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 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.

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