Remembering

Each month this year I’ve been writing a post in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the publication of “Clicker Training for your Horse”.  These posts are thank yous to all the many people who have helped bring clicker training into the horse world.  In January I began with a tribute to Bob Viviano and his horse Crackers.  February belonged to Ann Edie and Panda.  Last month I turned the spotlight on all the clinic organizers.  To represent them all I singled out Kate Graham and her horse Lucky.

This month is different.  April can belong to no one else but my beloved Peregrine.  April 26, 1985 was his birthday.  For thirty years I celebrated that event with him.  Now I remember the day without him.  Today I am getting ready to fly out to California to teach a clinic.  Peregrine put me on the path to all these great adventures.  I learned about clicker training for him, through him.  When I went out to the barn all those many years ago with treats in my pocket and a clicker in my hand, I had no idea of the journey he was sending me on.

When I lost Peregrine’s mother, I promised her I would write her a love story.  I didn’t know at the time what form that would take, just that I would do it.  My book, “Clicker Training For Your Horse”, was that love story.  It was written for her and for Peregrine.  Clicker training was not a story to keep to myself.  I have been sharing it with all of you because of them.

When Peregrine turned thirty, I wrote a series of posts in celebration.  They are a tribute to him and a history of equine clicker training.  You can read them beginning with https://theclickercenterblog.com/2015/04/13/todays-peregrine-story-early-lessons/ 

For most of his life Peregrine lived at boarding barns.  It was only in his final years that I was able to move him to a home of his own.  The barn is still so full of his memories.  We moved July 4th 2011.  It was truly Independence Day for all our horses.

Peregrine shaped how the barn is used.  He taught me to open all the doors.  Throughout his life he was always opening doors.  The most important one was the door to clicker training.

He is greatly loved, and he will always be greatly missed.

Peregrine Foal and in winter

Peregrine April 26, 1985 the day he was born, and Peregrine when he was 29

“I Need Goats!”

Preparation – it’s a wonderful thing.  All winter long “I need goats!” has been my call to bring the goats back into their pens.  “I need goats!” means food awaits.  Come fast!

Yesterday “I need goats!” was put to a new test.  We took our little herd of seven goats – Trixie and her triplets and Thanzi and her twins – into the indoor.  I put Thanzi on a lead and had her follow a food-in-a-cup target stick.  She boldly – or perhaps I should say greedily – led the way.  Trixie held back but couldn’t resist when all the babies started surging through the outer gate of the Goat Palace.  We had the side door of the arena open so it was a short walk into the arena.

I had put a bucket down with some grain in it.  Thanzi made a bee line for it which helped draw all the others in.

Goats Thanzi eating in bucket.png

Everyone in

We got everyone inside, closed the gate, turned Thanzi loose and stood back to watch the fun.  At first they packed closely together.  Thanzi led them on a survey of the arena.  We’d set out some mats for the youngsters to climb over, but Thanzi and Trixie needed to check out the arena.

Goats - checking out arena.png

Checking out the arena

I left them alone for a bit.  When they had made the full circuit of the arena and they were back by the gate, I wandered out into the center of the arena.

“I need goats!”  It was Thanzi who picked up her head first.  She turned and trotted straight towards me bringing a stream of goats with her.

Goats coming first time 5 panels.png

“I need goats!”

At first Trixie was too worried to come all the way to me.  I clicked and treated Thanzi then turned and walked away from the group.

“I need goats!” They streamed towards me again.  Trixie was becoming braver.  Thanzi was always the first one to reach me, but now Trixie was coming up to get her treat.  When I turned to leave them, they followed behind me.  And when I called, they all came running and clustered around me while the two does got their treats.

Goats clustering around.png

Getting braver!

When I’m trying to teach a horse to be okay riding out by himself, there are times when I wish we hadn’t domesticated such a social animal, but watching as these goats came running towards me all as a group, I could definitely see the benefits of a herd species.

I could also see the benefits of a little preparation.  Without the connection that had been well established, Thanzi and Trixie might have spent their time in the arena keeping their babies as far away from me as possible.  Training – it’s a wonderful thing!

Goats going to far end of arena

goats coming 3 panels

Preparation let me become the Pied Piper of my little goat herd.

We saw another benefit of training when we brought the boys into the arena.  We set the mats out in a line at a distance from the mounting block.  The three of them would run to the mounting block, turn and race back to their mats.  When we first brought the three goats into the arena together, there was a lot of sparring.  Pellias and Elyan would drive Galahad away.  He was interfering with their play.  He was on the wrong mat – theirs, which ever one that was.  And he might just get one of their treats.

Now there was no head butting.  Not between Elyan and Pellias and not between the two of them and Galahad.  Even when they crossed paths, they just kept going without needing to spar.

Training it’s a wonderful thing!

Goats Pellias the acrobat.png

Play Time!

This past weekend I gave a clinic at Cindy Martin’s farm.  We worked with her yearling mule.  Rosie’s mom is a draft cross and her dad is a mammoth donkey, so Rosie is definitely not petite.  What she is is wonderfully endearing.  She is so very sweet.  And so wonderfully well mannered.  We played an early version of Panda catch with her.  All the participants stood in a circle around her.  Each person had a target.  One by one they held the target up and invited Rosie to approach.

Rosie targeting

Darling Rosie approaches a target. 

