Spooktober

It is spooktober and horses are known for spooking.

They can train us to live in fear of provoking their fear. They train people not to try to ride if it’s windy. They train us to need to be warned if someone is passing by the indoor arena door. They train us to fear plastic bags, loud vehicles, flapping things. We begin to hunt them out and stay away. To hurry a horse the other direction if we suspect a trigger may be coming.

Is it the horses that are afraid or the humans?

Are we teaching our horses to be afraid of these things?

If we run away, or quit and turn for home as soon as we ‘think’ they will be scared then we are never giving them the chance to see for themselves. Horses can get used to the most amazing things. Without the use of over stimulating, without crossing over threshold, without them inducing learned helplessness.

We can not reinforce fear by rewarding it, with treats, scratches, or love.

We can by running away and hiding from it, but not by offering  support and understanding.

What if instead when faced with a daunting obstacle we stopped, took a deep breath, and found something else to occupy our minds. We can work on something familiar and comforting, we can offer scratches.

If the spook has already happened we can reassure them with a treat. If you are mounted, make sure you are back in a secure position than laugh, pat their neck, and click them for still being there with you. Because we work so much at liberty I can let my horses leave. Wait for them to come back, they usually come running from the few feet away they went, I give a click and reward for them daring to return and we continue on with lots of reassurance that I will protect them and reward them for their bravery.

Instead of spooking from things in expectation we can help prevent or calm the spook by displaying the behavior we want from our horses. By showing bravery and offering support we can help our horses to over come fear. By allowing them to have the experiences we can let them get use to them. We can end up with horses who accept the challenges we offer and who will brave the biggest of semis with us.


Halloween Horrors

It’s almost Halloween 🎃
There are so many scary stories involving horse training, I thought it would be fun to share some of them. Like horsey Halloween ghost stories.
👻 Welcome to Halloween Horrors! 👻
 
Horse trainers are particular group. Only a select few allowed to join. Those who are chosen must pass through trials and tribulations to come out on the other side changed forever with a secret knowledge that no others can posses and a coveted membership in the horse trainers coven.
The rest of us must stand in awe of them. Always on the outside looking in. We must beg for what little wisdom they will bestow upon us and rely on them to make our horses do what they say, and hopefully a little of what we say.
If only there was a way to posses their great abilities.
There is rumor of a way.
A potion that can be given to a horse to allow us to communicate. Given every time we work with a horse it allows us to speak their language and communicate our wishes. The more of the potion we offer the more communication the horse will offer.
This potion is a deep dark secret though. If you are found out the coven will pounce, angry at this breach of their power.
If the secret is held carefully you will posses the power to train and work with your horse yourself.
In order to find the potion you must set out on a journey to find a lonely +R practitioner and ask for the recipe. She will share happily, grateful for the company and the interest in her solus art.
Then you too can delve into magic.
 
Disclaimer.
Yes, it is important to work with a trainer. Trainers are not evil, not most of them. No they are not necessary for every bit of horse training. Knowledge is though. More knowledge and skill should always be sought when working with horses.

Change In Weather

The weather has been getting colder. We had a small snow, just enough to settle the dust. Then good weather, enough that they could get most of the corn combined.

Then came freezing drizzle and rain. They worked late into the night as the weather rolled in. Hauled corn to the elevator until they closed, then filled the grain trailers. Once they were out of storage and the drizzle began they squeezed the trucks into the quanset and finally quit for the night.

The cold weather stayed and so did the ice.

Summer is over and gone. We take cows to pasture a little latter then most so they come home a bit late too. With no rain this summer and little moisture at all since last fall the grass is well used and if not completely gone then almost.

It was time for the cows to come home.

The only problem was the corn. And the cold.

If it was warm and dry enough to walk the cattle the few miles home then it would be warm and dry enough to combine corn. So we waited.

They tried one more time to combine but ice was shucked off the ears along with the corn. That wasn’t going to work.

We would bring the cows home instead.

It was cold. My husband and I got on the fourwheelers and drove the cows down the road. There are no pictures because it was too cold. My fingers were numb, my cheeks tingling from the cold. Children were tucked in behind us out of the wind. Still our son called it quits and went to ride with my husbands father in the nice warm pickup, following behind happily honking his horn, sure that it was helping.

