Revel is the love of my life (don't tell my husband). We started our journey together deep in the city while I was in college. Revel worked giving carriage tours in the city. At the time I was going through some serious horse withdrawal and found a part time opportunity driving tours with the company. Revel and I teamed up immediately and had lots of fun the first year. We spent the long days play tug o' war with water bottles, snuggling and taking leisurely rides around the city. Often on short days I'd hop on and plod around the parking lot with him, we had tons of fun.

Then politics changed the way the carriage companies worked, then the companies made 'business decisions'. I've not known many business decisions be made that actually benefit the horses. Things spiraled down hill for the next year. Revel became miserable and violent, he lashed out at people walking by and earned his “I bite” signs on his blinders. He became cinchy, bitter, and angry. His health spiraled downhill as forage was reduced, his legs got infected with fungus from his wet environment. I began offering to buy Revel so I could quit, but he was needed to do his job. Finally I reached the point where what I was doing to help Revel just wasn't enough, I couldn't stand by and watch anymore. I quit. I returned every few months to remind the company that I wanted to buy him, with an envelope of cash available each time. Revel had earned that money for me, he deserved to use it to buy his freedom.
A few years later I got the call I'd been waiting for, he came home the next week! He was 19 years old, 19 hands, covered in his own filth and more than 300lbs underweight. He had sores, scabs and rubs all over him. But he was HOME and he was safe. We spent the next few months rehabilitating him health wise. Of course I used clicker training to help with all his medical needs. He learned to tolerate needles, take oral medicine, stand still for clipping, bathing and topical medicine for his leg fungus, as well as many other basic husbandry tasks. With clicker training he became a very easy patient.

As he became healthy and we started our leisurely trail rides I had just begun to learn the more detailed aspects of Clicker Training. This is where I learned how clicker training can teach a horse to be honest. Suddenly Revel was spooking at things he'd seen all his life, he was avoiding tack he'd always accepted. I was very taken aback at first, thinking he had gotten “worse”, then I realized, he always felt this way about those things – but he knew if he expressed his opinions he'd be punished. So he lived in silence and suppressed his opinions, like an obedient horse. I began working through counter conditioning tack and basic handling, he rapidly overcame things he was scared of with positive reinforcement and we were back on track.

We began our riding and while I added clicks and treats to his usual cues and I dramatically reduced the severity of his tack, things still weren't stellar. He was obedient and we had fun... But something was off. Skills I taught him with clicker training, they were done smoothly, with excitement and vigor – he was so proud and eager to participate. When he heard his click his body would get big and he stood with pride for his treat to be delivered. But when I clicked for his traditionally trained skills, he would begrudgingly receive his reward, or ignore it entirely. At first I thought it nice, he wasn't only working for food. It wasn't until after we moved and I had a student working with him, shaping his behaviors freshly that I saw how happy he could be. It wasn't until then I had another of those terrible realizations... No, the cues I was using had such a deep routed history of fear and pain that it left the food with a “bitter taste”. I had poisoned our reward, making him have to comply with things that upset him in order to earn it.

I had forgotten the most important aspect – free choice. He was performing the skills I wanted, but he had no choice, while I wouldn't have escalated the pressure had he decided not to do as I asked, he believed I would (it had been that way all his life, no one told him it changed). He needed to know he had the right to choose. So I reshaped his basic behaviors, stopping, turning, going forward and put the on gentler cues. Now the beautiful connection we had with our clicker trained skills existed in all our play together.

Since our move we have no more trails and I've acquired a number of more rescues so Revel had become quite the pasture bum! He was getting bored and frustrated seeing everyone else go out to play, but it never being his turn (he was so easy and they needed so much work he was often put on the back burner). It was quite obvious he needed more puzzles and games to play as he mastered opening every door we have, letting himself into the riding ring to play. We supplemented his environment with many enrichment toys, he loves them all, not just the ones that earn food.

He has become the horse for everyone. While most of our horses have a one on one intense partnership with their partner human, Revel is just a lover. He loves training the new kids and giving rides and playing in the snow! He takes such good care of the kids and has a blast showing them the clicker training ropes.

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Sugar Plum

When I moved to this farm I took home 3 ponies from a rescue I worked at, Viking, Butterfly and Sugar Plum. Sugar Plum was an older, black mini, so tiny and precious. Despite being the tiniest little girl, she played a huge part in my life and our whole farm.

I met her first when a was a little pony-smitten girl, she was given to the rescue I volunteered at. My mother always told me I couldn't have a horse because it was illegal in our town, but even at my young age I looked it up and found out that I could have a pony if they were under 34” tall! When I got to the rescue and found Sugar Plum there I knew she would be mine. When I got home I cleaned out my grandfather's garage and filled it was bedding and a nice water bucket. A perfect home for this little pony. Of course this didn't change anything really, I still couldn't take her home. Heartbroken, she was adopted by another home. 12 years later she was returned to the rescue when her owner's health was failing. So was her own.

