Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Clicker Myths: Myth 1

I am starting a series of blog posts on clicker myths. Clicker myths is a catchy title but these posts are not only about training using a clicker, but about looking at many popular beliefs in the horse-world from a behaviourist’s perspective. If you have any behaviour questions you want me to cover please leave a comment. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts about these topics!

This first myth seems to be rooted fairly deeply in the horse world and can make for some heated debates... I hope you enjoy my take...
Myth 1:Giving horses food by hand teaches a horse to bite.

Is that so? It’s what I was told growing up but now I don’t think so. Here’s why:

I think the root of our problem is the traditional treat. Many riders enjoy feeding their horses as a way to show affection. Some riders give a reward at the end of the ride for a job well done. Even when we have a very thought out reason for giving Buttercup a sugar after a great ride Buttercup will not see that same connection.

When you give something as highly valued as food to an animal with no reinforcement schedule in mind (randomly) they will begin to associate the treats with the only thing that is constantly paired with the food reward-your hands or pocket.

Now what happens if you even give Buttercup a cookie when she nuzzles your pocket or lips your hand? You have just reinforced those unwanted behaviours directly! When you look at how most horse people traditionally fed treats to horses you can see where the myth came from. Food does not teach horses to bite. We teach horses to bite.

Another reason I have heard not to hand feed horses is it spoils them. Once again it’s not the food but how the food is being delivered. When you look at how some riders dole out the sugar, carrots, and cookies it does kind of remind you of well meaning parents “spoiling” their children with endless presents. When you give something away with no meaning attached animals and children do kind of develop a sense of entitlement. I don’t have any behavioural backings for this one. It just seems logical. We are all more honest hard working people because we have had to work hard for our rewards right? Life is not about free handouts. Or something like that...

Don’t take my word for it though! Here are some other articles about hand feeding and biting.

If you give a horse a cookie

Alexandra Kurland answers the question in this interview with Karen Pryor:

Many traditional trainers are reluctant to use food in their training. How do you prevent the horse from becoming too mouthy?

(look down the page until you see the question... or read the entire interview it's good!)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

4H fun show

Our barn is mostly western with a large lesson program and now a 4H program. Bodhi's part boarder rides western with Bodhi and is in the 4H club. The barn hosted a 4H show yesterday and since they did not get enough interest from other clubs that opened it up to us boarders and other barns to join in the fun.

So the part boarder, me, and Bodhi teamed up (team Bodhi). I competed in the senior group and she was in the junior. One other farm showed up with three teenage girls and three all business gamer ponies. It was quite funny to see the juxtaposition between our lesson kids (mostly beginners) the boarders, who had never done an egg and spoon race in their life, and these kids--they were professional butterfly race extraordinaires!

This was my fist fun show ever and I had a blast. I rode western (comical) and I tried all the games. Bodhi was surprisingly keen, kept a great attitude through the whole ordeal, and tried his best with all the crazy things we asked him to do!

The part boarder and I both did command class, barrel racing(we got third!), Egg and spoon, Toilet paper challenge (we got second), butterfly race, flag race (we got third which is pretty good for any competition with the word race in it), trail class, and keyhole(second!). When we got to take off the saddle Bodhi and I really did well. We got first in both the bareback command class and the bareback five dollar bill class. I may not have a fast horse but I have a very smooth horse. Go team Bodhi!

So proud of my boy for being such a trooper. It was a proud day for me to see my little man all grown up standing tied and working all day in a crowd and keeping a keen positive attitude. He has really grown into a great guy.

learning lateral

I have been working with Bodhi for a few five minute segments on side passing at liberty. We Keep it very short (5 mins) and work on it a few times a week. The biggest break through was getting him to hold still long enough to really understand what I was asking. That is one of our issues right now. He gets very excited and jumps into a behavior with out waiting for the cue. I know this just means he needs more work on cue control but I am also thinking about teaching him a chill cue. Never thought I would need a chill cue for this horse! It would be used specifically when he gets worked up during a shaping session. It is so adorable how hard he tries. He is one of the hardest working horses I have ever had the pleasure of working with. His slow little dopey baby self is shifting into a serious hard working adult horse. It is very fun to see him mature.

