Saturday, May 31, 2008


At the moment there are some big adjustments going on around me. Daughter arrived home last night complete with the grandcats.

The grandcats are old man Tigger (16 years old) and Mango, the gentle giant. They will be spending the summer with us while she studies law in other countries.

Both cats have stayed with us before and are well acquainted with our house and the cats in residence. Never the less we are now in a period of adjustment because the group dynamics of the clowder (group of cats) have changed. The old cats, Tigger's sister Frisky, Little Bit, and Mittens are taking it all in stride. This is nothing new to them. The two youngsters are more upset though. Flash is wearing a haunted look as he tries to keep his distance and Kewtie Pi has made it her business to "defend" me from the invaders. This is difficult since Mango does not believe in suffering in silence and wants to sit on my feet or lap in order to explain his unhappiness with this situation.

There will be a period of lurking, sneaking, hiding, and the occasional guerilla attack, until everyone adjusts. Eventually things will settle down. All the cats will claim particular areas to nap and bird watch. The youngsters will make up and join in the several times daily steeplechase.

I know from past experience all will be well, but meanwhile I'm keeping the spray bottle of water handy.

Lazy Trainer Tip

When changing the status quo with a group of animals expect scuffling, posturing, and warfare until everyone finds their particular place in the hierarchy of the group. But also be prepared to inforce and reinforce your position as the ultimate leader of the group. I will use voice, body blocking and the water spray to insure that things don't go beyond jockeying for position. All out war is not allowed in my clowder.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Upcoming Releases

I have several reports and a manual of Lazy Trainer Secrets that I am going to make available soon. I sent copies to various friends involved in working with animals and am starting to get some feed back from them.

Here is an E-mail from a friend who specializes in rescue work and is an acknowledged expert with dogs. She is a tremendous help when it comes to the sections in my work concerning dogs. We both crossover to other animals, but have our first loves we center on. My area of concentration has always been horses and hers has always been dogs.

E-mail feedback

Well, great minds on the same track... I always say.... "now this is a Lazy Lady's secret tip".. on dogs, cats, anything...

Lazy works for me.
LAZY is really making the best use of your time, effort and energy with the least outlay of time , effort and energy! ;->

Janine P, LA

Lazy Trainer Tip

Having someone check your work is always a good idea. It is amazing what errors can sneak in to your efforts. Ever now and then get a spotter to watch what you are doing and give feed back on areas you need to be careful of.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Yesterday I had a young sales clerk inform me that NO ONE is truly an expert at anything.
I have to admit that triggered my geezer mode.

I figure when there's a group of a hundred people who know something about a subject and one person in that group knows more than the other ninety nine the expert hat can rest on that head.

After spending all my life studying horses I think I'm entitled to wear the "expert" label. I remember the comment my very first riding teacher made though. She was in her seventies and one of the best in her field but she said, "The more I learn about horses the less I know." I keep it in mind.

I certainly know what she meant. I know a lot about horses, but now I look out over a vast body of knowledge and realize that, as much as I know, there is far more I don't know about horses and, furthermore, will never know. Still I'll claim that "expert" title because I feel like I've darn well earned it. I will continue to learn even though I know I'll never know all there is to know about horses.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An E-mail conversation

This morning I had the following in an E-mail from a friend. It especially got to me because this past Memorial Day a young man from my daughter’s high school graduating class got a special honor. A building at the high school was named for him. He was killed in Iraq Memorial Day 2007.
And while getting a building named after you is an honor, what about the facts in the following article?
Usually I’m 180 degrees opposite Rush Limbaugh, but in this case I agree with his observations. Those who give so much should be treated a lot better than our country is treating them.

Numbers and statistics correct, Check snopes for further discussion.


