Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010


It has been snowing and snowing and snowing! I have been so busy with school that Bodhi has been left out to pasture for the most part. Due to some requests of festive photos back home we decided to take some family photos. So even though I do not have any horse related to report her are some very festive photos!

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Winter greetings!

Finally... snow. We got to go play in the powder today. A few slips, and Bodhi's feet collected quite a bit of snow (is that normal?) but otherwise we had a great time. My little Florida boy ate a ton of snow and spent a good deal of the time looking like a drama alpaca (I don't think he is quite a llama)

We had a blast though. I look forward to more winter riding!

Snow! nom nom nom nom

Bitless insures that he does not have cold metal in his mouth and he is free to eat snow till the cows come home.....

Bodhi and his trusty side kick miss Stella B!

Drama alpaca!

The husband can be coaxed to ride, and Stella encourages him!

Monday, November 1, 2010


Winter is coming for this Florida girl and her pony. It snowed on Friday but had melted into a think mud by the time I made it out to ride on Saturday. Bodhi had little mud booties on. I went at each leg with a sweat scraper and then a pick and then a hard brush. The arena was too muddy to ride in so we went for a hike down the road (the flood plane had also lived up to it's name).

We worked on some free shaping on getting round. Worked out pretty well. a had him target and stretch down and then follow the target back a bit (towards his body) When I saw his back lift up I clicked and gave him a pat and treat. It helped to distract him as we walked between fields of hundreds of Canada geese. They honked and flushed anytime we got close. I was pretty scared but Bodhi was brave.

Also Bodhi is fat. Really fat. The hay on the property is really good. I am trying not to be to worried. It is his first northern winter and he will have no blanket and it can be -40. So if he looks like a cow it may not be such a bad thing.

In an intrest to keep him from becoming one of those pony cartoon drawings though I am calling all northerners!

What do you do in the Winter? What do you do with snow?

Can I ride in it? Are there rules? What am I supposed to do!!?!!! Besides maybe this. Note the Haflinger in this kids section!

So to all you Northern folks what do you do in the winter to keep horse and rider fit? Any innovative solutions? How about safety tips?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

No serious dressage rider will ever consider buying a Haflinger,

My title is a direct quote from this wonderful article. I also found the quote below very interesting...

"More annoyingly for Kirsten had been the judges' differing opinions about her horse. “Some were happy to finally see such a well ridden and talented Haflinger, others were convinced this breed shouldn't be in a dressage ring," she recalls. Kirsten told me 40 points difference between single judges had not been uncommon, sometimes there had been even a 4 points difference in a single movement."

In regards to my title. First I don't think I am very serious about anything! Where is the fun in that?
Second of all I do not agree with the idea that only the warmbloods should do dressage. Dressage is for everyone! Will every horse be competitive at the higher levels? No. Every horse will benefit from being ridden by the principals of classical dressage however.

Real dressage is not a breed(s) of horse. Real dressage to me is not even a discipline or a sport. Dressage is a way of training a horse. Dressage is a philosophy.

For serious dressage riders it is not about the ribbons it is about the process and the journey. and luckily that journey is open for any horse and rider partnership to enjoy.

For those dressage riders that are only interested in ribbons then my advise to you is do not get a haflinger. Anyone though who enjoys a challenge but also enjoys a calm, sensible, and simple ride? I say have you ridden a haflinger lately?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

We have a Ring!

and man is it a nice one!
It was just finished on Thursday and so I am in a rush to enjoy it why it lasts. Also tried out a new bit. It had copper rollie thingies and no middle piece (so regular snaffle) Bodhi seemed to like it. He was soft, droolie and we had some really nice moments including some walk canter transitions. I am still heading towards the bitless though. I am planning on buying us a Nutural Bridle for Christmas.

I feel like going bitless is like going vegetarian. My transition has not been a straight one. Just like when I was first going vegetarian I kept balking at taking the final plunge, and then falling of the wagon when I promised myself that it was what I wanted. Some people are the jump in with both feet kind, but I am not.