I am inspired by him to work with other horses. I wonder if it is just Bodhi or if it is the new way I am approaching training that gets me such consistent, positive results? I would love the opportunity to work with other horses so I can hone my skills as a positive trainer. Too bad as a graduate student I do not have the funds or time for a second horse.

I posted two videos below showing our process so far. The first one shows how I rewarded him after one correct step. The second video is later when I reward him after he fixes a straightness issue he was having.

Great comments I wanted to share..

My last post had a few questions about the issue of horse slaughter. Calm, Forward, Straight posted especially insightful answers and she said I could share them. I think she has a great idea about contacting your local congressperson.

1st comment
The main markets for horse meat are Europe and Japan, although it is also served in Canada. The meat is often misrepresented as being from wild free ranging mustangs, and touted for it's healthfulness. The reality is that bute, banamine, wormers and most other horse meds are explicitly labeled "not for use in horses meant for human consumption".

The horses aren't raised for meat per se, it has just become a convenience for folks who can't be bothered to humanely euthanize, or to be responsible for horses that are no longer "useful"...

Horse slaughter is not actually illegal, but horses began being transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter after the last American slaughter house closed several years ago. You do not want to know how they kill the poor horses who end up in Mexico.

The three slaughter houses that operated in the USA until recently were owned by foreign companies, Belgian I believe, and there is documentation ( I have seen the tax records) that they paid next to no taxes here.

Hopefully not too much information... I used to be the NC leader for Americans Against Horse Slaughter. We were trying for years to pass legislation that would outlaw the transport of horses across the borders for slaughter.
2nd comment
While the slaughter plants closed, in part due to the inspection issue, there is no legislation that I know of actually prohibiting horse slaughter. Just hoops the plants had to jump through regarding inspections which affected profitability.

Once there was no facility left in the US to continue slaughtering, horses began being double deckered across the Mexican and Canadian borders to their slaughterhouses.

The next strategy to end the slaughter of american horses was to get the transport across the borders outlawed, under an anti animal cruelty act. This legislation could never pass both houses - bogged down by obstructionist agriculture lobby $$$$.

My understanding is that a couple of pro-slaughter congressmen quietly added the plant inspection funding language to the current ag appropriations bill which is one of the very exasperating ways legislation is handled in congress.

As long as the anti-slaughter legislation gets passed - the funding language in the ag bill won't matter.

Call / fax / email your congressperson telling them you want their support for Senate bill S. 1176 and House bill H.R. 2966. Go to http://www.house.gov/ and click on the Bills and Reports tab to read the text of the bills.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

so many questions!

I am sure everyone has heard by now about the bill making it legal to slaughter horses in the United States again.... I honestly do not know what to make of it. I am not going to jump up on my soap box either because I have no idea... so please keep reading! :)

Making slaughter illegal didn't stop horse slaughter right? I am not sure making things illegal really even works very well. Look at marijuana as an example. When there is a market and money to be made people will always do it right? Making it legal or not legal probably wont change much. Has not with drugs and has not with horse meat. I mean the horse meat industry seems a bit shady doesn't?

I mean I have never met a farmer who raises quality horses for slaughter and takes pride in his crop of certified black Angus grass fed quarter horse. Do they exist? The way horses go from the pasture to the plate seems really back alley to me. Does anyone know more about the horse meat industry? I feel so ignorant about the basic facts! Who buys the meat we produce? Does it get tested by the FDA for drugs, hormones, etc?
If we are going to eat horses shouldn't we treat them more like food and less like athletes? How could we do both and truly have both human consumers and horses at heart? How do we de-incentivize the practice of irresponsible breeding and the dumping of horses at auctions? It did not stop when slaughter was banned and it wont stop now. How do we stop something people get paid to do?

Ok enough questions. But seriously I would love to hear your thoughts! I know this is heated debate in the horse world but I really don't know what I think. I want to know how you guys feel. I have trusted your advise on other issues for so long!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ok I am back...

