glue. Standing, kneeling, lying down, it doesn’t matter.  She wants her chin in my hand. I built duration into the behavior, and I also used it as a great recall signal. She not only comes. She races to me to press her face into my hand.

Wren chin resting in hand

Darling Wren learning chin targeting.

Elyan

Elyan leading 2020

Elyan

Elyan is normally next through the gate. He’s always eager even though we often focus on grooming which he hates. His long guard hairs make him look like an afghan hound. I don’t know how they are to keep groomed, but Elyan is horrible. So we prep for the spring shedding season by doing a lot of work on the new grooming stand. So far he’s eager to jump up onto it and to keep his nose by the target I’ve got mounted at the front – so long as I don’t do anything that resembles combing. We have time. (I started writing this at the beginning of the month.  It is now Jan. 18, and I am able to groom Elyan!  Progress! And yes that was fast.)

When I finish with Elyan, I tie him. If I don’t, he drives the other goats away. What I find so very interesting is how cooperative he is with this. Tying means putting on his collar and taking him to the post where the lead is anchored. He has developed the procedure for this. I just follow his initiative. He stands front feet up on a wooden block that is half buried in the hay. I put the collar on him – no fussing from him. I then lead him over to the tie. He remains there perfectly calmly without fussing or fretting while I work the other goats.

Pellias

Pellias Thistle and Finch running to me 1:22:20

Pellias is in the lead. Behind him with her ears flapping up is Thistle and then Finch. We’re out for a morning walk where we practice lots of recalls.

Next through the gate most often is Pellias. Without his brother driving him off he’s an eager student. Interestingly, he was the last of the goats to jump up on the new grooming stand. It took him several days to decide that it was something to be trusted, but now he heads straight to it as soon as he is out.

Our sessions are generally much shorter than he would like simply because there are so many goats to work with. When we’re done, he also gets tied. That makes it easier to work with the little ones and get everyone back in the pen. He is as cooperative with the tying as Elyan which again surprises me.

Finch

Finch 1:22:20

Finch

Next through the gate is Finch. He looks as though he’s going to have long guard hairs very much like Elyan’s so I am making sure that he is introduced now to the grooming stand and combing. Unlike his older brother, so far he has no objection to being combed.

When we go out for solo walks, he glues himself to my leg. He’ll also follow a target around on a large circle. When I have had horses follow a target in this way, it puts them on the forehand – something I don’t want. But for the goats it doesn’t seem to have this negative effect on their balance.

Our work space is limited because of snow, but there’s enough room to teach the basics of moving out around a figure. I haven’t put any obstacles out. That will have to wait until after the snow melts.

When we go out for group walks, Elyan drives Finch away from my side, so these solo training sessions are precious.  He’s so eager to play.  When he has any competition from the others, he gets anxious and begins to vocalize.  That’s unfortunate fallout from spending three months on his own with Elyan and Pellias.  In the private sessions he doesn’t have to worry about being driven away by anyone else. He’s able to relax and be the superstar that he is.

Thistle

Thistle 1:22:20

Thistle – keeping herself very warm inside her thick cashmere coat.

Thistle comes out last. She would like to be first, or at least second. And she would like to have the longest session, instead of the last and often shortest session. She has learned that lying down gets lots of reinforcement so she offers it readily in many different locations. She is learning to rest her chin in my hand. She’s not yet as solid as little Wren, but she’s catching on to what is wanted.

She has the thickest coat of all of the goats. She is already beginning to shed, so grooming is an important part of her sessions.  The fleece that is combed out will be sent back to the convent to be processed and spun into cashmere yarn.

When Thistle’s session is over, I have the challenge of getting all the goats back inside and the gate shut behind them. This is where it is very helpful to have Elyan and Pellias on their ties. On the days when I don’t do this, they will drive the little goats scurrying back through the gate.

Eventually I would like to have all five goats go to their stations both when I enter and when I leave. But that’s off in the future. Tying Elyan and Pellias now means the little ones can learn. Sometimes training involves major managing of the environment.

To further reduce the chaos, I have the three little ones go to their stations: Finch up on a wooden box, the two girls on platforms. This stresses Finch. Living under the constant threat of being rammed by either Pellias or Elyan once he was weaned was not a good thing for him. I really didn’t have a good alternative, and he did learn to dodge them and stay out of the way. But his behavior here reveals the stress. He stays on the box, but his vocalizations sound increasingly anxious. I am hoping that the time he gets working with me by himself will help him to relax so he can enjoy sharing the training time with the girls.

For now they take turns targeting and getting clicked and reinforced. After a few rounds of this, I put treats at their feet and beat a hasty retreat. Elyan and Pellias are tied to posts that I can reach from the outside. After I unhook their collars, I offer them extra treats, as well.