So for those of you who are thinking of going vegetarian or bitless: Take your time, do your research and don't feel like you have to throw your current life style away in one day. Take steps toward your goal and know you are doing something good. Been a vegetarian now for 10 years- I say I did it right.




I need canter position help...

I also need funny face therapy...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

If wishes were horses...

*dadadadadadadadadada* *dream sequence* (Imagine that I was not in graduate school. Imagine I had a steady job, and I had consistent life.)

.....I would get another horse! Bodhi is of course my main ride. He is such a good boy and I love having him as my rock. I have always liked the combination of the challenge and the "home" horse. I now have made a real partner out of Bodhi. Within the safety and condifence of this relationship brings a strength and calm I would like to share with a new baby. So I would really love a new baby to train!

So I have always been intrigued by Arabian warmbloods Like this handsome fellow! He would be a ying to Bodhi's yang. :)

Or this handsome fella!

I have always wanted a welsh cob. or cross....

Ooof. Or how about this little guy? Go to the add and look at papa bear. Wow.

Mostly though when I think about my next horse I think about a horse like this:

(Paso Filly recently rescued by the Horse Protection Asociation of Florida)

I mean. I am truely lucky to have such an awesome horse like Bodhi. Should I really go for something that tops his athletisim so I can use my gained condfidence to reach higher levels? Or should I use the security of his rock-like personality to take on something truely chalenging. To take a horse that is broken and make it well again?
Heck at HPAF you can have both!
Wow look at all these nice horses...

In all seriousness though I think about this all the time. What will my next horse be? What challenge will I pick?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

fun on the flood way

(I just like the face I am making...)

So Bodhi is now at the edge of town right next to the "flood way" which is a series of ditches and banks around the Red River. It is the perfect place to go for a breeze, and it has some super inclines as well!

(not this wicked incline! Lucky we had our faithful sidekick to lead the way!)

I have never been much to hack out. I am not exactly sure why. Nothing horrible has ever happened to me on the trail. I think it is because I just have not done it enough as an adult rider (I loved the trails as a kid though!)

On Saturday I got up the courage to go ride out where last post I was walking. Bodhi and I went with Betsy and her mom. There were colorful moments to be sure. Bodhi did some head tossing and some minor pop ups when I told he had to stand while Betsy cantered. We had some pretty big spooks too (Betsy driven of course ;) ) Overall I was proud of my pony. We need more trail time though and Saturday taught me that I can handle it. Even when things get hairy!

Today I took him out alone (well not alone alone we had the sidekick and our photographer) to see how he'd be. He a Rock star!! I had so much fun cantering along the trail I can't stop smiling.

I see a similarity here don't you?

Ok.... just joking....

(A well deserved rest when we reached the top of the summit)

This is so much fun it makes me think could he possibly do low level eventing? Or how about endurance? Anyone who knows anything about endurance care to offer up an opinion?

zoom zoom!

EDIT: The photographer would like me to add the video he took. It showcases the crazy wind we were dealing with. He points out that the wind makes how calm Bodhi was more impressive... :)
Also check out the comparison photo I added to aid you in your opinions of Bodhi's future endurance career. Uncanny isn't it?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Graduate School is time consuming

Who knew? Since Bodhi's relocation I have only gone out to see him twice! It is going to be very difficult to be away from him for so long and I am already doubting my reasoning for bringing him up in the first place. Soon it will be winter which means no daylight and bitter cold. As for the summer I will probably be spending a good deal of it in Africa. For now though I am happy to spend every second I can steal with him.....

Here are some photos of last weekend when we went on a family walk across the flood plains. Hopefully this weekend we can do the same!

That strange plastic thing is a bag of cut up apples...

The Red River!

We are explorers!

So I got lazy....

The photographer! The best husband ever....

Sunday, September 12, 2010

New digs

Now where did I leave off... Ah yes, at the craziest situation I have ever encountered in my life! (Update: I received a text message from the owner of the facility telling me the house was ready for me to live in.... too little too late I am afraid! I hope this means she is removing the manager who is not properly taking care of horses though!)

