Tuesday, January 18, 2011

RB - 1985 to 2011

Yesterday, January 17, 2011, a long-time and very dear friend of mine passed away. RB was an Appaloosa gelding, and for almost his whole life belonged to my friend Cheryl. He was just two days shy of 26 -- a long life for a horse.

Although he'd been retired for several years, RB was always in the center of social activity. He never failed to greet me -- or anyone else -- when arriving at his barn. He continued to boss around his best horse-friend, demand treats and attention from the humans, and issue orders. It was impossible to ignore RB and equally impossible not to be taken in by his outgoing personality.

Although he could be a challenge, requiring his rider to stay alert and be a strong leader, he was talented and athletic. He had a cadence to his trot that was both lovely to watch and sit, and he excelled at lateral work. Dressage suited him, keeping his intelligent mind busy and focused.

I will miss his bright eyes and loud, friendly whinny, but I believe he is romping in green pastures now with my own Tiki and Brinn.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's The Little Things...

Training is often a process of breaking a goal down into its essential pieces. What is required of me, as the trainer, is that I understand the steps my horse needs in order to accomplish what I'm asking. The steps are basic, even simple. If they can be done correctly and in proper order then my horse can accomplish the goal I have set down for him. It also helps if my horse is rewarded for those steps. He stands a better chance of understanding them, and therefore repeating them, if there's something in it for him.

When Eddie was a youngster I learned very quickly the value of bribery. Punishment didn't work with him -- he'd just leave. In fact, it wasn't only punishment that would have him exiting stage right. He'd cooperate with me so long as it amused him, or interested him, but once something else seemed like more fun I'd be a bit hard pressed to change his mind.

What I learned from my intelligent, independent horse was to reward all the little steps toward the goal, and not wait until we had a difference of opinion about something. What happened wasn't a spoiled horse, it was a horse who gradually understood it was more fun to be with me than not. He learned to go where he was led, stand when being groomed and behave himself when being ridden. In short, he's become a pleasant, reliable companion -- a quality that can't be overemphasized in a 1300 pound animal.

Of course, not every horse needs Eddie's level of coercion. Most don't. But I was thinking along these lines the other day when I set myself up with the goal of cleaning my kitchen. If you've been following this blog at all, you have a good idea where I'm going with this: I can relate everything in life to training horses (it's a gift, I know). Even cleaning the kitchen. It had reached a state of disaster due to me being involved in too many other things and nobody else seeming to care. If it was going to be cleaned, I was going to have to do it, and quite frankly running away seemed like a good option. I was that overwhelmed. Until…yup, I broke it down into its basic, essential parts. Since I really didn't want to gain back the poundage I have managed to lose lately by eating cookies each time I accomplished one item, I wrote it down.

Wipe down the counters?
Clean under the burners?
Mop the floor?

And so it went. I wrote down every little, trivial thing. By the time I was done, not only was the kitchen clean, but the list I'd compiled gave me a very satisfactory feeling of accomplishment -- as I was doing it.

It's the little rewards that help along the way…for people as well as horses.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Remind me again....?

Horses have great memories. They remember places, people, training, where the food is kept, you name it. And they remember for a whole lot longer than we do -- or so it seems.

Years ago I owned a gelding and a mare who were stabled together until a significant injury had me move the gelding to a barn where he could rehab and possibly retire. Two years of pasture rest seemed to do the trick -- he recovered. I moved him to the new stable I was working out of to put him back to work. The first day I led him out to his new paddock we passed one of my students leading my mare to the barn. Both horses stopped and did a double take. Disney couldn't have done a better job. It was not only obvious they recognized each other, but that they were pleased to see each other, too.

In his younger days, Eddie proved to me multiple times that once he figured out how to work a latch, he'd do it again -- immediately. He kept me on my toes trying to come up with stall and pasture latches he couldn't undo.

When not being entertained by it, I use this great memory of theirs in training. It's part of the communication ground rules: when I do this, you do that. The trick is to be consistent. I know I'm muddling things up when I'm not getting the same response from the horse.

I'm actually envious of that great memory. I could use it sometimes…like when I misplace my keys. Hmm…maybe if I was more consistent with my own habits….