Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Using a clicker, or battling dragons the easy way

Since I couldn't ride today, I started leafing through a new print acquisition: Clicker Training: Colt Starting the Natural Horse by Leslie Pavlich. No babies to fool with this year, but it wouldn't hurt to work with the mares on a few things, and the three-year-olds are still baby enough to work on lots of things.

A fellow LibraryThinger uses the handle "Puddleshark", which she defines as follows:
  • Puddleshark (n) the largest British freshwater predator. Inhabits shallow bodies of water and preys on part-bred Arabian horses.
I've ridden numerous horses over the years, several of which have parked my behind on the ground at unexpected moments. (There's at least one bluff/ravine/gully sort of thing out by Kennebec, SD that's known to my friends as "my" hill since I beat the horse down it.) But other than one particularly dramatic drop-out-from-under-and-spin gelding that I rode everywhere as a kid, I've never been on anything that can notice all manner of normal and odd things quite like a Arabian. One too many sudden stops and spooks from mailboxes, large rocks, horse-eating plastic bags and scary bushes convinced me that I needed to do something or I was going to be walking home more often than I'd like.

Enter the clicker. Anyone else use one? I was initially skeptical -- horses that get treats bite, after all, right? And who wants to be mobbed in the pasture by mouthy, pushy horses? Well, I decided to try it anyway, and I've discovered it makes a great way to positively reinforce curiosity. Curiosity rather than fear of new things translates to "touch" the scary object rather than high-tail it in the opposite direction.

There's a great book Clicker Training for Your Horse byAlexandra Kurland, that I'd highly recommend. She also has a helpful website.

I've used a clicker to help teach haltering, feet handling, loading, whoa, over and all manner of other useful behaviors. What I really like about it, though, is that using a clicker really seems to stimulate inquisitive behavior -- if Sunny sees something new, he doesn't immediately assume it's going to eat him. And he's engaged and focused on me while we're working.

Admittedly, I've found it most useful on the ground -- it doesn't translate as well to riding, but it's not a bad tool for starting & backing.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Goal 1) Ride more...

It's easy to say "I love riding" -- it's true, after all. But somehow I have a mental block when it comes to actually saddling up and getting on. It's so much simpler to just wander out with a brush and spend some quality time communing with the hairy beasts -- especially in the spring. There's all that winter coat to be cleaned off, mud to remove, feet to be trimmed... and since these guys aren't show ponies in the normal run of things, they don't spend their days blanketed under lights.

So, "ride more" is likely to be easier to do once spring has really sprung. It's sure trying, but April in South Dakota has recently dumped yet another 13" of snow on us. We went from 70'+ on Wednesday to 20's and blizzard on Friday. Okay, so it's melting -- into more mud! I think goal one may have to wait a few more days, folks!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sometimes you have to gamble

Sunny is my eight year old half-Arabian gelding. That's him pictured off to the left as an hours-old foal a few short years back.

I've been wanting to try this whole blogging thing for a while, and am finally getting around to it. I was inspired by FuglyHorseoftheDay and her It's a Really Long Way Down, which I highly recommend checking out, by the way.

Anyway, in the last few years I've been having fun working with the horses at a friend's farm. She refers to me as her horse "handler" -- my term since I'm definitely not knowledgeable enough to call my self a trainer! She breeds on a very small, selective basis (1 or 2 foals a year) I do groundwork with her foals & young stock.

I bought Sunny from her as a two-year-0ld. It had been a long time since I'd owned a horse -- over 10 years. I hadn't even ridden much since scrimping and saving for lessons on school horses in college. (More on that later.)

At any rate, I tend to get sucked in to doing more of what comes easy - groundwork - and less of what I approach with more than slight trepidation: riding. This year I'm setting a couple of goals, and this blog will document the process of (hopefully!) achieving them.

Goals: 1) Ride more.
2) Worry less.