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Icelandic Horse Connection

Clicker Training Clinic Report

Clicker training your Icelandic Horse (Pony) has many benefits, and the Icelandic Horses really enjoy it!

Here is a clicker training clinic report by Arlene:

This past weekend I had the wonderful privilege of participating in Alex's clinic at Live and Let Live Horse Rescue Farm. What a fantastically uplifting and inspiring educational experience that was! This was certainly due to Alex's special way of teaching, but it was also greatly due to the great mix of participants, to the place and its mission, and to the welcoming enthusiam of the dedicated volunteers who shared their special horses as co-teachers. I came back with a aura of good feelings and enough practical knowledge to carry me through for many months to come.

There were over 15 participants, most with some CT experience to varying extents. Several were volunteers at LLLF who had adopted or were working with special needs horses or just very young horses. A few participants had many years of CT experience under their belt and were a great source of anecdotal information.

One participant was a small animal vet with no horse experience, and another was a greatly experienced trainer of marine animals (specifically, killer whates and polar bears) and a teacher of other trainers. This mix of backgrounds led to some very good, thought-provocking discussions. And my own partner (the youngest of our group) was a beautiful, articulate and CT experienced young lady, Shawna, a 9th grader, who worked with me during many of the exercises using her own two special horses at the farm, one of whom is blind. I loved her right away!

Because there was a wide range of clicker training skills Alexandra began with the basics. Yet we all soon realized that we were actually getting very advanced instructions regarding the "basics" and the six foundation exercises. The mechanics and structure of proper food delivery was just one of the exercises we all went through in detail, and every single one of us benefitted from Alex's one-to-one tutoring in body and hand positioning, arm rotations, and feeding for proper head position, depending on the different exercise. I think we all also began focusing more on our Tai Chi walk, balance, and body awareness.

The other really important concept I think most of us became aware of during this clinic was the benefit of counting out of a set number of treats (10-20) per mimi-training session so that you necessarily will have to stop for a finite amount of time, if only to go get some more. That small amount of time gave us an opportunity to think and assess what had just transpired during the last mini-session and to possibly change our approach or plan to improve our structure.

But the real benefit of dividing the work session up this way was more than just our own mental break. Incredibly, even though it often was only a minute or two break between the mini-sessions, the horses did appear to have processed the information during that time, and often demonstrated remarkable improvements in their responses when they resumed the lesson.

So many times I've heard people remark how their horses seem to process things overnight and show little signs of confusion the next day. Well we saw that in the same day, just by breaking the sessions down further into mini-sessions because we had to go get more treats. NEAT! Especially for those of us who sadly don't get to see our horses every day. If you don't already do this, I would encourage everyone to try it the next time you start training a new behavior. You may, like me, be impressed with the increase in the learning curve.

It's really amazing. Many of us had read the books, and many had viewed at least some of the videos. Yet how much more understanding one gets when Alex (or another very experience CT trainer) observes us directly and offers constructive feedback. There was so much we didn't realized we didn't know! But the lovely part of it all was that as expected the CT trainers managed to be gentle yet precise in their criticism.

One of the horses I had the privilege to work with was a little blind mare named Penny, much loved by my young partner Shawna, who felt very protective of her charge. Shawna felt Penny couldn't be brought down to where the rest of the group was working, so we worked with her in her paddock, along with Shawna' other horse, Clover. Clover was already good at targeting and backing, so I worked with her on table manners, and she helped me practice my improved food delivery technique.

Penny was doing well with backing and table manners despite her blindness, but we were having trouble with targeting. Alex suggested that Shawna use an auditory target (a few pebbles in the bottle we were using) to help Penny orient better to the target. I'm sure using Alex's suggestions, in the weeks to come Shawna and Penny will be progressing as fast as any of the other teams at the farm.

We all got a detailed exposure to the pre-why would you leave me and then the WWYLM exercises using several of the volunteer's horses. Each horse was different. It was great watching the "students" go from knowing very little at the beginning to almost suddenly "getting it". The learning curve was enhanced by the frequent treat renewal/discussion think breaks built into the procedure. And it was great watching our own food delivery skills improve as well.

One of the best "treats" of the weekend at Live and Let Live Farm was getting to meet Bart, a four year old rescued Cockatoo who loves to grab and fling bottles or other light containers so someone will catch them. I got a short video of Alex playing catch with him as he kept flinging an empty water bottle back at her every time she repositioned it in front of him. He also plays dead (drops back suddenly and hangs upside down from his perch or over his handlers arm) and shakes his head fluffng up his head feathers when his owner asks "who's crazy?" and shakes her own head. He's very funny, and a real ambassador of good will. He isn't clicker trained yet, just very smart and a quick learner.

No one has figured out what he'll work for yet, but can you imagine what he could learn with a little CT. Right now he is just a happy little (well, not so little) mascot who is happy to be loved, scratched, and even kissed by visitors (if you aren't intimidated by that strong, large black beak). I was told he rides in the truck on morning chore runs.

The other animals at the farm also exude the same welcoming, quiet, gentle disposition that seems to be characteristic of people and animals around that place. The onwer's daughter, Heather Evans, is currently in the middle of a marathon riding journey that started on May 21 from Concord, NH and that will end in Manatoba, Canada (possibly 4 months later) to bring attention to the plight of PMU mares and their foals. Her mother and all the volunteers at LLL Farm are very proud of her.

What a nurturing place to have a clicker training clinic! It did a lot for me, at many, many levels.

On Monday, July 3 (not part of the actual clinic but a fantastic bonus learning experience for me) I watched Patti Sanborn's riding lessons with Alex. Patti's two beautiful, paired black horses are Moses (4 y/o Morab) who is working on 3Flip3 and beginning HSS, and Eli her older, more expeience Arab, who looks and performs like an experienced dressage student. Looking at the two of them one can imagine one is looking at the before and after pictures of the same horse.

It was wonderful to watch the lessons and visit with Patti at her lovely home, especially because I had the benefit ofcommentaries by other experienced clicker trainers who were present, and actually seeing and getting answers to my questions on 3F3, HSS, and the hotwalker exercises.

To all who organized this special event and who participated in it, if you are reading this, thank you, thank you, thank you for making the clinic so worthwhile.

Warmly, Arlene
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