I was asked “Who is this Hans Senn?” I have been posting some of his quotes…because I love them!! So here is a story about the author:
“Riding and competing in Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France and Germany gave Hans a broad exposure of different styles, methods and philosophies.
Hans came to the USA in 1952 where he became active in show jumping, dressage, eventing and fox hunting. He also learned to ride show hunters and competed many years in the Midwest, Florida, Devon and the indoor circuit.
Eventually, Hans started to judge hunters, jumpers, equitation, dressage and became a course designer.
In 1990, he was the coordinator of the Equestrian Events of the Olympic Festival.”
Sadly, Hans passed away a few months (or so) ago.
My Hunter/Jumper trainer and good friend Marcy Gehrke rode with Hans when she was young. She is responsible for getting me hooked on his little book of wisdom. So, I will continue to post his quotes as there are a ton of great ones in there!!
Horses In The Morning is “the first live morning show with an equine theme. A light, lively, entertaining daily look at the horse world and the people in it. Hosted by Glenn the Geek and Jamie Jennings and produced by Jennifer H. The show will include entertaining conversation, out of the ordinary guests, numerous regular horse related segments, listener call in, contests, giveaways and so much more.” I am now a monthly guest on Horses In The Morning and will discuss various horse issues through the use of On Target Training!
On this episode, I discuss how to begin On-Target Training. Just click HERE for a link to the show!
December, 17, 2010
Bugs’ behavior gave me a great deal to think about. He is not generally a spooky horse so what was up with all of his antics the past couple days? I realized that Bugs is also extremely into the positive reinforcement (clicker) training. He always expresses his excitement when he sees or hears me. It isn’t the soft, low knicker that Mint emits but an excited higher pitched whinny/knicker. He keeps an eye on me constantly and if someone gets in his way he promptly repositions to keep eye contact. If I am in the clubhouse he will just stare at the last door that I entered through. He is kind of like a dog. He also seems to look forward to our time in the saddle. This is when we spend the most time together. A thought came to me and it made a lot of sense. I started to think maybe Bugs wasn’t so much spooked but actually excited. Granted too excited, kind of like a kid who is going to Disneyland. Running around and bouncing off of the walls. All the pieces seemed to fit together.
Still, this left me with a predicament, how to channel his excessive energy into something constructive and manageable. My new thought is to put him to work the second we get into the arena. Again, I don’t see this as something that I want to rely on for the rest of his days but a way to set him up for success (I think of this in everything I do with the horses) at this juncture in his development. My plan is to ask him to bend around my leg with his head lowered. This is something that we have been working on but he hasn’t embraced 100 percent yet. Bugs is a good student so I feel somewhat confident about my new plan.
Things went quite nicely. I started asking him to lower his head as soon as we went into the ring. I rode in a small circle, at the walk, in the center of the arena. As soon as I felt his head start to come up I would remind him to stay bent with his head lowered. When he would make the correct decision I would click and reinforce him from the saddle. We worked the circle bigger and bigger until we were encompassing the whole ring. We schooled both directions and all gaits. We both got softer and softer as we went and he was sensible even on a loose rein. It worked like a charm! It was then that I realized how much he wants to please me.
This was a big breakthrough for us. I learned a lot about bugs and actually grew more confident in my riding skills. Keep in mind I hadn’t ridden in about 8 years. I had still worked with horses as a behaviorist but this doesn’t mean riding. So, I am green (again) and Bugs is green. We are learning together.
December 16, 2010
After yesterday’s episode I decided to use a tactic that has worked with lots of horses before Bugs. My plan was to go into the ring on a loose rein, then click and reward his calm demeanor. This has commonly worked to reinforce horses for being relaxed and the result is a head that drops lower and lower. I love having a plan!
I am also teaching Bugs to hold still for mounting. Actually, I am not just teaching him to hold still but to walk out of the cross ties without me touching the reins. He is learning to line up next to the mounting block and hold still while I get in the saddle. He is coming along, yet still has a tendency to turn and face me once I am at the mounting block. This, of course, doesn’t work well for mounting so I realign him and he is usually better on the second try. His other issue is to get distracted on the way to the mounting block then stop to smell and investigate things. This little goal is just something I like my horses to do and despite his occasional lapses, Bugs is now coming along nicely.