To keep things safe with so many people around her Rosie was on a lead.  Cindy handled her at first.  As the target was offered, Rosie walked confidently up to each person, ears forward, totally relaxed.  This was a completely new set up for her, but she had no worries about approaching people she didn’t know.  After getting her treat, Cindy asked her to back up.  At first, she was sticky.  Why leave?  As she caught onto the pattern, it was easier to ask her to back up.  Backing led to another opportunity to go to a target.

It’s a great lesson for teaching emotional balance.  Yes, you want to go to the target and the treats, but backing also produces lots of goodies, so leaving the person is okay.

The next day when we repeated the lesson, Rosie was eager to play.  Cindy started her, but I couldn’t resist having a play.  Rosie didn’t know me, but she was very accepting of a new handler.  She very quickly became super light.  A touch on the lead was all that was needed to initiate backing.  We’d back to the center of the circle, then Rosie would put those wonderful mule ears forward and off we’d go to the next target.

I directed people to shift their position on the circle.  Through a series of small weight shifts I asked Rosie to yield her hips.  That lined her up with the next person on the circle.  Each one of those weight shifts was clicked and treated so for Rosie a serious lesson remained a playful game.  Softening her neck and stepping under behind will let her handler interrupt her should she want to head off in a direction other than the one indicated.  It also lays the ground work for lateral work.

She was such a delight to work with.  Preparation!  It’s a wonderful thing.

That’s what Rosie and the goats were showing us.  Training usually feels as though you aren’t doing much of anything.  You’re teaching your young mule foal to follow a target. You’re calling your goats in from a play session.  Little things add up.  It isn’t just that you now have an animal that stays with you and responds to your cues.  What really stood out for me with all three of these groups – the does and their babies, Pellias, Elyan and Galahad, and now Rosie – was how solid they were emotionally.  Because of the training, they were able to handle changes in their environment.  The does became much more confident in the arena.  Their babies switched from being worried to being playful.  The boys could play without fighting, and Rosie could be a superstar learner.

Training.  It’s a wonderful thing.  Don’t leave home without it!

Rosie walking to a target

Good training.  It’s a wonderful thing!

Learning Fast!

Learning!  That’s what we’re born ready to do.  That’s what the baby goats are showing me.

Thanzi’s twins were born on Wednesday, March 21.  On Friday, March 23 I was on a plane heading to the Art and Science of Animal Training conference so I barely got to say more than hello to them.

At the conference I presented a new program on a very familiar topic – balance.  I had some great before and after photos showing how much a horse’s balance can be transformed just using the foundation lessons.  I also had some new videos showing how those changes were made.  You don’t need advanced skills and complex lessons.  You just need to direct your attention to your horse’s balance to make a huge difference for him.

By the time I got home, Thanzi’s twins had met Trixie’s triplets.  The two family groups were living and playing together in the front pen.  And it was still cold.  In fact it has continued to be cold even into April.  This morning when I looked out there was fresh snow on the ground!  Not much, but still it snowed overnight – and it’s April.  The cold limits how adventurous I want to be getting them out.  But it doesn’t limit their need for enrichment.  So every morning I have been building a new play ground for them to explore.

For Trixie’s triplets, their very first obstacles had been my outstretched legs as I sat with them in the hay.  They were determined to master climbing up and over.  And they delighted in trying to climb up onto my shoulder.  Patience, in particular, was determined to get to the top of the “mountain”, even if it meant stepping on Felicity who preferred to curl up in my lap.

Goats First Obstacles

Their next obstacles were blocks of wood, and then plastic jump blocks. Every day I gave them something new to explore, so for them novelty is something you play with, not run from.

When I got back from the Art and Science conference, both sets of babies were clearly ready for even greater challenges so their playground expanded.  My raw materials were a couple of two by fours, six plastic jump blocks, some odds and ends of wood, and three pieces of plywood.  It is amazing how many different ways you can set up these elements to create a fresh challenge every day.

I began with the two by fours elevated just a little way off the ground.  The goats were immediately testing out their balance.  They wobbled a couple steps along the boards, fell off, got back on again, got bumped off by another goat, fell off, got back on again.  A day later they weren’t wobbling any more.  They could very nimbly walk the plank.

Goats learning to walk the plank

The next morning I added the plywood, but I set it so it sloped from the two by fours to the ground.  The goats slipped and slid down the plywood.  The two by fours were yesterday’s game.  This new challenge had them crowding onto the plywood.  One would be trying to go up the down escalator.  Her feet would be scrambling as she slid inexorably back down the plywood.  Another would be sliding towards her.  They’d collide mid-way, fall off and be right back for another turn.  What resilient, eager learners!

Goats Adding a slide to the playground

Goats every day something newAs their skills increased, I raised the two by fours, and added a couple more props.  One day I made a loop so they could run along the two by fours, slide down to a lower level, bounce from there across a plywood plank to another jump block and from there scramble up another slide back to the two by fours.  They made lap after lap, always with the obstacle of another goat wanting to go in the opposite direction.  Head butting on the slide was the best.  The mornings routinely begin with laughter as we watch the goats play.

Goats the playground changes every day

Goats carboard boxes make great playgroundsLast weekend I shared the laughter with Caeli Collins, the organizer of the up-coming clinic in Half Moon Bay, California.  What a treat it was having Caeli visiting.  She attended the Art and Science conference then flew out last Wednesday to spend a few days enjoying goats and horses.

Caeli is an experienced clicker trainer.  When you are meeting a new group of animals, it is never clear what you’re going to work on.  Will they settle right in and show you the leading edge of what they know, or will they ask for some other lesson?  With the baby goats the goal was laughter.  That was easily provided.