Due to poor breeding as many minis are, her teeth outgrew her head and all fell out. She lived on hay-soup and mooshy treats. She was Butterfly's best and only friend. She had also suffered repeated foundering (when the bone rotates inside the hoof) which is extremely painful, leaving her very lame for the rest of her life. We were able to relieve a good deal of her pain with the use of special orthopedic boots. While she had much pain she was still a sweet, happy little girl. Finally, as an adult, I got to take my tiny childhood dream pony home with me. And I loved her as much as my childhood self ever could have! It turned out Lyme disease was behind much of her health issues, treating this relieved a great deal of her pain – but not all of it. She spent the rest of her time here with us teaching the youngest and the smallest all about clicker training. Larkin was her special friend and she taught Larkin a great deal about what unconditional love really means. Sugar Plum had little but love to offer Larkin, she couldn't be ridden, or move very fast, she often preferred to sit alone – so Larkin learned how to love a horse for who they truly are, not just what they can do for you. Together they won an unmounted clicker training competition! They were truly a special pair.

While Sugar Plum was living with chronic issues, her passing came as a harsh shock to us all. One day, when she was feeling good, she came trotting in to slurp down her 3 bucket of soup of the day. Then she stopped and looked scared. She was choking. Choke is dangerous and scary for horses, but rarely becomes life-threatening. We called the vet immediately and started working on massaging her neck and keeping her head low. She sneezed out all the soup she'd drank but was still choking. We spent the next 9 hours tubing her, flushing with water, trying to push or pull the blockage, trying to dislodge it anyway we could or dissolve it. Anything. Hours and hours we struggled, but the blockage was something solid, something that wasn't dissolving or breaking down – then it hit us, she had swallowed a tooth. Having seen the size of the teeth she's spit out in the past, I knew this was a large blockage. We had hoped to dislodge it, but in the end she fell into seizures and we had to let her go. It was officially the worst night of our barn lives. We were crushed. Just crushed. It was so much work to tend to her needs, putting on her boots, making her 5 buckets of soup a day, but it was never a burden. Our precious little girl was such a huge part of our farm and family and will be forever missed. Larkin has built her a magnificent Fairy Garden where she's buried, and planted forget-me-nots and bleeding hearts for her sweet self.


The loss of Viking was among the most painful losses I've ever experienced. He was so unique, so beautiful and so very loved. Viking was born from a crazy accident where a shetland pony got loose and was bred by a Gypsy Vanner stallion. This happy accident was apparently unwelcome as they were both sold to auction. At 2 weeks old he found a new home – at 6 months old he found his third. At 8 months old he was so aggressive his owners couldn't contain him. He was sent to a rescue, where he grew up.
At 4 years old he finally came home with us. The first year was rough. He was hard to contain, hard to lead, hard to groom, hard to do anything with. We experimented with a number of ways of working with him and put a heavy focus on his positive reinforcement training. We worked hard with him regularly but he just struggled. It was like his brain and body were fighting with each other. Finally we cleared it up. He was neurological. His spine was compressed in a way that pinched his nerves. He literally couldn't control or feel parts of his body, his body just didn't do what it was told and he was SO frustrated with it.
Despite all this he was actually a happy little boy, playful and silly. He loved playing with toys and fighting with friends over the fence. He lived with his surrogate momma, Tank who tolerated him fairly well. Eventually he switched to Wispy who cared about him much more, she even allowed him to suckle on her feathers – what a silly boy. He loved playing clicker games and while sometimes he would get frustrated with his body, he would just storm off for a few furious laps until he settled back into playing.
In his last year our oldest student Emerson began working with him intensely. She spent many hours a day working on physical therapy exercises, helping him learn to control his body and become aware of his surroundings. All of course with positive reinforcement. They had a wonderful time together – he learned to love being groomed, getting his whole body itched and scratched (which he couldn't do for himself, as he couldn't roll). Together he had learned so much, but his disease progressed. His body struggled to keep up with him, his head aches and coordination worsened. So they were forced to work more specifically on his physical therapy, massage and chiropractor. Gradually he lost his ability to have his hooves trimmed, he was too painful.
After all the effort and love, we weren't able to stop the progression of his disease as his body continued to fail him. When his hind end could no longer support him we said a terrible fairwell. He had a short 6 years here on earth – but his last was the most wonderful any horse could ask for. He has known the love of a young girl. She will hold him in a unique place in her heart forever.
His ashes are buried in our memorial garden, and Emerson has planted him some forget-me-nots and Morning Glories (big and blue like his eyes) and placed special statues out for him. He was so unique, so sweet. He will be sorely missed and forever loved.

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