Saturday, February 27, 2010

Time to pass the love around...

I received an award from gracious miss lopinon4! Check out her blog No hoof, No Horse? if you have not already.

So, with this award, I am to share 7 things about myself that are currently not known to my blog-readers, and then tag 15 fellow bloggers. Ok here goes it...

1. I have a bachelors degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. I am going to graduate school to study behavioral ecology and sociality in mammals.

2. I have done a bit of traveling in my short life. I have been to Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, England, St. Lucia, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama and Canada in April. I spent the summer as a field assistant in Panama and Costa Rica studying singing mice in mountain cloud forests and it was the best thing that I have ever done (besides buying Bodhi of course!)

3. I was in a band for a while. I played bass and sang. We just played local bars and clubs but it was a lot of fun.

4. I hate escalators, umbrellas, static electricity and peanut butter.

5. I love to dye my hair. I have no idea what my natural color is since I have been dying it non stop since I was 13. It has been blue, green, purple, pink, yellow, orange, but mostly it is some shade of red. I liked forest green the best

6. I like to paint. I was an art major before I took up zoology. Oils and Oil pastels mostly. I do a lot of horse portraits (big surprise).

7. My husband and I have been married for a year and a half but we have been together for nine. We met in that band I told you about. He was the guitarist.

Whew... Ok now to name 15 blogs.

1. Between Golden Ears If you want see more adorable golden ponies go check out Mitch! They are trail riding partners in crime!

2. Dapple of my Eye I have really enjoyed reading her blog about her life and her amazing hunter horse prospect. Go check out miss Rachel and Granite if you have not already...

3. Dressage Pony. Amazing insight into the world of dressage with a beautiful pony mare.

4. Eye on the Horse Great product reviews for the horse and rider, and tons of humor and heartfelt posts about her lovely horses.

5. Tucker the Wunderkind The banner shows it all. Tucker is a rockstar. I enjoy reading about their journey together. What an amazing pair!

6. Barb Wire I love learning about the sport of endurance through the eyes of such a thoughtful and talented horse person.

7. Food, life Horses,! Whatever the topic I love to read about it!

8. Notes from the Rookery Her art is so beautiful and inspiring and so is her life. If faeries existed that is where they would live.

9. Grey Horse Matters thoughtful topics, humor, amazing pictures and great quotes. nuff said.

10. High Tech Horse She is new to blogging, but she has me already hooked. Maybe she can do a post about online awards now :)

11. Tekes Tally Ho! An amazing blog about an amazing breed and an amazing trainer. Thast a lot of amazing...

12. Confessions of a Struggling Dressage rider Honest, and humorous accounts about what it is like to be an adult amateur dressage rider.

13. Ethical Horsemanship A great blog discussing topics that are relevant for all horse enthusiasts!!

14. Me My Horses, Our Journey This is my friend Kathy. She is a good friend of mine and she takes great care of my horse. I want to take this opportunity to encourage everyone to check out her blog about her horse Satin and their new journey together!

15. Vegan Dad Just to throw you guys off I am putting my favorite food blog on here as well! Whether you are vegan, veggie. or omni I encourage you to try some of his recipes. They are so delicious!

Whew all done! Hope you guys pass it on down the line. It is fun to share the love in this strange but comforting little community we have here.

I try not to question it. I just enjoy the ride!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

This video says it all...

Please watch this. It will give you a laugh guaranteed~
(Sorry embedding video is a little beyond my means!)

Finally some appreciation!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Fun- Horse Quiz

It is Friday so how about a fun little distraction?

Horse Personality Quiz

I took it and Bodhi is a "Steady Eddy"
(Submissive Lazy curious Friendly) Sounds about right huh? Bodhi always reminds me of those fat pony cartoons so I should have known.

What are your horses? I would love to know! If you want, leave what you get on the quiz in the comments. Just for a little Friday fun.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Change is in the wind.

I just got an email from my future graduate adviser-- I am accepted to graduate school at the University of Manitoba. Big changes are on their way for both Bodhi and me.

I have been struggling with what to do with Bodhi if and now when I move to Canada and I think I have decided to take him with me(My three options are sell, lease, or bring).

I just can not imagine being able to function without him. I bought him as a project re sell but he really is one of a kind to me. I know EVERYONE says that but come on how many horses can you ride on a trail ride, do a dressage test, pop over some fences, ride bridleless and play soccer with? At the age of four? I really feel like I would regret selling him if I did.