Bodhi this summer while i was away...

It is snowing... but I have my husband and my horse so it can't be too bad.

Bodhi has become quite the western pony while I have been away. He has been to a clinic from a John Lyons certified rider and he is a member of 4H. Best of all he has successfully learned to be happy partner with other riders with other styles.

Riding him again felt wonderful. He remembered everything. I felt like I forgot a few things. He was very happy to jump in right where we left off with clicker training. I think if you have a clicker trained horse and you are wondering if he will adapt to "normal" training.... well I can only speak for Bodhi and I but as long as you find riders and trainers that are soft then you should have no trouble shifting between the two modes of training.

I hope everyone has done well these last 6 months! I missed my horse and reading about your horses.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I would like to start by apologizing for the lack of posts in the recent path. Rest assured, I haven't abandoned Bodhi. In fact, I have been taking lessons regularly and visiting him twice a week. His part-boarder has started riding three times a week, which is good because he is starting to get a bit pudgy. I have been working on more of the basics. My posting trot has improved a lot. I have him turning on his haunches and the walk, trot, whoa transitions are smooth. I need to practice the sitting trot. When I do it is looks (and feels) more like the jostling, bouncing trot.

Upon your suggestion, I was applying apple cider vinegar regularly to his hooves, which look great now. He recently had vet and farrier visits so he is in ship shape. The ground has dried up for the most part and now the bugs are the issue. They don't seem to pose as much of a problem as the bugs in Florida but he is still annoyed by them. I guess that's just one of those things you can't control. I will try to post more regularly in the near future. Hopefully we will see a few posts from the other two authors as well.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hello all!
I will be posting whenever I can to update everyone on Bodhi's adventures with his new riders. He has been a wonderful sport letting all of these new riders take him for a "spin".
I am Marci and I will be visiting Bodhi at least once a week and hopefully multiple times a week soon! I am just getting back into horses and riding after a long time away. I feel that I came back to my roots and what a better way than to spend time with sweet Bodhi. He is a pleasure to ride and even more amazing to just visit with. Well this is all for now...I am going to see if I can figure out how to post a few pictures and a video of the coolest pony in the world!

As Chris (horse husband) already mentioned cleaning Bodhi's hooves can be quite the task with all of this Manitoba "gumbo" but here Bodhi is waiting patiently!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Molly left for Africa 5 days ago. I have been left with the daunting task of caring for Bodhi, the most important man in her life. ;) I will be visiting at least once a week to groom him and make sure he is a happy camper. Additionally, to make sure he stays fit, I will be taking lessons with the barn manager. I promised Molly I would chronicle this process on her 'Golden' blog. Please keep in mind, if you're still reading at this point, that I am a horse husband. I enjoy being around horses and I appreciate them as animals but I am not, by any means, a rider or an expert. Having said that, I will do my best to keep the blog interesting and informative.

I had my first lesson today. Bodhi is still DISGUSTING because he spends all day wallowing in the Manitoba "gumbo" (mud.) After I finally managed to get him cleaned up, I began the lesson. It was a back-to-basics lesson. We reviewed how to properly tack up (western) and then walked around the ring working on my seat, posture, and steering. We practiced our 'whoa's and 'go's, did lots of serpentines to practice turning, and worked on controlling the speed of his gaits with my seat. I have ridden enough to know what I am supposed to do but not enough to do it correctly or effortlessly. The instructor said I had quiet hands and did a good job. The lesson was a helpful review and a test of Bodhi's patience, which passed with flying colors!

I have a question about hoof care and I would greatly appreciate any advice. I will consult with Molly directly but I think it would nice to hear what her friends and followers think:

I will be applying Thrush Buster as preventative measure once a week while the mud is still bad (once every other week as it dries, etc.) but the barn manager said I should only use it after a problem develops because it can damage the hoof wall. Has anyone else had experience with Thrush Buster or tremendous amounts of mud? Should I continue using it regularly or give it a rest until I notice a problem?