All that’s left is the leaving ritual of giving them each treats through the fence, and then it’s out the gate leaving cries of “surely you’re not leaving!” behind me.

I’ve left out many of the individual behaviors we work on, but hopefully this gives you a general sense of their personalities. I am focusing what we work on towards our Spring Science camp. They are going to help us in our exploration of errorless learning.  My winter training goal is to build up a repertoire of useful building block behaviors to make it easier for people to work with them.

Through the winter I’ll share some updates on their training – unless I get distracted by another major project which could happen.

Happy New Year Everyone!

A Busy Year

SBS covers old and new

The original and new revised editions of the Step By Step book.

It’s been over a year since I have added to my blog.  In 2018 I celebrated the 20th anniversary of the publication of my first book “Clicker Training for your Horse”.  Every month I published an article thanking directly some of the many people who have helped establish clicker training in the horse community.  My last post was in October 2018.  Then my blog went dark.

November is my collapse-in-a-heap month.  Throughout the fall my travel season competes with preparations for winter.  It’s always a race.  Normally we can expect the first major snow storms around Thanksgiving, but there have been years when they have come sooner.  Deer fencing has to go up, the composter has to be emptied, and so many other “must do” jobs have to be finished before the deep cold descends.

By early November the race is winding down.  The chores have been ticked off the list one by one.  The travel season is over, and I can allow myself a few inefficient days.  And then I  shift back into high gear to prepare all of the conference presentations for the following year.  That was November 2018.

December 2018 marked the start of another project.  I knew I needed to prepare my second book, “The Click That Teaches: A Step By Step Guide in Pictures” for another reprinting.  I was running low on books.  I figured by the end of 2019 I’d be out of the current edition.

The first step was contacting the printer to find out how much of a project it was going to be to getting the book ready for another printing.  The answer was a major one.  They had recently done a major update on their computer system, and they could no longer open my original file.

Aargh! Computers and their updates!

Here’s what I wrote in the forward to the new edition of the Step-By-Step book:

“Don’t take score too soon.  That’s what I kept telling myself.  It’s a sports metaphor.  Don’t give up. Don’t count someone out before the game is over. In training it means whatever the results you’re getting right now – good or bad, desired or not – before you either celebrate or become discouraged, you need to wait to see what comes next. It’s never over until it’s over.

I like metaphors. When I train, they pop out like rabbits out of a magician’s hat. (And there’s one, just to prove my point.) But at this moment, I wasn’t referring to training. I was thinking about the huge stumbling block I had just encountered.

I needed to reprint the book. I was almost out of copies. But the original edition could no longer be accessed by the printer.

Don’t take score too soon. I kept repeating that as I searched through my stack of hard external hard drives for the one that contained the files for the book. I hadn’t opened this particular hard drive in a couple of years. It took me quite a while to track down an adapter that would let my new computer communicate with this older hard drive.

I plugged it in, hoping against hope that it would still work. The power light went on. My computer’s screen filled up with the files from the hard drive, and there it was: all the files for the Step-By Step book.  I clicked on the one that I had sent off to the printer. My computer couldn’t read the file.

Don’t take score too soon.

I had everything else, the text, the photos, even the original video from which I had created the photos. I could rebuild the book. Instead of the reprint being a small, easily done project, I was now looking at several months of work. Sigh.

So I set to work. And that’s when I discovered what a good thing it was that I needed to rebuild the book. As long as I had to redo every page, I might as well make a few updates.  Those few updates quickly turned into a complete rewriting of the text.

The original Step-By-Step book was written in 2003. this rewrite took place over the winter of 2018 to the summer of 2019. Fifteen plus years of teaching means I’ve added a lot of details to the training. I’ve changed the way I talk about the work. I’ve added new metaphors, found better ways to explain the lessons.”

So here I am a year later.  I haven’t written any blogs, but I have written what is essentially a new book.  It follows the same format as the original, but I have revised and added to every page.

My few months of work turned into a year long project.  As I write this, the new revised edition is still at the printer.  Every step of this process has taken longer than anticipated, including this one.  I was hoping to have the book by mid-November but that hasn’t worked out.  It should be ready to ship to me any day now.  And then I will have it to ship to all of you, hopefully in time for Christmas.

You can order it through my web site: theclickercenter.com

Enjoy!

 

 

Anniversaries

I’m beginning this post on October 27.  Who knows when I will actually get it done and published, but the beginning date is important.  All year I have been writing thank yous to the many people who have helped bring clicker training into the horse community.