Our daughter stuck it out. So proud of her.

I figured out how to turn on the handle heaters. It didn’t seem to help a lot until I insisted on changing mounts with my husband so he could warm his hands. After some time spent on his fourwheeler without heated handlebars I realized what cold really was. My hands ached from the cold and I begged my daughter to just push the throttle for a few minutes while I tried to work feeling back into my thumb.

She refused.

Rotten kid.

Why are fourwheelers made with only one spot to push the throttle? So only one hand is stuck in that one position unable to move for comfort or warmth? I was desperately missing the horses.

We finally made it home. I took the kids inside so all of us could thaw. Nice and warm from his ride in the pickup my husbands father had lots more he wanted to do. They went off together into the cold and eventually to the combine. No more than a few rows into the standing corn the snow started. Light at first. The ice had melted enough to fall off but soon the snow accumulated enough that the harvest was forced to a stop again.

This morning there are many inches of dry powdery snow on the ground. It’s cold and when the wind starts the snow will blow into a beautiful ground blizzard. The last of the corn will be in the field for awhile but at least the cows are home where they have shelter and plenty of feed.

Now for the rest of the cows…

 


Targeting

My favorite trick to teach is targeting.

It’s such a small simple thing. It is the all and everything of training.

If you think about it, is there any trick that isn’t targeting?

Ok there are a few. Most things though are targeting.

I was excited today watching the kids gymnastics class to see the instructor using targeting to teach them! Instead of yelling or trying to explain to them where she wanted them to  aim their feet when doing bar work, she held up a target. Here she said, right here is where I want you  to aim for. It was simple and fun for them. She marked their successful attempt with a “good job!” and rewarded with praise. A perfect job training with positive reinforcement.

She also uses a target to help the children walk the balance beam. A small stuffed animal is placed at each end for the children to “target” with their eyes as they walk. I hear over and over again as I watch “look at the target” “walk to the target”. They are rewarded by not falling off.

It is a great game for everyone involved. We all know learning happens faster when it is a fun game. And the bases for most learning is the simple target.


Halloween Horrors

Sometimes the result of the training is so beautiful. We see a horse leaping to respond to barely there cues. They seem to work as one with the person. Beautiful movements, swift reactions. It’s a beautiful display.
What we don’t see is how the horse came to this place.
We see beauty.
The horrors are hidden.
Hidden behind closed barn doors. In round pens and arenas. We don’t see the whips and raw mouths. The tight nose bands and tie downs. We happily over look the white eyes and nostrils wrinkled with stress and pain.
Do you think there’s any horse without its mouth raw when it goes into training? I heard asked on a horse page once.
How often is that the truth? All we allow ourselves to see it the pretty picture presented, not the monsters hidden within.

 


Halloween Horrors

It’s almost Halloween 🎃
There are so many scary stories involving horse training, I thought it would be fun to share some of them. Like horsey Halloween ghost stories.
👻 Welcome to Halloween Horrors! 👻
 
My horse came to me with perfect manners.I loved him so much I wanted to make him happy. I gave him cookies and carrots every chance I got. He started to come running every time he saw me. I knew he loved me too.
Then he started shoving me with his nose and searching me for treats. Of course I gave them to him when he asked. What else could I do? I wanted him to keep loving me. The more I gave him the treats he demanded to more insistent he got.
The last time I didn’t get the treat out fast enough and he bit me! 😱
I am never going to hand feed a horse again. Obviously it was hand feeding that caused the biting. Horses should never be fed by hand. Training by feeding treats is an awful idea. Can’t people see what it does?
Food is an inanimate object. Objects don’t train horses. People train horses.
It does happen that way often enough. Teaching horses to bite by feeding them is only too common an occurrence. It should be remembered though that it is people teaching horses to bite by feeding them. Not hand feeding itself that teaching horses to bite.
Horses need to be taught treat manners just like they are taught to accept a rider. Without that training we can be bitten just like we can be bucked off.
Don’t be sucked into the horror story.
Teach treat manners.

Punishment

Why  are we always so quick to want to punish?

I watched a school board meeting last night. They were arguing over policy and before they even had it set a couple of them wanted to decide on the punishment.

They were eager to chose a punishment for children starting at kindergarten!

What do they think punishing a small child is going to accomplish?

