Reclaiming Andi - day six

Day six was another easy review day, which was fine since it was snowing and cold even inside the barn.

I'd been there a bit earlier with the ferret under my coat. He sniffed her, and she sniffed him back, uneasy at the predator, cautious and unsure but trusting when I encouraged her—another sign of her progress.

I went in her stall with just the halter before I even scooped her bucket. She's calling to me now when she sees me come in the alley, and she came right to me but didn't like my bulky, noisy jacket that smelled of ferret she couldn't see. I quietly insisted she not step away, haltered her, and let her sniff my jacket—all was fine. I left her in the stall and went to get her grain before I fed anyone else.

Reclaiming Andi - day five addition

A fellow trainer called me on a point I mentioned earlier, and rightfully so. I made a simple comment - that I was willing to wait and let her come to me, that I was letting her make the decisions as to how much of what I wanted she was going to do, that I was passive and letting her decide if she wanted me in her comfort zone.

I want to emphasis that this is part of step one. I don't ask for trust and submission without a basis, without first building a foundation.

In the past, I've had friendly, willing babies that went a year or more into training before I realized that they had NO training at all, that we were simply a couple of buddies hanging out and having fun. These horses like people and are bold and enjoy getting out and doing fun stuff. They did everything I asked so I naively didn't realize there would come a time that I would ask something they wouldn't want to do, and because it was a 'new' situation, that we'd have problems with that.

I'm going to try real hard not to make that mistake with Andi. The lines of communication are open. She knows I'm talking to her, and she knows I'm listening when she talks back. I'm going to take the time to build a relationship, to give her a foundation and reasons to trust me, but I will, over time, be sure she understands that while I listen to her and answer her questions, that I have the final say in our discussions.

Ideally, I'll be able to do this subtly and gently over time. It's all fine lines and shades of gray, trying to find that perfect balance ... to ask more than what she'll do easily and just for fun without asking her to do something she'll outright refuse.

Over the next weeks, I'll introduce her to Linda TJ's 'wand' and 'put her in the box'. She'll learn to move her feet for me, to move away from pressure on her body, and we'll start doing some simple gymnastics in-hand. The plan is that the "go forward" cue will become simple habit as we transition from walking the barn alley or the arena to tarps, creeks, and even loading in the trailer. I'll try to find stuff for her to cross that will worry her just enough to think about it before she'll go ahead. Over time, she'll learn that I won't ask her to do something she can't do, and when there does come a time—out on a bad trail or in a trailer accident or any of those bizarre situations that horses and horseman get into—that I have to ask her to do something dangerous or at least very strange, she'll lay that trust in my hand and let me guide her out of something that frightens her or that she doesn't understand.

What a day ~

I had an early start this morning, little knowing how really bizarre and busy the day would turn out to be.

The first actually stop was to pick up chicken and guinea cages from my dad, which took only a couple of minutes, and then to tank up the truck and pick up a large coffee and some snacks for the road trip.

The first planned stop was to pick up a board horse that now belongs to a friend who lives out of town and is going to be keeping him here.

But I didn't make it there without mishap.

Less than a mile from my actual first scheduled destination, an explosion rocked my world. In the next instant, I realized I was covered in glass shards. My first instant thought was that I'd been shot. Thankfully, I was too much in shock to slam the brakes and (weirdly) drove about another couple hundred feet before I pulled over to try to figure out what happened.

Looks like a bird hit the window (someone said) - but this is the back window, directly behind the driver's head, and I was going about 50mph down a winding country subdivision. Some suggested it could have been a bird flipped over the top of the truck in the draft ... which ... I guess the hole is about the right size for a very small bird, but that doesn't explain the very centered point of impact and the fact there's no blood and no bird. That hole obviously could have been made by a rock or baseball ... but not in the back window going 50. -no one else was on the road, no one passed me.

The final answer has been narrowed down to a random shooting, space debris or spontaneous combustion. So far, nothing except glass shards have turned up in the truck cab or the bed. I'll give it a better going-over tomorrow.

Picking up Chewy from a farm outside of Kauffman, the original first planned stop, was the next actual stop.

Then to Canton for four Red Cornish chickens, good laying and sitting hens, and a rooster. We were down from a mixed batch of six chickens and a rooster to only a couple of hens and that's not enough eggs for us. We're hoping to have an overabundance shortly!