Okay, so mounting and walking to the ring were pretty normal. We get to the ring and I promptly give him a loose rein, only to realize that he is not really responding like most horses. Instead of being relaxed he is getting increasingly wound up as I notice that his head and ears are scanning for trouble. I realize this a little too late, as he gets too revved up again. This time I get off of Bugs and Marcy (my Hunter/Jumper trainer and good friend) advises a lunge and some ear plugs, so off he goes.
As you might guess, I am feeling the need to express my thoughts on these two tools. Let’s start with lunging. I am not a big proponent of lunging for quietness as a matter of course. I think it is a good tool for teaching green horses, to work on verbal cues, to teach new riders, as well as prepping for being ridden for the first time. I also think it is a good tool for eliminating all that excess energy when turnout is limited. I’m just not that comfortable with excessive lunging. It’s just my take on it and of course, this is just one gal’s opinion. Anyway, in this situation I see that Bugs does indeed seem to have too much energy. I need to help get him to a better mind-set so I can set him up for success, so as to get him to do something worth reinforcing. At this point, my goal is anything with four feet on the ground! I see lunging as a tool that I want to not use on a daily basis. For now though, it may help me work towards my end-goal of having a horse that not only knows how, but also chooses to harness that energy into something constructive. ThoughI keep chanting to myself ”enjoy the journey, enjoy the journey, enjoy the journey,” it is sometimes not quite as enjoyable as I might hope.
Now, let’s talk earplugs… It is not an uncommon practice to use earplugs to muffle the auditory stimuli that may cause a horse to startle. It is simply a practice I am not accustomed to. Marcy is really good at keeping her Adult Amateur women out of harm’s way. This is one of the tools that she has had success with. I try to be a good student, so I do say “okay” when Marcy gives me advice and instruction. Of course, from the instant we put them in I’m thinking of how I’m going to wean Bugs off of these new pacifiers. Again, I view them as an initial tool to set him up for success, but just for now. Frankly, I wasn’t sure they would be that effective anyway. Further down the road I will re-address the earplugs.
So finally, after the adjustments Bugs is much, much better!! We are still very new together and Bugs doesn’t have a strong foundation yet. I was very thankful for the tools of traditional training which allowed me to get my horse good enough to reward with positive reinforcement.
December 15th(ish) 2010
Okay, so my first post was referring to how good Bugs was about all of the commotion, from guys hanging lights in trees to a new course being built in the ring, jump rails tumbling. Well, the very next day Bugs went into the ring and was spooky and wild!! He wanted and to whirl and hop and bolt away. There was no reasoning with him at this point. I always try to remind myself to not rely on emotion at this point but to go to my head and to recall the best way to deal with the erratic behavior. I immediately thought about sinking my weight down in to my heels to assure a nice low center of gravity. I reminded myself to keep my head and shoulders up and to look ahead and finally to keep him moving forward on a circle. Fortunately, I stayed in the saddle. It made me think of a quote from Hans Senn(I love his quotes) it goes something like this: When your horse is at his worst you need to be at your best. Don’t panic together. Good advice if you ask me.
I couldn’t really tell what had caused Bugs behavior. It seemed to be a culmination of a little of this and a little of that. Fortunately, we happened to have a visiting rider who is very experienced and is good with horses who are too wound up. He got on and rode through his issues.
This was a side of Bugs that I hadn’t seen. We had some rain and the horses were on the walker as opposed to being ridden so he may have been a little fresher than usual. But still, that is no excuse but rather a reminder of what I need to work on with him. I want Bugs to have all of that energy but learn to use it constructive ways, like moving forward in a big bold trot, or jumping (soon, we’ll get to that in a few entries). Well, it is definitely something to work on.
