Thank YOU!

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

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

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

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

Remembering Magnat

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

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

The walk is the mother of all gaits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnat canter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Panda scrabble 0038

Happy Birthday Panda!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday Panda!

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

Ann Panda 3 photos scrabble, great walk, winter walk

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

page2getstarted1crackers.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 2018 Everyone!

Coming next: The Goat Diaries returns.

 

Independence Day!

Peregrine in barn door 5:17:12

While others celebrate July 4th as a national holiday, for me it marks a much more personal anniversary.  July 4 is truly Independence Day for me.

July 4, 2011 is the day I moved my horses out of the boarding barn to their very own home.

I spent the better part of yesterday going through photos.  Things have changed so much for the horses.  The first nine months living in a construction site was hard, but now they have what I wanted for them, a good life.

Enjoy the photos.

Indy day 1

Indy 2 mud into level siteIndy 2a contractors framing

 Indy 4 roofing

Indy 5 June barn
Indy 6 Stone dust spreadIndy 7 redone move inIndy 4 deep trenches outside

Indy 7c barn mess

 

Indy 9 Fengus in arenaIndy 10 barn in Sept

Indy 11 hay loft

Indy 12 Pg looking

Indy 13 hay loft winter comingIndy 14 barn mess OctIndy 15 cement truckIndy cement pour

Indy 17 tack room viewIndy 18 walls going upIndy 19 tongue groove

Indy town water

Indy 21 composterIndy 22 barn interior Dec 18

Indy 25 stalls designIndy 26 upstairs loftIndy 27 winter workIndy 28 outside runs

Indy 29 Peregrine napping

Indy barn transformed

Indy 31 horses moved in

Indy 32 Horses in filed

Indy 33 Peregrine choiceIndy 34 Choice Pg by door

Indy 35 Iceys play

Indy 36 Flowers

Indy 37 Peregrine window

Indy 38 shavings bags

Indy 39 Pg content

Indy 40 home

Indy 41 land reclaimed

Indy 42 more home

Indy 43 playtimeIndy 45 naptime 2 images

Indy 46 friends tog

Today’s Peregrine Story #16: Happy First Day – Thank You!

Peregrine was born at 11:35 pm on April 26, 1985.  Arriving into the world so close to midnight, it always seemed unfair to celebrate just on the 26th. So I have always marked both Peregrine’s Birthday and his First Day.

Those first few hours were filled with such joy and also so much worry.  His mother had fallen down during the foaling and become trapped against the stall wall.  In her panic she had thrashed about, hitting her head against the cement corner stone of the old dairy barn.  It took a long time for her to recover.  Peregrine was up considerably before she was.  He staggered about on wobbly legs while she lay resting in the deep straw.  I spent the night with them, making sure that she was all right, helping him to nurse for the first time, and just watching in wonder as he gained his “land legs”.

They grow up so fast! Peregrine at eleven days.

They grow up so fast! Peregrine at eleven days.

I didn’t go home for the next two days.  I continued to camp out at the barn.  I didn’t want to miss anything.  Foals grow so fast.  They change so fast.  In the morning we took Peregrine out with his mother to see the world for the first time.  He cantered beside her while I snapped picture after picture.  But alas, there was no film in the camera!  So much for sleepy heads.  So I cannot show you pictures of his first venture out onto grass, or share with you his foal’s delight in being able to canter and buck beside his mother.  You will, like me, simply have to imagine it.

Peregrine has always been a lucky horse.  He wasn’t one of the thousands of thoroughbreds who were bred that year for sale into the racing industry.  He has never been a throw away horse.  He was what you wish for everyone – horses and people alike.  He was a much wished for, much desired, much loved individual.

Peregrine: A much wished for, much wanted, much loved individual.

Peregrine: A much wished for, much wanted, much loved individual.

