Sunday, November 29, 2009

more clicking

It was interesting to have a play at some CT yesterday with Lydia and Peanut. Just as location is to a business or property, timing is to clicker training. So the three most important facets of CT are timing, timing and timing! For an 8 year old, buoyed up by her first lesson in CT it is hard to hold on to the concept of timing. Trying to give the click at the perfect time whilst having her mind on offering the treat proved too much at times! Still, the pone is such a star that he played the targeting game.
I want to move on to the 'wait' because I found it really important with Chapsi to teach him to wait for the treat, not move towards me in anticipation. It is also really helpful to counter a horse that tries to rob (mug) treats, bite pockets or generally nip at you. However I think it is easier explained with some vid. As I'm still feeling like I did ten rounds with Mike Tyson then it will have to wait...hopefully tomorrow.
I've been thinking about the old NH and horse whispering malarky these few days that I've been too knacked to do any more than think. Why is it that almost all the 'gurus' in this field are fellas? There must be lots more ladies than men ride and I know lots of lady coaches/trainers but not many of the book writing, spiritually aware few seem to be ladies. I have my own thoughts on this but wondered what yours were?
May the new week bring sun and energy for all!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Clicker work (aka too many biscuits)

Clicker Training
This is especially for my daughter Lydia; I hope she will be as enthusiastic about clicker training as me.

First the disclaimer; I am not an expert of any kind on any subject! What I know of clicker for horses has been gleaned from my horses and the odd bit of hearsay. I have neither read a book about nor taken lessons in clicker training horses. These are my opinions based on what has worked for me.

I first heard of clicker training in dogs, about 12years ago when I took our last puppy to training club. It worked with our Jack Russell puppy and as most dog trainers will tell you JR’s are not the most biddable of dogs. Sadly we stopped at the sit/lie/stay stage and took our preliminary certificate and ran!

Fast-forward a decade. We have moved into our new home, horses have arrived but no school to work in except the 8 x 12m barn. At the same time I’m hearing clicker training mentioned on the horse forums and my interest is piqued.

I started with targeting and head down, as these were the things I heard people were doing. This was the start of my learning curve.

Popular Clicker Myths

My horse will bite me if I train him with treats.

It’s cheating.

My horse won’t respect me.

It makes me less of a horse trainer.

It’s bribery.

So what IS clicker

It is a simple system to reward a stance/behaviour/effort offered by a horse. It is accurate and engaging. It is a positive reward system that can be added on to your existing training with great effect.

Flipside…what isn’t clicker

It isn’t a quick fix; it doesn’t make you a good trainer (although it can help make you a better trainer). It isn’t discipline specific; it can be used in any sphere. It ain’t soppy or ‘hippy’. It isn’t a ‘replacement’ i.e. it is complementary to your existing work. It does not create biters or ‘muggers’ unless it is administered incorrectly.

Tools for Clicker

Treats…something palatable, easily given and stored. Experimentation has led me to Lucerne nuts for regular work and chopped carrot or apple as ‘specials’.

A click…you can buy animal training ‘clickers’ on line. Personally I use ‘my’ click (i.e. my tongue) because I can always be assured of having it with me and it is also less cumbersome than carrying a mechanical clicker. You could actually use any word or sound (and indeed I have two ‘words’ in my clicker work as well as a click). Personally I like to tongue click because it’s good and snappy and easily offered. However, if you are a habitual clicker when looking for forward movement in your horse then you’ll have to wean yourself off or the poor horse will be mighty confused.

Storage for treats
…this isn’t essential for all clicker work, I store treats in my pocket when I’m riding. A bum bag or equally suitable easy access bag is easier when working from the ground. The minute you put it on the horse knows what’s coming.

Targeting objects…balls, sticks, cones or blocks, just about anything can be targeted.

Human attributes…patience and wide-open eyes!

First Steps

As I said earlier I haven’t been trained in this work, I’ve felt my way and been guided by my horses. I don’t take this approach because I think I’m clever, far from it. I have allowed clicker to organically develop because it seems the best way to truly learn all the possibilities. As soon as I read a book on a subject then I feel compelled to follow rather than discover and develop. Make any sense? If it does then stop reading here and go off and develop yourself; when you come back we can share notes!
Each horse is different but one really good place I have found to start is training to target. If you yourself have never tried clicker training then you will probably find it easier to start with the targeting exercise…later it becomes clear that in order of priority the ‘wait’ lesson is most important but in order to teach that the horse has to be able to associate clicking with treating.