After I reached my quota of craziness I went barn hunting. I found a facility about 15 mins outside of town. The pros of Bodhi's new digs are
  • No crazy drama ( Hopefully!)
  • Property is owned by someone who lives on site.
  • Property is immaculate
  • Has lots and lots of grass!
  • Provides constant yummy grass hat and oats (??) in the winter.
  • Half the price

The cons?
  • Farther away
  • No indoor arena.

I am in mourning over the loss of the indoor. I have to keep reminding myself that pastures and herds are for horses and stalls and indoors are for people. Every time I visit the new facility I know I made the right decision.

I also had a close call in losing my precious dog Stella this weekend. My landlord left the door to my apartment open while testing the fire alarms in the building. Spooked by the alarms she must have ran out and gotten lost in the new neighborhood. He left a note but did not call me (??) so I came home from work on Friday to find her missing. I spent all night looking for her. It was the worst feeling in the universe! She is my world. I cry looking at other people's lost posters but making some of my own was just the worst .
On Saturday morning we went out looking again. While we were out the Winnipeg humane society called us to tell us that someone had found a dog matching our lost report! An amazing family had found her yesterday afternoon and reported it. They had kept her safe and sound and returned her without a scratch. People like these have completely restored my faith in humanity after my family's crummy luck as of late.

Look at that happy smile! I have my dog and I am hanging out in my immaculate heated tackroom!

Blurry but he is looking like such a fancy pony lately!

Rode in a bit for the first time in a month. First ride at the new facility and he was pretty saucy.
Stay tuned for my next post about how bits are the new meat... or something like that!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Still Around!

I have had one hell of a ride lately. Yes moving to Canada is BIG, but my husband and I have had more than our share of bad luck. The kind of bad luck that makes you think "Do I have a karmic debt I did not know about?". The kind of crazy situations that make you just laugh out loud because they are so preposterous.

Remember the barn I found? With the house on the property? This barn with this house is managed by a woman who also lives on the property (in the larger main house). The owner of the property lives off the farm somewhere in Winnipeg. With me so far?

When we arrived in Winnipeg the house that we had agreed to rent was not vacant as we were told it would be. The farm manager graciously let us and our animals stay in her guest room, promising us the house would be ready in a week or two.

Meanwhile, I immediately began to help out around the farm. I noticed things were a bit off; skinny horses mostly, paddocks with no water, horses with neglected injuries. I started my usual routine of asking questions and trying to get the problems noticed by management. I quickly realized that the barn manager is burnt out on the job and does not care. The other boarders are upset and the general atmosphere is strange and uneasy. I started checking waters and throwing hay anytime I had a free moment--even though I am working full time at the University. I also started pulling a pathetically skinny Thoroughbred mare out of the muck to grain her myself.

When our house is finally vacated we are told we can not move in because they want to put in new floors and the place could use some painting. Fine. The place was trashed, though we would have taken it as is anyways because we were desperate to move in after half a month of living out of a suit case.

Finally, though, the owner showed up and I stood in line with the other boarders to voice my concerns about the horses and about our house.

The horses: I got the vet out for the injured horses, and the skinny TB mare. She had cheek ulcers from bad teeth. I got fecal tests done on all the skinny horses to see if parasites were an issue. A few horses had moderate parasite loads (including a pregnant mare!). The rest were fine. This group of skinny horses includes a pregnant mare and a two year old warmblood. It is just disgusting. Having the tests done proves my suspicion that the horses are just plain not getting enough to eat.

The house: Evidently the barn manager never even informed the owner about renting the house to us. In fact, the owner didn't even know that we existed until now. Her plan was to move back into the property in September and the little house was actually being fixed up for the barn manager, not us. So the barn manager knew this all along. We had been in contact with her about renting this since April. She continued to tell us every time we asked that everything was OK and that the house would be ready for us soon. I don't think I have ever had someone lie to my face so viciously in all my life. What purpose did all the lying even serve? I have no idea. Several of the boarders were mortified to hear this and defended me telling her about my hard work with the horses and that the owner should just kick the manager out completely. That would make sense right? Since she is starving horses? The owner said that she would think on it. She texted me later saying I could have the house. However, between her telling me no, maybe, and then yes, I decided that no matter what, I wanted out.