With rewards we can be sure that actions that are rewarded will be repeated.
 
Actions that are punished though, we never know what we have actually taught. We think we’ve put a stop to the behavior. We think they will think twice about doing that again. Punishment is very rewarding to the punisher. Instant gratification because it puts a stop to the behavior.
 
For the moment.
 
The one being punished may have learned something completely different. Often it is that the one doing the punishment is mean, they’re bad, they should be avoided. It can be that they should be careful not to repeat the behavior where they might be caught. Sometimes it is that they themselves are bad, not worthy, not good enough.
 
These are bad enough things to be teaching animals. Why would we want to teach that to our children?
 
Before jumping to punishment we should always look for other options. Can we change the situation that lead up to the problem? Can we encourage behavior that makes the undesired behavior unlikely or impossible? Can we educate people who are pushing for punishment?
 
I realize horses are harder to train than children. I have both and wish children were as easy as horses. I understand the difficulty. I don’t understand this as a solution.
Not punishing behavior doesn’t mean letting animals or children run wild. Boundaries are still set. We still expect behaviors we desire to be performed.
Especially in this case I refuse to call behaviors that are punished ‘bad’. Neither animals nor small children have any concept of ‘bad’ they are simply doing what comes naturally to them.
We are the ones calling them ‘bad’. How can the problem with teaching a small child they are ‘bad’ not be blindingly obvious?
Isn’t it better to teach them they are good? To seek out things we can be proud of them for?
We find what we seek in life. If we go around looking for bad things to punish then that is what we will find.
If we look for the good…

 

 

 


The Strangest Positive Reinforcement Story I’ve Ever Heard

I know all the rules of the training, I know positive reinforcement is effective, I know it works.

We needed something done RIGHT NOW though. There wasn’t time to  train. It would be easiest and kindest to both animals to just get the job done and over with.

Our goat had her baby. We had nearly given up on her. The people who bred her for us said their ram had a fifty percent calf crop this last time, whatever the proper goat term for that is, a fifty percent kid crop? There was a good chance ours hadn’t bred. She was looking pretty fat and her bag was getting bigger. I held out hope. Yesterday she went into labor. Moaning and groaning she began digging nest holes. Weirdest thing I’d seen. Who’s ever heard of a goat making a nest?!

By evening still no kid, we locked her in the barn for the night in hope of warmth and easy checking.

By morning there was a beautiful white female kid. Our goat, Baa’s bag isn’t great though. We would need to offer lots of help so she could figure out how to nurse and get started at it. Milking Baa and offering the kid a bottle would be a good place to start.

The children named her Violet. I wasn’t sure if it was an improvement or a disappointment after the last one. Snow White Tractor is a name for any goat to live up to 😉

Baa is only partly feral. She will eat out of our hands and is calm to handle but not halter trained or trained to let us milk her. We put a halter on her, snubbed her off to a post and my husband held her while I milked.

I milked her a few years ago when she had her last kid. She wasn’t bad, not great but just kicking my bucket, not fighting. This time she was having none of it. We needed milk for her kid though so we held her and fought and got the job  done.

It wasn’t easy and I wasn’t looking forward to doing this a few times a day until the kid figured out how to do this on her own.

I went out a couple of hours later with some of the milk in a bottle to feed Violet. I brought treats along as a peace offering to Baa. She came right up to take them. Not too mad about the milking then.

I fed Violet the bottle then  offered Baa more treats. Baa spent lots f time licking my hands. Violet decided the milk hadn’t been  enough  and finally started looking for a meal.

I nudged her up to Baa and Baa didn’t take off. Carefully reaching out I gave a tug at her bag. She stood and went back t licking my hands frantically. I gave another squeeze, go a good stream of milk, let her lick my hands.

It finally dawned on me that she was licking the milk off my hands.

We developed a routine. I milked, let Baa lick, milked, let Baa lick.

By rewarding her with the milk I was able to squeeze out into my cupped hand I was able to refill my bottle for Violet and get a good start at getting the bad side of her bag stripped out. AND get Violet put on her and nursing on her own!

All without anything holding Baa.

The first and most important rule of trainnig with positive reinforcement is that the one being reinforced gets to decide what they find reinforcing. Some people might argue that that’s not the first rule. Whatever. I’m calling it first, they can choose their own. That rule is followed by the reinforcement has to be strong enough to make it valuable enough for them to want to perform the behavior to earn it.