To train any kind of behaviour it must be broken down into small pieces. Don’t continue until it goes wrong or the horse becomes bored. Put 10 treats in your bag, when they’re finished you finish!

You can use an object or indeed your hand (although I do teach this a bit later myself) to target. I use a double tap on the object coupled with the word ‘touch’ immediately afterwards. To begin with you can hold the object and then, after giving the aid to touch, bring the object to touch the horse’s nose. The instant that the horse’s nose makes contact with the object you should click and, as quickly as you can, treat immediately afterwards. Otherwise you could just hang around and wait for him to be interested enough in the object (they're damned nosey creatures) and click when he touches it.
Gradually reduce the speed that you move the object towards the horse after giving the aid to touch and as if by magic the horse will start to move his nose towards the object from choice. This may take one or multiple sessions to establish. Don’t be disappointed if your initial progress is slow, all horses learn in their own timeframe.
More next time, happy clicking.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

running on empty

Haven't blogged for days due to the elephant that had taken up residence on my chest evolving into some rotten flu bug :-(
Anyway, we've all had it and finally I'm starting to feel a little more like myself. Reading anything (even on the computer) was out of the question as it just made my head hurt more. I managed to turn out, muck out and bring in every day (with a little help pushing the barrow on Monday) but they have been sadly neglected (do they care!) and not had a brush near them since saturday.
Today was definitely the best day for a while and I mustered up the energy to groom Chapsi when they came in.
I then took my big green bucket in his stable and we targeted. We then stood still while I chucked the upturned bucket into position by his side and then stomped on it;  I stood on it and rested a little of my weight over his back. All work clicked and treated (or biscuited Allison, lol). To finish I stood on the bucket and asked him to walk towards me (as if approaching a mounting block) and then walked him a little too far past me and asked him to back up. He has met the green bucket once before but I was pleased with his attitude!
Roll on some more energy.
I'm going to try and find time to blog some thoughts on clicker training later or maybe over the week-end.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

atta boy

Oh boy, blogging twice in one day; sorry.

I wasn't going to do anything today due to a stinky chest cold, the things one's husband shares with you! However I felt much better once outdoors and so I groomed Chapsi and took him off up the lane. I had no intention of going as far as last Sunday as the hills wear you out when you're fit but with an elephant camped on your chest they are nigh on impossible. We stopped at the first neighbours, backed and halted a couple of times and then on again. Round the corner we met Beethoven (yes he is a St Bernard, lol) and then a gaggle of humans...very small child on mini-moto with grandmère screaming at him to stop because of the approaching horse, larger child on push bike, Cristelle with babe in her arms, Christophe with one of his vans spilling machinery onto the road, Naomi the black retriever and two unidentified adults. Of course Chapsi stopped dead; bad idea I thought (especially as the push bike was now behind us following us up the road whilst chatting to me) but the boy took a hold of every nerve in his body and continued. We had a pat from Mum and baby and a chat with Christophe (who promises he IS coming down soon to finish the hard standing outside the yard). At the risk of being gushy...I am so proud of my boy :-)

the lazy mare took the stairs

OK I finally went uspstairs and did the youtube bit with the other vid from yesterday. He disappears three times out of the area of influence. The first time I handled it badly, I instinctively followed him out and brought him back, still at liberty, but not right. The second and third times I stayed put and he chose to come back; this is what should happen but I guess we're all human. AND just because I know Di will ask me WHY I have to let him come back...well it's about choices. He has the choice to stay or not and in time I'm hoping he'll stay always. It also gives him a chance to say 'I'm bored' or 'I'm peeved' and his deaf trainer may get the point!!
I'm still carrying the whip for the trot transitions, the physical cue to go forwards being to touch the sweet spot where one day my leg will be. I think this will go next week as he is requiring very little more than voice at the moment.

Friday, November 20, 2009

walk on by

I'm whispering this in case Horse of Course has unblocked her ears! shhh ''it's been another gorgeous day''
So, I rode Moo early and we walked. He was chilled but rather active so we worked on slowing the walk (cue the cordeo, how fab is it to be able to slow the shoulder) with the seat taking energy up rather than letting it forwards. Lots of lateral work and he didn't seem stiff at all.
Chapsi worked at liberty again and I took some vid, mainly from the fence, but for some reason the second two vids haven't uploaded to youtube yet and I can't be bothered to move my backside upstairs to check the other computer to find out why. So here are the first two to be going on with...

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Sunshine always makes things feel good. Today was sunny. Not just sunny but warm with hardly a breath of wind to give you any idea that winter is on it's way. Eighteen degrees at four o'clock is hardly seasonal for November. Today was just one of those 'bonus' days curtesy of the universe; thank you universe.