I was almost home when I got a frantic call that one of the does we hadn't put in the pen had had her baby and was too busy fighting off the dogs and other goats to clean it or let it nurse. The boys snatched it up, dried it off and wrangled the mom into the pen and made sure the new little girl got her first good drink of colostrum. This little one now belongs to the young man who found her - I told him, that's what you get for saving her little life.

She's getting stronger, nursing good and mom is being a good mom, now that she's been given a chance.

We've had three little ones already, out of two does and four more does to go, although one isn't due for a couple of months - so we still have loads of cuteness still to come.

Reclaiming Andi - day five

Day five was a short and simple recap of the previous lessons. I filled her bucket with grain but left it outside the gate when I went into her stall. She approached me; she tensed slightly when I stepped toward her and started to step away but stayed with me when I reached out and tangled my fingers in her mane. I haltered her, and asked her to give to a light pressure on her poll, which she did, and we walked (leading) about three or four steps in each direction, stopped, and backed two steps.

All that done, I fetched her bucket of grain and poured it out for her and let her eat, then removed her halter.

We'll have at least one more day of review before we move on again. I've learned that when they come along so fast, it's easy to leave holes rather than the firm foundation you need in these basics. I don't want to bore her, but I will do all I can to be sure she's solid and steady in each series of lessons before we move on.

Reclaiming Andi - day four addition

I want to take a moment to address the problem of Andi pulling back in order to get pressure to release in an attempt to cue me to click=treat. This problem is two-fold.

One: it's fabulous that she's figured out that her actions command the click, but it's not good that she's trying to be in charge. That will definitely have to be turned around. She's trying to cue me to click/treat. Step three, which she skipped, is putting a cue to the behavior that gets the click.

I want her to 1)release her body to pressure and 1b) come forward when I put a little pressure on her poll with the lead rope.

1. My cue to her is to apply pressure.
2. She releases the pressure by lowering her head and stepping forward.
3. Click
4. Treat

The PROBLEM is that SHE applied the pressure in order to cue ME to click/treat.

Her sire would do this. One method of using the clicker is to 'extend' the trick. For example, I taught him to stand at my shoulder by click/treating when he positioned himself with his shoulder next to mine. Once he was doing this, I would take a step. In order to stay in position, he would have to take a step. (click/treat) Once he's done that, it's simple to take two or three steps (click treat) when he stays in position. You'd think you could go to ten steps or half a mile (which actually is the idea),but he would only go about 3-4 steps then bolt off and come back into position to try to get me to click/treat. (If I had fallen for that, I would essentially be treating him for bolting.- Tricky, tricky boy! Too smart for his own good sometimes.) I also wanted him to stand beside me as long as I wanted. You do this by not clicking immediately when they stand properly. You want a few seconds/minute. If I waited too long, he would circle and come back into position, clearly upset and anxious, worried he had done something wrong (since he wasn't getting the click/treat) and trying to get me to click/treat by redoing the trick.

We worked through it. He will free lunge both directions, stop, reverse on voice command, and jog at my side, over and through obstacles, and he'll even weave a pattern with or without poles on voice or hand signals.

One interesting aside is that I thought I had taught him the vocal commands left and right, but he actually learned toward and away from me, so when I'm working on his right side, I have to use right for left and left for right to get him to turn the way I want.

Because he's learned that some behaviors earn the click, he tries endlessly to please me. If he sees me standing in the window of the house and wants me to come outside and play, he'll start going through his tricks. He likes you to pull his tongue, so usually, that's the one he starts with. He'll stand at the gate and stick his tongue out. It's funny, but it can be very obnoxious as well, depending on the trick. Fortunately, the tongue tricks are mostly harmless, although he actually licked a judge at a show one time when she accidentally cued him.

So Andi is already self-tasking and experimenting with behaviors, seeking the click, which is really amazing, but in this specific case, she's already learned what could escalate into a terrible and dangerous behavior in pulling back on the rope, and it's something that will have to be dealt with.

Reclaiming Andi - day four

She’s asks for the halter, stands easily to have it put on, and appears totally comfortable about wearing it. She still gets a little tense if you approach her instead of letting her approach you. That's a training hole that cannot go unaddressed because it will be a huge issue later if she doesn't get over it. At this point, we're going to keep a very close and concerned eye on this behavior, but we’re going to move along because I think this is something she's going to get over with time.

