Sunday, March 18, 2012

*Leo's bucket

I love to hear folks who are new to the American Curly breed rave about how quickly they learn.  What especially thrills me are the ones who are quite experienced with other breeds, and can easily make comparisons to Curlies.  Because of allergies, I am limited in my experience with other breeds’ learning abilities, so I depend on hearing from people such as Lynn Marks in her recent thread on the Facebook page Curly World.  Lynn recently acquired a Curly, Harley, on March 8th, and she has shared with us his fantastic progress.

I’m the first to admit that I lack horse-training experience; however, I have tried to make up my lack of years by reading, seminars, clinics, talking with experienced people, and one-on-one training.  For me, my favorite style is Clicker Training, because it makes me break-down the steps of what I want to accomplish into manageable bites and makes me acutely aware of the exact moment in time that a step is done correctly.  This helps the horse to know what I’m wanting, if she/he has done it correctly, AND it puts them in control of the thought-process and decision to get there.  It is also something that can be done when you have only a few moments or limited space.

*Leo eating
*Leo picks the bucket up.
 *GMC Envoy’s Pride (*Leo) our almost 5 year old gold champagne gelding has been inside in a stall keeping our old girl, *Glory, company.  *Leo has always been a mouthy one, and when you are near him (in a stall or in the field) his favorite place to be is so close he might as well be in your pocket, oh and with his nose planted on you.  He loves to lick you (disconcerting at times), or simply take hold of a jacket or sleeve edge with his lips and hold on as if you are going to escape too quickly.  One of his other favorite things has been to pick-up his feed bucket when he is done and hold onto it.  For some reason, it was only recently that I realized this would be an easy action to shape with clicker training.

*Leo brings the bucket to me.
*Leo hands me his bucket.
So, for the past few feedings after he’s done eating and I’m still in the stall cleaning, I have directed him back to his bucket when he is done with a “Get your bucket.” and pointing toward it.  He’s easily headed back to it, and eventually, will bite the rim and lift it up.  At that point what I have been doing was to come over quickly, hold onto the bucket, and ask him to “Let go.”  Once he did, I would click and treat, telling him “Good job.  Good boy.”  It was then time to mold the behavior further, and so I would stay further away from him, and ask him to “Bring me the bucket.”  At first it was only a few steps for him, but the most significant one has been a space of about 24 feet!  At this point, when he does this I “jackpot” the click and treat.  “Jackpotting” is a time when you give LOTS and LOTS of treats.  I typically use alfalfa pellets, but I sometimes mix in bits of sweet treats as well.

I’m not sure exactly where I’m heading in this with him.  I can envision that it will be useful.  For instance, out on a trail ride you drop something and he should be able to pick it up and give it to you.  But it may just be a “fun trick” too.  I do know that *Leo is incredibly smart and he is very good looking.  He is just waiting for “his person” to come along.  In the meanwhile, we will continue to have fun with one another, and I will use his desire to “show off” (By the way, his half brother Sage apparently has this same quality, according to his owner) in order to introduce more “tricks” that will be molded into real abilities in his training routine.

Please excuse the quality of the photos used in the blog to show his ability.  It is quite hard to photo and do the C/T at the same time!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Re-visiting Stringhalt

Revisiting Stringhalt

As anyone who is around horses a lot knows, they are walking potential disasters; American Curly Horses are no exception.  In over a decade of owning Curlies we have experienced disasters, both small and large. One of the most extensive problems, although having occurred over four (4) years ago, still attracts attention.  I thought in today’s blog on my Curly horses I would talk about it again, and bring you up to date.

My long time readers will know that way back in October of 2007, my daughter’s Curly gelding, *Red Running Star, developed a case of stringhalt, seemingly over a matter of hours.  He and *Beau had been in their pasture.  At noon when lunch hay had been delivered, all was fine.  It rained a bit in the afternoon, and when Chuck went down to give them some hay a bit after 5 o’clock *Red could barely walk.  We were devastated and brought both boys up to the arena, and stalls, immediately.

Over the course of the next week or so we consulted with, or were visited by, our regular veterinarian, Alison Cornwall; an herbalist Kelley Robie; another vet who specializes in lameness, Randy Franz; and a biochemist, Linsey McLean.  On Linsey’s recommendation we began to video tape *Red to better see the progression of his recovery.  His first video is here on YouTube.  There are a total of six (6) videos, but the first has had over 32,600 views!  In fact, that first video has been referenced by websites with questions and/or answers about stringhalt.  One was a site written by a long-time vet to help veterinarian students study for their tests (unfortunately I didn’t bookmark it and have now lost the site) and just recently I found this reference.

We never did find out exactly why *Red developed stringhalt, but we think that it was a combination of injury and possible malnutrition due to malabsorption.  We learned that stringhalt can be triggered by a lack of, or inability to absorb, magnesium.  So, besides just giving him time, our primary treatment was a change in diet.  We still follow this diet.  I touched on feeding in this recent blog.

Over the course of time, *Red has had some small relapses.  I learned that by increasing the magnesium he would stop “high stepping” rather quickly, and so for him, he gets the vitamin/mineral supplement I use with everyone in the morning’s feed and then in the evening’s feed I give him a bit of extra magnesium.  I’m happy to report that in the past two (2) years he has not had even one incident of that high stepping gait.

I have had many, many people contact me and ask what we did for *Red; how we cured him.  I always caution them that what we did may not work, but that it is worth a try.  I am happy to be a resource of information and a source of hope that their horse may be cured as well.  This is why I chose to re-visit the topic, as well as to say “thank you” to the vet student who recently stopped by that first video and sent me a message telling me how good the video was and that she was happy to hear he was better.

If you are interested in reading the original blog entry it is here.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Liberty Work

I have been told that American Curly Horses are very intelligent as breeds go.  This is not to discount the intelligence of other breeds, and truly I have little experience with them due to my allergies; however, I can say that most of the ones in my herd seem to catch-on quite quickly to the offered training.  There could be many reasons why those of us with Curly Horses find them so, and I’m not really here to discuss that particular topic.  What I do wish to reflect on is the at-liberty training I enjoy with my Curlies.

I have had many iterations of my style of training since I’ve owned Curlies, but my favorite way to work with them is some combination of Clicker, Tellington-Jones, Rashid, and a bit of Parelli thrown in for good measure.  I’m also a firm believer in introducing a concept, working on it a few times and then letting it “sleep” for a while.  With almost a 100 percent return, the horse not only remembers what was offered, but may have made improvements on it by themselves.

We start with liberty training within hours of the foal hitting the ground.  The first lesson that we teach is to back-up.  I have had people tell me that a horse should learn to go forward for you first, but I have found that all horses know how to go forward, and often quite quickly!  If I happened to be standing in front of them, or even to the side (with one of their feet on mine), I want them to back up quickly and without question.

I like to use Parelli’s first three games as a foundation for the foals, because that is what their mother does and I can easily build upon it.  Eventually, this will lead to me working on lifting their feet.  My ultimate goal being that they will stand and give their foot gently and allow me to hold it for a bit of time.

With little *Andi (*GMC Andrea’s Ankti), I have been doing this and she’s getting very good at it.  The surprise for me though, was the day that I positioned myself next to her front leg, and she offered it to me without a single touch, or even a move toward the touch, from me.  It’s only happened twice, and I don’t expect it, but this is a prime example of the horse taking the training another step.

May your Curlies offer you continued pleasant surprises!