Started work early and worked all three. Moo first, worked in-hand with lots of stretching and opening up with shoulder yields etc. and by the end he seemed to be loose and showing no stiffness. We'll try riding tomorrow and see if he really is feeling less tight.

The pony's box comes next so he works next. He is so amenable is Peanut. He is also the cleanest equine on the planet with regards to his box. I wish he could share his secret with the others! Peanut started in-hand; we're on the very basics...halt, walk on by myself (him not me that is) and moving away from me ie the very beginnings of giravolta/moving turn on the forehand. He isn't a super star andnever will be but boy does he try. Finished on the lunge and I'm thinking that he MAY stretch down one day. I'm also thinking that he's almost good enough to be able to lunge Looby on him soon.

Last up was Chapsi (maybe I should write that as Chapsy Claire, hehe I hadn't thought of Maria's EE name). For the first time yet the boy chose not to play to start with. As usual we started loose and he just took himself off to play ALONE. In the past I think this would have upset me, enough perhaps to have gone and hooked him up to, at the very least, the cordeo. I'm not impatient, or at least I don't think I am, but I just know that I couldn't have coped as well as I did today. I think my horses are having a very positive effect on me :-)
I got out some cones and made us an area of influence. We had some poles to target and walk over and a couple of cones to target and bend around. Of course he could walk away whenever (and he did a couple of times) but after ten minutes he was quite intent on playing together. I think clicker helped me out big time because of his desire to please (and of course get his treat); I'm not sure if I'm relying on it too much but by the end of our session the reward of him walk/trot/walking on a circle at liberty around me was worth the risk.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

twinkle toes

Gareth the trimmer came by today, all the boys are doing well but I'm especially pleased that Chapsi (after just four trims) is pretty much back to where he would have been without my ex-farrier's rubbish trimming :-(  he now has tight white lines and has lost the nasty flares :-)
It's always lots of chat and some trimming and Gareth really is a source of great info regarding lots of equine matters. He's a good listener too and I answered some of my own questions literally by airing my thoughts.
Moo is going to be a longer job because he had been badly trimmed for much longer but he is on the road and doing well.
I am so stupid not to have taken some 'photos right at the start, doh, so you'll just have to take my word for it. I may post some of them now just as a reference for me.
It was too late to work them after we had finished but they all went out to eat grass, soak up the sun and get INCREDIBLY filthy rolling, bless 'um.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

the cherry on the cake

I haven't worked Moo the last few days (trying not to have too great expectations) but I've had two good seesions in the school with Chapsi.
We start our school sessions at liberty; stopping, starting, backing up and using voice and body as aids. Yesterday we then played with the cordeo; introducing stopping and backing from a light upwards touch. We continued with in-hand trot transitions and finished eating some lush grass on the way back up to the yard.
Today we continued with some work on the ground tying. This is so very hard for a four year old with a busy brain...but that's just the reason it is important. We finished again with the trot transitions but this time at liberty, oh he can be such a good boy.
One of the upsides of this work is that when I lead Chapsi and Peanut pone down to the furthest grazing spot they are well behaved and walk out well, neither of them pulling or trailing.
Oh, nearly forgot, the cherry on the cake. When I was set the challenge of long reining with one unattached rein (see here) it started a conversation on the french bitless association about lunging and where it fits in to the horses education. It was suggested that lunging, far from being the initial means of exercising a horse, is actually the cherry on the cake...the final piece of the jigsaw. I'm not sure that I immediately grasped the importance of this statement BUT as I see my young horse develop on so many different levels I comprehend this better with each passing day.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

bloggin' along with the chook man

I'm logged into the Klaus (anti-rollkur) broadcast as I type so I'm truly multi-tasking. I'm surprised at his common sense, in a good way mind you.
'Horses are a mirror of how society is at that moment in time' couldn't agree more Klaus! The loser is the dignity of the horse...he has so many sound bites.Oh and did he mention his new book out in the new year? You bet ;-)
Oh dear we have disappeared a bit down the chook man's own agenda road :-(  I may have to log off if he continues to tell me how good he is.

