If Hitler likes -R you might want to change your mind

If you’ve been around the horse training world for over 2 decades listening to the Natural Horsemanship trainers Medicine Show and you know how much of it is actually bullshit you will find this Hitler Rant Parody very funny because it hits the horseshoe nail on the head.

IT WILL ONLY MAKE THE HORSES FAT!!

Thinking about this Hitler seems to know a LOT about how clicker training works!!

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Horse notes to self

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I’m going to start this new thing where a few times a month I’ll jot down some things that have struck me about the training process that I want to remember but don’t really call for an entire blog post about it:

tinycarrot  I always push too much, trying “one more time” because that is my personality – it’s also how we’ve been taught in sports (push past the limits!). But I’m seeing that I’m getting better at stopping when the horse is still interested, leaving him wanting more, and finding a good place to end.

tinycarrot  Personally, I prefer working tackless (probably because I’m lazy) but I need to remember to put Dante into a halter or a cavesson right from the start. He has associated the bridling to work and I need to change that narrative in his head to something more positive.

tinycarrot  Just started getting him to touch the fly mask – another thing that I would have expected him to be okay with and he is decidedly NOT. Remember, don’t push it! Let him get more familiar with it.

tinycarrot  He’s far more willing to be active in the evening but I go out in the morning. I’ll have to think on this and how it would fit into my schedule. Perhaps when it gets super hot here in the summer I’ll do that so I can hose him off.

tinycarrot  Winter coat is almost all shed off but he still has too much for my liking. What is coming in underneath though is black and he’s got some shine so maybe finally all these supplements are working. Definitely he seems to prefer the taste of Horse Tech Black 3 to the Horseshine flax seed.

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It’s about a Brush…

Over the decades, I’ve discarded, lost or gave away horse equipment and tack. As my life changed and I felt more hopeless and sad (i.e. the death of Pepper, the problems with Z, the choice of euthanasia for Tristan), I pulled away from investing into my horse equipment.

About 45 days ago I sat down with myself and had a discussion. Was I going to continue doing the very least with Dante because I was feeling down about his health issues or was I going to pull myself out of this slump? Was I going to reclaim my love for horses or truly just let it die away?

Another conversation was acknowledging I needed to return to the place I was when I bought Pepper: excited about my horse – looking at every moment being precious.

I asked myself what did I do with Pepper that I could do with Dante? Of course the answers are about time – I would spend time just being with Pepper, grooming her, playing with her, sitting with her in addition to riding and training her.

Recently, I placed an order for one of my favorite brushes. This was a significant step – because of the reasons I cited above. It’s time to shed the grief and move forward again. For the first time, I have the surplus money to indulge myself if I choose wisely and space out my purchases. This is a huge difference from my time when Pepper came into my life – I had a preschooler and a baby, wasn’t working outside the home, and money was tight.

Finally, now I have the means and time to indulge a bit. And I need to bring my feelings to the party.

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Here’s a rather long run down on the grooming equipment I use the most and recommend the highest (once I got started apparently I couldn’t stop):

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1.) a Rice Root brush. These stiff bristles make a good “mud” brush to knock off dirt clumps from the horse’s body coat, especially the legs, and is my favorite during winter. They are quite stiff so if you own a horse with sensitive skin this might be only for winter.

Typically this is the first brush to use in your grooming regime until the horse has a thin summer coat and then you switch to the brush below.

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2.) Tampico Brush has softer bristles making it soft enough for a thinner summer coat or as a “finishing” brush – the brush used at the end of your grooming session (after the mud brush) to bring up shine. Soft enough for the face.

When I was teaching lessons I bought a complete grooming kit for each horse so there would be no cross contamination if a horse had any sort of disease or infection. When you need to clean and disinfect your brushes check out Brush Therapy!

Last note on brushes: I’m not a fan of any of these popular, nylon bristle brushes unless you are using them for bathing. Nylon bristled brushes are cheap brushes that don’t fit comfortably in the hand and neither do they clean the coat very well. In my experience, nylon brushes have too long bristles making it hard to work out the dirt in the hair and they also lose bristles over time.