By Rush Limbaugh: I think the vast differences in compensation between victims of the September 11 casualty and those who die serving our country in Uniform are profound. No one is really talking about it either, because you just don't criticize anything having to do with September 11.Well, I can't let the numbers pass by because it says something really disturbing about the entitlement mentality of this country. If you lost a family member in the September 11 attack, you're going to get an average of $1,185,000.The range is a minimum guarantee of $250,000 all the way up to $4.7 million. If you are a surviving family member of an American soldier killed in action, the first check you get is a $6,000 direct death benef! it, hal f of which is taxable. Next, you get $1,750 for burial costs. If you are the surviving spouse, you get $833 a month until you remarry. And there's a payment of $211 per month for each child under 18. When the child hits 18, those payments come to a screeching halt. Keep in mind that some of the people who are getting an average of $1.185 million up to $4.7 million are complaining that it's not enough.Their deaths were tragic, but for most, they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Soldiers put themselves in harms way FOR ALL OF US, and they and their families know the dangers. We also learned over the weekend that some of the victims from the Oaklahoma City bombing have started an organization asking for the same deal that the September 11 families are getting. In addition to that, some of the families of those bombed in the embassies are now asking for compensation as well. You see where this is going, don't you? Folks, this is part and parcel of over 50 years of entitlement politics in this country. It's just really sad. Every time a pay raise comes up for the military, they usually receive next to nothing of a raise. Now the green machine is in combat in the Middle East while their families have to survive on food stamps and live in low-rent housing. Make sense? However, our own US Congress voted themselves a raise. Many of you don't know that they only ha! ve to b e in Congress one time to receive a pension that is more than $15,000 per month. And most are now equal to being millionaires plus. They do not receive Social Security on retirement because they didn't have to pay into the system. If some of the military people stay in for 20 years and get out as an E-7, they may receive a pension of $1,000 per month, and the very people who placed them in harm's way receives a pension of $15,000 per month. I would like to see our elected officials pick up a weapon and join ranks before they start cutting out benefits and lowering pay for our sons and daughters who are now fighting.' When do we finally do something about this?

Believe me I am well aware of this inequality and am completely outraged by it as well.
Even worse than the financial inequality is the fact that if a soldier doesn't complete his term of service because he is injured (loses a limb, brain damage etc.)she/he has to return the sign-up bonus. The follow-up medical care for injured soldiers is abysmal and shameful.
The care for the families of soldiers who are serving is so horrific (WHY do any families of soldiers have to have food stamps in order to survive?) that our leaders should be covering their faces in shame.
Sorry about the tirade, but this is something I feel frothing at the mouth strongly about.

Hugs and blessings,Bettye

Don't think it's a tirade. Goes along with my long held belief that the ribbon decals (mostly sold by Walmarts for 4.95) seen on bumpers and fenders are an abomination, why don't those people spend their 5 bucks on a phone card to send to the medvac'd personnel at Walter Reed? Most of whom arrive much before their records (and money) and don't have the resources to let their family know where they are? What started as a fund raiser for a Veterans organization has become an additional profit item for the world's largest retailer.

One of the reasons I included you in the forward was to get your response! Also, as you (and Linda) have a wider audience on your blogs you might find this useful for a comment there. Since I'm not working this summer I don't have my soap box handy and I don't think the great unwashed masses usually think about this and related topics. Alond with Health Care it's one of the issues I have been looking at during this season's political activity.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pay It Forward

Sooner or later everybody gets caught with the writing assignment "What I did during my summer vacation." One way or another we all do a lot of writing whether or not we have any aspirations to be a writer.

This year I am going to offer a course at our local library on how to write-a book, report, short story or essay. Iv'e been writing for a long time now and and I've learned a lot of tricks since that first WIDDMSV essay. Tricks they don't ever teach you in school so I'm going to pass them on to anyone else who wants to learn a faster way to accomplish the task.

Lazy Trainer's Tip

What does this project have to do with being a Lazy Trainer? The main secret of being a successful Lazy Trainer is passing lessons learned on to others. When you teach someone else you learn a subject better yourself.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day History

We may have lost something when we changed the name from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. While Memorial Day does suggest we tap into memories it doesn’t have the same specificity as Decoration Day.

According to David Blight, a professor at Yale University, the first Decoration Day was observed in 1865 by liberated slaves at the historic Charlestown race track. They undertook the job of relocating Union Soldiers from a mass grave into individual graves. They then build a fence around the new cemetery and an arched gateway declaring it a Union Cemetery. This was both a daring and dangerous thing to do at the time. Sometime around 1887 they returned to clean and decorate the graveyard with wildflowers they gathered from the surrounding countryside.

