Friday, October 12, 2012

Its a learning curve

Ok ok not horse related but training related so bear with me. 

My new job involves working with a dog. Pretty cool huh? I thought it was perfect but it has been quite an adjustment however. It is one thing to work with animals as a hobby and quite another to to rely on one for your livelihood
Ok so I actually have two working dogs. One well trained dog that has been doing the job for several years and one green dog literally straight from the farm. I call him my not so working working  dog (or NWWD for non-working working dog).The NWWD has had to go back to kindergarten so to speak. He came to me with the appearance of knowing absolutely nothing.

It has been a frustrating experience for me and I felt like I was getting nowhere with him. So I started a training spread sheet (I know I am a serious nerd). It includes the date, how long we work, what we work on and where we work. I also rate the session from 1-10 on our performance. This process has really given me great prospective on the learning process! I highly recommend starting your own spread sheet if you feel overwhelmed, plateaued, or stuck. If anyone is interested in talking spread sheets or wants help tracking their work with their horse let me know. I happen to really enjoy designing this sort of thing. My email is

So I have made a graph here of our session dates and the ratings I have given each session a 1-10 rating with 1 being 100% distracted and 0 response to cues and 10 being 100% correct response. Does the pattern look familiar (see the graph above of a textbook learning process graph)? I have only just started this documentation process I look forward to having several months of data so we can really see the learning process in action!! SO Cool!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What Happened?

Ok so I have been a bit of bad blogger..... But I have been busy graduating from graduate school and moving BACK to Florida. Long story.

I have two questions to anyone out there:

Where did all the blogs I follow go from my Blogger home page?

Anyone know of good boarding barns in the Tampa area?

I hope everyone is well! I wish I could have all my blogs back :(

Thursday, April 26, 2012

New research-- Horses need friends too!

I wanted to highlight a recent paper that has just been published in the Journal of Ethology examining the interactions among a managed population of Sorraia mares in Portugal.

File:Sorraia.convex profile.jpg

First of all Sorraia is evidently a rare (endangered)  breed of horse that is indigenous to Portugal. They were re-discovered in the 20th centurary and there are re-establishment projects in the works. Check out how lovely they are! evidently they are most often grullo (wikipedia)!

The research project examined affiliations among the mares comparing them to the reproductive status, relatedness, age, and dominance of the individuals. An affiliation is defined as a "long lasting relationship between two mares which are reflected in spatial proximity and participation in affiliative interactions, such as mutual grooming" We all have seen this--- domesticated horses (mares and geldings)sometimes preferentially hang around one horse in particular. We catch them grooming each other etc... We make comments like "Beau and Magic are such buddies".

This study found that kinship (relatedness) did not significantly affect these affiliative relationships and that individuals tended to spend more time with others in the same reproductive state. They found these friendships were relatively stable as well but their strength decreases after foaling. I don't know about you but I am seeing many parallels between horses and humans in this respect. :)

I think this research highlights the importance for equine friendships. So what could we learn from this research? Maybe we can all try and be more cognisant of these lasting friendships in our horses when we are moving them around between pastures and between barns etc. I know I have moved Bodhi several times now forcing him to loose several close friends. This of course can't always be helped but if we pay attention to the natural bonds in our horses then we can reduce their stress by not unnecessarily splitting them from their good friends.

Also for managers of breeding facilities it seems this paper highlights the importance of keeping brood mares together especially when they are pregnant. It seems they form the strongest bonds.

Here is another article summarizing the paper

Filipa Heitor and Luis Vicente 2010. Affiliative relationships among Sorraia mares; influence of age, dominance, kinshop and reproductive state. Ethology, 28, 133-140.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

problem solving

Sorry for the lack of action here at GPG. I am in the middle of writing my thesis and I have had little time for anything else. I will hopefully be back soon though at full force!

Bodhi and I are doing very well. I am now taking dressage and western riding lessons! In between lessons I sharpen what we have learned from the instructors by having a shaping session with the clicker. It is amazing how much we are getting accomplished considering we have just a few hours a week together. I feel like we are really training smart now. I will be going to a multi-day clinic with trainer Shawn Seabrook in the beginning of May. I will have to write about that as well!

Now I wanted to share a funny anecdote about Sarge the cat:

Sarge and I were in a battle of wills. See I wanted to feed everyone (Stella the dog, Pele and Sarge, the cats and Brie and Truffle, the rats) at 8:00 pm every night. Sarge thought he could convince me to feed him earlier if he just tried hard enough. So that meant when I get home from work and start working at the computer he starts his cat antics--- meowing, scratching at things and sometimes even pawing me on the shoulder! The more I said no the more he dug in. You have to admire his persistence! I am sure everyone with cats understands just how persistent they can be!
I had no idea how to stop this behavior until I started thinking about an anecdote given in Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. This story was about a dog that would not stop scratching at the door if I remember correctly. The crafty caretakers decided to use a conditioned stimulus to solve their problem. They hung a towel on the door and let the dog into the room every time he scratched. Then, they alternated having the towel on the door and off the door and only let the dog in when the towel was on the door. Soon the dog learned that his request for admittance would only be heard when that towel was on the door. They made sure to have the towel on the door sometimes giving the dog the chance to ask and they finally got a good nights sleep!
I love this story because it gives a creative solution to reduce a behavior without punishment and it also gives the animal a voice. That dog was obviously frustrated his requests to come in the room were not being heard. By teaching the animal when it is appropriate to ask for something it really reduces their stress and your stress. It is a win win.

