Metallica – Training Heavy Horse

I can tell already I’m going to have fun with her name.

Yesterday was a day of straightforward run of the mill successfully uneventful horse training! The goal was simple: take a horse that had fairly limited experience with me, build on the trust relationship we’ve been establishing, and introduce medieval weapons… a rattan sword and a 12 foot lance… both for the record are very blunt 1-inch minimum rounded edges… to the equation and get her to calmly accept their presence. Uneventful was the goal! And uneventful is what I got!

Here’s how…

Ally has an awesome foundation in natural horsemanship. Rock solid foundation. I took the extra time yesterday to take advantage of that fact and stack the deck in my favor from the get-go.

Beginning with leading out of the pasture with calm presence of authority, I took the time to very pleasantly do a thourough job playing friendly with various grooming supplies and tools, ensuring a happy, well scratched and contented horse entered the round pen.

I spent time starting at square zero with the lead rope over all quarters of the body. I ran the rope around legs, etc etc; and did the same with a carrot stick. All quarters, all angles, rubbing with the stick, and tracing with the rope. At convenient points she was clicked and rewarded for calmness.

After Id exhausted the possibilities of friendly, I ran a couple cues to make sure she responded to pressure and cues, trotted her once around each way to break up the boredom, and set about the real task: weapons training.

I started off just holding the sword in front of her until she sniffed at it. After we had that calmy accepted and rewarded, we just rubbed along all parts of the body and neck gently and friendly, just like the carrot stick. After that, waving the sword back and forth, up and down, slowly by her face. Click! Reward! We’re done here!

The lance was a bit more scary and difficult… but only like walking into a light breeze. It -is- 12 feet long, and may in fact be the first large stick shes seen not firmly in the ground with leaves. I held it vertically for control and weight, about 6 inches away from her.  She moved away at first, but I just followed with the lance until she stopped and rewarded the calm. Soon thereafter, I was rubbing the 12 foot lance everywhere on all quarters and down both sides. Rewards galore!

We finished up with a brief, in-hand introduction to the quintain. No reaction at all, even when the wind pushed the shield against her nose. Our last little bit was an in-hand walk through the reeds and on the correct pathing for the heads games.

Praises galore!!!

That was a fine time to leave well enough alone and so we wrapped up the day with radical success… a radical success built by careful planning, encouragement, and solid foundational work setting the correct tone for trust, communications, and learning.

9 days left until showtime. And I hope to continue applying the principles of horsemanship in a careful and accurate manner to achieve not only the short term goal.. Siege of Glengary… but also the long term goal of educating the horse to implicitly trust the human!

Until next time!


Flymasking the Un-halterable, Headshy Horse

You remember the story of belling the cat. We were handed a similar scenario…

The challenge: To put a flymask on a horse who is not halter-trained and is known to be headshy.

The solution: Clicker Training to the rescue!

Crockett is an Appy gelding, part of the PMU rescue herd we are currently helping with. His pale face and light skin require protection from sunburn and the torment of flies.  A long-nose flymask is a simple solution, but Crockett was headshy and unhalterable.  I clipped on my treat bag and began.

The scene unfolded like clockwork.  Crockett’s pasturemates, Gypsy and Betty, abandoned us for the comfort and shade of the loafing shed. No worries about other horses mugging us for treats!

Crockett immediately conncted the audible “click” with the treat that followed.  We began racing forward one baby step at a time. I held out the mask. After a minute he checked it out with his muzzle. Click! After several successful repetitions I upped the standard. It was no longer enough just to touch the mask. He got a little frustrated and tossed his head-and happened to rub his head from his eyes to his muzzle along the mask. Click!

We continued on in this fashion. Solidify a step. Add another level of trust. Before too long the mask was on- and so ill-fitting! Off came the mask and I tried another one. Baby steps again, and a few minutes later the new mask was on. Sigh-too small. I rummaged around in the barn and found a few more masks to try.

This glitch was not a frustration, but an opportunity for reinforcement.  Each successful masking solidified both my newfound communication with Crockett and his victory over being headshy.  I found a mask that fit a little better and sent him off into the herd.

When I finished my sessions with Gyspy and Betty, I walked out to visit with the others. Crockett saw me, pricked up his ears, and threaded his way through his pasture mates to join me. I call that a double success!

Saturday Afternoon With Grace

Grace has spent the week hanging over the fence watching me work clients’ horses.  “Am I next?” she seemed to ask continuously.  Despite the bitter chill, Mark and I brought her out today for some quality family time.