The Confederates had a number of different days they observed to honor their fallen dead.

The name Memorial Day was first used about 1882, but did not become the common name for the day until after World War II. It wasn’t an official Federal holiday until 1967.

Now the Memorial Day weekend is mostly regarded as a time to get together with family and friends to watch the Indy 500, BBQ and is generally regarded as an unofficial kickoff to summer.

For some of us though it is a time to remember those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom to pretty much say and do as we please.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Today is our 33rd anniversary. We've got PLANS.
When we got married in 1975 it rained. It rained so much there was serious flooding in the Central Texas area. Nowadays people talk about the BIG flood in the 90's, but I suspect we have a big flood on Memorial day weekend about every ten years. It certainly is likely to be raining 3 out of 4 Memorial Days.
In '75 we were trying to combine two complete households. We rented a storage shed to do this. Because we planned on an extended trip to West Virginia to meet Larry's family we only took the weekend off. On the morning of the 24th we went to the shed to put another load of stuff in it and discovered it had flooded. The water had reached a depth of over two feet and ruined a lot of stuff.
That was when I found out what kind of stuff my new husband was made of. He looked at the mess and said, "Well, s#*t! I guess we'd better start cleaning this up.

Lazy Trainer's Tip

If you want a good marriage focus on your partner's good points. The more you look at what they do that you like the less you'll notice the things that aren't so great.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

When Will They Ever Learn?

"When will they ever learn?" is the refrain in a folk song that was popular in the 1960's. It would be a bit more accurate if it was when will WE ever learn?

This song was brought to mind by a conversation I had with a young woman in Barnes & Noble Tuesday. She had tons of stats at her command and was just as passionate as I was back in the day about conversevation. I tried to gently point out to her that we made a start then and if we'd kept on the path of alterternative sources of power we most likely wouldn't be having the problems we have today. I'm sure, of course, that we'd have some problems or the other that being the nature of existence. We didn't need to be repeating this particular set of problems caused by escalating oil prices. If we had continued developing our technologies for using solar, wind, geothermal, wave, water, and garbage conversion as energy sources we'd be far ahead of the game.

Instead, when oil prices stablized, people immediately went back to their old dependence on the substance and refused to pay the, then minor, extra price to develop and use alternative sources of power. We not only didn't move forward to develop these technologies we actively moved back in some cases. We need to keep in mind that while there is still a sufficient amount of oil available it isn't infinite. Solar and wind power may not be infinite either, but when we have problems with them energy will be the least of our worries.

Meanwhile there is the refrain, "What can I do?"

Here are some things I did back in the 1970's when one night I went to bed to gas at one price and woke up the next morning to discover it had doubled. Ah yes, gas has NEVER, EVER gone back to the price I saw that night on my way home from work.

Walk if at all possible.
Ride a bike.
Consoladate any trips you have to make in your car.
Plant a garden.
Use the mantra our grandmothers used in the 1930's:
"Use it up, make it do, do without."

Things you need to consider; if it isn't safe to walk in an area then don't. There really are places you should not be on foot. The same consideration applies to bikes.
If it is safe to walk, but you think you can't haul whatever you are going to get back in your hands then think about getting a basket on wheels, or use a small garden or child's wagon to carry the stuff.
Got a big dog?
Teach it to pull a cart to carry your supplies.
An additional benefit--the dog will not let someone take your cart while it is parked outside the store and the two of you will become even better friends as you work together.

If you live in an apartment you can't have a garden. Or can you? If you have friends who have a house with land see if they might be willing to let you use some of their yard for a small garden. If they already have a garden offer to help them work it.

Start a container garden. Tomatoes, peppers, chives and a lot of very expensive herbs can be grown in pots. This has the added advanage of cleaning the air in your living space.

Lazy Trainer's Tip

Free your mind by getting some of the old Foxfire books written back in the seventies and reading how others have faced the current problems and overcome them.