So many horses change hands over and over again.  The lucky ones find kind people who fall in love with them and keep them forever.  Peregrine has always been loved.  We have moved barns many times, but he has always had me as a constant in his life.  And now, thirty years later I am celebrating his birthday and remembering those first days.  I have enjoyed sharing his stories with you.  Thank you for reading them, and thank you to our many good friends for all the wonderful comments you have been leaving on my Facebook pages.  They have been much appreciated.

Thank you again to everyone who joined me yesterday for Peregrine’s Birthday Celebrations.  What a great way to spend a the day!  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  I loved all the stories you shared.  Now that we know the on-line technology is up to the task, we will have to come up with more reasons to meet on line.  It was great fun!

Peregrine has been especially cuddly these last few days.  I think he is very much aware of all the well wishes and love that people have been sending his way.  So thank you on his behalf.  And thank you to Peregrine for bringing us all together.

And now I think it is time to send you off to your own horses to celebrate their lives.  I may from time to time add to this series of stories, but for now I will simple say:

Happy First Day Peregrine!  And here’s to many more to come.

Your person, Alexandra Kurland

Today’s Peregrine Story: #15 Happy Birthday!

Happy 30th Birthday Peregrine!

Peregrine's First of Four Birthday Cakes!

Peregrine’s First of Four Birthday Cakes!

One of the great advantages of being 30 and a horse is you get to enjoy, not one, but four birthday cakes.  And you get to eat the whole cake – guilt free.  No sharing with anyone else, though I did pick grass for everybody.

And now that the morning chores are done and Peregrine is taking a nap after the first of his many Birthday surprises, I have a party to get ready for!  Remember, everyone is invited.  Even if you can’t join us via the internet, I hope you will share in the celebration by giving your own horses a Birthday treat from Peregrine.

Peregrine enjoying his birthday cake.

Peregrine enjoying his birthday cake.

 

Welcome to the world, Peregrine April 26, 1985

Welcome to the world, Peregrine
April 26, 1985

At 11:35 pm thirty years ago today, I welcomed my beloved Peregrine into the world.  I greeted him with his name – his full name that only the two of us know.  Tonight at 11:35 I will speak his name again.  I will thank him for staying with me for these thirty years.  I will thank him for all the gifts he has given me, and all the amazing journeys he has sent me on.   And I will read to him all the messages that people have been sending us.  Thank you everyone for letting me share my Peregrine stories with you, and for taking his gifts to your own horses.

Alexandra Kurland

Today’s Peregrine Story: #14 Peregrine Today

Peregrine and Robin asleep in arenaIt is 5 am.  I have just begun my day by switching on the computer.  Peregrine and Robin are asleep in the indoor arena.  That’s where they hang out at night.  I peeked in a few minutes ago.  They are both still lying down so I tiptoed past the arena door.

Some mornings I like to go in and sit with them, but today it is too cold.  Two days ago we had snow!  It didn’t stick, but even so!  This winter just does not want to let go.  I’m looking forward to the warm spring weather when I can take my computer out and sit with the horses while I work.

Peregrine Robin in aislePeregrine and Robin have free range of the barn.  They can wander in from the barnyard, through their open stalls into the barn aisle and the arena beyond.  My current task is getting them adjusted to spring grass so they can also go back out onto the fields to graze.  To that end tomorrow’s birthday cake will be “iced” with fresh picked grass.

I’ve just heard them come in from the arena.  Peregrine has gone down to the wash stall, probably to get a drink, and Robin has gone into the end stall and is eating hay from the hay bag that hangs in there.  He’ll come get me soon to tell me that he wants fresh hay – none of this already picked over stuff!

Sharing their "ice cream cone" of a hay bag.

Sharing their “ice cream cone” of a hay bag.

When I fill the hay bag, Peregrine and Robin stand on either side of the stall wall and share the hay that pokes out the top like a giant scoop of ice cream on a cone.  It is good to see that Robin can share his hay so peacefully.  That wasn’t how their relationship began.  Robin was a fierce companion who shared his hay and his person with no one!