Thanks, in advance, for your input.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Here is the link to my travel blog. I hope I can keep you guys updated. Thanks for the friendship.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

24 days and counting

I am leaving for Africa in 24 days now. I am not even close to ready! I woke up this morning to a blanket of fresh snow covering everything. This place is a real trip to say the least.

I gave Bodhi's part boarder a ground lesson yesterday and I think he will be in good hands in.

I probably will not post again before I leave. I am going to miss reading your posts while I am gone for 6 months. If I have internet in Africa I will post about my journey there but I am not counting on it. I hope you guys will be around when I get back in November because I am sure I will be chomping on the bit to get back into riding.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bodhi the Great

My friend Marci comes out and rides Bodhi sometimes. She will be looking in on him while I am gone in Africa which makes me feel better. Here is a lovely photo she took of him. This also captures the snow we had in mid April!

I have discovered that my horse is very opinionated. I have now had several people try Bodhi for partial boarding and it is very obvious who he prefers and who he does not. He always tries a bit of sass with any new person much to my dismay. He pretends he does not know a few things and tries to convince them that "actually riding is just standing in the middle of the ring!" He also likes to proudly show them things they did not ask for. "Look at what I can do!" He then settles right down when the person is not impressed...

But some people he just shuts down and completely disrespects. In some respects I am not happy he is ever disrespectful. I thought I raised him better! On the other hand it is interesting to see what he will just not stand for. It is neat to see the individual even though sometimes it is a bit embarrassing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


First Photograph of Bodhi I took.

First time wearing the saddle (learning to kick the ball)

First time on his back.

First time with the side reins

First Dressage test

First crossrail

First group trail ride

First water experience (and first trace clip!)

Sometimes I feel like I am not progressing fast enough with Bodhi. Looking at all our firsts though I know we are off to a good start! What are you favorite firsts?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Shawna Karrasch

Hey folks! Bodhi and I are still around though I have been very busy with grad school and Bodhi has been busy making new friends and enjoying the mild weather. I have some pictures to share and some news but for now I just wanted to share a horse trainer I just became familar with.

Her name is Shawna Karrasch. Her website is here. She has a background in training marine mammals and now applies the same concepts to horses. Talk about a woman after my own heart.
Her website has some great information about how to incorporate positive reinforcement into your training regime. Have any of you heard of her?

Video of a horse free jumping from the horse's perspective

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What is natural horsemanship?

I consider my horsemanship journey to be about discovering what is ethical not what is natural.
Keeping horses in general and riding them especially is the farthest thing from natural no matter what trainer you follow.

Ethical treatment is what has steered me towards positive reinforcement, bitless riding, and why Bodhi does not wear shoes and why he is on pasture board. Not because it is more natural for him but because I am concerned about his welfare and well being.

It seems like every time I look around one of the natural horsemanship trainers is caught doing something unethical-- I am sure I don't need to show anyone these examples, they seem to be talked about to death on other blogs and forums.

My request: Read this take on Natural Horsemanship. They said it more concisely then I ever could. What do you think of what this author has to say?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On the road again

I visited Bodhi on Sunday and the message on the white board read

"horses being moved Feb 27th"

That is still all I have heard from the actual barn manager about the move next weekend.

So I have obviously been busy investigating.

I went to visit the stable where Bodhi is being moved next weekend. Let me paint you a picture. Brand new facility. 60 stall barn. Riding arena the size of the Titanic. The office area has leather sofa's and a fire place. The viewing area has a full kitchen. The bathrooms have hand towels.

The pastures Bodhi is being moved to have no drainage (remember the flooding?) and get this--- no water troughs. Period. I asked the woman working at the time how they are planning on watering the horses that will be in the paddocks and she said "we are buying troughs and we will truck in water". Oh and the horses boarded currently get 6 hours of turn out a day. Without water evidently. Oh geese.

So i went barn shopping.... again....

I looked at 4 new facilities. I picked the farm with the nicest pastures (my number one priority). It is farther than our current digs. It has an indoor. And goats.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Would this weird you out?