Oh yeah! I'll write up instructions on how to teach a dog to pull a cart and tell you where you can buy them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Respect can be a subtle thing. Respect is frequently demonstrated in how close or far someone stands from another person. Years ago I was at a museum inIndiana. There was an exibit that demonstrated the way different cultures had different requirements for personal space. Americans and western Europeans are about mid-way in their requirements, most needing about 18 inches between them and someone they are holding a conversation with to be comfortable. The distance varies some depending on how well acquainted they are with the other person, families being encouraged to come closer by hugs and a newly met stranger being subtly held at a distance by an almost fully extended arm when shaking hands.

People from Japan and other Far East regions are at the extreme end of require the most distance for themselves. People from the Middle East are at the other end of the scale, requiring the least amount of space. This can lead to some unconcious judgements about the intentions of other humans when people are trying to interact with one another. Each tries to adjust personal space to a comfortable distance and this can result in an unconcious opinion that another is pushy or unfriendly when it is a matter of seeking a comfort zone.

Something I see over and over again is that people, all people, do not respect animals' personal space. Worse yet, if they are comfortable with animals, they don't expect the animal to respect their boundaries. A horse or dog without respect for a human's personal space can be dangerous. I have been body slammed many times by horses and dogs whose caretakers have failed to instill a proper respect of a bubble of space between them and humans.

A well-established bubble can save you from injury. I had a friend over to ride one time and we were walking through my pens. A higher-ranking gelding began chasing another horse. Just as my friend was walking through a gate opening the mare charged for the same opening. When she saw a human in that opening she bounced off the invisible shield I had taught her to respect and ricocheted off in another direction. This was only about a year after I had been taught how to create that protective shield, but the incident made a real believer of me about the importance of teaching animals to respect humans' personal space.

Teaching an animal to respect a bubble is a simple task, but one that requires persistence and concentration. You make certain that your horse always, no matter what, stays that magic distance away from you. It is a matter of knowing where the zone is around you, and if the horse comes into it you send her out of it. EVERYTIME!

It usually isn’t necessary to do any more than quietly back the horse to the line you draw in your mind, but sometimes you have to get firmer with an animal who is used to casually walking all over people. That type may take a lot longer to convince, but even they can be taught. You must make the line of demarcation so strong in your own mind that you automatically move a horse outside it, every time the horse crosses the line. One you have gained this habit of insisting a horse or dog respect your personal space without thinking about it you will automatically teach it to every animal you are around.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ain't Gonna

This morning Star decided she was not going out to pasture. She balked in the gate and refused to move forward. This also blocked all the other horses as well.

Now, there are different levels of balking, or refusing to move. One is caused by human impatience. You don’t take time to remember the cycle of; from your brain to your muscles, to the horse’s muscles, to the horse’s brain, back to its muscles, back to your muscles, to your brain. This is a LONG chain of events and most people forget to allow for it. In other words, you did not allow enough time for all the information to be processed and acted upon. The horse did not balk, it just didn’t have enough time to do what you ask. Slow down.

There is the case of the true balk, but only for a moment. Something happens that the horse needs to study before deciding whether or not it should proceed. A good horseman will acknowledge the horse’s concerns before proceeding with the task.

Then there is the balk where the horse says it absolutely will not go where it is being asked to go. This calls for some serious thinking on the part of the handler. Is the horse justified in refusing to go? Are you asking your horse to do
something it cannot do? Are you asking your horse to do something YOU cannot do? All of these questions need to be reviewed before taking any drastic action.
If the horse truly is balking for no apparent good reason then the first action should simply be to attempt to untrack your horse, i.e. move one step to the side, then one step to the other side, until the horse moves forward.

The last and most serious type of balking is the most dangerous. All prey animals have a mode where they shut down. They cannot process any information. This seems to be nature’s way of dealing with the cruelty of being eaten while still alive. When a horse hits this mode you had best get away from it and wait until it comes out of this particular mode.

As quickly as possible, make certain you have some control of your horse, get the reins over its head and go to the end of them (be sure you are off to the side, not in front of the horse). If it’s in an enclosure of some sort tie the reins out of it’s way and get away from the horse. Some horses will just suddenly come back, shake themselves off, and be ready to continue. However, there are horses that will explode wildly out of this mode, and begin fighting for their lives. You do not want to be near the horse that does this.