One of the main reasons I brought Robin into the family was to be a companion for Peregrine.  When you board, you have no control over what happens to the other horses that live there.  If your horse’s best friend belongs to someone else, and they decide to leave, your horse is out of luck.  He’s just lost friend, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  I didn’t want that to happen to Peregrine, so I got him Robin.

There’s no guarantee that two horses are going to like one another – or even tolerate one another.  As a young horse, Robin was both very independent and very fierce.  What Robin wanted, Robin took.  The other horses all gave him a wide berth.  They knew better than to mess with him.  So that was Peregrine’s main turnout companion.

If I hadn’t formed the third partner in the relationship, I’m not sure they would ever have become friends, but through training I could mediate the relationship.  Robin learned that he got reinforced when he let Peregrine into his space.  If he backed up and made room for Peregrine at the gate, he got reinforced.  If he maintained his place and let Peregrine get his own treat, he got a treat as well.  But if he snapped at Peregrine, if he tried to drive him away, all the focus and attention went to Peregrine.  Peregrine learned that I would protect him.  I would always keep him safe from fierce Robin.

Peregrine touching cone robin looks on

While Robin looks on, Peregrine correctly identifies the green cone.

One of my favorite videos from the on-line course shows me working on color discrimination with Peregrine and Robin.  I start out with two cones hidden behind my back.  I ask one of them to target the blue cone or the green cone, or it might be the one that is bigger, or smaller.  When people watch the video, they tend to focus on this task.  What I see is how well the two horses are taking turns.

When we moved to the new barn, Peregrine had a hard time adjusting.  He’s never been a good traveler, and this marked a huge change for him.  He’d lived at the boarding barn since 1993.  While the construction on the new barn went on around them, the horses lived in the indoor arena.  Peregrine latched onto Robin.  Wherever Robin went, there was Peregrine.  I’m not sure Robin really wanted a shadow, but Peregrine didn’t give him much choice.

Sharing an afternoon nap.

Sharing an afternoon nap.

Gradually Robin became accustomed to having Peregrine share in everything he did.  Afternoon naps were taken together on the big pile of shavings I had put down for that purpose.  I often joined them, sitting beside Robin while Peregrine stood over both of us.

When we moved into the new barn, I left their stall doors open and let them wander about as they pleased.  I often found both horses sharing one stall.  When I wanted to work with Robin in the arena, Peregrine always accompanied us, tagging along beside us and getting reinforced together with Robin.

I'm ground driving Robin with invisible drive lines while Peregrine accompanies us.

I’m ground driving Robin with invisible drive lines. I’m asking Robin to back, and Peregrine is backing with us.

–   I have to interrupt myself here.  Robin is trying to tell me that it is time for breakfast!  –

The morning chores are done.  I’m back at the computer.  Peregrine and Robin are out in the barnyard having sun bathes.  It’s cold.  According to the thermometer it’s just above freezing, but the sun feels warm on their backs.  They’ll doze out there most of the morning while I get work done in the tack room.

I was away this past week teaching at the home farm of Cavalia.  When I got back to the barn on Thursday, Peregrine had decided that Spanish walk was the  “flavor of the month”.  He followed me up and down the barn aisle, lifting his front legs up in the exaggerated extension that is Spanish walk.  This morning has been no exception.  As he “helped” me with the morning chores, he marched around the wheel barrow in his thirty year old’s version of Spanish walk.

I like seeing that he has the balance and the strength to make this the behavior he offers.  I use these offered behaviors as a barometer to gauge how well he is doing.  It’s not a great Spanish walk, but the fact that he wants to offer it at all pleases me.

When I built the barn, I said I wasn’t sure how we would use it.  I would let it evolve, and evolve it has.  The barn has very much become Peregrine’s retirement home.  The footing in the arena is the same deep shavings that we use to bed the stalls.  The arena has become one giant stall in which Peregrine and Robin can take naps.  Many old horses have trouble getting up, especially in the cramped quarters of a stall.  Peregrine has plenty of room to roll, to take naps, to stand with his friend and doze.  They can move from one area of the barn into another.  In another couple of days, the fields will be dry enough, and they’ll be able to go out and graze.

