Saturday, August 9, 2008

Day One, August 6, 2008

A year ago, I bought a yearling Friesian Sport Horse. I named him Jacques, as he had come with the unremarkable name of "Jock". Once my husband called him "Jockstrap", I knew I had to do something with that name. Here is a 2 day old photo of him and the photo that made me fall in love with him, he is about 5 months old in this photo.

He went through a rough adolescence, but started to pull together really nicely again this spring. He still looks young but is filled out and quite pretty right now. He turned two about 10 days ago.

Why did I buy such a young horse? Well, the price was right for one thing. And I had planned on sending him out to a trainer, however, through a lot of very unfortunate circumstances this past year, I did not have the money to do so. I had worked with and green broken a young horse maybe 30 years ago. So I decided to try this on my own.

So according to some, I'm doing it all wrong. I have a Friesian cross which so many seem to equate with the Devil himself. This is a sensible young horse who does lose his pea brain every now and then, but I remind myself that he's just still a baby in so many ways. He has the inquisitive and intelligent mind of a Friesian. He plays with toys, fetches his rubber chicken for me (and I have GOT to get a photo of this some day!), can undo any latch you care to put on a door or a fence and is in a word, inccorrigible. However, he is quite charming and so he does get forgiven when he does things that I would prefer he doesn't do. It's like a puppy thing, if the puppy ate the $200 Gucci high heels, just what idiot left them out on the floor with a perfectly good closet sitting not 4 feet away? Take out the newspaper and whack yourself, please. My husband calls him The Big Brown Puppy and Poopsie.

Many people don't like the idea of Friesian crosses or of any other type of cross. Well, folks, deal with it. He was born and I didn't breed him. I got him for an excellent price and got great value for my money. He is exactly what I want in a horse as far as looks and personality. I'm happy with the deal. Don't rain on my parade!

I also have, apparently again, according to people that I don't even know, another strike against me, as I am training with techniques that some don't agree with. Yes, I am doing my training with Clinton Anderson. I went to one of his demonstrations and I bought the stick and string and the halter and rope and yes, even blew some money on some DVDs. Guess what? It was my money, and it was how I chose to spend it. He seems to train firmly and looking for control and respect from the horse, to keep the human and the horse safe and sane, and to produce some results that will benefit both. I am really at a loss as to why some people object so strongly to this way of training. But, then again, I clicker train my dogs. I remember when that way came out, I was highly suspicious. After all, what I did with training dogs and teaching others to train WORKED, it worked well, and shoot, why should I train any other way? Except...I was curious. How did that little clicker do anything to train dogs? Well, it doesn't, but you do use a system based on scientific priciples of learning to teach an animal this way of learning. And you fade out the clicker after a period of learning and then you don't need it unless you are training a new behavior. So I got a book and read it. And then another. I was fascinated, and had a Pembroke Welsh Corgi that would not fetch no matter what I did with her. I decided to train her to fetch using this method, because if she didn't fetch, well, then, the method didn't work, right? And I could go back to my old way of training and do just fine, thank you very much. So I got a couple of video tapes which I studied at length, read the books again and acquired a clicker. And guess what? I trained that dog to fetch ANYTHING without forcing her to open her mouth or forcing her to do anything. She did it because she wanted to play this new and fun game and was thrilled with the process of not only learning but understanding that this was a way of communicating what I wanted to her. I was also thrilled and in 8 sessions over a week, 5-10 min a session, I now have a dog who will fetch anything that I throw for her. She didn't understand the rules of fetch and I taught them to her.

Now, to be fair, I did get some clicker training tapes for horses. And a couple of books. And I do intend to incorporate this way of training in to what I am doing with Jacques. But in the meantime, he has lacked some training, he has some holes in what he should know at this age. And I didn't know how to fix them. One is that he won't lead from one side. Another is that he can be uncooperative with one back foot. The other back foot isn't all that great, either. So in his previous life, the first year of life, he missed some important lessons. So I did some clicker training and got him to come when I call him, to back up when I ask for it, to pick up his front feet. He will also fetch when you toss something for him and he will turn his head from side to side, also he will not mug for treats anymore. However, he is disrespecful of my space, will walk over me with a mumbled "'scuse me" at best and pushes me out of the way if he wants what is behind me. Not in a mean way and not in a horse way (biting, ears pinned, etc.) but just that he has realized that I weigh a lot less than he does, therefore, he can easily move me if he needs to.

So, I like what Clinton says about how to fix this, too. As a matter of fact, whether Clinton realizes it or not, he is using positive reinforcement, positive and negative punishment and a lot of other principles from learning and behavior training. He just doesn't know the fancy words for these things.