If your horse has displayed such a behavior you need to review what you were doing. It is important to determine how to make certain you don’t stress your horse so much that it feels as if it is being “eaten alive”. In other words, you need to learn how to stop acting like a predator.

The reason Star was balking? A neighbor's dogs were in the pasture and she wasn't going out there until they left. Lucky for them as her usual mode for dealing with dogs is to roll them up and play soccer with them.

Monday, May 19, 2008

New Old Fashioned Way?

I chuckled as I read an article yesterday about a brand new way to save money on grocery bills. It seems a community in Kentucky is renting space so apartment dwellers can grow their own vegetable gardens.

I thought such gardens were new in the seventies, but a friend’s mother put me straight on that with stories of Victory Gardens during World War II. When she claimed that was new her mother said renting a spot for a garden was common in Europe and had been for centuries.

The idea of renting or leasing a bit of ground in order to grow food is probably as old as the concept of humans living in cities. Any idea that has been around for that long is probably a good one.

Besides assuring a supply of food, gardening is healthy exercise. Instead of paying money and time for a gym experience you can use those resources to take care of part of your food supply, get exercise and save money. It’s hard to beat a deal like that. Better still you have a pretty good idea of what is in and on the veggies and fruits you are consuming.

Back in the seventies we really went all out for the organic lifestyle. We bought land and in addition to a garden and orchard had dairy goats, rabbits, chickens and ducks. Our freezer was full and we usually bought staples such as flour, salt, sugar, spices and various cleaning supplies.

Over the years we got away from all that keeping only a small herb and salad garden. It is amazing how rapidly the garden expanded as we got into the latest round of increasing costs of living. I am going to add here that it held off longer than I expected.

I began moving us away from gas guzzlers just before 2000 because I realized it had been quite awhile since we’d had fuel prices increasing exponentially. Each time we needed a vehicle I tried to make sure we got whatever had good mileage. I noticed friends who’d lived through the seventies or thirties were doing the same thing. I predict that all my friends going through this for the first time will recognize the signs next time and have survival modes in place.

Lazy Trainer’s Tip

During this cycle of increasing prices it is a good idea to learn how to make the best use of all resources, but especially that of time. Time is the one thing we have a finite amount of and need to be stingy with. Don’t spend it on things that are not important to you.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Aggravation and Frustration

I should have realized things were going a little too well.

We rented a Ditch Witch to dig the trench to find the leak. It showed up quickly and Larry proceded to dig all the way to the main connect point so he could replace all the old iron pipe with plastic. This house was built right after World War II and we've been cleaning and fixin' ever since we bought the place ten years ago.

This morning Larry dug some more because he had a couple of other areas that he wanted to lay new pipe as well. Once this was finished he loaded up the Ditch Witch and got ready to return it to the rental place. Well, he came in the house for a few minutes to change out of his dirty clothes.

He left the back door of the van open. While he was gone a feral tom cat hopped in and marked the van. PHEW! Then it got better. Because of said open door the battery ran down. Now we have to go find a truck to rent so we can return the Ditch Witch. Then we need to get a new battery et cetera et cetera. The fun never ends.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Cheese with that whine?

Today was going to be a whinney post about busted pipes, but then a friend sent me a wonderful email about a pony named Molly.

Molly is a survivor of Katrina with an amazing story. Pam Kaster wrote a book called Molly the Pony, that is now available. I think it is going to be a best seller.

Molly is an example to anyone going through incredible difficulties. She just keeps going and others, seeing her perseverance, take heart.

Her story reminds me of a little Tuxie cat we had that got hit by a car. The vet didn't think much of his chances of regaining control of his back legs and tail, but Taz kept trying. Each day he would try to do a little more and eventually he fully recovered from his accident. It was amazing to watch and gave all who saw him lessons in taking things one day at a time and doing what you can when you can.

Lazy Trainer Tip

Our animals can teach us a lot about moving forward instead of just giving up and wallowing in the past.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hunting and Gathering

I call Friday my hunting and gathering day because that is when I go out to buy feed and supplies for all the animals and people in our household.