With the older Clicker Center residents there were other important lessons to be explored.  Caeli was learning how to transfer her clicker training skills to animals (and species) she didn’t know.  And I was learning how to introduce the goats to someone new.

On the first day I opened the back gate into the boy’s section to let them out into the hallway while I fed.  They all poured out and raced to their stations.  That was before they realized there was someone new in the hallway.  I filled the hay feeders and then gave Caeli some hay stretcher pellets.  Pellias was willing to take a treat from Caeli, but not Elyan.  When I called the goats back into their enclosure, he scooted past her as fast as he could.  That was our baseline.

Day one was spent quietly letting the goats get to know Caeli.  She interacted with Elyan through the fence.  “Hmm.  This person knows how to play the clicker game.  Maybe she isn’t quite so scary after all!”

On day two they could both engage with her a little, and by day three I could step outside their pen and let Caeli train the goats on her own.  She worked with each one on targeting and platform training.  Pellias surprised her by deciding that after he got his treat from her, he should back up to the platform that was behind him.  And Elyan wanted to offer her his foot, something I had been working on a lot with both goats.

Goats Elyan working with Caeli

In addition to training time in the hallway, we took them into the arena so they could run around and play on the mounting block. And we went out for walks with them. We took advantage of one sunny, almost warm day to venture out on their longest walk yet, out into the back field.

And then there were the babies.  Every morning we set up a new playground for them.  As soon as we started moving pieces into place, they would be climbing all over them.  There was no worry, no concern over some new element we’d introduced.  These are confident, eager puzzle solvers, exactly what I want.  So our mornings started always with laughter.  Mixed into that was amazement over how fast they were learning.

Caeli also got to play with horses.  Robin and Fengur thought she was an entertaining guest, but mostly Caeli worked with the newest equine resident in the barn.  His name is Tonnerre.  He’s an eighteen year old, very pretty paint.  In his previous life he worked hard, and he has the stiffnesses and on-again-off-again lameness to show for it.

Through the winter the lameness has been more off than on, so I am hopeful that the microshaping gymnastics will help keep him comfortable.  That’s my main interest in having him at the barn.  I want to document the change in his body over time as he works more consistently with these lessons.

Last fall when he arrived, he really struggled to settle in.  For the first month or more the sessions were all about helping him not to panic when Marla took her mare into the arena.  For the first couple of weeks Marla had to spend most of her training time keeping Maggie in the barn aisle or just going into the arena briefly and then coming right back out again.  Thank goodness Marla was willing to play this game and had the skill to know how far and how fast to take Maggie out of sight.  Both horses were latching on to each other.  If we hadn’t spent the time to build their confidence that the other could go out of sight, we would today have two horses joined at the hip instead of two independent workers.

During those sessions Tonnerre was always loose.  He had his stall, outside run and part of the barnyard to move around in.  I had just pulled his shoes, and I didn’t want him doing a lot of frantic running back and forth.  So I stayed with him whenever Maggie was out and offered him the opportunity to target, to drop his head, and to back up, three very familiar behaviors.  He was able to stay with me, playing the clicker training game and only occasionally would he feel the need to break away and check on where she was.

Gradually, I was able to move away, engage with him less, and Marla was able to work her horse more normally.  It was very time intensive in the beginning, but definitely worth it to have both horses comfortable being out of sight of the other and able to work independently in the arena.

Tonnerre is proving to be an excellent student.  He’s always eager for his training sessions, but he’s not so sure about the goats.  He hasn’t quite come to terms with the strange sounds that come from that side of the arena.  When they are playing, goats make a lot of noise!

The first time he was in the arena with Caeli, they were just making the occasional banging sounds, but the wind was blowing hard. And of all things a squirrel decided to jump into the arena and run up a post into the rafters.

Tonnerre didn’t know Caeli, but he did know this was a scary day.  He wanted back into the barn away from all these strange noises and alarming creatures.  He was at liberty.  The door back to the barn aisle was open, so that’s where he went.  We had our baseline.  Relationship matters.

So we back tracked through his training, letting Caeli and Tonnerre get to know one another through the structure of the foundation lessons and in an environment where he was more comfortable.  It is always: “Train where you can, not where you can’t.”

And it is: “Go to a place in the training where you can get a consistent yes answer and proceed from there.”

Caeli could get a consistent yes answer in the barn aisle which then became a consistent and much more relaxed yes answer when she returned to the arena. Often the most important lessons come not from the fancy “stuff” a horse can show you, but from the simple things applied well.

Caeli and Tonnerre

At the Art and Science conference I talked about balance.  The baby goats are learning fast about physical balance.  When I turned the older goats and Tonnerre over to Caeli, the focus was very much on emotional balance.   Both are part of a complete picture.

I’d like Tonnerre and the goats to be good teachers even for novice clicker trainers.  Caeli was helping them make that leap to being comfortable with people they don’t know.  Her visit showed me that they will all be great co-teachers for anyone who wants to sharpen their clicker training skills – and enjoy some laughter along with it.

I made a short video of our daily play ground for the youngsters.  Enjoy!

 

Caeli wrote a wonderful post about her visit which I am including here.  It is fun to read about the same event from two different perspectives.  And Caeli added in her visit to Ann and Panda – always a treat.

A visit to Alex’s (long) – written by Caeli Collins and posted in The Click That Teaches facebook group April 7, 2018.