Of course I have to think about him too which makes things more complicated. what is best for him? Would he be happier as someone else's horse? Is shipping him all the way to Canada selfish? I bet he will love the cold but that is a long haul.

I have contacted a barn very close to the university that would be interested in using him in a lesson program for money off board. This would be ideal as I am going to be busy and poor.

So in light of all these changes I want to set some goals to accomplish before we leave in June. Whether I lease him out, sell him, or bring him I want him to have as many experiences as possible to prepare him for this new era in his life along with equip him with valuable skills he will need for his new job.

2010 Golden Goals

March 27- HITS show- taken him in baby green, or just some flat classes

April 24- Canterbury Spring Fling Schooling Dressage- try for training level!

March 6, 20-Go to a Play day with the North Central Florida Parelli Play Group

In General

More trail rides!
Work on canter duration and over fences.

Bodhi I am so proud of you! You have come so far! Above are some of his early days learning the basics at the age of three!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Breed Bucket List

I loved Eye on the Horse's post on Bucket list of animals. I have always wanted a farm of my own and these are some of the animals my dream farm would have to have...

A Jersey Cow-- I love their faces and I have always wanted to give at least one cow a humane life, but my Jersey would need a buddy!

A mini Zebu!

For the equines I would need a..

Warmblood Mule because I have always wanted to see what the differences are for training, and I would just look so cool!

A Welsh Cob-- because they are like Haflingers only they come in more colors, are even more baroque and have amazing action!

And the dressage romantic in me would really like a Spanish breed of some sort like a Lusitano.

I would have plenty of chickens too as I love chickens esspecially fluffy ones such as silky cochin chicken!

I really enjoy sight hounds but love to rescue so my next dog may be a Grey hound especially since I would be living on a farm!
This is my dream farm inhabitants. What are yours?

Cold and Wet

Thanks to the barn manager at Greener Pastures I have these neat photos of Bodhi soaking wet. She keeps a blog of the happenings of the farm which I think is a wonderful way to keep the boarders in the know!

It has been miserable here in Florida, cold and rainy. When do we get spring?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Trainers and our inner children

Confessions of a Struggling Dressage Rider had a post recently about losing her cool during a lesson which sent me off thinking about the relationship between rider and trainer. I have definitely been in the situation where I have lost my cool. It is amazing how the act of being coached can sometimes set back your mind set. I sometimes feel almost childlike. This is a good thing when my inner child is full of curiosity and wonder at the new things I am learning, it is not so fun when my inner child is scared or worse indignant!

My first riding instructor when I was a child was a very gruff "old school" type. The best you would ever hear from her was "that wasn't Horrible..." Her criticism was not very constructive either. I would often hear her yelling over the wind in my ears "DON'T FALL OFF" Needless to say she made a lot of young pupils cry. I do not remember especially losing it in front of her though I do remember coming home in a rage about her and my mom saying "you could just quit riding?"

That was never an option!

Honestly though I remember feeling mostly apathetic towards her, and her yelling. I never learned much from her, only from her horses, but she did not really get to me like she go to some of the others.

My next trainer(s) was another story. They were a pair of dressage rider twin sisters. My father worked with one of them and they saw my picture on the wall and asked if I wanted lessons... for free. My father jumped on the chance to get me free riding time and I jumped on the chance to learn something new.

They were quite different. They took the zen-master approach. No yelling but no praise just constant criticisms and corrections. They took my stirrups away and locked them in their truck for months. When I eventually got my stirrups back they tied my reins on the neck and I had to learn how to ride in a circle without reins before I would get my next lesson. I practiced in a large pasture so I spent a good deal of time in the woods before I managed to ride my circle. This brings me to my point about the extreme behavior that trainers can bring out of a person. They did not yell though they were brutally honest and still pretty gruff. I found my self filled with emotions sometimes during lessons and I was bewildered about where they came from and why? I didn't have that problem with the other trainer. Was it that these women were actually criticizing not just yelling, was it because I was growing up???

I was at a show and about to go in the ring for an over fences class. I had been warming up off and on and watching the competition. One of the twin trainers comes up and tells me to go warm up over fences. Instead of telling her I already had warmed up I go to pop my mare over the small vertical in the warm up arena just to appease. She chastises me harshly for being so careless to start to jump with out a warm up and I burst into tears. Both of us just sit there in stunned silence. I could not believe I was crying and she could not either! We never really recovered after that. I still don't know why that happened, or what it means. I was 14 at the time so still young but even now I can feel pretty overwhelmed during instruction. Why is that?

