Stretching is a great tool for helping our horse to loosen up and prevent injuries. However, if done incorrectly we can do more harm than good. It is important that the horse relaxes during the stretching process. Pulling on a stiff or tense horse can injure them as well as you! With the use of positive reinforcement/clicker training you can communicate what it is that you are looking for and you will usually start to see your horse actually stretch on his own once you initiate the process. I have just started this training with Mint. In this session Mint “drops”. This is not something that Mint has done in previous sessions. I don’t worry about it as long as he is minding his manners, paying attention and not getting distracted. In fact dropping shows a great deal of relaxation and this is an important factor when teaching your horse to stretch. When I film these type of sessions for the blog I just film it and let you see things as they happen. I want to keep the reality in there since these are things that you may or may not encounter as you move through the training process. I hope this gives you some ideas. Please post any questions or comments. I would love to hear from you.
It has been just over a year since Mint came back into my life. This got me to thinking about Mint’s life and the journey that we have taken together. Let’s start at the beginning…
Back in 1994 I went to John and Beezie Madden’s farm in upstate New York to begin training horses utilizing positive reinforcement training. I had learned these techniques during the 10 years I had spent training marine mammals at Sea World. This had not been done with horses and especially at the professional level. It was an exciting time for us. I worked with a number of horses, most of them were competing as high level show jumpers. There were two young horses that didn’t go to shows and ended up getting the most consistent training. These two were essentially my experimentals subjects. They were clean slates who had everything to learn. Mint was one of these horses. To date he holds the title as “The Worst Horse I Ever Worked”. He was such a quitter. He would quit during the target training process. For those of you who don’t know about target training, it is easy and they all love to do it. But not Mint. He seemed to have decided that this was too much effort. The horse in the paddock next to him, who was not part of our training program, would try to reach over the fence to touch the target that Mint wouldn’t touch right in front of his nose. All these years later and I have not met another horse who quits during target training!
Mint had no desire to try or please. He had no heart. When I first started working with horses I would hear how the best horses had “heart”. It was consistently thought of as something that a horse either had or didn’t have and not really something that you could change. I wasn’t familiar with the term “heart” and learned that this referred to a horses desire to please his rider/trainer. It boiled down to his attitude. This, to me, is the MOST important thing in the training process. If a horse learns something but he learns it with a bad attitude, well, it is just not going to end up being the best situation for either me or my horse. He may do what I want but if he has a sour attitude about the behavior then he will probably end up looking for ways to avoid doing it. This usually means bucking, spooking, bolting, rearing, balking, bulging, you get the picture. If Mint was going to be a part of the program, I needed to get him to put forth some effort. I would, and still do, reinforce him when he tries. When I see that things are getting difficult for him I reinforce him quite a bit for even the slightest effort.
Mint came along nicely and soon got up to speed. It still took a while for his personality to fully come out. He was always good but not very demonstrative. It made me happy when he moved past just doing the things I asked of him and began to actually enjoy the things I asked him to do. His “heart” was growing. We went on to a rigorous schedule, touring and doing clinics and expos all over the country. He shipped 60,000 miles in two years. Then in 2002 I went through some very difficult times. The challenges were of a personal nature and the horses were sent to Minnesota to be turned out while I tried to get my life sorted out. Thankfully, I have finaly arrived in a great place, but it took a while. Seven years later Mint was shipped back to California. I was so excited to see him but the behaviorist in me was curious about how much he would recall. Would he remember me? Would he remember his training? Would he be happy to be back? I had seen him one time in all those years. It was amazing to see him when that day finally got here. He seemed to feel the same. When the trailer pulled up he was unloaded into a corral. I gave him a couple minutes to get some water or urinate and then took him to the arena and took off his halter. He stayed right with me and did everything that I asked. He didn’t just do the behaviors, he did them with enthusiasm and zeal. He did them with heart!