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3.) Curry comb. There’s a lot of choices and I’ve tried many of them. However, these with the finger points are actually the best on removing hair and dirt with less effort of time and pressure. I use them mostly when the winter coat starts the shedding. Trust me, I taught two summers of horse camps with dozens of kids and many horses, these are the best.

Personally, I prefer the Unigroom brand but that is only available now in the pet stores in the dog area. It also seems they are discontinuing it 😦

4.) Shedding blades should only be used on the thickest of coats (i.e. winter) or to clean the other brush (run the serrated edge over the bristles which knocks out dust and hair). The one that I prefer is the single blade with handles and that has a metal loop which slides off, to open the blade up as a strap.

The multi circles one is way too harsh. If you use help or children, do not let them near this tool – you’ll regret it.

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5.) Hoofpicks. Generally, I’ve just used a cheap one but with Dante’s draft-like feet, I’ve recently bought this other Ultimate hoofpick. It has a sharper, wedge sized pick and is extremely sharp! With it, it’s been easier to pull out debris in packed hooves but be careful which direction you go as you can actually cause some damage it’s that sharp!

6.) Thrush spray – PURE Hard Surface Disinfectant is what I highly recommend! This is a clear spray which does not stain, sting or smell. It destroys thrush on contact and is recommended by the natural hoof trimmers. I prefer to buy the gallon jug and then dispense into a smaller spray bottle. However, you can buy a smaller bottle from Office Depot.

BATHING

I live in a hot area of the US so during the summer we will have at least 30 days where we are above 100 degree F. With Dante’s dark coat that situation is made worse so he sweats almost everyday of late spring, summer and early fall.

For that reason I rinse him off almost every day during the summer and only bath him with shampoo about once a week or twice a month.

I also no longer show so having a squeaky clean horse at all times is not of any consequence to me. Another thing is I believe horses build up a natural oil in their coat which I don’t want to interfere with on a daily basis with shampoo.

squeegee_scraperThe Sweat Scraper that I like the best has a rubber squeegee on it. This sweat scraper really takes out the water from the coat, which means your horse will dry faster. You’ll be amazed at how much more moisture is removed from the coat with this type of scraper!

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For bathing, I buy a Water Wand from a garden store. This gives me nice gentle spray and with the long handle I can reach all over the horse without having to get close (i.e. over the back, under the tail, the inside of the legs etc…). I’ve used the hand held pistol sized ones and they are harder to use, and generally don”t give the gentle spray I prefer.

Shampoos: I like to try different brands and I admit that I get seduced by smells. I worked at Petsmart when they still had State Line Tack so had a chance to look through a bunch of different shampoos. What you need to be careful about is a lot of the newer brands today are very thin – lots of water – with nice smells and a high price tag.

Corona is a great brand and is one I keep in my tack room. It gives a lot of lather with just a capful and it washes out really easily, leaving no residue. The price is great.

Vetrolin bath still has that amazing smell! Great price, lathers really well and rinses out great!

For color coats, especially white or black check out the Quic color brands but remember horse coats are really built first from nutrition.

My favorite medicated shampoos include Aloe Advantage Concentrated Shampoo for equines but for some reason this product is getting harder and harder for me to find 😦 Otherwise I just use Farnam’s Aloedine Aloe Vera with Iodine shampoo for fungal infections.

Vetrolin Liniment I use as a Brace after a workout for when I don’t want to shampoo the coat (I like to only wash with shampoo about once a  week). To use as a brace, take about 1/4 cup of Liniment and mix to a gallon of water. Use a small flexible bucket to scoop the brace over the horse’s body, don’t rinse off, and just squeegee clean.

Conditioners: I generally only use on mane and tail. I rinse the body off way too often to put product on that would just be wasted.

Healthy HairCare Hair Moisturizer. Smells great, goes on well and rinses out well. Can be used as a leave in conditioner which I always appreciate! Mix with water and use as a spray.