My current trainer is amazing. She really breaks things down and explains why things work. Two things I need in order to learn. She is also very positive. Quick to tell me when I do things right and open minded about my positive reinforcement training. I would consider us friends as well. We talk on the phone, and go out for coffee. We have still had a few humorous moments.

One time in particular that really sticks out was a lesson early on when Bodhi was very green, during one of our first dozen rides with the bit and out of the round pen. He was having a bad day. Being very fussy and nervous and I was getting frustrated. That was when Bodhi started stopping and standing there refusing to move. I figured he had to poop. As a baby it sometimes took him a while to actually get his business going. Also when Bodhi gets afraid or nervous he poops a lot. (Does this happen to anyone else by the way???

)My trainer tells me to get after him for his stubbornness and I tell her "No, he has to go!" She retorts that I am making excuses for him and that I need to be more firm.
"No he really has to go!"
"NO he is being difficult. Kick him. He has your number."
"No, I don't think so..." I can tell she is getting frustrated with me and she thinks I am being difficult. I feel horrible.
"Molly trust me on this one, he is being a brat. It should not take this long!"
"No I think your wrong, his back feels funny.. he has to go!" I kick him anyways and he takes a few tentative steps and then stops again. Before my trainer can say anything else he finally does his business. The tension is so high between us that we both start laughing hysterically.
It is amazing what lessons bring out of us. Trainers have a very special place in peoples psyche I think. Is it because they are telling us what to do? Is is because we are so used to having the relationship between just the two of us that adding a third party is weird? Is it just because of the fact they are challenging us and putting us out of our comfort zones? I think there is this special balance between trust and discipline without giving away your individual problem solving skills and integrity when riding with an instructor and maintaining that balance can get a little hairy.

So tell me folks what are your experiences with riding lessons? Have you lost your cool? Have you had some really bad trainers? Good ones? How are your relationships with them?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Golden Bloopers

Well I was on cloud 9 yesterday as I was trotting in the big geldings pasture with my head in the clouds the setting sun in my eyes and *blap* it happened--

my first fall off of my little darling pony!

In my defense I do not think the fall should count as a fall because he fell first dag nammit!

Yes that is right. My cute little golden pony did a face plant tripping on god knows what at the trot. Sometimes grace is not our strong suit. In his defense the pasture is really bumpy and stumpy.(though I saw no significant ground problems where WE landed!) I did a quick roll over his front as I have been crushed before so I don't like to hang around falling horses anymore.

We both sat there for a minute looking confused, Bodhi looked down right dumbfounded. I check my body, his body, tack etc and then climbed back on for a victory lap. I then called it a day. Sheesh

So what do you guys think? Should that count as my first fall? What's the verdict?

Isn't that cartoon funny? I found it on Dana's Doodles :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Poisoned cues and Natural horsemanship Part 2

Now that I have explained what a poisoned cue is (or at least had a crack at it!) I am going to attempt to explain what in the heck it has to do with the natural horsemanship movement.

Human error leads to habituation, which leads to more force, louder aids and poisoned cues. Right? That gives me a big bout of learned helplessness just thinking about it! Luckily for us though -- horses are very forgiving.

What I mean by forgiving is not that they are consciously forgiving. They do not understand mistakes or good intentions. They are not forgetful either. Horses have been found to still respond to cues learned 10 years prior with little practice with those cues in between. We all know how amazing the equine memory is! What I mean is that horses are highly specific in what they do remember, or associate, so with training mistakes there is usually a way out. Poisoned cues can be replaced with a new one in it's stead! This-I-believe is why Pat Parelli and the rest of the "Natural"gang came to be so popular ( and rich too you guys want what for a halter!)

I know from personal experience as well with by personal observation that a large percentage of people that are drawn to Parelli are people that already have a horse but problems have come up using the "traditional" method and they are looking for a new way to approach riding and training their horse. Sure they have some clients that have had no prior horse experience but they do market themselves as a solution for the "problem horse". Here is a familiar but hypothetical story to better explain what I mean:

Owner/rider has a horse that bucks under saddle and is UN controllable on the ground. Most likely she has tried many of the traditional methods for fixing the issues by changing the bit, escalating the "aides" using a chain over the nose etc etc, but the horse now just bucks almost every time they ride together and is impossible to catch.