People tell me often that Mint is an “exceptional horse”, suggesting that he was “born” with heart. It makes me smile to think back to that young horse who was beyond indifferent, to this horse who has developed heart through the use of positive reinforcement. We have now moved barns a couple times and have finally settled into a new barn where we can continue on our journey together.
The video of Mint’s arrival is available. If you want to see the day he arrived it is on my blog and it is titled “Clicker Trained Horse Remembers”.
I am technically challenged and yet I am choosing to tackle all kinds of new technology. I love how connected I feel to so many people with all of the options available these days. However it is tricky to balance out my time at the barn and working horses with my time at the computer. But here I go… First I want to give you a run down of the horses I am working and the issues I am addressing with each of them. I, personally, have two horses who are constantly being trained.
There is Mint, who is a 19-year-old thoroughbred. He seems as young as ever. He was at John and Beezie Maddens when I started really doing the On Target Training in a professional sense back in 1994. He has been there from the beginning. He was turned out for 7 years while I went through some of life’s tougher times. As I came out on the other side of life I brought Mint back and he is as good as ever. With him I am focusing on fun behaviors. He is past his performance prime but a great example of positive reinforcement training. I must say he was the worst horse I ever worked way back when. He was such a quitter. You don’t see that anymore but I keep that tendency in my mind as I work on new behaviors with him. I always encourage his efforts and try.
My other horse is Bugs. He is a 6-year-old appendix quarter horse. He has a lot of Thoroughbred in him and is at least 16.3 hands. He spent the first 4 years of his life turned out. When it was time to find him a job it didn’t go so well at first. He was too big for the typical quarter horses activities and bucked pretty good. He seemed to be a square peg who didn’t really fit with his owners. My friend Marcy took him to her barn and focused on getting him started under saddle. He was rather suspicious, willful and sensitive all at the same time. I came along and it has been a great fit. He presents some challenges but I feel well equipped to help him grow. Positive reinforcement has made a big difference in his attitude and he continues to make good progress. He has a lot to learn and I will continue to keep you updated through video and blog as we move forward.
There is also Haley. She is my dog, she is a Rottweiler and about a year and a half. She is pretty much a clown. She is also a bit of a chicken and totally sweet. She goes with me everywhere.
As for me… You probably already know about my history from my website but here it is in a nut shell… I worked at Sea World in San Diego for 10 years. I trained whales, dolphins, sea lions, walruses and otters. I trained them and did the shows with them. All of the training is based in positive reinforcement training. I recognized that these techniques were not being used with horses. I saw such a gap in the training equation. Horses had had great success without the use of positive reinforcement and I knew that incorporating what I had learned at Sea World would really improve things. I focused on learning how it was done through traditional training and then in 1994 John and Beezie Madden invited me (and my ex husband, Vinton) to move to their farm and work with them and their horses. That is where it started. The term clicker training came to horses from the dog training world and seems to have stuck.
I will use my blog for the sole purpose of being able to educate and share progress through on going training. I work other horses besides my own with various training issues. I will tell you about them next time. I also will share progress and I often film these with helmet cam so you can learn as we go. I also have a tele-training seminar/webinar each month. I get a lot of great questions and I will address some of these questions in the blog and some in the webinars. I really see this being a great resource for learning more about positive reinforcement/clicker training. I hope that you find this engaging and helpful. I will love to hear some questions and feedback from you. I feel like we are starting an exciting journey together and I am glad that you are here. Now let’s go get On Target!!
I have started filming, well actually Mint started filming from his helmet cam. It is a fresh perspective on training. I enjoy seeing where he is looking and his view of things. This is only the beginning of many more clips from Mint (and eventually Bugs). The audio is a little quiet since I am not always right beside him.
I have posted the video from my helmet cam first so you can see my perspective and hear the audio portion. The second clip is from Mint. I hope that you enjoy this and I would love your feedback!
After almost seven years apart, Shawna and her horse Mint reunite. Watch how much Mint remembers his On Target Training on his first day back with Shawna.