So back to Sarge the cat--- I wanted to do something similar to the dog and the towel but what? I know he naturally loved to paw and scratch at everything. So I decided to make Sarge a sign that he could paw when he would like to be fed. The first night I put it up I kept an eye on him as he did his evening antics and sure enough he just happened to paw the sign! I said good! and immediately got up and fed everyone dinner. Amazingly, it only took him a few nights for him to understand the game! Now I put the sign up at around 6pm. He can choose when he would like to be fed from then on. He will nap on the couch, stretch and walk up and tap his sign when he wants to be fed-easy as that. Sometimes he wants to be fed even before I put his sign up. He walks up and looks for his sign and when he does not see it he just goes and lies back down. Amazing! I know we are both happier. Sarge is an intelligent cat and he must of felt so frustrated when I ignored his attempts to communicate. Now that he has an outlet he seems more content.

Here is a video of Sarge patting his sign to get his dinner!

Have you solved any human-animal conflicts in a creative way? I would love to hear about it!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

how I learned to relax and love the rein-back

Like I mentioned earlier I have been in a dressage training rut. The one coach I would really like to work with has no room for new students. I feel like in this stage I need a more experienced person on the ground to really progress. I don't want to ask Bodhi to do things I am not 100% solid in myself.

My boarding facility is mostly western. The owner of the stables is also the coach and trainer specializing in western riding and horsemanship. Because of all my blogger friends who ride western I have learned I am really missing out... so I took my first lesson in western tack in my life.

It was a bit frustrating. For the first time in over 15 years I did not know how to tighten my girth--I mean cinch! I did not know if my saddle placement was correct. Split reins? I fumbled with my reins like I did as a green rider! I think it illustrated to myself that I had a bit of an ego with my riding ability. I like people to think I am a good rider. It embarrasses me to feel inept. I think it was a well needed slice of humble pie.

Once I got over my rein problems (just tie them together dummy). We worked on freeing up the rib cage by having my calves swing with the motion of the rib cage, while my hips moved with the horses hips at the walk. It felt great! Bodhi's walk immediately improved as well. We then worked on three things I normally avoid (since Bodhi and I are still working on the basics and I have been told to leave these movements till later) Backing up, turn on the forehand, and turn on the haunches. How she wanted me to cue these movements was different than how I was taught in a dressage setting as well. So it took a bit of adjustment on my part but I really enjoyed the simplicity of it all.

I can see how these exercises are valuable in young horses to help them with their balance and transferring weight from the forehand to the hind end. I am going incorporate these into my schooling sessions.

She also pointed out that Bodhi did not like to stand still. I offered that it may be because I don't like to stand still. I like to keep moving and I guess I have never really worked on standing still for long periods of time in the middle of a schooling. She suggested I ask for more extended halts as rewards for Bodhi. I think that is great idea. I normally ask for a free walk down a diagonal as reward but now I will alternatively ask for a longer halt.

I am looking forward to learning more and taking more lessons.

What is your favorite "second" discipline?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

With our powers combined....

I love reading the posts over at mugwump chronicles. Not only is she a thoughtful, knowledgeable and poetic blogger but she always has the best comments! So with her kind of blog in mind I share this.

Sometimes I wonder why I blog. Is it selfish? Maybe. Definitively self indulgent..

But I am not just blogging about what I am doing, I am reading about what other people are doing. So many blogs about horses! I read about eventers, reiners, trail riders, jumpers, endurance riders... people just starting out with horses, people who have been riding for years, amateurs and professionals. People who ride with bits, without bits, train with fancy sticks, whisper, or who do none of the above. Why do I bother? Why don't I just read books, magazines, and rent dvds to supplement my lessons and clinics like I used to do?

Maybe the answer is in the two links above. When I read blogs I am learning through shared experience. As horse people who blog we are all connected. We all have pieces of a big puzzle that is the horse and through our blogs maybe we can get together and finally see the big picture.

What do you think about the idea of sharing and building off ideas in the horse blog world? Are you learning something or just wasting time? Why do you read blogs?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Itching to work

I Have not been doing a lot of posting because I have not been doing a lot of training. I ride about twice a week but I feel aimless. I don't know what I should work on or what I can work on with just 2 days a week to work with! It is frustrating!
Bodhi is doing great. Between his part boarder and me he gets ridden around 4 times a week. He is learning how to be a mature equine by working with a young rider doing a varied amount of things. He had drill practice with her today for example. When I ride him he feels very mature and balanced. Like a trained horse :) I guess he is 6 now. Wow time really flies!

Now that he is so solid in the basics I am just itching to do more advanced work. The truth of the matter is though I am the one who needs the further training to continue on. I have set up a lesson or two with a dressage coach but they have all been canceled for one reason or another. I feel stagnant and uninspired. I want to do more clicker work too but with such a limited amount of time I am not sure what I should even try???

So with that mind frame I saw this video and thought I would share.

With the amount of time I can devote to riding it is true in the dressage department I am going no where fast....
So I have decided to spend our precious time together working on perfecting our bitless riding, and doing the exercise in the above video: getting my horse more soft relaxed, and round.For our ground work I am going to work on stretching and playing soccer! Two things Bodhi and I really enjoy doing together. I am such a goal orientated person it is hard for me to just relax.

First day of mission relax and enjoy the pony was a success! We rode in the bitless and he was SO soft. We worked on stretching down at the trot and canter transitions. He seemed to really enjoy it. He also remembers how to play soccer like he just learned yesterday. Maybe one day Bodhi and I will have the time and expertise to achieve this: Cantering in hand!

But for now I am happy with my soccer playing pony!