To recap, she's approaching the person, asking to wear her halter, standing quietly while it's buckled on, and following the person around the stall.

The next step is leading (leading being the obvious external goal, the bigger goal being to get her to learn to give to pressure). Leading, as I see it, mainly involves moving forward beside the handler. I want her to walk beside me, stop, back up, turn left and right, and eventually turn on the fore or the quarter or bend her spine up or to the left or right without moving her feet.

I have an odd bit of failure here. Once I attach a lead rope to her halter, I can't apply pressure to her poll because when I step away with the intention of applying pressure via the lead rope, she follows me.

Smart girl . . . she's already leading, turning left and right, and stopping beside me when I stop (of course!! how would she get a treat if she kept walking past the treat pocket). While a lot of trainers would take this and shout it to the rooftops, it raises a red flag with me because unless we back up and find a way to apply pressure so she can learn to give, this will create huge (extremely dangerous) triggers and behaviors in the adult horse.

This means I have to find a couple of creative ways to cheat. I step away quickly and tug. I extend my arm out and pull the rope without moving my feet. A horse’s natural inclination to put pressure on the poll is to throw their head up and back. I use a heavy bungie leadline so there isn't a hard set for her to hit, just a gradual pressure that she applies herself and can release herself. I'm able to get her to apply pressure a few times, and the INSTANT she comes forward, click treat.

Andi's doing so well! I open the stall door, and we walk and stop and turn up and down the alley a few times. A few minutes later, we go down to the end to chill for a few minutes near the older mares, and I get a mind-boggling example of how smart this girl is.

She chills with me for a few minutes, but her baby attention span is short enough that she's soon mugging for treats. Mine aren't allowed to mug, so while I scratch and pet when she comes closer to nuzzle me, I gently dissuade her from sniffing around and trying to get in the treat pocket.

After thinking about this for a couple of minutes, she steps away, one step sideways and a step back, taking the slack out of the lead and raises her head, applying pressure to her poll. Her ears fly forward, and her sassy little bright eyes sparkle as she comes forward so I can treat her for the release. I'm dumbfounded, and while my brain is trying to deny or at least process her behavior, she does it again and then again! She's experimenting, trying to figure out why she didn't get the click treat. She steps right instead of left or maybe two steps back the next time.

She's figured out that her behavior (in this case, pressure on the poll and release) causes the click, and she's trying to get me to click and treat.

I shouldn't be surprised. You'd think that after all these years, I'd expect that from these horses, especially given her sire, but she hadn't shown me anything at all like this before.

Today has been a huge success, a moon-leap kind of step forward. The lines of communication are most definitely open. She's answering my simple requests with questions on top of questions, and she's expecting answers.

I've always liked this filly and thought she had huge potential, but she really blew my socks off today.

Reclaiming Andi - day four photos

So, in about a week, we have gone from a filly who just about couldn't be caught to one who is begging for her halter.

This is the best photo I can get of her if I'm in the stall with her.

What a huge difference. I think the title says day four. We put her up in the stall Wednesday and started consistent work with her on Thursday. This is Sunday, so yes, four days.


I bought a half dozen chickens last year... a total impulse buy that I was told at the time was a bad idea and I've since been unable to defend myself. We'd driven halfway across Texas to get our little spotted nubian buck and came home with the chickens too. The seller complained they laid too many eggs and were a hassle to take care of.

yep ... hook, line and sinker. We've had a grand total of one good egg, one crushed and one found too old in the intervening months.

So, I have more chickens on order that I'm picking up in a couple of weeks and in the meantime, I bought some laying crumbles for our remaining two hens. Last week, I bought the crumbles on Monday, I think. Today, I finally managed to carry the bag of laying crumbles from the barn to the chicken shed, I opened the bag, spread out some crumbles for the hens, turned around and ....

... but just try to put that in a book ?!?! LOL. It's true that truth is stranger than fiction, and I've proven it once again.

Reclaiming Andi - day three

Continuing on with step one—we started clicker training.

I don't subscribe to it in a religious sense as some people seem to do to one system or another, but I have found it to be a very handy communication tool.

Remember, my main goal is to open the lines of communication so I can ask her to learn and do stuff with me, and she can let me know if she understands what I'm asking or if she's uncomfortable or ready for more.