Mane and Tail by Straight Arrow was sooo popular when I was in college! Whoa I’m dating myself! Very economical, easily found and can be used as a leave in conditioner.

Product Testing

Some products I haven’t used yet which I want too is EquiFuse. It’s rather pricey for me and their system seems overally complicated but it does get rave reviews. So I’m planning on ordering the CFS Concentrate Shampoo, the CitaCreme Deep Conditioner (rinse out) and the Gleam conditioner (leave in) for tails and mane.

I’m also getting the BioMane tail bag and hair brush. While the product may be great I’m already feeding Dante a ton of supplements and want to just wait on changing any of that.

I did buy some grooming products from some Instragram accounts last month and that was a mixed bag. While I love the smell of the shampoos, the result is okay. The biggest issue was some of the spray bottles: I like to be able to hold my bottle in my hand and use my fingers to trigger the spray – and this bottle had a wimpy sprayer that quickly broke. Well, I don’t mind helping small businesses out with my money but I won’t be a repeat buyer.

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Playing Horse Ball, leveling up

I posted last month about introducing a large beach ball to the ponies and to Dante. The goal is to get them to free play by moving, kicking and chasing the ball. Benefits:

  • Physically, the horse is determining the pace of his own movements so he can self correct with no worries about a rider’s balance;
  • The ball can be kicked away from the human, and the horse continues to play but at a distance – helpful for horses that have issues with boundaries;
  • Requires quicker changes of direction (think soccer) which in turn causes more need for horse to self correct his own balance (vs. WTC on the rail under saddle);
  • Requires a lot of athleticism, builds the horse up physically;
  • Provides  your horse with something new – a boredom buster;
  • Play and companionship outlet for horses stabled or pastured alone.

I’ve done this game before with Dancer so she remembered it, and Dante took to it readily enough because he knew the cue for leg lifts and I just rolled the ball under him to get it accidentally kicked. Those early sessions can be found here along with some video.

Today, it wasn’t too windy so I took the Beach Ball out to the pasture (this ball is too lightweight and could be blown away on windy days) and got Dante to come with me to touch and kick it. Today, I upped the game by kicking it out of reach and then running to it – and was happy to see Dante running to it too!

Dancer my pony is high energy so getting her to play is easy. OTOH, Dante is a slow moving turtle some days and it’s been a bit of a trial to get him engaged. Some days are more successful then others and I suspect this is about how he feels day to day with his stifle issues and muscle problems (PSSM).

Once the horse knows to touch or kick for a click treat (CT), start a new game with about 3-5 regular kicks with CT’s while working closer to the horse to get his attention. This reminds him of what you expect him to do.

Start moving the ball further away from him and ask the horse to move more (looking for trots) before moving the ball for a CT. To keep him happy, you can also up the amount of treats used – such as a Jackpot (more treats then usual) or by using a favorite, highly desirable treat.

If the horse disengages from the game, bring the ball back into their “zone” and get them to re-engage by entering their bubble of territory. Again, consider upping the treats with a Jackpot or a favorite treat.

Don’t kick the ball away until  you know your horse is paying attention. In this video, Miles sometimes kicks the ball away while the horse is looking elsewhere. Wait until your horse indicates that he is watching you before kicking.

Start increasing the competition (in a way you are going to start “irritating” him) by allowing him to approach the ball and right before he can touch the ball, kick it away and chase the ball yourself. This works if the horse knows he is supposed to touch-kick the ball and he is going to get competitive when he sees you are denying him the ball!

After Miles got done being my guinea pig, I played more with Dante. The difference between him and I, is I make sure that Dante is engaged and looking before kicking the ball away. When he does get to the ball and kicks it, I express a lot of verbal praise and give him Jackpots. Keep his enthusiasm!

As you can see we are in a quite a large field and without tack or any sort, Dante can leave at any time. Overall this game shows you what you have to do to keep your horse’s attention. It’s great for developing that reciprocal awareness needed between you and your horse in order to be successful.