While I was getting organized, Grace went over to check out the mounting block.  She put her hoof on top. *Click!* Treat!  Operant conditioning at it’s finest! Operant conditioning is when you build on a behavior that is freely offered.

“I may end up regretting that one day,” I joked to Mark, but I was already thinking about the bridge, or Pirate’s plank as we call it,  he’d built recently for a training obstacle.  This was going to shortcut the process.  Clunk went the hoof on the block.  Click.  Treat.  Clunk.  Click.  Treat.

I got my gear in order and put the surcingle on Grace for the first time.   She moved on and felt the band around her belly, much tighter than her blanket.  She tossed her head and bucked once in protest, but responded to my request for more impulsion and soon forgot the annoying squeeze.

As she moved around the ring she swerved over to the mounting block.  Clunk went the foot.  “Now’s not the time Grace, move on!”  As important as developing her curiosity and initiative is teaching her context: how to figure out when things are appropriate.  Sometimes the block is a pedestal for her to stand on, sometimes a step for the rider to mount from, right now just ring clutter to be ignored.

Grace quickly made up for lost time. In short order she was ground driving for the first time, catching on quickly to voice commands and directional changes.  We swapped back to a single longe and headed out of the roundpen to explore the challenge course in our open riding field.

Remember the hoof on the mounting block?  Grace was initially intimidated by the Pirate’s plank sitting in the middle of the field. She sniffed -click! She touched it with her hoof-click! The lightbulb came on.  She remembered this game!  Before long she was walking that plank like an old salt-YARRR!

On the way back to the barn Grace learned to navigate raised cavaletti (no, you don’t step on it like the plank!) and jump a little crossrail.  Nothing was ever an issue.  Our attitude was let’s take a stroll… and oops! how did that get in the way?! Let’s figure it out!

Grace is fascinating to work with.  She is so CEREBRAL.  She needs to be continually questioned, challenged, engaged–and supported in those rare moments when she gets confused or scared.  Clicker training adds motivation to her innate laziness, as well as shapes her natural curiosity.

Mark snapped some pictures with his cell phone before we wrapped up for the day.

Walking the Plank:

Friesian on a bridge

on the plank

pirate plank sign

Gracie, modeling her new halter from the Expo!

Friesian Head


Clicker training saves the night!

There are times when training is a calm sunny day in a round pen with a brave, intelligent horse. There are also the times when conditions are less than optimum, yet even a frightened horse can achieve a major breakthrough.

This is one such success.

A week or two ago we had a cold, bitter storm blow in from the Arctic. Caught by surprise by the cold pellets stinging our faces, and the 20 degree, gale force winds howling around us, we set out in the dark to blanket the few remaining horses who still needed the added protection from the fury of elements. With wind chills in the low zeros, blankets were not a request, they were a requirement. Our yearling Friesian-cross did not agree.

Spotteigh, usually calm, compliant, and friendly, had only worn a blanket once in his life… on a calm day at that. This night of all nights, the blanket seemed to have a life of it’s own as it blew around in Kirsten’s arms. The blanket for pasturemate D’Art was laying on the ground and moving of its own accord.

You could see it in Spotteigh’s eyes: “It’s gonna EAT ME!!!” That’s one of those moments where either all your training clicks together or you or someone else gets trampled. Short lead in hand, we danced in circles until he calmed down enough to try again. And try we did…

We have this little secret we’ll share with you! From the moment one of our horses sets hoof on the farm, we instill in them clicker-training. A bridge signal (in this case a ‘click’ sound) marks a behavior as desired… an implicit yes that says “You’re doing things right!” A click is always rewarded with a healthy tasty little snack treat. Think the trained Orcas at Sea World.

Face and hands going numb in the cold, we began the process of introducing Spotteigh to the blanket… the moving, scary looking mass that would give him warmth if he could trust it. Sniff…click… reward. Touch… click…reward. Touch on side… click…reward.

Each step was building on the success of the previous step until the surcingles were buckled and the front straps closed… and we were back in the truck thawing out.

All with the power of a click and a pocketful of hay stretcher!

Horse Training Tips Contest

“Horse Training Success” is running a training tips contest.  We just submitted this entry:

I love all the posts that include training with treats! Do you know they actually funded a study in France which “scientifically proved” that horses learn faster when they receive food rewards? Hahaha, horsemen since the dawn of time could have told them that!

My tip brings even more impact to the power of treats. When a new horse first comes to the farm, we teach them a “bridge signal.” They learn to associate a clicking sound with a treat. More importantly they learn that whatever they are doing at the exact moment of the click is what they are getting rewarded for. This way, we can reward them “in the moment” no matter how far out of carrot range they are (great for liberty training or speed work.)