My husband and I just moved into a nice apartment in town and I found a barn for Bodhi to move to. My dream of living with my horse is shattered, but at least the nightmare is over.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Awww Shucks

I have been a bit down and out as of late. Doubting my abilities as a scientist because learning new protocal is hard, and I am making mistakes. Also Bodhi's is still off on the right hind and between the cold hosing and stall rest for him and the hard work enviorment, and the fact that we still don't have our house, is turning us into squabbling babies. Yes both of us. I can't manage the simple act of cold hosing without picking a fight. So needless to say I am feeling a more than a touch incompetent.

So it feels extra nice to receive a blog award from the Lovely Blog Calm, Forward, Straight. How thoughtful! What perfect timing as well. Thank you!

I would like to pass this award down the line to The Jumping Percheron. She has also just moved cross country with her horse (though she had to cross an ocean!). She is a brave person in so many ways. She is brave for riding such a large lady over such high obstacles for starters.

Gee gads I would lose my lunch! Check out her blog and you will see so many other reasons she deserves a real badge of honor not just a blog one. Sorry blog awards are the only thing I am qualified to give!
There are not many rules with this award...JUST :
1)that you give it to only one person
2)link back to this post, so they may have an understanding to it's true nature
3) You may use any or all of the below written descriptions, with the award picture

~INTREPID RIDERS FACTION ~We strive to go where others only dare to go with our horse loves...healing,being respectful of the horse, riding, playing, camping, jumping, swimming and traveling down the trails of life. . . . with the horse in Heart ~ Overcoming many obstacles and sometimes weather, to ride!

This Award is dedicated to those Horse lovers and riders that inspire others to go deeper in ability, knowledge and understanding of the Equine(s) they have been entrusted to.The good of the horse is the ultimate goal apart from pressures to achieve ribbons and fit into lesson schedules.

~Some of These riders are fearless, when it comes to weather conditions and the forecasting of them...being with their horses, fills these folks' soul and takes the cares out of daily routines.
~They are unconditionally loving to the horse and may have rescued it from known ailment or living condition.

~Others have researched and purchased/ acquired their horse, to find a difficulty in temperament or a physical burden within the animal. Yet, Being dedicated , they have persevered to proudly be in partnership with their horse, lovingly striving for deeper awareness's between them.

~Some horse lovers may have been riding for years and suddenly, had an accident that takes them away from the great joy and freedom they have, being aboard such a magnificent animal. ~They have allowed the healing horse to rise in their hearts once again, and beckon them back!

(And this is my favorite part)
Fear is not my normal response to things ... just a desire to achieve higher understanding of what may lay ahead of me with my mare, that truly is a gift to my heart and soul. I always seek out knowledgeable and caring individuals to assist me, in any quest I may look into.
I am taking with me the good I have gleaned from caring individuals that have shown great single minded LOVE to the horse, and am leaving the dust of the bad behind me, not allowing it to fetter my supreme desire to be all I can be : as a rider to my mare and also - to allow- her to be the Equine athlete she truly is!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Interview with the owners of HorseandWildlifeGifts.com

Sorry I have not been commenting and posting. Turns out graduate school is hard work! Who would have thought that? I am sure I will get the swing of it but right now it is so hard! Bodhi also delivered some bad news today in the form of a swollen back leg. Good news is I think I am up to 3 bad things that have happened. Hopefully that is it for me for a while!

So the nice folks at Horse and Wildlife Gifts contacted me and offered to exchange a nice post about each other. I thought that it would be a fun idea and I am always willing to help fellow horse people spread the word! Instead of summarizing what you guys can see just by going to their lovely site though I decided to play interviewer and ask them some questions. Enjoy! Let me know if you like this idea. If you guys are interested I will find some more people to interview. What fun!

1. Your website says you have been involved in the Equestrian Business for 30 years! Could you give us a readers digest version of this incredible journey? Many of my readers are amateur riders with hobby horses. I personally love to learn about individuals who have made horses both their life and career.

