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: 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  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:

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

Alexandra Kurland

Today’s Peregrine Story: #8 They Don’t Feel Pain The Way We Do

Shortly before she became mine, Peregrine’s mother was injured in a handling incident. One of the teenagers at the barn had been given the assignment of pulling her mane. In case you aren’t familiar with this technique, it is literally what the name implies. The mane is shortened and tidied up by pulling out the longer strands.

The horses I grew up with never had their manes pulled. The first time I watched this being done it was to a young racehorse, a two year old who was literally climbing the walls trying to get away. The trainer stood outside the stall door watching as a young handler struggled to get the job done.

I couldn’t help asking what they were doing. It looked to me like some horrific form of torture. The trainer dismissed my concerns. “They don’t feel pain the way we do,” he said. In his view, the mare was climbing the walls not because of pain, but because she was being disobedient. That’s a great example of the stories we tell ourselves – and come to believe – to make things okay.

Peregrine’s mother wasn’t in a stall the first time someone tried to pull her mane. Shortly before she officially became my horse, it was decided she should have her mane tidied up. For her introduction to this procedure she was tied tight to a post supporting a four foot high fence. To get away from the pain she presumably didn’t feel, she jumped the fence. You could say it showed how athletic she was that she was able to jump the fence with her head snubbed up tight to the post. Really, it just says how desperately she needed to get away.

I only learned about it because I saw scrapes on her legs and asked about them. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the full scope of the injuries she sustained. Her spine was damaged in what was a very avoidable accident. My beautiful, athletic, perfect horse became a wobbler. That is exactly what the name suggests. She sustained neurological damage as a result of that incident. She couldn’t tell where her hind legs were so she wobbled about trying to stay on her feet.

I learned over time just how profoundly compromised she was. Eventually it became hard for her even to walk without falling. All the dreams I had had for her as a riding horse were set aside as I tried to help her learn the most basic of motor skills. It was my early training experiences with her that taught me about small steps, and about finding ways around the many “brick walls” that were thrown up in her path. Long before I ever heard about clickers and positive reinforcement, she taught me how to break things down into the smallest of small steps. The power of those lessons formed the core of what clicker training means to me.

She taught me to believe in the power of change. You cannot NOT change. How’s that for a sentence! But it’s true. We are constantly changing. The question is: are you changing towards something or are you simply always reverting back to familiar patterns?

If you don’t believe that change is possible, you will always be reverting back to the same reality that you currently find yourself mired down in. I didn’t know what change, if any, was possible for her. The vets at the time painted a very bleak future for us. I just knew that I had to deal with the challenges each day presented.

Stepping over the sill of her stall door was hard for her. But it was something she needed to be able to do, so we worked on stepping over ground poles. Those were terrifying for her, so I put a rope on the ground instead. Even that was too hard, so I drew a line in the dirt. That she could manage so that’s where we began.

She was showing me that no matter how small a step may seem, there is always, ALWAYS a smaller step you can find.

That is truly at the heart of all good training. It is certainly at the heart of how I think about clicker training.

Eventually she was able to walk over those ground poles, and the sill of her stall was no longer a problem. She could even manage a small cross rail. We didn’t know what was possible. We just kept working on the little things that challenged her. Eventually the little things grew into wonderful things. She became my riding partner and introduced me to the world of classical dressage.

She is why at the core of everything I teach there is balance. For me balance is everything. It gave her life. When some people talk about dressage, they see competition rings and rosettes. I see balance. That’s what dressage means to me. The end result may indeed take you to the show ring, but first it takes you to a feel that is heaven itself. Balance is everything. It is life-giving, life sustaining. It is beauty, grace, power. It is love.

Peregrine continues to teach me those lessons his mother began.
Happy 30th Birthday Peregrine

Today’s Peregrine Story: #4 Determination

Peregrine taught me about determination. I was told that most horses outgrow locking stifles.  I just needed to wait.  Peregrine’s stifles got worse, not better. By the time he was two, they had infected our entire training relationship.  Everything was difficult.  Everything was dangerous.  I never knew when his stifles would lock up, and he would explode forward in an effort to release them.