I spent four wonderful days with Alexandra Kurland at her barn in Albany just about a week ago. The goat babies were better than a movie, providing endless entertainment as they bounced around. Alex and Marla Foreman built new puzzles for them on a daily basis and they just kept bouncing to the challenge – walking a 2×4, turning a slanted board into a sliding contest, and chewing any clothing we didn’t quickly redirect. We decided a YouTube channel streaming baby goat antics would be a huge stress buster. Trixie and Thanzi are good moms and have amazing patience with them.

That was the several-times-a-day funfest. I also got to meet Ann and Panda, and go for a walk with them. Ann and Panda walk out! They walk faster than Sebastian and I doing in-hand trot work. But what I was really, really blown away by was Panda’s decision-making abilities. She watches for unevenness in the road, driveways, changes in slope, finds the crosswalk buttons, moves over for cars and more. It’s one thing to read about it, it’s another thing to see it in person. They are an amazing pair.

All of this was wonderful, but I was really there to expand my training knowledge and practice, which was so much fun. The boy goats (Pellias, Galahad and Elyan) and a horse named Tonnerre contributed to my education. Tonnerre is new to Alex’s barn since the fall, and is in long-term training with her to be a clicker training school horse (he’s the very good looking paint in the pictures). Alex has been working with him for some time.

My breadth of training is not wide – I work with my horse, Sebastian, and my dogs, but I’ve been a practicing and committed clicker trainer for about seven or eight years. I’m not a novice, but I’m also not a professional. For those of you who don’t know me, I organize and host Alex’s clinic in Half Moon Bay, CA, which is coming in three short weeks.

I learned so much. More than I ever hoped for. For me, it wasn’t about how do I teach shoulder-in or half-pass, it was how can I take what I know and use it with other animals as well as do better with my own. How do I make good decisions about what to work on with a different horse, or a different species. And with the help of Alex and the kindly animals at the barn, I have started on the building blocks to do this.

Here are some of the things I learned:

• Training begins with a relationship. If you are working with an animal you don’t know, you have to get to know each other. It’s that first date feeling, where everything feels a little (or a lot) awkward. And the less experience you have with the species the longer that might take
• Species appropriate foundation lessons are so important. The ones we use with the horses help them establish self-control and give them a measure of control over their learning. All animals deserve that
• Goats are really, really fast. Their heads can go in circles, and it’s very distracting. If I focused on what I was working on, and ignored the bits that don’t contribute I could get past this, but it was sooooo easy to get drawn in. I can see where this is true for my dog and my horse as well.
• Unexpected things happen. Really, they do! Can I be flexible enough to make the learner right? Pellias hit me with one – we were doing a bit of off leash practice and I was feeding where I wanted him to be (by my side) and he turned that into backing to the mat! It was funny and clickable and oh so not what I was thinking, but worth every bit of the click. And that became our routine in that spot, and I learned to take what was offered
• Food delivery is so, so important. The poor goats. Until I got consistent at putting the food where the perfect goat would be, the heads were twisting sideways to get it. But very much like the horses, the right food delivery moved them out of my space and set up the next cue, and calmed some of the frenetic activity down. The food delivery was predictable. It was very cool, and helped establish rhythm and stability

Tonnerre really helped me understand the importance of relationships. He was part of all that I learned, but deserves a few words of his own. Tonnerre can be safely handled, but he was pretty indifferent to anyone but Alex when we started. Alex suggested just grooming him while we got to know each other. There was no ear pinning or any overt aggression but he did grind his teeth. That became my cue that whatever we were currently doing was too much for him. So move to something else, or stop. Mats in the aisle, targets, the pose, walking from mat to mat, targeting while working in protective contact, mats and cones in the arena were all available. Working in the arena was too much, too early, and between a squirrel and noise from the goats he left – back to his stall. But the good news is that he had the choice to leave. Isn’t that cool? How often are our learners given the ability to say “sessions over, I’m done?”

Tonnerre reminds me of Sebastian, only kinder. He responded to short sessions of things he knew and we could expand on those. Alex could coach me on how to work with him, and we both could learn to work with someone new. Since Sebastian started out similar to Tonnere in his opinion of people, only more overt in expressing it, it wasn’t unfamiliar territory to either of us. And now I have better skills to deal with it (however did Sebastian and I survive those early days of clicker training?) and I had Alex there every day to help. And nothing but admiration for how Alex deals with the strange horses she’s presented with at every clinic.

And there you have it. Sorry for the length but it was an amazing, wonderful experience. This write-up was very worthwhile for me – it helped imprint the four days. And there is one other great thing – sitting there with Alex dissecting things over tea, while we took a break.

If you are interested in exploring this for yourself, Alex is doing private/small group sessions at the barn, so please contact her directly. It is amazing, and I highly, highly recommend it. And I can’t thank Alex enough for the opportunity. If I can figure out a way, I will be back.

Caeli Collins

Thank YOU!

I’m taking a brief detour from the Goat Diaries.  2018 is the 20th Anniversary of the publication of my book, “Clicker Training for your Horse”.  To celebrate every month this year I will be writing an article about one of the many people who have helped me bring positive reinforcement training into the horse world.

Last month I told you about Bob Viviano and Crackers.  Bob was there literally at the beginning of my exploration of clicker training.  Ann Edie joined us a short time later when she started taking lessons from me at the barn where I boarded my horses.  This month I want to turn the spotlight in her direction to thank her for the enormous contribution she has made to the development of clicker training and for 25 years of friendship.