I do think the Adequan makes him feel better – so now together with that and the ball, he’s giving chase with a little with a slow energy trot but heck I’ll take it. I’m really hoping this is going to evolve into more rambunctious movement and play for him! He’s getting jackpot rewards when he shows energy playing with the ball so let’s see where that takes us with this activity!

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Adequan shot and Black 3

This last week, I noticed that Dante was less inclined to move, especially at trot. Saturday gave him his Adequan maintenance injection, and when I came out Sunday, he trotted in from the field. Do not think this is a coincidence. Definitely the injections are helping.

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He has been slow to shed this winter coat but it does seem that the undercoat is coming in black which I attribute to his Copper and Zinc supplements from Uckele and the new Black 3 from Horse Tech (as of yesterday he’s up to the recommended 2 scoops). If he stays black all summer is going to be the test.

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Ramener: the neck, the poll and the back

I mentioned earlier that I was playing around with Ramener so wanted to show you some video. This is only the first of a complicated exercise so I’ll have several more videos as Dante progresses.

This is my take on this: this exercise is a precursor to collection but it is only one part of it. Sure you can get your horse to do this one part of the exercise but until you engage the back and lower the hindquarters, the exercise on it’s own isn’t as productive. But you have to start somewhere…

At this point, Dante knows targeting. Touch something, he gets a click-treat. What he is still trying to figure out is that other body parts can touch something and he gets rewarded. For example, his knee touches the target stick and he gets CT when we are doing leg lifts.

In Ramener, I’m looking for his throatlatch area to come back, towards his neck/chest area and for the neck/crest to rise upwards. This opens the shoulders and when done right you see the lift at the base of the neck (I will catch this on video at a later date to better show you). Eventually, the entire back can be added through a body crunch; and you strike gold, when the hindquarters lowers with more bend in the hocks (Rassembler).

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Here, I’m starting with touching a target – in this case a shortened piece of plastic foam pool noodle. It’s just about the size for me to easily handle in this close work and offers an obvious “target” to touch (vs if you start with your hand it can become confusing). Once he figures out the exercise, I’ll remove the noodle and use my hand or a gesture to cue him.

Because this is an early video in the process, you see that he’s trying to move backwards to touch the target or he is lifting his legs (his now favorite exercise). However, once the weight shift backward begins with no backing up – a foreleg will naturally come up and that forms the beginning of the School Halt (but right now he’s lifting because I taught him to lift those legs 😉

I try to give him some YES even if they are not perfect – hence why I’m clicking with the leg up sometimes. I also position my pool noodle target so he might accidentally touches it so he gets a CT and then starts trying to puzzle out how to repeat that behavior.

However, as he progresses and “gets it” the click won’t happen if he moves back – only if he tucks his chin and raises his neck starting at the poll upwards.

In this video, the head is lower then what I will eventually want but again refinement can start once he figures out exactly what he’s being rewarded for. You know this has occurred mentally for him when it becomes very obvious in training: he will quickly repeat the same activity over and over.

By request, a second video of teaching the beginnings of ramener. These beginning videos shows just the first steps to shaping this exercise and gives a better view of the head, neck and shoulder:

What to look for here…

1.) I’m standing at the front so you can see the view of the head and neck. Normally, I stand at his shoulder, parallel to his body stance, facing forward.

2.) You don’t want him twisting his nose to the side to touch the target; you want him to move directly back with his head. Again, I usually stand at the shoulder and put the target behind the chin/throatlach area (see first video).

3.) I’m not looking for legs lifts, which he gives here as he knows that is a request I ask for. However, eventually as the Ramener is refined one of the forelegs will naturally rise as the weight is shifted further back and becomes the School Halt. For this video though, the legs are pawing and coming forward as that is a recent exercise he has learned and is proud to show it off.

4.) Note how he naturally steps back, forelegs square, to rebalance himself when the neck comes into the ramener position.

5.) Of particularly interest is the crest of the neck. I’ve braided his mane to the off side so you can better see the changes in his muscles. NOTE: 37 seconds end stop and see the position right there!