I had offered her treats in our earlier milking. They were not high enough value.

Her own milk that I needed to get out of her for her and Violets well being was a VERY high value reinforcer. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that human adults are the only ones who drink milk. All animals love milk. It’s just a matter of them knowing how to get it. Cows and bulls will often  nurse other cows.

And Baa was happy to do just about anything for a taste of it.

That was the weirdest training session I have ever spent. It was amazing to see how well +R worked with the right reinforcement and how much quicker and easier it was than using force, even  without much prior training.


Trick Riding

We’ve all seen the horse for sale adds with a person standing on their horses back to prove that the horse is ‘broke’.

We’ve all rolled our eyes a little because while it shows the person is braver than I am at least, with better balance, it doesn’t show much about their training.

This is not that. Not anything to do with it.

My daughter does have a goal of being able to stand on a horses back. I support her in that because I can see quite a few benefits. None of which are to help in selling the horse 😉

Both children do gymnastics, because they enjoy and are good at it and because I like a sport that can add so much to their riding abilities.

Vaulting is a wonderful sport that I would love for them to be able to do. If there were anything closer to us. There are a couple drawbacks to living in the middle of nowhere. There are probably some resources available online. There are for everything else, I need to remember to look.

This is our improvised version.

Rusty volunteered to sidepass over the top of a small round bale. Just the perfect height. Getting on and off has been a hard part of riding for both children. It’s a long ways up and down. Having a bale to cut the height in half helped a lot. They were soon hopping off and on, spinning circles, even standing on his back. No pictures of that, I was too busy holding on tight, there were no hands left for a camera.

As they get better and more comfortable we will switch to jumping off the side without a bale to shorten the distance to the ground.

Is it dangerous? Maybe. Life is dangerous. Every precaution has been taken and my faith in the horse is complete.

Instead I think it adds considerable safety to their riding. Knowing how to get off safely is one of the most important things you can do. Being comfortable on a horses back and being able to stay on in many different positions is a close second. Being comfortable on a horses back, not tight with fear, instead loose and moving with the horse, is something we work hard to learn.

The change in both of them with only a weekends worth of practicing their gymnastics on Rusty’s back is amazing.

For his part, Rusty isn’t thrilled I admit. He is willing though, as long as I provide treats. If I slow down on the treats he takes a step away from the bale. When lead to the bale he steps right into position and asks for his reward. I don’t think we are bothering him too badly.

As long as everyone is loving it we are going to keep practicing this.


Perfection

My husband said I shouldn’t write this post.

I’m sure he had many reasons for that. Possibly embarrassment among them. He also said it sounded like bragging. If that is what you take away from this than you are missing my point. This isn’t about bragging it’s about view points. I’ll say that ahead of time and then ignore his wise advice and say what’s on my mind!

My above mentioned husband is as close to perfect as its possible for any man to get.

My horse Rusty, is very nearly perfect. The other horses are only a small step behind him.

My children are very nearly perfect.

God has truly blessed me.

How did I happen to end up with these wonderful creatures? It wasn’t purely God’s grace, although that was a large part of it. A lot of it has to do with outlook.

We find what we seek. If I was mad at and about any of them. If I focused on the things they have done, the things they are doing, wrong, If I remembered every slight, every bad behavior, every injury, Then those are what I would find.

We sat at a rare meal out, in an actual restaurant, the other day. The children were being less than perfect. The husband was tending towards the grouchy side. I was working towards joining him. It was miserable. Then I got to thinking about this post, floating about in my mind already.

We find what we seek.

I informed children and husband of how perfect they are, how happy they make me. My darling husband scoffed and laughed. The children climbed on me, laughing. The downward spiral was broken. We all laughed as they took humor, and maybe some pride, in their perfection. The food came. We were a happy family again.

In training with positive reinforcement we spend our time looking for the right answer, for the good behavior. It can change our entire mindset. If we let it.

It does help that my husband is kind and loving and works hard to make sure I am happy.

That doesn’t change the premise though. We find what we seek. Look for the good in life and you will find it. Look for the bad, well, that is where you will find yourself.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”  1 Peter 4:8