I was told by my trainer that horses with bad stifles do one of two things to relieve the pressure on their joints.  They rear up, or they bolt forward through the hand.  Thankfully Peregrine never chose rearing, but blasting forward was definitely something we experienced often.

I taught him to lunge to try to strengthen his hind end.  Keeping to a circle was a nightmare for him.  His stifles would lock up, and he would explode forward to release them.  I didn’t let go of the lunge line. I didn’t need to.  Peregrine’s leap forward sheared the top off the metal snap of the lunge line.  I was left with a line in my hand, but no horse at the other end.

Talk about a horse being instantly reinforced.  And how do you stop that!

I was incredibly frustrated. Peregrine as a two year old was a tough horse to love.  His stifles always meant he got the “last word in.”  I’d ask him to back up out of my space.  He’d comply, but when he stopped, his stifles would lock up, sending his weight forward again into my space.  The result: he was always pushing into me.  That’s not a good thing for a young horse.  You don’t want them thinking they can push you around.  He began to feel threatening.  His stifles were most definitely creating an attitude I didn’t like.

I was told there was a surgical option.  They could cut the medial ligament that held the patella in place, but the surgery might increase the risk later of a fractured patella.  I teetered on the brink of choosing surgery many times, but always I held back.  I was determined to find a training solution.  And I was determined to get things right with Peregrine.  As much as he frustrated me, frightened me, angered me, he was “my kid”, and I would stick by him.

Slowly we worked things out.  I heard John Lyons say that the strongest lead rope is the one in a horse’s mind.  I needed that lead rope, so I taught Peregrine to be a super liberty horse.  This was long before I ever heard about clicker training.  By the time I went out to the barn that first time with a clicker and treats, we had become friends.  He was a good working partner both on the ground and under saddle.  I didn’t need clicker training to help me fall in love with my horse.  I had already done that.  What clicker training gave us was a true conversation.  The more I have put our old ways of working behind us, the richer and more interesting that conversation has become.

Clicker training has given Peregrine a voice that can be heard loud and clear.  He has a voice that I listen to.  And I have a way of talking to him that he can truly understand.  When I fill my pockets with treats, I am filling them with so much more.  I am filling them with information, with appreciation, with love.

Happy 30th Birthday Peregrine!

Today’s Peregrine Story: Then and Now

Peregrine in snow head shotPeregrine will be 30 in two weeks.  You can see his age in his face.  Just like an elderly person, his flesh has melted away from his bones.  But there’s something else I see his face.  I see the foal who greeted me thirty years ago.

I was there at his birth which was a very good thing or he might not have survived his first day.  His mother had neurological damage to her spine resulting in limited proprioception in her hind end.  She panicked during the foaling.  As Peregrine began to emerge, she fell down against the stall wall and couldn’t get up.  He was trapped in the corner of the stall with not enough Peregrine halter close editroom to get free of her pelvis.  If I had not been camped out just outside her stall and heard the first sounds of her struggle, I might have lost them both.

I was able to pull Peregrine out and then summon the help I needed to move her away from the wall.  While his mother rested, he struggled to his feet.

I’ve watched people trying to catch new born foals.  They have to corner them, trap them, grab them up in their arms and hold them tight.  Peregrine was never like that.  I’d been talking to him for months before his birth.  He was born knowing my voice, knowing me.   He was every bit as at ease with me as he was his own mother.  This foal picture was taken just eight hours after he was born.  The halter was a non-event.  I slipped it on, and he wore it as though it was the most natural thing in the world for a horse to do.  He fell asleep that first morning with his head in my lap, something he still does, thirty years later.

When I look at this picture, I see my beautiful Peregrine.   He’s curious, open, eager for the life that is ahead of him.  When I look at Peregrine now, I see the same horse.  He’s still beautiful and still eager for what the day will bring.  I wish we could say the same for all old horses.

Happy Birthday Peregrine.  Thank you for the gift of 30 years.

Help me celebrate his 30th birthday on April 26, 2015.  Details to be announced.

Peregrine just a few hours old.

Peregrine just a few hours old.

Peregrine enjoying an afternoon nap in the arena.

Peregrine enjoying an afternoon nap in the arena.