Obviously I can’t thank each and every person.  There are too many of you, and I would be bound to forget someone.  I would hate to create a long list and then hurt someone’s feelings through an omission of error.  So I will send out a general, and most heartfelt thank you to everyone who has given clicker training a try, found it to your liking, and made it part of your life.

I have chosen October 27 to begin this post because it marks two special events.  On October 27, 1968 I became a horse owner for the very first time.  Since that day I have never been without a horse in my life.  And on October 27, 1998 I received a package in the mail.  It was an advance copy of my book, “Clicker Training for your Horse”, sent to me by my publisher, Sunshine Books, Karen Pryor’s company.

So I’m going to say thank you to my first horse because in so many ways he transformed me from a rider into a trainer.  I didn’t know at the time all the good things he would be bringing me.  When we first started out together, it was anything but good.  He was a totally unsuitable horse for a child, but I never said anything to my parents.  I was afraid if they knew how dangerous he was, they might send him back to his previous owner, and that would be the end of having my own horse.

I met his previous owner only once, on the day I tried the horse he was selling.  He was a large, overweight man.  He probably weighed over two hundred pounds.  He rode in a western bit with a long shank so when he pulled back he could exert a tremendous amount of force.  He liked to go trail riding – at speed.  He was one of those riders who got on and took off at a gallop and didn’t stop until he was back home.

So it was no wonder that the first time I rode my new horse out of a ring he took off at a gallop.  I’d only had him two days.  I had been riding in a small ring just outside the barn.  For some reason that made sense to her, the owner of the boarding barn told me to take him out of the ring.  Since he was there for a week’s trial, maybe she thought I should be doing more with him.

“You need to ride him out in the field” she declared.  I listened.  I took him out into a hay field that had an oval track cut into the grass.  At the far end of the track he took off at a gallop.

I was no match for him.  There was no way I could pull back with the force of his previous owner.  I tried to stop him but my feeble attempts made no dent in his determination to get back to the barn.  I’d been told when you want to stop a horse you pull back.  That’s what I was doing, but it had no effect.  As we galloped across the hay field, I remember shouting at him – “You’re supposed to have stopped by now!”  I really did!  It made no difference.

He didn’t stop until he was back inside the barn standing in his stall – which thankfully was on a straight line in from the barn door.  It was feeding time, so of course he wanted to get back, and I couldn’t stop him.

I lost track of the number of times he bolted with me after that.  His favorite and most terrifying “trick” was to run straight at a tree and only at the last second to duck to the side.  Sometimes I managed to stay on.  Often I fell off, but I always got back on and kept trying to stop him.  We eventually worked out a truce, and we were able to ride together at a pace that was more to my liking.  He was wonderfully sure footed so trail riding was fun.  He was one of those horses that you pointed in the general direction of where you wanted to go and then let him find the best way.  He was fearless riding out.  I don’t remember him ever spooking at anything.  It was just the bolting for home that was unnerving.

I can’t tell you how many times I got so frustrated with him that I almost gave up.  Almost, but never totally.  I don’t really know what finally made the difference.  I think it was simply that we gradually built a relationship.  He never showed much affection, and he was a hard horse to love.  I don’t think he expected people to be kind so he kept his true self very much hidden.  Now that I have seen how expressive horses can be, the contrast seems all the greater.

In the spring of my last year of high school he became lame.  It was one of those subtle, on-again-off-again lamenesses.  The vet diagnosed him with navicular disease.  Today we would say he had heel pain, and we would change the way he was trimmed.  But at that time changes in the navicular bone meant a diagnosis of permanent lameness.  I was delighted.  It meant that I wouldn’t have to sell my horse when I went away to school.  You couldn’t ethically sell a lame horse, so all through my years at Cornell I supported my horse.

I couldn’t take him to school with me, nor could he stay at the boarding barn without anyone to look after him, so he went to live with a family who had room for another horse.  I was lucky to find him such a good home.  He lived in retirement with them for seventeen years.  He finally passed away at the grand old age of 33.

I’ve never followed norms.  It’s the norm in the horse world to discard horses that are too lame or too old to ride.  This has always bothered me.  We have a responsibility to see to our horses’ lifelong care.  I feel as though I have earned the right to stand on the soap box that says people need to take care of their older horses.  As a student at Cornell, my budget was already tight.  Stretching it to cover my horse’s expenses made it tighter still.  I’m sure there would have been many people who would have sent him off to an auction and been done with him, but every month I wrote out a check to cover his expenses.  And every time I was home, I went up to visit him.

He was becoming so much more affectionate.  It was as though I had been a bridge between his old life and this new one.  We had struggled together.  When he bolted off with me, the adults at the boarding barn told me I needed to get after him, to punish him.

