When is balance not better?

So you’ve started your journey into positive reinforcement training. You’re loving it. But some behaviors were fine with negative reinforcement why start them over to train them positively? Everyone in your barn uses traditional or natural horsemanship, you want to stick with some negative reinforcement to fit in. You would like to compete or at least appear normal in public, so you trickle in a bit of pressure. You’re worried about other people who may handle your horse, so you make sure he knows how to give to pressure. You want to prepare your horse for potential emergencies, so they ought to be used to some aversives in their lives. Anyway, life can’t be perfect all the time, so what’s wrong with using some aversives in training?

Well, let’s get into this more deeply. Let’s look at how these too quadrants work to create and motivate behavior. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training, Equine Emotions, Ethics

Equine Yoga

Emerson and I have begun doing some self-care related yoga and exercises. It's been helping our sore muscles from all the barn labor and the cold winter days. As we did a session we both looked at each other and said, we gotta do this with the horses! So we filmed our starting sessions with each horse. Everyone is at a very different place in their training and physical well-being, but they all have begun their yoga regimens! We'll do regular posts to update as we progress. In the meantime enjoy these videos! Emerson narrated her work, so you can learn alot of what we are doing from her videos, I'll try to write about what we're doing in my sessions - I'm not so coordinated to narrate while I go!

Our goal with our equine yoga is the same as with human yoga. To connect the mind to the body, bringing our horses' awareness inside themselves, learning about their bodies in a variety of fun and engaging ways. The goal is to gain flexibility, strength, and balance through a wide variety of exercises. All done with positive reinforcement to help them actually learn about their body (not just have themselves be physically manipulated).

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Posted by Jessica

Emerson’s Introductory Vlog

Emerson has been my student and friend for 6 years now, she is one special girl who has grown up with horses knowing only a positive reinforcement lifestyle. She has studied positive reinforcement horse care as a whole with me, but also from a variety of continuing education programs, taking part in online classes, Clicker Expo, Pet Professional Guild, and a number of clinics with positive reinforcement trainers. Emerson has spent the last few years accompanying me to all my clinics, demos, and conventions, starting as my lovely assistant and has now progressed to teaching on her own. She’s begun online and local positive reinforcement teaching for anyone interested.
In this video she discusses her experience in training with our wide variety of rescue horses – and her four personal projects at our rescue. She started with Revel, a huge, silly, playful belgian who she got to learn how to train every step of R+ and riding with him. Then a very emotionally and physically challenged neurological colt – this pushed her learning of every aspect of horse care, keeping, and training – anatomy, physiology, body work, massage, chiropractics, emotional impulse control, and finally the pain of loss. Her next project was her lovely Clydesdale mare with an attitude problem, and now her very own baby mustang to enjoy, love and grow with.

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Care and Management, Clicker Training, EE Horses, Vlog

Taina Exploring

Taina and I have taken to going on walks about the property regularly now, we explore new things and check out what the other horses are up to. So far she doesn't have the courage to approach another horse over a fence, I'm hopeful that will come, I'm still her safety net. I am eager to be able to start turning her out, I don't always have an hour plus to spend exploring with her, but she still needs time out. Next really nice day I'm going to try putting her in the small paddock next to Wisp with a few of her favorite puzzle toys in hopes she will stay out without me there for a bit. Last time we tried anything of the sort she just paced the fence line. When I take her out she likes to offer me behaviors and follow me around to get treats instead of eating the grass (she is a tropical horse and not a fan of our winter tufts of brown "grass"). So I've been trying to get her to graze more instead of focusing on me, so I pour the treats in the grass to use it like a snuffle mat. The treats I'm using are only hay pellets, so the only value they have is the history of our relationship, I'm sure the grass is better tasting.

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Posted by Jessica in EE Horses, Equine Emotions

Taina’s Rainbow Day Miracle

A couple days ago we set up our Rainbow day decorations and as usual I let Taina out into the barn aisle. We did our usual training and target sessions and I showed her our tree and let her meet Rainbow. When I told her about the special day she was so inspired she immediately walked right outside!!! WHAT?! Outside - in the snow!! She threw herself a bit over threshold and scared me quite a bit. Haha! But after she composed herself and reconnected with me we explored the area just outside the barn and we played with the snow a bit before returning happily to her stall.