6.) To “feel” the same action in your own body, stand tall and then imagine the back of your neck is trying to reach the collar of your shirt. As you do this, be aware of your shoulder blades and posture.

There are other ways to teach the posture – such people tickle the chin and the horse draws back or leading with a carrot which is called a “lure” in clicker training. I prefer not to do this as I keep food separate from touching targets but that is my preference. I also do not put the horse into the position by handling the halter; again my personal preference is to allow the horse the freedom of the head and let him “figure it out.”

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The problem with this exercise is that it can easily be overdone. You start asking for it more and more, longer and longer but you don’t incorporate the back or the hindquarters – then it becomes artificial. Then you have produced nothing but a “headset” which is absolutely not what you want to achieve with this.

Use this exercise with care – and intent 🙂

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For a lot more depth about Ramener, check out the Art of Natural Dressage post and this other post which both go into a lot of detail. A few videos on Youtube can be found but most of them are poor quality and don’t quite show what you are supposed to be achieving.

This one is my favorite – note the top line of the neck and what happens as well as the weight shift slightly backwards but without leg movement:

Here is a really good article about forward and down to work the Nuchal Ligament in the horses’ neck (by the author of the above video).

So remember, Ramener contracts these muscles located in the top area of the neck, while low and forward stretches it. If you have any familiarity with muscle building exercises or yoga you understand these are complimentary opposites.

For those that learn through lectures, here is Dominque Barbier:

Posted in Art Natural Dressage, Art2Ride, Clicker Training, videos | 11 Comments

Catching horses in the field

Here I will give three examples of different horses; all had a degree of disengagement with humans, from mild to severe.

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DanteMorgan-Draft X was only ridden occasionally and was plucked out of field to be the grand kids horses when they were visiting. Upon his arrival, I just sat out with him in the field, and at one point he moseyed over to check me out before wandering off again.

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When working the bond or connection with your average horse, horses usually start out as detached from humans to some degree. However, this same average horse can be enticed to approach a new human because of their innate curiosity. Just sitting in a field and waiting, will get a horse to wander over – to be rewarded by you with love and a carrot or two.

The key is to leave without doing any work the first few times and always to be reinforcing that each time you show up doesn’t mean work – it might mean companionship – and it always means special attention (scratches or a treat).

This was enough to get Dante to come to me on a regular basis. However, to keep this horse, easy to catch, always remember the first approach is extremely important in your interaction.

There is an important difference in approaching your horse that most people do not realize. The typical person goes out to the field, walks up to the horse, puts on the halter and leads the horse back. This gives the horse zero buy-in or free will to accept your presence on his own.

Instead, try going out to your horse, and about 3 yards away you start stopping and waiting for them to notice you and approach. If no approach, you close the distance a yard and wait again. You are looking for a horse that looks up, turns and starts to approach you. Wait till they are all the way to you before petting and praising.

Using this method you can easily gauge how engaged your horse wants to be. This provides the horse a free will choice to agree to being together. If you have to go all the way up to your horse to catch them, then that is definitely a horse who is thinking about becoming hard to catch or simply finds you boring! If the horse moves away, even a few steps, you have the beginning of a real problem (see Brego and Spotty’s stories below).

It also helped that Dante was pastured with my pony, Dancer, who will come running to me whenever I show up. Horses want to be hang together so if you have a hard to catch horse, pair him up with an easy to catch horse. His mentor in the herd will teach him you are a fine person to come and hang out with. I used a variation of this idea with Brego, our next horse.

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BregoBeckyRP01

BregoArabian-QH X was told he was “hard to catch” in a field and that proved very correct. His previous owner was a teen girl who rode him pretty consistently.

At the time I bought Brego, I was on an a 10 acre pasture with a herd of about 7 boarding horses kept together. I would walk up to Brego and he would take off. Ideally, I should have kept him in a smaller area and established a relationship first, but I didn’t think of that until after the fact! LOL

If I was buying a new horse, that would be the option I would choose – keep him in a smaller paddock, spend time with him, don’t work him hard and reward a lot before releasing him to a group with at least one horse that is very easy for me to catch (see Spotty’s story next).