Peregrine is checking to make sure I am in my "stall".

Peregrine is checking to make sure I am in my “stall”.

The barn has become a shared space for all of us.  I can work in the tack room and watch the horses through the big window that looks out into the barn aisle and the barnyard beyond.  Whenever I go out into the aisle, Peregrine and Robin come to see me.  They are always eager for a visit and a game.

They have just come in from outside.  Robin led the way into the arena.  If I go out now, I’ll find them in the near corner catching the last bit of early morning sun.  It’s a good life for them.  Later today I’ll trim their feet.  They are a bit overdue because of all my traveling.  And then they’ll get a good grooming.  They have to look presentable for tomorrow’s birthday party.

And speaking of that – remember you are all invited.  There is still room in my virtual tack room for a few more guests.

The times are 1 pm, 5 pm and 9 pm (eastern standard time).  I’ll be hosting an on-line party at those times.  If you send me an email with the time you can join us, I’ll send you the log in information for the gathering.

I look forward to welcoming you to my barn and sharing Peregrine’s 30th Birthday celebration with you.

Peregrine Robin lying down hug cropped

A favorite shared moment with Peregrine and Robin.

Happy 30th Birthday Peregrine.  Thirty years tomorrow!

Alexandra Kurland
theclickercenter.com
theclickercenterblog.com
theclickercentercourse.com

Today’s Peregrine Story: #13 Birthday Preparations

Thirty years ago today I was doing what everybody who has a mare that’s close to foaling does, I was guessing.  Will it be today?  Has she bagged up?  Is she waxing?  Will it be a colt or a filly?  It’s an exciting time full of anticipation and expectation.

Peregrine foal sleeping standingAnd now thirty years on I have something else to look forward to. I am preparing for a party, and you are all invited!  This coming Sunday, April 26, is Peregrine’s 30th birthday.  Normally I don’t pay much attention to birthday’s and other holiday celebrations, but this is a milestone that I didn’t want to let just slip by.  For the past two weeks I’ve been sharing stories about Peregrine.  This coming Sunday I want to celebrate his birthday by hearing YOUR stories.  I want to celebrate ALL the horses in our lives.  So I hope you’ll join me for this very special event.

I know it’s hard with time zones to pick a time that let’s everybody attend at once.  So here’s how I’m going to handle this.  Peregrine gets fed four mashes every day which means he’s going to get not one, but four birthday cakes on Sunday.  So it seems appropriate that he should also have four birthday celebrations.

So here are the times for each of the Celebrations.  These are all eastern standard time.  You can find time zone converters on line if you aren’t sure what time this makes it for you.  If you would like to attend, please send me an email indicating which party you will be joining, and I’ll send you a link to the Celebration.

Email me at: kurlanda@crisny.org to get your party invitation.

My virtual “tack room” is small, so it will be very much on a first come first served basis.  If you aren’t able to attend, I hope you’ll share your horse’s story in the comments section of this blog.

Party Times (Eastern Standard Time)3 layer square cake

9 am

1 pm

5 pm

9 pm

Peregrine’s Birthday Party is being hosted by GoToMeeting.com.  Please plan on using a headset for best audio quality.  The best meetings are those where we can see each other, so the preferred platform is a computer with a web cam.

During the party I’ll be sharing more stories about Peregrine and the horses who have played an important role in the development of clicker training.  But mostly I want to hear about YOUR horses.

I look forward to welcoming you to my barn this coming Sunday.

Let me know which party you will be attending by emailing me at: kurlanda@crisny.org

And if you are coming in late to this conversation, you can read the series of “Today’s Peregrine Story” in my blog: theclickercenterblog.com  The first one was posted on April 12, 2015.