Our stories evolve from two completely different backgrounds.

Bill learned at an early age that the girls were at horse shows. Thus his interest in horses began. Always a fierce and serious competitor, he was not interested in second place. Bill competed as a youth rider all over California & Nevada. He apprenticed under, Bruce Howard and became a professional trainer. He garnered many local, Regional and National titles in Halter, English & Western Pleasure, Driving, Working Cow Horse, Trail and Reining for his clients and himself. He is a licensed official with USEF in several disciplines and serves on USEF Advisory Committees. Bill has judged many National, World and International Championship Shows in multiple countries.

Corky is a city kid who lived for the opportunity to just smell a horse. She acquired her first horse at age 12. I was responsible for all related expenses from feed to board. My parents paid for nothing that related to the horses up keep. I spent so much time trying to make money to keep him, that I hardly had time to ride him. It wasn't until after I graduated from HS that I received any formal education relating to Equestrian activities. I apprenticed at 2 different farms and went on to successfully own, manage and operate a breeding and training facility. I earned many local, regional and national titles and coached many more youth and amateurs to the same. I received my first judging license in 1985 and continued to receive more breed cards. I have judged many local, regional, national and international events in 4 countries.

In 1993, I retired from the barn and my current husband, Bill and I started All Things Equine; a trophy, awards & gift company. Since All Things Equine started business, we have produced engraved brass nameplates, stall signs and other gift items at wholesale for as many as 300+ stores at one time. Currently, We hold the national award contracts for the American Miniature Horse Association, American Shetland Pony Club, American Miniature Horse Registry, Arabian Horse Association, National Show Horse Registry, Paso Fino Horse Association, National Reining Horse Breeders Classic & many more. We also have provided awards for several international events out of the USA. Both Bill and Corky have conducted educational seminars internationally promoting the equestrian business overseas in an effort to expand US impact there in marketing.

2. Given your long history in the industry what would you say the main difference is in the behavior of horse people vs. the rest of the world? (If there is any). This could be any aspect you want to address ie as buyers, as customers, as friends, as business owners, as animal trainers. You name it!

Generally, there is very little difference. All horse owners tend to be a bit barn blind and narrow minded. More often than not, overseas owners hold American judges in very high esteem and put a lot of weight on their opinions. Sadly, many judges use International shows as a means to expand their own personal agendas in placing the horses they are judging. They look at each competitor as a possible buyer and will exploit the situation. Bill & Corky believe that the most impartial assessment and judging overseas comes from individuals who have nothing to gain from the contacts and people they meet. Short of, more judging jobs. Their pure desire is to find the best horse no matter who has it and promote & expand breed development.

3. What was your inspiration for starting an online store?

We needed to print a new catalog but the costs are astronomical. It was a constant problem to keep it up to date. No sooner was one printed than items were discontinued or replaced with products that were supposedly the same but of course were not. Our experience told us it was a necessity to have a way to maintain a catalog of sorts but one we could manage, removing items and adding new ones. Our first website attempt was www.AllThingsEquine.com . Strictly informational but all to soon out of date. The way we did it was terribly expensive to make changes as we had hired a company to do it for us. neither Bill or I was overly "tech savvy". As the market began to slow down in the horse industry several years ago, we needed to figure a way to continue to market our products and support the companies who had hired us as company reps for their products. We marketed for 6 companies at one time at wholesale events around the country. One of our very loyal customers suggested we set up a new company uundera different name and sell online at a "true retail" price. This couldn't possibly upset our wholesale accounts as we would be competing on the same level. Hence,
www.HorseAndWildlifeGifts.com was born. This time we hired a company to design the site that all the support we needed and educational opportunities to work the development of the store ourselves. That company was Solid Cactus and I cannot say enough positive things about the entire group. A-Z they are absolutely the best!!! Currently, the All Things Equine site is under redevelopment by Solid Cactus and it should be launching in the next couple of months. It will have 3 layers of pricing. Cold hard Retail on the top with a complete shopping cart, an awards pricing level for quantity purchasing and a wholesale level for our existing loyal customers.

