Archive for October, 2009
I recall one of the wisest sayings I ever learned regarding the training of horses. A coach of mine for many years, the late Major David Pardoe, often used to say “never pick a fight you can’t win.” Over the years I have come to realize how profound this sentiment is.I have reached the conclusion there is next to nothing to be gained by trying to beat or frighten a horse into submission. At the worst : you and /or the horse could be badly hurt. At the very least you create an atmosphere of mistrust which makes training nearly impossible.
Horses are extremely social creatures. In a herd they mimic and take behavioral cues from the lead horse. In our stables , schools , facilities and humanized environments horses take their socialization cues increasingly from us , their caregivers, stable masters , riders and trainers. They look to us for feedback and recognize us as their herd leaders for better or worse. If we are wise , we will do our best to make them feel safe, secure , non threatened and yet develop an enthusiasm for doing our bidding which may only be that of fair expectations vis a vis their age , conditioning ,ability and schooling.We must also rule out pain or disease as a reason for antisocial behaviour.
As Larissa discussed in the previous post on treats and their place in training , we must be careful not to spoil the horse or overdo rewards which have not been earned. By the same token I use withdrawal of approval as my primary method of discipline with my horses.This should not be confused with correction , which is a normal and necessary part of training. The whip and spur used only as aids and not instruments of abuse cause the horse very little pain or stress and merely emphasize a point in training.
Discipline on the other hand is clear and emphatic notice of strong disapproval leaving the horse with a very clear recognition of the fact that certain behaviours are absolutely non negotiable and unacceptable. Biting , kicking , rearing , setting out to throw a rider , balking, bolting ,dragging are a few examples I would place in this category
Having clearly eatablished to the horse that a pat,kind word or treat represent various levels of reward: we then have the opportunity to reverse the process ie: a sharp NO, no pats , no treats, no interaction at all and a quick return to the stall with no feedback whatsoever except perhaps a rather loud shutting of the stall door and a somewhat exaggerated stomping away muttering very unhappy remarks such as “bad horse” or “we don’t do that here” or” That is not acceptable!”Now the horse having come to seek our approval has absolutely no problem understanding it’s removal.In serious cases I make rather more fuss of grain for everyone else at night feed and a clear “bad horses don’t get grain ” for the offender.Actually a loud pinging of ONE pellet in the bin is even more effective!
Using this method I have found we have not hurt the horse, we have not frightened the horse, we have developed the horse’s ability to make choices and consider consequences, in short to think about their behaviour and decide to do better.
With horses who have a previous history of being abused this method must be introduced slowly and clearly as the horse’s triggers for fear , panic and acting out may still override their reasoning abilities. Over time , with patience I have never seen this method fail to improve their outlook.
We want our horses to enjoy being with us , to have expectations of good things when we appear.Not only do they become happier day to day it also gives us more leverage when we wish to make a strong point regarding the seriousness of a bad behaviour.
Owning a horse is very much like parenting. The same qualities are needed to have a functional life in your stable as in your family life. Consistency of expectations, fairness, clarity of boundaries and no waffling on those boundaries. Then you will have a barn of sane , happy , well adjusted horses who do not suffer the stress of never knowing where they stand. “A thinking trainer creates a thinking horse” Practice happy,positive horse keeping and never hold a grudge. When you have made your point , let it go. Every day your horse must know they have a new chance to regain your favour. Cheers. Libby Keenan
Story by Libby Keenan
Photos and Art by Larissa Cox
Jenna and Madison seldom rode together. In fact , they really had very little in common except that they both took lessons from Ms. Pamela Leicht at Fairfield Heights not far from Dover. This particular Friday evening their lessons had been put together. The schedule was all mucked up as it was the night before Halloween and everyone had plans so lessons had been moved , and changed and rebooked the whole week prior. Ms. Leicht liked both the girls well enough but was suffering from back pain as the weather had turned damp and raw and she, truth be known was in no mood to coach! After about 30 minutes of warming up, she suddenly jumped off the large mounting block she often sat on while coaching and said “girls, why don’t you take the rest of the hour and go for a hack down through the orchard?” …but neither girl really wanted to go . It was cold, they were not friends and both had very different ideas of what made for an enjoyable hack. Madison preferred to walk briskly in a nice , long round frame while Jenna loved galloping down all the lanes and jumping any logs or ditches they came across on the way. It was clear that Pamela Leicht was not in the mood to be trifled with so off they went , a very odd couple indeed.