Alexandra Kurland
theclickercenter.com
theclickercentercourse.com

Today’s Peregrine Story: #12 Unexpected Changes

When I started Peregrine under saddle, my trainer said to me that he didn’t have the back strength to perform all the movements of upper level dressage, but he could still carry himself in the equilibrium of a high school horse.  She didn’t mean in a few years.  She meant now, as a young horse, we could expect him to lift up and carry himself in an engaged equilibrium.

Oliver contrast side by side

This obviously isn’t Peregrine, but these two photos show clearly what is meant when I say he learned to lift and carry his own balance. The photo on the left shows Oliver, a percheron/quarter horse cross, as an almost two year old on day one of his first clinic with me. The photo on the right is also of Oliver. Look at how much more up and lifted he is throughout his body. He looks much older, but this picture was taken just twenty-four hours later. This beautiful balance comes from the lessons Peregrine has been teaching me.

That became the training criterion.  When Peregrine was engaged, his stifles didn’t lock.  I was learning to manage him so our rides no longer felt quite so on a knife’s edge of control.   When I first started riding him, his stifles would lock up without warning.  He would release them by catapulting me forward in a hard, rolling buck.  As long as he was engaged, I could keep him from locking up, and he was a lot of fun to ride.  But as soon as I got off and left him to manage his own balance, his stifles would be locking again.

He was eight years old.  Clearly he was not going to outgrow this condition.  And then he got Potomac horse fever.  And then he was laid up for seven weeks with foot abscesses.  And then we started exploring clicker training.

There had certainly been lots of people before me who used clicker training with their horses.  So why did it stick with me?  Why was I the one who buried herself in a computer for two years writing that first book on clicker training horses?  And why have I continued to be so fascinated by it?  The answer lies with Peregrine.

He was an interesting mix.  He was a well trained horse, but he was also a horse with a lot of issues – all stemming from his locking stifles.  I also had a huge repertoire to work with, both on the ground and under saddle.

Peregrine 1993 Spanish walk

1993 Peregrine in-hand – working on the lift needed for Spanish walk.

Ground work for me meant a lot more than lunging.  It also meant classical work in-hand and a huge liberty repertoire.  As Peregrine recovered from his hoof abscesses, I began to add the clicker into all of this other work.  Before his lay up we’d been working on Spanish walk.  I reshaped the leg lifts using the clicker.  He was so elegant, and he clearly enjoyed the new way this lesson was being taught.

Spanish walk required a huge shift in his balance.  In order to lift up into the front leg extensions, he had to engage his hind end to free up his shoulders.  This was taught in conjunction with all of his other in-hand work.  It was not presented as a separate “trick” behavior.  I was asking Peregrine to carry himself forward in engagement – something the guidance of the marker signal helped him to figure out.

I was a month or two into this work when it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen Peregrine lock in his stifles in quite a while.  I started paying more attention.  I was right.  His stifles weren’t locking – not under saddle and, even more telling, not on the ground, either.

For eight years we had been battling his stifles.  After just a few months of clicker training, they had stopped locking.  That’s when I knew that clicker training wasn’t simply another way to teach behavior.  Yes, it’s great that we have a kinder way to teach horses to pick up their feet for cleaning, or to load into a trailer.  That’s important, but clicker training goes deeper than that.  It awakens our horses’ intelligence.  I say it in this way because so much of training teaches horses only to follow, not to take any initiative.  Clicker training lets them to be full partners in the learning process.  They truly own what we are teaching them.  The lessons aren’t simply things you do when someone directs you.  Peregrine was learning how to manage his own body to keep himself more comfortable – all of the time – not just when I was around.

If clicker training had simply been another way to teach standard behavior, it would have been an interesting stepping stone, but it would not have held my attention in the way that it has for over twenty years.  Peregrine showed me that it is so much more.

Happy 30th Birthday Peregrine.  What a wise horse you are.  Thank you for being my teacher.