4. What would be your one piece of advise you would give to someone who wanted to start an equine related business?

Do your homework. Ask any and all questions and continuously ponder the answers to come up with more questions. Don't re-invent the wheel. Use others successes and failures as a business plan for your self. If you don't wish to work 10-16 hrs 365 days of the year and then some, don't go into any equine business. The work is relentless but incredibly rewarding. "Perseverance" must be your middle name.

5. What is something you learned the hard way about running a business online?

Business doesn't automatically find you. Even if you are established, creating an online presence is like starting a new job. It is a whole new ball game. Site promotion is time consuming and expensive; either in dollars & cents or time if you do it yourself. You will learn a whole new alphabet of acronym soup! For us, we were schooled long before computers came into existence. Now as grandparents, sometimes our grandchildren can figure things out better and faster than we can.

6. As for the hardest question.... What is your current favorite horse breed? (Hint: it is golden, fluffy, and deliciously drafty)

It is funny you say drafty. Corky has harnessed, braided and shown her share of Percheron and Belgian cross horses. Honestly though, Corky & Bill have always held a passion for the Arabian Horse BUT Corky's just have to be Pinto. She is infatuated with color. All colors. Next to that, she just plain loves horses. All horses and all breeds. It is a challenge for us to try and understand and appreciate each breed for their intended purpose and job. I guess that is why we like judging. It is a challenge to apply what we learn about different breeds to finding the best representative of that breed in whatever class, event or occupation they serve.

Bill & Corky

Saturday, August 7, 2010

He made it!

Well Bodhi finally made it to Winnipeg yesterday morning!

He hopped off the trailer looking content and in great condition. I put him in a stall and he immediately started munching on hay. After a few hours I let him frolic in the jump ring. I sat in the warm sun and watched him explore and romp and visit across the fence with some new friends. I have so many photos because my husband took so many! More details and photos to come but Bodhi and I have already had a ride today. He was so good! Love that pony.

I will be asking everyone some advise soon. I am having to make some decisions on how to board him.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On the Road again...

Bodhi is leaving Toronto this afternoon and should be arriving in Winnipeg Friday morning. I am so excited it is hard to concentrate. I miss him so much! I can't wait to see him. I hope he likes his new digs. Our lives are going to be so different. His life will be so different.

If any of you are bored check out the post I did on the other blog I belong to- Ethical Eats. It has an adorable picture of miss Stella B! ( In all honesty my husband wrote it... but refuses to take credit)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Leaving the Sunshine State

Bodhi left Florida at 6 am this morning with the help of Kathy, the barn manager and my mom. Kathy said he loaded without hesitation. Good thing we worked hard on trailer loading in the beginning because seeing the pictures I would have had reservations if I were him!

Come on Bodhi! Get home soon!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Want My Pony!!!

My 100th post and in Canada!

All is well. We have made our journey from Florida to Manitoba with the two cats, husband, and dog. It was actually pretty painless and kinda fun to see the country. I enjoy car trips.

We are now living at Meadow Green Stables in the guest bedroom of the Barn Manager's house waiting on our house to be vacated. We are content here and I am just trying to stay out of the way and lend a hand with the barn as much as I can as thanks. I am so grateful that she took us in!

My dog is in heaven. She has already made friends with the other dogs in residence and is enjoying the space and new smells. The cats on the other hand are wondering why in the heck they are in this strange house with strange people and even stranger animals.

Bodhi's departure has been changed to next week, and they don't even know when he will get to Winnipeg. I am miserable! I just want my horse safe and sound at his new farm. Why all the delays? I hate transporting horses. I am going to try and train Bodhi to teleport when he finally gets here so we don't have to deal with this again in a few years.

I missssssss myyyyyyyyy ponnnnnnnnnyyyyyyyyyy!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Off to Canada!

We are leaving tomorrow morning veeeery early to begin our three day journey to Manitoba. Wish us luck. We are setting off with so many things unsettled. Bodhi's leave date, our housing situation etc etc. We just can't wait any longer. Everything in Florida here is closed up, boxed, and stored. Ready or not Canada here we come!