Most of you know Ann through her guide horse, Panda.  Ann has big horses as well.  We seem to share our equine family – at least that’s how it feels.  Ann’s first horse, Magnat, is our one in ten thousand horse.  That’s how I think of him.  He was originally my school horse, but he was such a great match for Ann, in 1996 I gave him to her.  In 1999 he was joined by our two Icelandics, Sindri and Fengur.  Panda joined the “herd” in 2001.

I’ve written so much about Panda, I’m going to shine the spotlight instead on Magnat.  He played such an important role in the early development of clicker training it is right that he should get the attention as I celebrate twenty years of “Clicker Training for your Horse“.   There is so much I could write.  I’ll just share a couple of favorite Magnat stories.

Remembering Magnat

Magnat is an Arabian.  He came to me through clients of mine who wanted a weekend trail horse for their guests.  Several months and several disastrous rides after they got him, they discovered that he had a severe heart murmur.  My clients were in a dilemma.  They didn’t want to keep him as a pasture ornament, but they couldn’t ethically sell a horse with such a severe heart condition.  Who would want such a horse?  The answer was I would.

So Magnat became mine.  One of my favorite training mantras is:

The walk is the mother of all gaits.

I didn’t need to ride fast to enjoy a horse.  Magnat and I were a perfect fit.  I would love to have reserved him just for myself, but he was such a great school horse.  I began to use him to give lessons at the barn where I boarded.  I could not have asked for a better co-teacher.  This was in 1994.  I had just begun the year before to explore clicker training with Peregrine.  I was having such good success with it, I had started to share it with all my clients.

Pretty soon the only horse who wasn’t clicker trained was my own school horse.  I was reluctant to introduce it to him.  I had all the questions that everybody else has when you first start introducing food into your training.  What if he got mouthy?  He was so polite now.  I didn’t want to risk messing up my one and only school horse by teaching him clicker training!

When someone is hesitant to give clicker training a try, I get it.  I had the same questions and concerns that most people have when they first encounter this work.  But I really couldn’t go on encouraging all my clients to give it a try and not follow my own advice with Magnat.

I needn’t have worried.  For Magnat it barely caused a blip on the landscape.  He was polite before I introduced food, and he remained so even when my pockets were bulging with treats.  He was never muggy.

There are lots of horses who go through a very rocky transition stage.  The food does get them excited.  They frustrate easily and often older behaviors that have been suppressed through punishment resurface to create problems.  Magnat showed none of this.  That isn’t to say there weren’t changes.  My solid, reliable lesson horse truly began to shine.  If he had been good before, now he was outstanding.

Throughout that first winter he helped me teach people the basics of single-rein riding.  There’s a great expression:

The longer you stay with an exercise, the more good things you’ll see that it gives you.

One of the good things the basics of single-rein riding produced for Magnat was collection.  The beginnings of two favorite behaviors popped out: piaffe and canter in-hand.  This later is a gorgeous behavior to have in repertoire.  Magnat became so balanced and collected, he could canter while I walked beside him.

It was around this time that Ann came to the barn wanting to take lessons.  Ann was not a beginner.  She had ridden as a teenager, but then like so many others she gave up riding when she went off to college and never got back to it once she started raising a family.  The challenge for me was Ann is blind.  I had never worked with a blind rider before.  This was a new frontier for me.  But I assumed my job was teaching her to ride.  Ann would take care of the rest.  If I taught her the way I taught everyone else, we’d come out okay.  It turned out I was right.

I started Ann the way I start all riders who come to me.   It doesn’t matter how many years you have ridden or how experienced a trainer you are, if you are going to ride one of my horses, you start with a pony ride.  I guide the horse from the ground.  All you have to do is sit and enjoy.

As the rider becomes familiar with the horse’s communication system, and understands how to cue the horse, I gradually turn over more and more of the control.  So at first I have the reins, and I’m working the horse in-hand with a rider up.  Then I hand the reins over to the rider, but I stay close so my body language continues to support the rider’s cues.  Then I gradually fade out and the rider takes over completely from me.

This worked perfectly for Ann.  Having Magnat as my co-teacher made all the difference, especially since he could canter in-hand.  For teaching that made him worth his weight in gold.  I wish I had learned how to ride on a horse like Magnat.  Ann has such a relaxed canter seat because she learned the rhythm of the canter from him.  Starting out she never rode a bad canter.  All she had to do was relax and enjoy.  There was no struggle trying to get him into the canter, no trotting faster, faster, faster like a plane taking off.  There was no leaning sideways through unbalanced turns.

Magnat canter

Instead there was just the relaxed rhythm of a collected, glorious canter.  And then there was the piaffe and the passage.  It was Ann who was riding the first time Magnat succeeded in mobilizing into piaffe.  I was working him from the ground while she helped manage his weight shifts.

We were figuring out how to teach riding with the clicker.  I gave Ann the lesson, and she taught Magnat.  They were such a good match, I decided after their first winter together to give him to her.  It gave me so much more pleasure watching them develop as a team than I ever would have had riding him for myself.  And I had Peregrine.  He and Magnat became riding partners.  For the next sixteen years while we kept the horses at the boarding barn, Ann and I shared our evening rides together.

They were an unlikely pair, my thoroughbred, her Arab.  But it turned out that each horse gave their best to the other.  Magnat gave Peregrine the confidence to move forward again after a long, hard recovery from the aftershocks of Potomac horse fever.  And Peregrine taught Magnat about collection.