I came home from the seminar, loaded up with lots of ideas, all charged up and ready to do things with my baby boy. But as happens, life gets in the way and there are trips to the grocery store, bills to pay, work to be accomplished and if all else fails, the wind blows and makes it difficult for any young horse to hold on to his brains. It took about a week and then I'd sort of forgotten the progression of what I needed to do. So I whipped out my DVD and watched it. Just to be sure, I wrote things down in a notebook that I can take out to the corral with me. OK, I know how stupid that must sound but I really wanted to do things right and not screw up my horse by missing a critical step. I picked up more body language from the DVD and a few more small hints that helped me understand the process better.

So. Here I was, ready to rock and roll. I gathered up the stick and string, the new halter and lead rope, the notebook. I should have added a bottle of water for me (I did remember to bring a hat) and it was a very hot day. I went out and got him into the round pen and hyperventillated a little bit. Would this work? Could I do it? I had just had so many people tell me that I couldn't do it that I'd sort of started to believe it. I felt like I was in a plane, ready to make my first jump with a parachute.

So I got to work. Lesson one is to establish a direction for the horse to go in, no lead rope, just get him moving in a circle around you with the stick. Point the direction, cluck to the horse to remind him that you want something and to get going, and spank the ground on the opposite side of where you want him to go with the stick and string. This involves getting him to lope, I guess to get some of that excess energy under control and wear him out a bit so he listens to you instead of reacting too quickly in the wrong fashion. Round and round we went. I discovered that I was getting dizzy, so that wasn't good. I also discovered that I am way out of shape, even trotting around in a small circle on a hot day. I was huffing and puffing with Jacques. So I concentrated on watching his rear, or glancing at the posts of the pen for a while. I also discovered if I made a small square to move myself in, instead of a circle, that it worked better and kept me from getting dizzy.

After a few minutes, it was time to change direction. So we did what Clinton told us to. It sure looked easier when he did it. Jacques was uncertain what I wanted, hell, I was uncertain what I wanted. I wasn't coordinated and felt very awkward. This is like learning a new dance, hands here, do 1,2,3 first, then step over here, then step back. I remembered how awkward I'd been when I trained my first dog. Yep, it's the same thing. But once I get the routine down, it will be easier. The first few times Jacques turned into the fence which was a no no, and disrespectful to show me his butt. I got after him, and made him do it again. This time he got it but only accidentally right because the next time he did it wrong again. So I was patient and we just kept trying. After a while, we both started to get what the dance was about, I move here, you do this, I let off the pressure and you keep moving til I ask you to do it again. I still caught myself pointing, clucking and spanking at the same moment, and it's wrong. I need to go into the yard and lounge an imaginary horse around. Silly as that sounds, it will teach me the steps to take and do. I use this method when I am teaching older people in my dog obedience classes, and it works.
By now I'm dripping with sweat and notice that he is being chased by some big fat horse flies, so I stop and go find the bug spray. And he allows me to spray him, he seems to realize that the bugs go away when I do this. It's something I've been working on with him for a while. I'm very pleased about this and tell him what a good boy he is.
Meanwhile, the two Appy girls are racing around the pasture, kicking, bucking and farting, because after all, Jacques is running around and so therefore, they must, too. Finally they settle down and go back to grazing, but Jacques is slowing down each time around to look at them and wanting to stop. Clinton says to keep going so I make him do that and make him do his turns at different places in the corral.
The next lesson is to get him to follow me, come to me, even just a step or two, so we work on that. Then start to get him to follow me in a small circle (both ways) and then a larger circle. I didn't get to the weaving back and forth part of this lesson, I had spent over an hour doing what I described above (and no, I did not make him run for an hour). It shouldn't have taken me this long. But this was the first time I'd done it, I felt awkward and unpracticed. He was doing pretty well at the circling and even though Clinton wanted me to do some desensitiving exercises, we were both hot and ready to stop. Jacques was changing directions, starting to move a step or two when I said "go" and pointed, and following me. I had to clean up and go teach a dog obedience class so we finished on a high note and stopped.
I sprayed the girls with bug spray while I was out there, and went and got some horse cookies for all to finish up.
So, what do I think? Well, this all happened on Thurday. Right away, I noticed him watching me more, not moving into my space as much, more thoughtful, if you can say that about a horse. He was looking at me with new eyes and more respectful. I could actually feel it and that was a different sensation for me. Friday and Saturday I had to leave town, and today (Saturday) began out rainy and now the wind is blowing quite a clip and I don't train on windy days. I hope it calms down later on, if it does, I'm ready to get right out there.
I like what we have accomplished so far. I hope I can get someone to take a couple of photos so I can post them here.
I am anxious to get out and work with my boy again.

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