I wanted to get the opinion of the masses here.


Bodhi's current farm has flooded in the spring in the past. The manager/owner is predicting it will flood again. I get a call from another boarder for something unrelated and she mentions that the owner is planning on moving the horses the 28th of February to a new farm. You have not gotten a call or email about this (He does not like to call my cell because it is long distance but he has my email).
He is moving the horses to a farm much farther away then the current location. The board will not go up but you have to pay for tack storage and use of arenas (which is currently included in my board). I have never been to this farm so know nothing about the reputation or facilities. The manager currently under contract to care for Bodhi will not be in charge of his care, he will be forwarding my checks directly to this new facility who will be providing all the care.

I feel really funny about this--- Is this normal? What would you think?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Snow bunny

Thank you for all the support and ideas last post! It was great to have support, and it is great to talk to folks who really understand how hard it is to do something like lease a very important horse

I like the idea about giving a few lessons to potential boarders first, so I can share with them things that work really well with Bodhi, and also to make sure the person is a good match. Call me crazy but I am not too worried about him getting "ruined" by someone. I know I do a lot of things differently then other horse trainers, but I think if I pick someone kind for Bodhi, even if they do train differently I think Bodhi is the kind of horse that can handle it. I think it will be good for his development.

Now: why you guys are really here- The ever elusive chunky monkey fluffy feral snow bunny....
click on the photos for up close cuteness...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Would you lease this pony?

Horse for Lease this Summer/Fall

Graduate student studying abroad for the summer and looking for a compatible rider for a 6 year old, 14.2 hand Haflinger gelding. Bodhi has been trained using positive reinforcement, and has been worked slowly and consistently, and as a result has no vices and is a simple and quiet mount. Bodhi would be perfect for anyone wanting to school, trail, and/or attend schooling shows. Price negotiable References required.

· Walk, trot, canter, with the beginnings of flying changes (over ground poles) lateral work, and shortening and lengthening at the trot.

· Started over fences. Green but willing and simple.

· Trail rides alone, and in groups.

· Rides in a snaffle, or bitless bridle. Good for an adult amateur, or intermediate youth

· Great ground manners, lunges, ties, clips, loads- a pleasure to work with.

*How does this look for a lease add? Text? Pictures? I figured I should start early since I am going to be so picky on the selection of a leaser.

Canadians: Where do you look for horse related things online? Where is a good place to post this?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pictures and questions

Graduate school is seriously limiting my time for blogging (who knew!) and winter is limiting my time for training. I am trying to enjoy the little time I have with Bodhi though, and I hope all the walking we are doing in the snow is keeping him some what conditioned. I have had 2 things on my mind lately and I would love to hear your thoughts:

I have decided I do not need to use a bit right now. Bodhi is bit educated so if he needs to go in one for some reason he is equipped. I feel that teaching him to be balanced, supple, and connected is more interesting without a bit right now. I have been riding him all winter in his side pull I talked about here. My issue is that it puts all the pressure on the top of his nose, and that it slides around. I think I want to try a cross under bridle like Nutural. I rode in one last weekend and he was much easier to bend and turn. My fear is that it will put too much pressure on the poll and under the chin. Has anyone ridden extensively in steady contact in a cross under bridle?

I am going to go to Africa this summer for my master's research. I think I would like to lease Bodhi while I am gone (6 months). I am hoping to lease him to someone who will take him to some shows and give him complementary experiences to what he already has. Knowing what you guys know about him, who should I market him to? What type of rider would be interested in a horse like Bodhi, and what should I work on in the short amount of time I have between the thaw and my departure to make him more marketable?

Also, here are some picture from the fall that were taken by a photographer the barn owner hired to document the new arena that we happen to be in. I was really happy to them because right now he looks like a yak. It is nice to be reminded what lives under all this hair!

This picture had to be blown up because we were in the background. It is signifigant because it caught him in what I call his baby extended trot. I have this photo labeled as "baby's first extension"

This picture is what I would like to think represents our best of 2010, and of him as a five year old.