I think that this is because by now most of her aides she uses to communicate with her horse are poisoned cues.The rider when using the reins and her leg now is eliciting a fear response at least some of time-- same with the halter and lead.

Rider finds Parelli program and gives it a try. She buys the new rope halter with the savvy string, and the carrot stick, and starts playing the "7 games". Her horse starts to respond to the porcupine game and seems to be learning. Her horse also seems to be more relaxed and happier in her work. She buys a Parelli hackamore and maybe even a Parelli saddle (gee gads!). Horse seems cured!

The Parelli method says that the training issues were solved by " love, language and leadership " They say this is about communicating to the horse in a language they can understand. They say that playing their seven games and using their method builds respect and makes you your horses leader. The Parelli program is brilliant because it works but not for those reasons above. I think the Parelli system works not because you are talking with your horse or your horse now sees you as a dominant heard member but because they take away your poisoned cues and the negative associations of the equipment that you had and give you NEW equipment and NEW cues. It is a fresh start. The horse is highly specific in his bad associations. Actually just changing minor things in the way you ask and how you ask may actually be a completely new experience for your horse. How brilliant Parelli!

What I do not like is the way the sell it though. Natural horsemanship is not natural. No more natural then other ways. Natural horsemanship professionals are not speaking horse. What they are masters of is negative reinforcement. They know when to release. Just like all really amazing horse trainers out their. All the 7 games are is practicing negative reinforcement. It is just a new package for the same old message. I am glad they are getting rid of some of the mentalities and attitudes of older traditional regimes, however I think people would be better off and their would be a lower percentage of horses redeveloping behavioral issues in the "Natural" world if people actually understood the science behind why all of this stuff works. It is not magic guys! It is behavioral theory plain and simple! :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Poisoned cues and Natural horsemanship Part 1

"Pavlov hits me with more bad news every time I answer the phone so I play and I sing and I just let it ring, all day when I'm at home"
Ani Difranco

While reading Karen Pryor's Latest book I had this amazing ah hah! moment. I am going to attempt to explain what I figured out so bare with me! Let me know if it doesn't make sense. I am really excited about this if you can not tell and I would love to hear what you guys think!

First let me attempt to explain this new concept of a poisoned cue-- a term coined by Karen Pryor to describe an event that we have all had experience with. I will start with an example she gave in the book that really helped me to understand. A great example of a poisoned cue is your name. Your name does not immediately illicit a positive response or reaction from you necessarily. It can be quite ambiguous. Your name is complicated. It depends on how it is said. It can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the context.

I hear---"MOLLY" and I stop and think, is this person wanting to praise or to punish? Should I answer?

This is fine in language but it is bad for getting a consistent result in training. I thought of another great human example of a poisoned cue; the telephone ring. Sometimes answering the telephone can be a positive experience, like talking to a friend, or getting a call about a job offer etc... sometimes it can be an aggravating one, telemarketers, your mother in law nagging you about something, or surveys. It can even be a very negative one, someone calling you to yell, or to inform you of a loved one's sickness, or death. How many people screen their calls or feel a bit of anxiety when answering the phone? That is a poisoned cue!

Now lets look at this in the light of horse training--- We all know that habituation is a common cause of horses becoming "dull" or "lazy" to our aides. Habituation is a consequence of poorly executed negative reinforcement and I have never met a single trained horse that does not exhibit some extent of unintended habituation to cues.

Poisoned cues also is they key to a lot of "resistance" behaviors seen in horses. A rider's aides become ambiguous to a horse over time because of poorly executed negative reinforcement as well as the concept of the aversive stimulus of negative reinforcement must get louder if the aide is "ignored". When riders kick, pull, and tap harder it is not just a negative stimulus it becomes a punishing experience. Soon your horse does not know if a squeeze is going to lead to a release or going to lead to a good thump in the ribs. See what I mean? At the least you get muddy communication, hesitation and dullness, stiffness and mild anxiety. In worse cases you get bucking, rearing, bolting. John Lyons likes to say things like "You gas pedal is broken" Well I think it is more that your gas pedal is poisoned! Horse anxiety in training and avoidance behaviors like bucking are caused by something a bit more sinister than habituation, but a lot more subtle than horses subjected to obvious cruelty. I have met many horses with some extreme behaviors that have led very great lives and I think the poisoned cue is a concept that explains this phenomenon well!

In PART II I am going to tie this in with Natural horsemanship I swear! :)

Further Reading....