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Posted by Jessica

Rainbow Day

December 23rd - the day before Christmas Eve is a very special day indeed. Santa's reindeer have a special mission, because all the good animals deserve some love too. Horses and sheep, donkeys and kittens, chickens and ferrets all celebrate when they hear the pitter patter of Rainbow the Reindeer arriving two days before Christmas. The kids have forgotten this special day, because the gifts aren't for them, they don't seem to notice. But a few special kids with a few special bonds have noticed what happens on this special day. If there's a tree in the barn or a stocking on the cat house, many little gifts appear for the animals who need them.

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Posted by Jessica in EE Horses

Taina’s Social Life

Taina has spent the last few weeks inside, she won't go out in the snow. She hates snow. We are introducing it bit by bit, bringing buckets in and hiding treats in the snow for her to snuffle out or paw in. She is starting to be ok with this idea. But this prolonged time indoors and our desire to stay in good spirits means we needed to look at ways to get her out of her stall. So we turned the barn aisle into an enrichment play pen for her. We scatter a variety of objects and toys and puzzle feeders around the aisle. This has WORKED!! Taina loves going out into the aisle, now if I open her door but leave her stall guard up she will whicker and buzz until I let her out to play. This is good for my heart. Until recently...

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Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses

Enrichment as a Supplement

Enrichment is a new concept to the horse world it’s vital we get this information out there. Enrichment sounds like a kindness, like providing an extra gift to our horses, but it’s actually a necessity. If you went to a zoo and watched a lion sit in the middle of a 40x40ft enclosure, with plenty of grass, food, and water – but nothing else – you would be horrified. If it were an elephant, rhino, hippo, or zebra, standing out in a barren field we would watch with sorrow. We’d likely see the animals pacing, circling, weaving, digging, chewing, becoming destructive, or just laying about with nothing to do. We recognize in these exotic animals the need for regular stimulation, ways to mimic their natural lifestyle and habitat. When we have an animal in a domestic or captive setting, we can measure their welfare by watching their behaviors. We watch and analyze an animal’s behavior in nature and compare it to domestication. If a species covers alot of ground, moving around alot, or if they have a stationary home area, spending more time at rest. If they exercise in short, extreme bursts, or slow, continuous exercise over a period of time. We can look at how they socialize, how often and with whom, with multiple species or just the same species, with males or females, small groups or large. We can determine how much time they invest in searching for food, how much effort and what types of food they consume. Do they eat off the ground, bushes, or trees? How do they problem solve variations in nature, breaking ice in water, digging for grass under the snow and so on. We learn how animals would choose to live their lives when they have free choice to do as they please, then we compare the behaviors expressed with our domestic species. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, Equine Emotions, Ethics, Troubleshooting

Emotions Before Behaviors

My lovely flower Taina and I have been struggling lately. Her world continues to shrink smaller as her fear overcomes her. With her trauma, the concept of new is scary, and right now - everythng is new, even the world changed colors and became so cold. Her fear turns quickly to aggression, she violently defends her safety bubble, her stall. Every day we go through the same terrible cycle when I need to clean her stall. She refuses to go outside, no amount of treats will lure her out, even on a lead she won't go out. Especially now that there is snow - I'm sure now that she's never seen snow before. We spent time playing with snow together, in a bucket I brought to her, she tolerated it to get the treats - but was not interested in going out and actually touching it. It was fun for us both to puzzle through in this small dose of enrichment, but in it's massive size and coldness make it not so fun. So, I need to clean around her. I usually put her soup in her bucket in the corner and clean carefully around her. But whenever the pitchfork comes close to her legs she jumps or kicks, or turns to bite me. We carefully work around that issue, but there is no clean spot in her stall to put her where the pitchfork doesn't have to come close. If I don't give her soup to keep her in one spot, we dance around the stall, me carefully avoiding invading her constantly changing personal space bubble. It's exhausting for us both. We had one bad day the other day where I was cleaning in the back of her stall, well away from her, and she turned and lunged a bite towards me. I don't know exactly what happened, there was some drama with people outside the stall which may have been the trigger. Unfortunately her teeth hit the pitchfork and she became overwhelmed with fear for a few minutes. She started stomping and biting in my direction, but not touching me - I could tell this took great restraint on her part to not actually kill me. I carefully slid down the wall of her stall and out her door. A half an hour later she was totally fine with me retrieving my tools and finishing the job. We have been spending the last few days working on things like touch acceptance and trying to push the boundaries of her comfort zone - this all together obviously stimulus stacked just too much over the passing days.

This wasn't the same day, but a clip I had gotten to show what her rage looks like when she really gets upset.

While behaviorally she does well here, you can see how conflicted she is about handling this situation.

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Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Equine Emotions, Ethics, Troubleshooting
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