On a more mundane note, Chapsi and I took another walk today EVEN though it was raining, lol. We went further today, up to the old school and back, meeting a car en route which was a first. Silly b*gger (driver not my pone) kept driving towards this mad, hi-viz clad Engleesh bird in spite of her being in the middle of the tiniest lane. ARRRGGGHHH. Oh that feels better. So I raised my hand to indicate that it would please me if he stopped and he finally did. There was barely space to pass but the boy just calmly walked on as if he had done it many times. He was a bit excited on the road home, not impossibly so and we stopped and clicked a few times and he calmed himself.
Back home we put a saddle on and loosely did the girth up, he was a bit twitchy but focussed on his clicks and coped brilliantly. A good day.
I should maybe mention our situation here. We have absolutely zero passing traffic and hardly a thing changes in the horses lives from day to day, this is going to make it tricky as I start traffic proofing and experience building. The positives of living somewhere like this though, for me, far outweigh the negatives.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

where you wheelie bin?

A rather unpromising morning gave way to a gloriously sunny afternoon. Chapsi and I headed up the lane past the village and into the woods. Wheelie bins are pretty scary but we targetted and clicked and then he wanted to lift the lids and check out the insides, lol. I just love his deep breathing as we go but he didn't put a foot wrong.

Friday, November 13, 2009

what a difference a day makes...

... Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain

My yesterday was blue, dear
Today I'm a part of you, dear
My lonely nights are through, dear
Since you said you were mine

What a difference a day makes
There's a rainbow before me
Skies above can't be stormy
Since that moment of bliss, that thrilling kiss

It's heaven when you find horses on your menu
What a difference a day made
And the difference is you

What a difference a day makes
There's a rainbow before me
Skies above can't be stormy
Since that moment of bliss, that thrilling kiss

It's heaven when you find horses on your menu
What a difference a day made
And the difference is you

LOL, I'm definitely feeling better. Had Moo tacked up by 9.00 and then worked the pone and Chaps in hand; it certainly helps having some lovely sunshine to work in.
The only downer is that Moo is still 'beaned' up, bugger! The walk work was again great but the trot, oh dear me he's certainly high on something. The merest touch on the reins and he was head throwing and he's not in the mood to work off a piece of string. Oh well he made me laugh but a winter in walk wasn't exactly what I had planned.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


No horse work today, feeling fed up which isn't really me so I made this to cheer me up, lol

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

autumn and it's memories

Oh heck it's autumn all of a sudden. The weather has turned grey and damp and it has that Guy Fawkes night feel; damp and smokey. The boys are most definitely in every night and dinner has turned from grilled to baked, salad to stodge; well that's NOT going to help my soft bits even if the mucking out helps with the fitness.
There's funghi to be had in the fields; field mushrooms (button to flat cap depending on maturity)and some bolets....the elusive cèpes are well, just eluding me.

I always feel so much better at this time of the year if I can work the horses; all that mucking out has to have an upside. Inspite of the autumnal weather I've worked Moo daily and Chapiro once or twice weekly, I've now added the pone (Cacahuète aka Peanut) as Lydia really doesn't get enough time to keep him fit enough now that the nights have drawn in.

Chapiro is four today, still such a baby but maturing nicely and so we'll keep the work going lightly until springtime and then perhaps we'll be ready for riding.

Cacahuète, on the other hand, is the old man of the gang; twenty years old and seen the lot. In the past I've kept him going over winter with a bit of lunging, nothing special just enough to get the blood running. This year I've started working him in hand too and he's very responsive to the clicker work...oh well something else to keep me interested, wish he was a bit bigger I'd ride him.

Moralejo has been really calm in-hand and on the lunge this last week. The in-hand with the cordeo/head collar is good and it IS possible to get a good shape in the neck without a bit. We can work shoulder-in to counter shoulder-in but travers is tricky unless I change sides. His spanish walk is coming on and the trot work in-hand isn't bad...he just needs to be more forward in the upwards transition.
Today was a riding day and he had nervous energy, this is the first time in ages that he has been rather tense to start and maybe it was because we were in the hackamore? The tension soon went with some lateral work and the cordeo is just excellent as an extra aid. Not only does he now accept this as a slowing down aid but you can also use it to influenec the shoulder. This is especially helpful in say the renvers on the right rein which he finds more difficult. It means you can bring the shoulder in with the cordeo and then ask for flexion with the rein and bend with the leg. This is very exciting for a lateral work nerd like me and we had some of our best lateral work today because of it. He was on speed in the trot work to begin with but we did calm it down enough to have a good stretch to finish.

Today we remembered the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918 and the signing of the armistice between the allies and Germany that marked the end of the first world war. In our tiny commune of Jumilhac le Grand there were over one hundred and twenty causualties to that war. In true French style we remembered the fallen in the square today albeit 20 minutes late!

This poem by Alan Seeger, a young man who himself fell in that war, is loved on both sides of the channel....

J'ai un rendez-vous avec la Mort
Sur quelque barricade âprement disputée,
Quand le printemps revient avec son ombre frémissante
Et quand l'air est rempli des fleurs du pommier.