Magnat lived in a small paddock with two other horses.  I’m sure you can picture what he looked like during mud season.  Every night Ann would spend an hour or so grooming him and by the time he was ready to go into the arena, he was snowy white.  I don’t know how she did it!  When I brush my horses, the dirt moves from one spot to another.  When Ann grooms, the dirt leaves!  And a horse isn’t clean until her fingers tell her he’s clean.

Early on we taught Magnat to retrieve.  There’s a picture of him with a wooden dumbbell in his mouth on the cover of the first edition of “Clicker Training for your Horse”.  When Ann brought him into the arena, he would ask to be turned loose.  She’d let go of his reins, and he’d go out in the arena and bring back to her all the things the previous riders had dropped.

We boarded in a barn where there was a very active after school lesson program so there were always dropped riding crops, gloves, hats, kleenex.  Ann never knew what she was going to be handed.  Magnat was very diligent in making sure that he had found anything and everything that might get in their way.  In so many ways he was Ann’s first guide horse.

When the arena was clean, he would walk with her to the mounting block and line himself up.  Now the real glory of Magnat shone through.

Ann understood that clicker training means so much more than just using a marker signal and treats.  Clicker training for us is synonymous with good balance.  It was a joy to explore with her what that meant for our horses.

When Ann first started riding Magnat, she couldn’t manage his trot at all.  He bounced her out of the saddle.  It was the most jarring, bone rattling, uncomfortable trot imaginable.  That was because for her Magnat wasn’t yet balanced.  She didn’t yet understand how to use lateral flexions.  When she asked for the trot, she got the hollow-back, high-headed, stiff-legged trot that is all too often associated with Arabs.

As she learned how to use lateral flexions, Magnat relaxed and lifted himself up into a magic carpet ride.  The transformation was so black and white.  Ride him without asking for the lift that comes through the lateral work, and he would jar you right out of the saddle.  Ask for collection, and you were in heaven.

I taught Magnat lateral flexions before I began to explore clicker training.  He understood what I wanted and was a willing student.  Often people seek out clicker training because they are struggling with a horse.  That wasn’t the case with Magnat.  He could have gone through his whole life without ever needing to be clicker trained.

Before clicker training he was a good, solid-citizen riding horse, but that’s all he was.  Without clicker training he would have remained a nice, but ordinary horse.  With clicker training he shone.  I used to say he was a one in a million horse, but as the years went by and he just became more and more wonderful, not just to ride but to be around, I changed this to a one in ten million horse.

But I really shouldn’t be the one to describe what it was like to ride Magnat.  He was Ann’s horse.  Here is how Ann described him in a piece she wrote for my riding book:

“It’s always a dilemma to describe the experience of riding a truly extraordinary horse who has had the benefit of several years of clicker training.  Although many technical components go into the production of a really memorable ride, the irrepressible smile, the feeling of wonder, and expression of “WOW!!” that arises so regularly these days when I ride Magnat simply cannot be described in anything but poetic terms.

Yes, athletic talent and neuromuscular conditioning are part of what makes the ride so special; and yes, many hours of repetition over many months have gone into it; and yes, there is extraordinary lightness and balance.  But this is still far from the sum total of the experience.

Musicians have described a great melody as “ a journey which has many familiar passages, and which also contains some wonderful surprises which cause you to look at the world in a completely fresh way and gives new meaning to life.”  This is the best description I can find of what it is like to ride Magnat.

Magnat comes out into the arena every night feeling relaxed and eager to work.  He knows he will be appreciated and reinforced for his performance.  He knows that he is a respected dance partner and member of the team, not a mere subject of training.  This awareness and active participation on the part of the horse is one of the benefits bestowed by clicker training.

Our rides begin with warm-up exercises.  In the course of executing figures or doing simple softening and balancing work, I will pick up on the reins and suddenly feel the most indescribable lightness!!!

We may be in a super-buoyant, floating trot, a deliberate, balanced, ballet-like piaffe, or a heavenly rocking-horse canter.  Whatever it is, it will feel as though I am floating on a magic carpet.  He is so responsive in these moments.  It’s as if there are clear filaments of two-way communication from my finger tips to each of Magnat’s feet.  The slightest breath of a touch on one of those lines will be answered by an immediate floating response.

The musicians described music as a journey which “contains some wonderful surprises.”  That’s how I feel about riding Magnat.  Each ride contains surprises and special pleasures we have not experienced before.  It is like coming around a bend in the road and seeing a spectacular sunset, or a grove of awe-inspiring redwood trees, or the grandeur of an ancient castle, or the peace and cool of a Buddhist temple.  It truly takes the breath away!  It creates the deepest joy and aliveness in my heart!

These moments have totally changed the way I think about riding.  I feel such awe for Magnat and for what we create together.  In this moment I know, without the slightest doubt, exactly what I ride for – it is just this amazing feeling of total balance, effortlessness, lightness, and energy.  Magnat seems to feel the same excitement and joy, for he literally beams with pride, and recently he has begun uttering deep chortles in his throat at these moments.

I let the magic moment go on for as long as I dare, wanting it to continue forever, but knowing I must capture it with a click, before it disappears like a soap bubble or a delicious dream.

The click creates a pause in the music.  Magnat comes to a halt; I throw my arms around his neck in a huge hug, shower him with lavish praise, and empty my pockets of the most desirable treats!

The “WOW” feeling is definitely addictive.  The glow of the experience lingers and stays with me long after the ride.  Our whole horse-human relationship is one of appreciation, respect, and awe.