I went into the stall with her halter, the clicker, and a pocket full of grain (Notice I don't have the bucket. I want her to come to me now, not to the bucket.) ((I'm actually combining a few steps and making a fairly complex lesson day for her.)). I want her to figure out that when she hears the click, she gets a treat, so I click the clicker and offer her half a handful of grain. I've never had a horse take more than about 28 seconds to figure this out. Usually, the light dawns with the second 'click/treat' or at most, the third.

Andi is no exception. By the time she heard the third click, her nose headed for my pocket, .but that was just an aside. Remember, she's wearing her halter to eat.

At this point, we back up a half-step and get her to 'target' the halter. I do that by touching the halter to her nose and clicking (treat). I do this twice then simply stand, holding the halter close to her . . . success! She stretches out her nose to touch the halter. (click treat).

Within minutes, she is following me around the stall asking to nose the halter.

To reach the next half step, when she noses the halter, (click) I put the halter on before I treat. This takes a few more repetitions because it's a little more involved. There is some lag time between the click and treat, and she has to figure out if I've betrayed her in some way, changed the rules, or simply added to the game. I give her time to whirl it all around in her head, and we do a few more repetitions.

Halter off.
Offer halter.
Nose halter.
Halter on.

This step takes her about five or six repetitions to get comfortable with and to totally accept what we're doing.

**this photo was taken after the fact (obviously we're in the arena, not in the stall) but I wanted to show her approaching the halter and (grrrr at my slow digital camera) touching her nose to it. oh well. But isn't she cute? The young man in the photo is living and working here and learning to work with the horses, so he's training in groundwork along with Andi.


A very exciting day today, the delivery man drove into my yard, knocked on my door and handed me this! A print version of Leah Braemel's PERSONAL PROTECTION.

It's not just getting a new book that excites me so much, but that I take (inordinate) pride in this series and this particular book. Leah and I have been friends and writing partners for longer than either of us will admit ;)

As I'm sure I've said before, we've shared laughs and tears, and made each other stronger for having shared not just our writing, but our lives. Part of that sharing has been my small part in the bouncing of ideas and reading and commenting on various versions of this book. (please understand I'm certainly claiming more credit than I'm due!) Being a involved on the fringes of Leah's success has kept me sane through my own writing frustrations as I can enjoy basking in the (unduly) rewarding glimmer of her limelight without having had to suffer a fraction of the work she's put into her career.

Leah has special talent to combine smart, sexy characters with complex plotting that keeps the reader panting for more as the tension rises (and releases!) between the characters. Personal Protection is the second in her Hauberk Protection series. You don't have to have read the first, the novella PRIVATE PROPERTY, in order to enjoy Personal Protection, but I promise once you've read one, you'll want the other.

Reclaiming Andi - day two

Next, we have her looking for the bucket and standing comfortably and eating. I move a few steps left or right or away every few bites, and within minutes, she's following me (the bucket) around.

The next step is the halter. She's already worn the halter and decided she didn't like it, so the goal we need to keep in mind with this is not only to get her to wear the halter but also to get her to want to wear the halter and to like wearing the halter.

Starting today, she has to wear the halter to get her grain. This is initially somewhat of a drawn-out process. I go in the stall with a bucket of grain and the halter and just hang out. She sees the bucket and wants to approach, but she doesn't want to approach the halter. I give her a few chances to go ahead and approach me, but she decides she'd rather not eat than wear the halter.

My next step is to go ahead and put it on her anyway. I don't want to traumatize or upset her in any way, but I'm going to firmly insist she needs to do this. I manage this by just walking her in the stall. (Remember this is a largish stall) I approach, and she walks off, but I continue to approach, slowly and quietly and easily. I don’t sneak up on her, which would increase her tension, but just approach her slowly, steadily and consistently. Eventually, she stops in a corner and lets me slip her halter on. At that point, I stand with her and let her eat the entire bucket of grain. Once she's done, I remove the halter.

This step is a little harder for her because she has to unlearn her dislike of the halter before she can learn to like it and want to wear it. This part of the routine takes about three days before she can be haltered easily. She will approach a person easily enough now but still doesn't want to be approached. I'm dealing with this by walking in with the bucket and halter, letting her approach me, slipping the halter on, and letting her eat.