By the time they rounded the corner at the end of the stables and were headed down the path that led through the old apple orchard twilight was falling and a thick fog was settling in making sounds become muffled and giving the old blackberry bushes along the hedge an eerie sinister look , like so many outstretched arms with knarled fingers.
They had little to say to each other and plodded along each lost in their own thoughts. Down the lane past the orchard they heard the chimes of the ancient church bells…
….and wished they were home eating supper and not here in the damp , cold and unsettling atmosphere of the foggy orchard.
They had reached the far end of the orchard and started up along the fence shared by the old church graveyard.They gone only a few yards when the sound of hooves pounding toward them made them both sit tall , shorten their reins and both horses’ ears had shot up as though this were a sound completely new to them….
The hoof beats came closer and closer, then faded again several times as if the rider were circling the graveyard. Through the thickening fog the girls could not see who it was but became even more distraught…
Suddenly out of the mist came a gigantic black horse. His nostrils flared and his eyes seemed to be glowing a menacing yellow. On his back was a tall, masculine figure in a black cape but where this rider’s neck should be was only a large gaping hole!
Madison, her heart pounding furiously, jumped off Corky and pulled him quickly behind one of the apple trees. Jenna and Barker seemed frozen, rooted to the ground. “Oh Lord help us… “ Jenna croaked out in a hoarse whisper,“it’s him, the headless horseman”. They’d both heard the story countless times but no one at Fairfield heights thought it was anything but an old legend meant to scare the girls at Halloween. After what seemed to be a lifetime of fright, the black horse had vanished in the fog again, off on another one of his seemingly endless rounds of the cemetery. With each beat of the horse’s massive black hooves, a ghost from the old graveyard was stirred into animation…
Soon, the whole graveyard in front of which the two girls stood was teaming with spirits from times long gone…
Even the stone wall seemed to have been possessed with a malevolent ghost…
The girls seemed unable to move. They stayed motionless for what seemed an eternity and then finally realized the pounding hooves had stopped. Silence, except for the odd apple dropping off and thudding on the ground, a few more minutes and Madison recovered her breath enough to squeak “let’s get out of here!!!” In a trot so fast that Jenna had to duck her head under apple branches they turned and made for home. By the time they reached the barn each girl had begun to wonder if the fog and their minds were not playing tricks on them. Still, there was no denying the alert uneasiness of the horses.
That night curled up under her comforter Madison chatted on her cell to her best friend Julie. “Hey maddy, are ya comin out with me tomorrow night for trick and treat?” Quietly Madison replied ” sorry Julie , I can’t go out this year, my Da’s sick and I have to stay home and help my Mum give out the candy.” Oh that’s a shame Julie said, “we were all thinking about taking a hike down past the old graveyard by Fairfield Heights… you know like we always do and look for the Headless Horseman! Who knows? Maybe this year he’ll show!” she chuckled, laughing at the ridiculousness of such a notion. “Hmmmm… maybe” said Maddy in a small and thoughtful voice. ” Well, have fun Julie I have to go now. Happy Halloween.”
For more scary treats and tales during this Halloween Fete…make your way to A Fanciful Twist!
Story by Larissa Cox
Feeding a treat or two to your horse may seem like a great way to show your horse you are a friendly and loving owner. However, before you hand over the peppermint flavored alfalfa cube, think about whether the horse’s behavior warrants the positive reinforcement.
A good education program for any animal (including humans) follows a similar pattern: realistic goals, consistent approach in asking for the achievement of those goals, and positive reinforcement when the goals have been met. Whenever you are working with a horse, you are communicating with them what you consider acceptable social behavior. Giving positive reinforcement in the form of treats at inconsistent moments while working and being with them may cause the horse confusion, and possible problems in the future, especially when unintentionally rewarding bad behavior (ex: pushing on you resulting in getting fed a treat). Be aware what you are communicating to your horse, and what their response was to that cue before you decide to feed a treat or not.