This is, for me, the great gift of clicker training.  When taken to the high-performance level, it creates transcendent moments of great joy”

Ann Edie – written in 2005 for “The Click That Teaches: Riding with the Clicker

Ann’s words express so perfectly why we have both worked to bring clicker training into the horse world.  If clicker training had just been about teaching tricks, and finding kinder way to get horses onto trailers or to stand for grooming, I would have moved on years ago.  Instead clicker training takes us on a journey to Joy.  It connects us deeply to our horses.

This is what Ann and I wanted to share when we wrote about our horses.  It is what I am celebrating in this twentieth year of “Clicker Training for your Horse”.  It is what we hope others will find as they explore clicker training: the great love and wisdom of horses.

Sadly we lost Magnat in 2011 not long after we moved to our new barn.  He had reached the grand age of 33, but it wasn’t enough.  We were both hoping he would be one of those Arabs who live to be forty.  Sadly he had cancer, and we had to say good-bye.

Ann has shared so generously her horses.  Magnat and the Icelandics have served as my school horses.  I’ve written about them, and they have appeared in the books and DVDs.  Sindri, our Icelandic stallion, was my riding horses.  Thank you Ann for that great pleasure and honor.

And then of course there is Panda, Ann’s guide horse.  Ann is a very private person, but she has shared Panda literally with the world.  We’ve had journalists from as far away as Japan and Australia come and do stories on her.  Ann has always been a good sport, and so has Panda!

What many people don’t know is Ann is one of the partners in The Clicker Center Barn. Without her help, the barn would never have been built.  Thank you Ann for this.  And thank you also for teaching me how to play scrabble and for occasionally letting me win.

Alex Panda scrabble 0038

Happy Birthday Panda!

I’m going to take a quick break from the Goat Diaries to wish Panda a Happy Birthday.  Yesterday was her birthday.  Unbelievably she is 17 this year.  How does that happen!

Normally, I keep “family” birthdays private.  I don’t expect people to celebrate with us as we mark another year with our horses.  But so many people helped us out when Panda got sick in 2016 that I thought this was a good time for an update.  Panda is 17 this year!  She came so very close to not making it that is a real cause for celebrating.

She is doing so much better.  The diarrhea is under control – finally.  She is back in normal work as Ann’s guide.  Hooray!  Though in this brutally cold weather neither one of them has wanted to venture out.

Yesterday the temperatures had climbed to what felt like a tropical thirty degrees.  Ann took Panda out for a long and much enjoyed birthday walk.  When I visited with them afterwards, I asked Ann how Panda did.  She had been cooped up for so many days would she be a wild thing bouncy around on the end of her lead?  No, she was her usual focused, careful, eager self, making good decisions about avoiding the melting puddles that concealed ice underneath.

Back in her house I watched her retrieving her lead, one of her many favorite games.  Ann drops the lead on the floor and Panda picks it up and hands it back to her.  I had to laugh.  She is as full of play as she was when I had her in training as a weanling.  As I write that, I realize that’s not really true.  She is, if anything, even more full of play than she was when she was little.  Isn’t that a great thing to be able to write about somebody – horse or human.

Ann made a similar observation.  She said Panda becomes more like herself all the time.  I asked what she meant by that?  What does being Panda mean?

Ann should really be the one writing this, but it means she is so very confident.  She’s bold and she’s eager, and she’s comfortable in what she knows.  Ann always smiles when she talks about Panda.  I know a little about what she means.  I got a hint of it all those years ago when I had her in training.  I remember so clearly during one of our walks around the neighborhood thinking how nuanced the communication between us was becoming.  I remember thinking that when Ann has been working with Panda for a few years they will be like one of those couples who complete each other’s thoughts.  That’s definitely part of what being Panda means.  It means being the other half of a partnership that brings you great joy.

Happy Birthday Panda!

I didn’t take any birthday photos yesterday.  I should have.  But here are three favorites:

Ann Panda 3 photos scrabble, great walk, winter walk

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year Everyone!  I know you’re expecting the next installment of the Goat Diaries.  I’ll get back to those in my next post, but first I am going to do something a little different.

2018 is the 20th anniversary of the publication of “Clicker Training for Your Horse.”  Before 1998 clicker training was not part of the general horse world.  I’ve always said that first book was like my space beacon: “I’m here!  Is anyone else out there?”  The answer is yes.  Here you are, reading this post.  We are people who love the animals in our care and who want the training methods we use to support the relationship we want.

I’m one of those people who ignores most anniversaries, but twenty years is something to pay attention to.  It represents a huge commitment of time, energy, and love for our horses.  I’m not talking just about my contribution.  I’m thinking about all the many thousands of people who have helped pioneer clicker training and whose efforts have helped to spread it around the planet.

I would love to thank each and every one of you by name – but I don’t know all of you personally.  Even if I did, I would be bound to leave someone out.  I don’t want anyone to feel like the fairy in the children’s stories who wasn’t invited to the party, so instead I’m going to single out just a few people.  Every month this year I’ll be publishing an article commemorating the contribution of one of the many people who helped me bring clicker training into the horse world.

The first article features my long time client and friend, Bob Viviano.  For many years we boarded our horses in the same barn.  Bob’s appaloosa, Crackers, lived in the stall opposite Peregrine.  Soon after I moved Peregrine to the barn, Bob asked me to help him with a jumping problem he was having.  That was in 1993. Little did he know what he was getting himself in for!

When I watched Crackers go under saddle, it was clear the jumping problem was balance related.  That meant peeling back some layers and introducing them both to lateral work.  One of Bob’s hobbies was country line dancing.  Line dancing used a lot of the steps we were teaching Crackers.  Why not teach him an actual dance?  Forward – back – side – side: Bob taught Crackers the Electric Slide.