This has infinite applications! We have taught a horse who hated having his feet handled to stand in a bucket of warm water and epsom salts to soak out an abcess. We have taught rowdy youngster to quietly hold their hooves on a hoof stand so one person can trim their feet without needing a second handler. We made horses who refused to be dewormed look forward to the dewormer. We have taught flying lead changes to an off the track TB who would only take one lead, and curiosity and courage to a “chicken-heart” who spooked at anything and everything. The list is endless!

The photo shows a recent– and FUN–success. The mare in the photo is an off the track TB. We brought her to a medieval equestrian reenactment. In no time she accepted the flowing, jingling costumes, the swords and lances swinging around her head, the loud cracks of impact and flying targets–all through the power of associating the click for the right behavior with the treat that says “well done!”

lucy jousting the quintain at a medieval equestrian reenactment

Check out the contest and vote for our tip!

Welcome Diego!

Our horse family has grown by one! We welcome Diego to the farm. Diego (until he reveals his REAL name) is a 16 month old Friesian Percheron Paint cross.  He was raised by a small breeder in upstate New York. Her care for her horses shines through in his amazing disposition. That alone gives him a huge jump-start in our horse training program!

friesian percheron paint and appaloosa

He lay dozing his first morning here as “Uncle” Pete, the wise Appaloosa, kept watch. Diego watched me slowly approach, but remained reclining, relaxed in his trust in humans.

As I cuddled with him, I looked down:

lucky four leaf clover

I consider that four-leaf clover a good sign 🙂

Diego settled right in. He is now out with the geldings learning about life and appropriate horse behavior from the herd. He will grow strong running our rolling pastures. He’ll learn partnership with humans through natural horsemanship principles. Eventually he’ll be started with classical dressage and go on to eventing, medieval reenacting, and horse shows… with lots of trail riding thrown in!

We can’t wait to share his development… naturally!

Welcome to the Family

We have a  new member of the family!  “Diego,” as we are calling him until he tells us his permanent name, is a 16-month old Friesian Percheron Paint cross.

new friesian paint percheron cross with appaloosa

 After I greeted him, I looked down in the grass:

lucky four leaf clover

We take that as a very good sign!

Diego is out with the geldings now learning the ropes.  He will grow up in our green fields.  He’ll be started using natural horsemanship principles.  He’ll most likely enjoy the variety of dressage, eventing, trail riding, and medieval reenactments, with some horse shows thrown in.  We look forward to posting his progress!



Congratulations, New Horse Owner!

Congratulations are in order to Cappy from Albany, NY. Cappy is Zydeco Boogaloo’s proud new owner.

Boogie traveled “like a lady” to her new home. Her new name will be “Adrianna.” We can’t wait to hear updates!

A New World on Horseback

I am juiced to start the day after a phone call with Kathy. She called to touch base on today’s training sessions. Christa wanted to add Ebony to the list, to develop her canter transitions. We agreed it was too windy to practice trailer loading, which is the next hurdle to their updated goal of trail riding in new places. The last thing in the world an unconfident horse new to trailer loading needs is swinging gates and banging doors!

“This is so cool!” I exclaimed while we were plotting strategy. “Your world just keeps getting bigger and bigger!”

The Knock horsewomen have been dedicated to growing their natural horsemanship skills. Over the past few years they have built a solid foundation for enjoying their horses in limitless situations. Instead of hitting the glass ceiling of reaching a goal only to find there’s no place new to go, the Knocks realize that the world of horsemanship is infinite. Yes they can horse show… and they can trail ride, and perform dressage tests and quadrilles (drill team), and three day event and dress up for medieval reenactments, and endurance race, and play polo and polocrosse, and show jump, and team pen… the possibilities pile up!

What a great world to explore in partnership!

What have been some of YOUR a-ha moments?  What skill opened a door for you and your horse that expanded YOUR world?

Click “Comments”  below and  share with our community!

Recent Anne 340 Photos

Tonia, Gracie’s breeder, is a wonderful correspondent! These photos of Grace’s sire Anne 340 greeted me from my inbox this morning.

Tonia bred Hillie, Grace’s mom, back to Anne 340 last spring. We agree it is a wonderful cross!

anne 340 friesian stallion

Anne 340 Friesian Stallion

anne 340 friesian stallion trot

Anne 340 Trotting Loose

anne 340 frisian stallion spanish walk in hand

Anne 340 Spanish Walk In Hand

anne 340 friesian stallion spanish walk

Anne 340 Spanish Walk Bareback