On a completely unrelated note. I wanted to share some links with you on my last post in the US!
This has been going around so you have probably seen it, but if you have not I would say it is worth your thoughts.
Disclaimer: I am not an anti, or a pro of any one training method. I feel like everyone has something to learn from everyone. You should be an open minded skeptic and not rule out any person from sharing their knowledge but you should also take everything people say with a grain of salt. It is a balance. I have learned so much from so many different trainers I am constantly gleaning useful tidbits off of everyone. That being said I am not going to financially support a trainer that uses an abusive technique. Period. He may have some good things to say, and I am still willing to learn but I am not willing to pay. I hope others feel the same. My feelings are that these methods are not appropriate. Not in any context. You should never gum line a horse as a training method.
Catwalk and Pat
Now let's focus on the positive side of horse training I have this to recommend as well!
How to Halter train a head shy horse
This is a great explanation of how to work with a head shy horse correctly with a video. Dealing with horse issues takes time and patience. When you turn them into commodities like in the show world, or the fix-a-horse in an hour clinic world, you sacrifice the horse.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Break it Down

I have been chewing on the request made by you guys on how I trained Bodhi to work at liberty. My husband summed it up best I think: he said
"Trial and error, positive reinforcement, and persistence."
So that is the short answer! I am going to attempt and break down the behaviors and talk about how I shaped each piece as I think that will be most helpful. There will be a bonus golden blooper at the bottom so please read on... :) I tried reeeeally hard!

The key for any behavior you want to teach is to break it down: Things Bodhi could do before I unsnapped the lead:

  1. Bodhi was classically conditioned to a tongue click. To me this is crucial for liberty work. I can communicate to my horse from a distance that he has completed the behavior I want. A "click" is also a natural pause button in the session. This means if all else fails you have a whoa when your horse understands that a click means "good job stop and get your reward"**
  2. -Bodhi understood basic commands on the lunge through voice and body language. He would move off, stop, and turn while maintaining slack in the line. Keeping your horse on a line while perfecting your, whoa, go, and turn supplies you with a safety net in case your horse gets excited overstimulated or distracted. Which cues you use is up to you. I started Bodhi as a two year old with NH. So he yields his shoulders and hind end when you point with a whip or hand. He also takes cues from whether my hips are "open" (facing him) or "closed"(parallel to him). Facing him means stop. Parallel means to travel parallel to me and when I angle my hips in he knows to circle me. The positive side for body cues of course is that it is not dependent on pressure from a line. So it translates well for liberty. I also have a verbal whoa. Used more undersaddle but it works at liberty too.
  3. -Bodhi knew how to target- Targeting is one of the basic lessons many positive reinforcement trainers use. It is a great tool in your tool box and can be used for a variety of tasks once trained. It is a way to ask for movement and direction without using driving aids like a lunge whip from behind which may be too much for the sensitive horse at liberty causing a horse to break the connection and leave. I found targeting put Bodhi in the habit to looking to me for directions on where to go to get rewarded. **