It didn’t matter what you called it – dressage or line dancing – the changes of bend and the weight shifts forward and back were exactly what Crackers needed.  Once Crackers had the dance figured out, Bob got others to join in.  The kids from the local 4-H group formed a line dance with Crackers in the middle.  That was just the beginning.  Eventually Bob and Crackers joined a group that was trying out for a Guinness Record of most people ever to perform in a line dance.  They got close with over a thousand people.  They certainly should have gotten the record for most people plus one horse!

In those early pioneer days we had no idea what you could do with clicker training.  We were just having fun.  We started out teaching our horses to touch targets.  That was step one in introducing a horse to clicker training.  Our horses all caught on fast to the targeting, and then we were confronted with the question everyone faces: now what?  What do you do with targeting?

Well, one answer is you teach your horse to retrieve.  My young horse, Robin was our first retriever.  Once he showed the way, the rest followed.  We very quickly had a barn full of eager retrievers.  And then what?  If a horse can retrieve, could he open a mail box?  Bob built Crackers his own mailbox so we could find out.  The answer, of course, was yes.  And not only can he open the mail box, he can also reach in, get the mail and hand it out to you.

He can also retrieve a basketball and dunk it through a hoop, kick a football, swing a hula hoop over his head, answer the telephone, play a piano and paint you a picture, to name just a few of the many tricks Bob taught Crackers.

page2getstarted1crackers.jpg

Lots of people teach their horses tricks.  What set Bob apart was the way in which he shared them.  He started taking Crackers to outdoor fairs and festivals.  Bob loved seeing people’s faces light up as they watched Crackers perform.  “He’s so smart!” they’d exclaim as Crackers opened his mailbox and handed people the presents Bob had stashed inside.

I visited them at one festival where Crackers’ pen was right beside an area where people were flying enormous kites.  It didn’t matter that brightly colored dragons were swooping over his head, Crackers went right on performing for the people who had come to see him.

At Christmas Bob would take Crackers to local shopping malls to raise money for the Salvation Army.  I remember watching them outside a busy supermarket one snowy December evening.  People gave so generously because it was Crackers ringing the bell.  Bob took him to nursing homes and to the Hole in the Wall camp for children with cancer.  One of the many stories Bob shared was of a little girl who decorated her hospital room with pictures of Crackers.

It was always Bob and Crackers.  They were a team.  If you knew Bob, you knew Crackers.  And Crackers was always up for anything.  From tricks to line dancing, he would perform for hours.  As long as there were people who wanted to see him, Crackers was always willing.  At the barn whenever someone came to visit, they were always treated to a show.  Crackers loved it.  Bring out his mailbox, and he was always eager to perform.  Bob not only made Crackers’ life better through clicker training, together they enriched the lives of the thousands of people they met.

Bob and Crackers helped us discover what you could do with clicker training.  It wasn’t just that Crackers could open a mail box or ring a bell.  It was that he could perform wherever Bob took him whether it was at a crowded festival or in a snowy parking lot.  Clicker training had given Crackers a confidence Bob could rely on.

Bob played another very important role in the development of clicker training, one that not as many people know about.  He was my horse sitter.  There aren’t many people I would entrust my horses to.  I always knew I could rely on Bob.

In those early days, there were just occasional trips away.  Most of my teaching was done locally, but word of mouth was beginning to bring requests for clinics.  The people who signed up for my clinics didn’t yet know I was experimenting with clicker training.  They were coming because they had heard I was good at solving training problems.  During our time together, I would introduce them to clicker training, but it wasn’t yet the primary focus of the clinics.

In 1996 I launched my web site: theclickercenter.com.  That was also the year Karen Pryor asked me to write a book for her new company, Sunshine Books.  At clinics I still kept clicker training “under my hat”.  I waited until my book was published in 1998 to announce that I was giving clinics that were specifically about clicker training.  That’s when my travel schedule exploded.  For many years after that I was away teaching almost more than I was home.

Whenever I was out of town, it was Bob who came every day to look after my horses.  Without him I would never have been able to give those clinics.  And without the clinics I would never have been able to connect to all the other clicker pioneers who helped me spread clicker training around the planet.  So I owe Bob and Crackers a huge debt of thanks for joining me in this amazing adventure we call clicker training.

Crackers sadly is no longer with us.  He died in 2012 at the grand age of 30.  He is buried, as he should be, at the Clicker Center Barn where he will always be remembered with much love.  At 80 Bob is still going strong.  He may not have Crackers at his side, but he’s still sharing clicker training.  He continues to pass on Crackers’ legacy by volunteering at a local horse rescue.  So the ripples we started over twenty years ago are still going out into the horse world.  Thank you, Bob and Crackers!  It has been a great pleasure and honor to share clicker training with you.

Crackers and Bob are featured in all three of my books: “Clicker Training for your Horse”, “The Click That Teaches: A Step-By-Step Guide in Pictures”, and “The Click That Teaches: Riding with the Clicker”.  They also appears in The Click That Teaches DVD Lesson series.

Visit theclickercenter.com to learn more. (Crackers is the first horse featured on the page celebrating some of our clicker-trained horses. https://www.theclickercenter.com/clicker-horses-1)

Next month I’ll be celebrating this 20th Anniversary year with another story featuring one of our clicker-training pioneers.

Happy 2018 Everyone!

Coming next: The Goat Diaries returns.