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!

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!