Treats should also be kept in their proper niche in the training scheme: as a positive REINFORCEMENT to a previously given cue that the horse responded in the desired manner towards. Therefore, the treat should not negate the need for an initial cue. Holding out an apple tauntingly in front of a horse so that they may approach a trailer destroys the training process. There is a notion of a goal, but it is not been divided into realistic steps (if the horse walks towards the trailer following the apple – great! Let’s see if he will walk INTO the trailer as well before he gets the apple). There is no initial cue besides holding out a treat to follow, and therefore no connection with affirmation to desired behavior if the horse responds correctly. Instead, when approaching a task, think about the end goal, and the steps the task might be divided into. Decide on a consistent cue that you will be giving the horse to achieve those steps, and be prepared to give positive reinforcement when those steps are completed in a desirable fashion. To use the trailering example again: you decide the end goal is to get all 4 feet into the trailer. You decide approaching the trailer is the first step, each foot in the trailer is a separate step, with four feet in the trailer as the final step, and have decided to unload and re-approach the trailer between each step. You give a treat as a positive reinforcement after each successfully completed step, and keep your cues consistent throughout the task. With this approach, the horse correlates a treat with responding in a certain way to your cues, rather than a treat with something he may or may not get by walking forward after it.
Libby Keenan, co-author of TacknTalk Blog sees feeding treats as positive reinforcement to cues as able to “help build a conscience [in the horse]” as ultimately they will gain an understanding of what is desirable behavior and what is undesirable behavior. Ie: the horse will start to “know the rules.” “They will work very hard for a treat…but some days they cannot resist the naughty behavior and do not even come looking for a treat as they know what the deal was.” Additionally, riders who have used Clicker Training for their horses which works on the premise of a *click* and a treat for positive reinforcement for desirable behavior note good manners around food, and a general understanding of why treats would be given.
On a final note, I do not believe that treats are the only positive reinforcement that can be used in horse training: a pet, a verbal affirmation, or a release of the asking cue, could all be used effectively. The important thing to remember is a positive reinforcement is a necessary step in the training process, and leads to trust and enthusiasm for work. What form that positive reinforcement takes is up to you – and may vary from horse to horse. Looking at various training methodologies and see how the goal –> cue –> horse’s response –> affirmation process is managed, and see if it works for you.
Have fun and happy horse training!!
Story By: Larissa Cox
Shipping a horse overseas is not the daunting task that it may seem, but it does take planning, coordination, scheduling and lots of time to make sure that the horse makes that smooth transition. So, what were the obstacles I faced and how did I make my decision to take Rio with me to the UK?
Initially, I had to do the research to establish the cost and the requirements necessary of shipping a horse to the UK. The United Kingdom requires that any equine being imported from the United States spend 30 days in an approved isolation facility which meets federal standards regarding space, sanitation and proximity to other animals. As my horse would be shipped from the United States to the UK, an USDA Equine Approved Isolation Facility would be used as the United States government requirements for maintaining the integrity of the isolation are very specific and stringent. This facility would be subject to unannounced inspection by the USDA personnel at any time during the isolation period which made me feel very comfortable that the facility would follow the specific standards necessaryin maintaining my horse. However, would this facility provide that “personal attention” my horse deserves and to me THAT was a very important factor.
I contacted many facilities to enquire about their routine and their staff and I was extremely fortunate to locate EZ 2 Spot Ranch, Dianne and Terry Nielsen owners, a USDA facility and international shipper located in Texas who personally oversee each and every one of the horses. As I started this process months in advance of my shipping date, this allowed me enough time to organize and formulate my shipping plan.
Now that I knew the costs and the procedure involved, the next question on my mind was it really necessary to ship my horse to the UK, and if so, which horse? Making that decision to ship a horse overseas was not an easy one and took days of careful thought and discussion. In my case, I weighed the pros and cons of keeping my horse home or taking him with me. If a horse would go, which one would it be, as I have three lovely companions. If I kept all three at home, what would they be doing…would they continue training or would they be out to pasture for the entire duration? What would the downside be of keeping them on pasture for the three years that I would be gone. If they were not out on pasture, who would train them? Would my family be able to spend the time taking care of my horses? Based on the cost, it was established that I could only take one horse with me, so which one would it be and why? It was decided that Rio would be coming with me as Rio was the one that needed the consistent, strict training regime in order to develop the trust and communication necessary in a competitive dressage horse. My other horses would stay at a full board facility, and would get regular exercise from a friend, who is a kind and gentle rider. My family would also be able to stop by on a regular basis to check up on my two geldings back home.