December, 14, 2010
Bugs is like a big kid. Bugs has been with me since early last spring. He is a 7 year old, 16.3 Chestnut appendix quarter horse. Both his dam and sire were appendix so he has his fair share of thoroughbred in him. I love this about him, since I have a real affinity for thoroughbreds. Mint is a thoroughbred you know. And you know I love my Mint! Mint has been my shining example of positive reinforcement. He has a huge repertoire of behaviors both from the ground and undersaddle. He embodies On Target Training with his huge heart and great disposition. He is a pleasure for anyone to be around and I hear it from people all the time. He is light and responsive in the saddle, making me feel like a highly effective rider even on my worst day. This is what I wanted, another Mint! Of course, this is not how Mint started out.
Let’s start with Bugs beginnings… He was in a pasture with very little interaction until he was 4 years old. That is a long time. There is a window when young horses are very trainable and then there is a time when they are more set in their ways. Bugs kinda missed that window. At 4 he was taken from the pasture and it was decided he was going to be a roping horse. Talk about a square peg in a round hole. Needless to say this didn’t go so well for Bugs. I don’t know all of the details but he came away with a scar on his face and a suspicious disposition.
My friend Marcy had been around Bugs and saw that he wasn’t going down a good path. He was off to the horse auction. She stepped in and took him to her barn, which is a hunter/jumper barn. This is not something that Marcy had done before. She was not sure how this would end or where he was going to go, she just felt it in her heart to give him a chance. For the next couple of years he was in a low pressure program and taught the basics. It was clear to her that he really wanted to please but he still needed a gentle touch. She had invested too much to just let anyone have him and felt somewhat protective of her charge.
This is when I enter the picture. Due to personal reasons Mint had been turned out for 7 years and I had barely ridden. Mint was newly out of retirement but he is getting older and I thought it was time to have a new addition, not only for riding but for the positive reinforcement training. I asked her about buying a horse. Marcy saw a potentially good fit with me and Bugs. I dusted off my chaps and showed up at Marcy’s barn to try Bugs. I wasn’t on him for a minute when he spooked and wheeled. Poof, I’m on the ground. Me being newly back in the saddle, my seat wasn’t real solid. He ended up by the rail, as I went to go get him he was visibly trembling with fear, afraid of the repercussions.
At that instant, I knew he was meant for me. It broke my heart to see him so worried. I knew I had the tools to help him. Now, this is not how one should choose their horses. Bugs had been doing great with Jenn, who rides for Marcy. He felt safe with Jenn and his routine. This, clearly, did not carry over to me.
Marcy, being the voice of reason, wouldn’t let me make a decision until I spent more time with Bugs. He came to the barn where I was boarding. He showed me how suspicious he seemed to feel in the new situation. He broke through two leather halters in two days by pulling back in the cross ties. I never became disheartened and he began to trust me and even more, to look forward to time with me. When I would pull up in my truck both of my horses would start whinnying. I got some riding in but not on a consistent basis. I knew we were moving to a new barn in October, a really nice barn I might add. Marcy is the trainer at the new barn and we were getting into a riding/training program together and utilizing the positive reinforcement. We are both doing great and making great strides. Bugs is growing up!!
Patty, who owns the barn was hosting an elaborate Christmas party the other day at the barn. This meant trucks and workmen were everywhere. They were decorating, hanging plastic to tent the barn areas, putting in a dance floor, bar, hanging lights and bringing in a mechanical bull. This was seemed to be sheer terror for some horses(and rider’s). But Bugs was totally sensible and calm. He made me feel really proud. I think Bugs is a great edition to On Target Training. We have a lot to learn together but he, like Mint, is showing that love of learning and growing a big heart. There is a part of me that wanted him to be all done, just like Mint is now, and then I realized what a great journey it is and wondered why it is I always want to hurry. Bugs will never be just like Mint, but that is fine with me, he is going to be just like Bugs and that is shaping up to be great news. He is a Blessing and I am ever thankful that he is in my life. Bugs has a shining future and I look forward to the journey that lies ahead of us.