He had scared me.  When he came to a stop after one of his flat-out gallops, hitting him with the ends of my western reins was easy.  It changed nothing.  He kept bolting, but in the moment it did feel good.  Oh that slippery slope called punishment – it can be so reinforcing to the punisher.  Somehow I recognized that and managed to stop.  Punishing him wasn’t the answer.  Persistence was.  And now that he was in a quiet place being cared for by kind people, he was becoming trusting enough to show affection.

But I thought I was done with horses.  I know – that’s a surprise considering how completely they have been in my life.  He had not been an easy or fun horse to own.  I was heading off in a different direction, one that didn’t include horses.  But shortly after graduation, I got a call from the person who was caring for him.  He was showing signs of heaves, and she wanted to let me know.  I’d heard of heaves.  I knew vaguely what that meant, but I needed to know more.  So I got a book from the library on horses.  I read the short section that described heaves and then kept on reading.  That was my undoing.

When I started reading the chapter on raising foals, I thought I could do that.  By the time I had turned the final page I had switched from I could do that to I want to do that.  The overwhelming addiction to horses was reawakened.  I could think of nothing else. But I didn’t jump in right away.  I read everything I could get my hands on about horses, and I began taking lessons – English lessons from a very skilled horseman.  And I began to search for my foal.  I was going to have a horse I raised myself.  Only I wasn’t going to use all those harsh techniques that surrounded me in the horse world.

I was taking lessons at a hunter/jumper barn.  The instructor bought cheap thoroughbreds off the track and put them into his lesson string.  He was one of those riders who could get on an agitated horse and in minutes have it settled.  He couldn’t teach what he he did, but it was impressive to watch.  He had no physical fear on a horse, and he didn’t understand that anyone else might.  He thought that he needed to get people jumping as quickly as possible or they would get bored and go away.  Mostly that meant people got injured and went away.

I wasn’t yet balance obsessed, but I knew enough to know that I wasn’t ready to jump.  I took charge of my lessons.  I insisted on working primarily on the flat.  I thought it was more important to learn how to get to a jump in good balance than it was to go over it.  I jumped in the weekly group lessons, but in the private lessons I added in I took charge of what we worked on.  It helped that I had ridden before and had my own horse.  I asked endless questions.  He wasn’t used to this kind of riding student, but it meant I was learning what I needed.  I had to be ready for the foal I was going to raise.  Of course, he tried to talk me out of starting with a baby.  I heard all about green on green, but I was determined.  The hunt was on!

I was still supporting my first horse.  Adding a second horse was going to stretch my budget even tighter.  When I found her, my beautiful thoroughbred yearling, I wasn’t sure if I could really afford her.  I kept going over the numbers.  If I gave up this, if I cut back on that, could I stretch things enough to get her?   No matter how many times I tried to balance my budget, the numbers kept coming up short.  But I had to get her.  When I finally said yes, it was a real leap of faith that things would work out.  And somehow they did.

I get often get emails from people saying they are on a tight budget.  I totally understand.  I remember when videos first came out being really excited.  Here was a way to expand my knowledge even more.  The very first video I ever bought cost $89.  That was a huge stretch of the budget for me.  The video was a disappointment.  It was a simplistic overview that had no depth to it.  It was something you watched once and never needed to see again.  What a waste of precious dollars.

That’s why I have always been determined to pack as much as I can into all the books and videos I have produced.  They contain layer upon layer of information.  You can return to them many times and always find new things in them.  I want to give good value for money.  If you are on a tight budget, I still want you to be able to access good information.  And I want you to have an alternative to the force-based training that is so prevalent in the horse world.

In those early days the books I was reading didn’t help me to know how to train.  If anything, they taught me more about what NOT to do.  They were filled with advice on how to be a better punisher.  That wasn’t what I was looking for.

I had already had my first great teacher – my first horse.  I began by learning from him what I didn’t want.  In the years to come I was going to have many more lessons in patience and persistence.  I moved from knowing what I didn’t want to breaking lessons down into very small steps.  I learned about consistency and focus.  I learned to choose kindness over force.  My horses prepared me well so that when I finally stumbled across clicker training, it made perfect sense to me.  It was a good fit.  I was ready for Peregrine to teach me about this new way of training.

In this year of celebration I have thanked many people, but on this day I am thanking my horses.  It truly is my horses, my teachers.  I am so very grateful to them.   They have carried me across many stepping stones to what I have today – a deep and loving connection with my horses.  And I am delighted to be able to share what they have been teaching me with all of you.  We don’t have to listen to the people who are telling us to get tougher.  Our horses are showing us a different way, a way they understand and want us to know about.

Have fun!