Now that a decision was made to take Rio with me, what next? EZ 2 Spot Ranch was contacted and a confirmation was made for shipping, however, that was only the beginning. I knew that Rio was being shipped early September, that meant he needed to enter quarantine early August, so arrangements were made not only for shipping Rio from Washington State to Texas, but also his preparation for travel, his 30 plus days of non-work and his entry into the UK and UK transport.
In May, Rio started his slow conditioning down process which meant his training schedule slowly decreased weekly leading up to his Texas shipping date. His grain portion was slowly decreased in conjunction with his conditioning down schedule. Remember that Rio would be in quarantine for 30 days with no work what-so-ever! Over the next several months, there was a decrease in riding and/or lungeing. Not only was the length of the ride time decreasing, but so was the frequency of daily rides. This could not be done suddenly, but over time in order to provide Rio with the proper conditioning down. A change in supplements were also taking place. As the grain decreased, there was an increase in the multi-vitamin supplement he received. As well, during the month of July, Rio was started on a calming Chinese Herbal supplement to prepare him for the stresses of travel. The transition of farrier services was also considered. Rio’s shoes were removed allowing him the time to get used to going barefoot in preparation of the quarantine period and travel.
How do I get Rio to Texas and what about transportation over the pond? Not only did I have to coordinate the international shippers, but a national shippers had to be contacted to make arrangements for Rio to be transported to Texas. Hubbard Horse Transport, a service I used many times in the past, provided the Washington to Texas portion.
Once Rio arrived in Prestwick, Scotland, the horse transport company that I selected was Boothroyden Horse Transportation Service. Rio was to be shipped in a personal carrier for his 8-hour trip from Scotland to Gloucestershire.
What about horse insurance? Rich Maggard of West Coast Equine Insurance Services was a HUGE help in providing me with the assistance to organize Rio’s travel insurance within North America and abroad as well as helping me with Rio’s medical and surgical insurance needs while he was in the UK.
The vet appointment was made for Rio’s Coggins and Health Certificates and we waited for confirmation of the shipping day!
August 4th was departure day so the day before , I prepared a ”travel bag” for Rio which included daily probiotics for his trip, SmartPaks for his 30 day quarantine period, a fly sheet and fly mask, fly spray and a feed bucket. Rio’s Coggins and Health Certificates along with his insurance information were placed in a water proof binder along with his Passport, which is a requirement for the horse to have when in the UK. The farrier was called and Rio was trimmed the day before he left.
The organization was done, Rio was shipped, so how did it all turn out?
After 7 days of travel, Rio arrived at EZ 2 Spot Ranch and began his quarantine period with 6 minature donkeys, who were to be his travel mates! Dianne Nielsen slowly introduced Rio to his new travel friends.
Dianne kept in touch with me during Rio’s 30 day quarantine, sending me updates and pictures of how he was doing. On September 9th, Rio was loaded into an equine cargo container with his donkey buddies and made the trip to Scotland calmly arriving in Prestwick, Scotland at 1pm September 10th. Rio and the donkey’s were escorted by a member of EZ 2 Spot Ranch to make sure that they made the trip without problems.
Aside from a little weight gain and long, chipped feet, and a missing fly sheet and fly mask, Rio arrived a happy and calm boy. Now to start the conditioning up process….but hey that’s another story.
Quarantine and airfare: $5000 Overground shipping: $1200 (US) 500 Pounds (UK) Cost of having Rio with me: Priceless
Happy Riding, Larissa
Update: May, 2012
Well, both Rio and I are now back home. I must say that the organization of the trip back home for Rio was very simple. JetPets took care of everything!!
We actually started the organization process for Rio’s return a month before his anticipated departure date, which was to be at the end of April, 2012. However, there was a container leaving early in April and they had room for my big boy. Vet checks, travel to Amerstam and the flight home on KLM airlines was done very quickly and efficiently, all within a few days. Rio was in quarantine for 3 days after arriving in L.A. on a Wednesday. He was back home in Lynden, Washington by Saturday afternoon. I must say that JetPets, for the return flight home, was amazing. Thank you Lindley for all you have done. Return cost: $11,000.