Our Liberty Work- a Progression:
What you need: enclosed area-We have a smaller riding ring which I worked in to teach all of the initial pieces. A small simple environment is the best place to train liberty work. I find round pens are too small. I like my horse to be able to "leave". It shows me where the holes are in the commands. I think it makes them feel less chased and more playful when it is actually their idea to participate.
A target stick -dressage whip, carrot stick your hand etc. whatever you train your horse to target can then be generalized to give direction at liberty.
A marker: A marker is what signal you condition your horse to respond to. I use a tongue click because it is unique sounding, easy to produce and sharp. You could use a phrase like "good" or "Yes" but you have to be careful to say it the same way each time and not use it in other contexts**
Rewards I trained all the behaviors by reinforcing them positively. I use a portion of Bodhi's grain for rewards with pieces of carrot as a "jackpot". I carry them in a pouch designed for dog training. You can also use a cloth tool bag or fishing vest.**
Control of gaits and Whoa I trained Bodhi first to walk trot and canter and whoa around the ring on command. I found for a lazy pony it helped for me to travel around in a smaller tract with him which then evolved into body cues for Bodhi on which gate I want. I trot for trot, and I skip for canter. I stop my feet, he stops his feet. It is simple and easy for me to remember. Keep in mind these behaviors, as he responds correctly, are being reinforced by a tongue click and a reward. As Bodhi was trained to yield his hind end at the whoa I then reinforced direction changes as well from the halt by indicating which shoulder I wanted him to yield and reinforcing when he picked correctly.
Targeting- I then practiced targeting around the ring at liberty. I gradually faded out the clicks and rewards and had him following the target for longer and longer periods of time without a click. This helped him to generalize that the target was indicating direction not just an immediate touch. I then practiced weaving, serpentines and circles as he followed the target. He eventually generalized that the outstretched dressage whip was indicating his trajectory and I was able to phase out the touching of the target completely. My body language cues from our previous ground work then filled in the gaps and I was able to "control" him at liberty.
Jumping I think this is the most simplistic part. At liberty I set up ground poles around the arena and reinforced him for walking and then trotting over them. He quickly caught on to the game and we diversified by setting up cross rails combinations of ground poles and jumps, tiny oxers and the like. Bodhi was learning how to jump so we went slowly. Teaching a horse at liberty is just like teaching a horse to jump on the lunge only he was never forced to go over any object by jump shoots and never punished for dodging or refusing. In this way I knew when the obstacle was too difficult or we had progressed too fast. If he went around or refused an object I just brought it down to something he had already mastered and began again. By earning a click and treat he had incentive to try hard and be persistent.
The result is what you saw. A horse that is happy to travel around a course of jumps, and turns, stops changes directions and gates by body language. It took a lot of hours to learn but we did not notice we were having too much fun!

There are many means to an end. There is probably a million ways to train a horse to work at liberty. There is no one right way to do it. I can only attest to what worked for us.

Some things were a surprise to me. I had no idea that Bodhi would generalize so quickly to my body language. That was a very happy accident. I was also so surprised at how tenacious and happy he became. He really likes to jump and to run around with me a liberty. Who knows why?!

Each horse is different. What I will say about this sort of work though is that it will teach you a great deal about your relationship with your horse. It will show you what needs to be worked on and what has been reinforced well in your training. You will see more of your horse's personality at liberty too. As you express yourself without the aide of tack don't be surprised when your horse expresses himself right back!
I hope this little narrative is helpful. Go out and play with those ponies!
**As I am writing this post I feel like each of these points could use a whole new blog entry. Food is a touchy subject among horse people. Also targeting and classical conditioning are basic concepts used by animal trainers but may be novel to some of you. I know I have a mixed audience from different disciplines and backgrounds so if you guys would like any of these techniques explained yell out and I will be happy to give it my best.*

Ok on to the promised blooper video. Below is what happens when you have an agility trained dog and horse. You get a dog in pony show.
Disclaimer: This was not planned. I thought Stella was distracted with a ball but apparently not. Don't try this at home it could have ended with a squished dog. I was lucky so now we can all laugh.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Liberty Photos and videos

Reasons I love Liberty work for hot summer days.
  • You can wear shorts and sneakers
  • Your horse is also working without tack
  • They can be freshly hosed
  • It is great exercise for you and your horse
  • If you are like me you don't have a chance of over heating your horse because running around with him makes you overheat before he even starts to sweat.

At last I have some photos of Bodhi and I working at liberty over fences in the pasture together. Yesterday was actually not as fantastic as the other day(but still so fun!). Bodhi was responding well of course but I felt like I was not cuing him as clearly and I think he had better form over the fences the other day as well. I should be changing the jumps around every session but I was lazy. Also don't worry when you see some of the early photos. I hosed him off before our session so that is not sweat! So enough talk...
Golden Moments...
Backing up during our warm up.

Start off with some cross rails

With a hop over the small vertical

Moving on to a larger vertical

Over one of our natural jumps.
Praise for a job well done.

How about some video!