Back to Brego – stuck working in a large field, I would walk out and observe at how close I would get before he would become uncomfortable and take off. At first, I could only get within about two house lengths away before he became unsettled and moved off. When he trotted or cantered away, I turned around and left.

After a few days, he would let me get about 3 car lengths, before he would take off. I would turn and go to one of my other horses and make a lot of fuss over them, feed them a treat and then leave.

I always took the halter and lead rope out with me. I always left when he started getting unsettled. I spent more time with the other horses in the herd that were all friendly. By the end, he turned and willingly came to me of his own accord. I let him do this several times before I haltered him and brought him to the barn.

This process took about 10 days and I never had a problem catching him ever again.

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Be very careful about bringing treats or a bucket of feed out to a group of horses. You will quickly be mobbed! If bringing treats, I tuck just a few into a pocket and I try to feed my horse when the other horses aren’t looking or use my body to block the fact that I gave a small treat.

Another trick I use that I think helps my horses easily come to me is I do a lot of tackless leading. For example, when I work Dante, he is fed up near the loafing shed. When he is close to finishing, I walk out to the pasture and when he realizes that I’m going to do some clicker training, he follows me out there of his own free will, where I halter him (or use the cavesson or just play games).

When done, I untack him in the field, and start walking back. If he follows me (tackless lead), I reward halfway back with a click-treat. When I’m fully back to the barn he gets his second helping of food (another flake of alfalfa) and I generally sit with him a while as he eats.

Think about how you approach and leave your horse. These should be the good times, not the “I have to escape this person!” feeling an overworked, under-appreciated or in-pain horse feels when an owner approaches.

If you ever find your horse reverting back to being hard to catch, that means your horse needs to be having more fun with you! Regroup and reconfigure your training.

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SpottyAn Appaloosa who, during his pre-purchase, did come up to that owner willingly from the field but the owner had a treat. However, once he came home to his new owner was no longer able to be caught in the field.

Another hard case was Spotty (not his real name) and the reason was because of the owner’s approach. For the first two weeks he was on the property she would chase him around the field trying to catch him; not even shaking a bucket of food would peak his interest (he had a lot of fresh grass so why be caught?).

Spotty thought this was great fun! A horse can outrun a person any time so as you can imagine what ensued with this great game!

I agreed to help. First, we brought Spotty through to my pasture (there is a connecting gate) and just using the game of run-away, opened the gate to my paddock and pushed him through by walking slowly behind him (he took off prancing and ran naturally into the area we wanted).

Over the next month she spent time sitting with him. I started her on clicker training. If he turned and looked at her, she clicked and then tossed him a carrot piece. Eventually, she could come up to his side, click and treat; then touch him and click and treat. This was an extremely slow process as this horse definitely did not want to be caught.

The key to using this system with a horse that is this sensitive is to WAIT. To take your approach very SLOWLY. To give a feed reward from a distance. Keep your hands down low to your sides. Walk slowly. Be quiet and reassure in a calm voice.

After a month with some great progress, you could feed him and brush him. At this time we released him back to the big pasture. At first, everything was fine. But then the cracks started to show because IMO, she gave up on my system. She went back to chasing him, trying to rush things, gave up on sitting with him, and eventually gave up on clicker training (he should know I love him and want to be caught was the rational).

Last I heard the horse went off to a trainer for problems that if she had been patient could have been solved on her own. But not my horse, not my problem.

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Probably my hardest case is going to be Dulce. This little girl comes from an abusive home and after 3 years she will let me come up to her but shies away if anything approaches her head or goes over her body. Getting her haltered is often a frustrating process that you never know how it will turn out!

Now that my fences and gates are up, I can isolate her from my dominate pony, Dancer, and she and I can better get to know each other. For various reasons I’ve not had time to spend with her, but I’m making time this summer and we shall see how it all goes.

Posted in Clicker Training, Pyschology and Behavior, Training, videos | Leave a comment