J'ai un rendez-vous avec la Mort
Quand le printemps ramène les beaux jours bleus.
Il se peut qu'elle prenne ma main
Et me conduise dans son pays ténébreux
Et ferme mes yeux et éteigne mon souffle.
Il se peut qu'elle passe encore sans m'atteindre.

J'ai un rendez-vous avec la Mort
Sur quelque pente d'une colline battue par les balles
Quand le printemps reparaît cette année
Et qu'apparaissent les premières fleurs des prairies.

Dieu sait qu'il vaudrait mieux être au profond
Des oreillers de soie et de duvet parfumé
Où l'Amour palpite dans le plus délicieux sommeil,
Pouls contre pouls et souffle contre souffle,
Où les réveils apaisés sont doux.

Mais j'ai un rendez-vous avec la Mort
A minuit, dans quelque ville en flammes,
Quand le printemps d'un pas léger revient vers le nord cette année
Et je suis fidèle à ma parole:
Je ne manquerai pas à ce rendez-vous-là.
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath
It may be I shall pass him still.

I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down, Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear . . .

But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

string brakes or is that breaks?

Today we tested the prototype side pull. Not the clearest 'pic with his lordship being almost white now *rolls eyes*

Now I can tell you that a year ago nothing would have got me to ride on a cold damp morning with a piece of string for brakes! Coupled with the next door equines being mighty interested in our presence and then doing handstands and bombing about to show off, lol. I think that if I learn nothing from this exercise it will have brought about a deeper respect and trust between the two of us. I don't expect it to lead to nothing in any case but just in case.....
What I'm hoping to find is a bridle that can position the head with no tilt, no curl back, no excessive neck bend but with the squeeze of the fingers elicits a soft incurvation from nose to wither. Blimey, it does what I hoped for! I am so amazed and really can't believe how well he went. Downsides...the headcollar doesn't sit securely when you use the rein (totally fixable) the cord reins are just too thin. Now I thought thin would be good and it is but I think they're just too thin and the feel I get from using my old curb reins (very thin for leather) is actually a nicer feel. I want to keep them as thin as possible though because it always makes me want to be delicate in my feel with a lighter rein.
Halting is working well with the cordeo alone and some weight aid to back it up, rein-back is brilliant from the cordeo too. What I found really pleasing was that if I raised my hands and thus the bridle reins then he came up and open, not trying to curl back and down. Shoulder-in, counter s-i, travers all worked well and leg yield with a little shoulder aid through the cordeo worked a treat too. Oh well in for a penny as they say...and trot transitions; not sure if he really did feel looser or just that I felt slightly 'heady' with the thought of a piece of string for brakes but it was incredible. Crap bending on the left but after some tweaking we worked out a system of shoulder guiding with the cordeo and head flexion with the rein, balanced with some leg/weight aids for the other end; conversely no surprise that his right rein wasn't bad at all.
An excellent start, LOADS to work on and improve and more trawling the net to decide on which sidepull (I still like the Enduro but it's only rope and Patrick has promised to try constructing one for me).
The moral of this yourself to see the good in your horse and work with it.
Di asked me the other day about the cone targeting and *stuff* like that and what it's worth was in the general day to day business of riding/working your horse. Well I only got to mention the fact that it helped with trust and confidence before we rolled onto the next topic. I forgot to mention though that without a bit and especially in the liberty and cordeo work you need to find a way to guide the nose (so that you can have inside bend), ie following your finger/hand and crucially targeting is a build up to that.
Hey, I'm on a roll again ;-)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

lost in thought

This has been the longest time I haven't blogged without good reason. I'm not entirely sure why, usually it's a part of my day that I look forward to; updating the progress we've (hopefully) made. I think the problem at the moment is that every answer I find leads me to another question. So I'm not sitting on my butt and doing nothing but as yet I'm still deep in thought (mmm, I think I'm also driving Di mad, sorry).
I have cobbled together a very basic halter to ride in, it worked like a dream in-hand today when I used it with the cordeo. We worked on some transitions to start and then rein-back to walk, then some shoulder-in/counter shoulder-in and travers. The trick is to use the cordeo as a shoulder guide and halting device and only using the reins of the halter for flexion. We finished with some trot work which he really seems to love in-hand, rein-back to trot is one big energy boost, lol.
The cordeo works on the base of the neck to re-balance the horse rearwards, as you watch the process from the ground it's interesting to see the way the neck lifts but without hollowing the back.
Lots more to come but just a touching base blog night :-)