Today I started unusually early because I had to go in to have blood drawn for tests. I needed to be fasting for these test so naturally I went in as early as they were taking patients. Then I treated myself to breakfast at IHOP. I needed coffee as much as anything. What can I say? I'm addicted to my two cups of java every morning.

Lazy Trainer's Tip

Planning all your trip ahead of time for buying food and feed as well as other necessary items can save you a significant amount of fuel and time.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pep Talks

If yesterday’s blog seemed aimed at writers more than animal trainers that’s because it was. Specifically this writer. I need reminders that many projects are not going to be accomplished in one day or even one year. I need the occasional pep talk to keep me on track.

Currently I’m working on an equine version of Marley and Me with Doc as Marley. This is going to take awhile. I already have about a quarter of the first draft done. I tend to begin a book with a vague idea that I jot down on an index card. I add index cards as more ideas present themselves. I try to have only one idea/scene per index card. Usually a book takes about 100 index cards; give or take a few.

Once I have my cards I put them in some sort of order and create an outline on my computer. The outline is a little more detailed than the index cards and gives me a better idea of how the narrative is going to flow.

This is somewhat how I deal with training animals. I acquire the horse, dog or cat, i.e. idea. I then spend some time observing it and learning its personality. Usually I give a horse or dog a week to get used to its new environment. I keep it in a stall or pen so it won’t get into trouble and has a chance to see how things work between us and the other animals. New cats are also kept separate from the clowder, but it usually takes longer for them to settle in and be comfortable with the new life.

Once an animal has settled in I begin with a grooming session. As I’ve mentioned before this translates with horses to “I’m the leader.” I’m not sure exactly how this works with dogs, but I do know things go better once a dog accepts my right to groom him. As we go through grooming I find all the areas the animal isn’t comfortable being handled and begin to work on these. This may take minutes or months, but I keep going.

My usual pattern for training sessions with animals or people is to begin at the beginning and keep going forward until a problem shows up. That is where the day’s training/work session begins. Over the years I’ve discovered I have to do things slightly differently when I’m writing; especially when I am writing a book.

I cannot allow myself to review previous material too far back (in fact I try to set things up so I only see the last paragraph I wrote the day before) or else I’ll be rewriting before I’ve finished writing my first draft. Down this road lies confusion, aggravation and unfinished manuscripts, so I try very hard not to do it anymore.

First draft first; THEN rewrite. I make notes about potential changes as I go and use different color text so I know when I begin my rewrites that this is a particular area that needs work.

When training horses (or dogs for that matter) I had to learn to keep moving forward. Doing the same thing over and over hoping for perfection led to the opposite result. Finally a dressage instructor gave me an important key to the problem. She said, “Once you get fifty on something, move on. Staying there will only lead to boredom and frustration. Moving on to the next thing will result in improving the previous exercises.”

If you are wondering about the significance of a fifty—when taking a dressage test the score is determined on a scale of zero to ten. Tens are so rare anyone getting a ten frames the test and puts it where everyone can see it. Sixty and seventy is good enough to win gold.

Lazy Trainer’s Tip

When you and your horse have a good feel for the task, move on to the next one. Warm up and cool down will be sufficient to keep the previous lessons fresh and on the road to improvement.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Big Goals

It isn’t just a good idea to have big goals; it is a great idea.

You heard the but coming didn’t you? The problem with big goals is they cannot be reached in one step. If you want to train a Grand Prix dressage horse, a dog that reaches the highest levels of agility, make a million dollars or write a book you are going to have to learn how to have the ultimate goal out there yet break it down into teeny, tiny daily goals.

Furthermore, you don’t just break such plans down into monthly, weekly or daily goals; you have to take them all the way down to minute-by-minute goals. You have to write a sentence before you can write a paragraph; which comes before a page. Beyond that scenes and chapters are necessary before you have the book. The million dollars rests on the first penny you dedicate to your goal. The horse suitable for Grand Prix has to be acquired first as does the dog for agility.

By now you know I consider ground manners in horses important. You have also seen champions who have no manners at all and the people around them allow this. In race horses sometimes they even encourage it saying a winner needs to be like that. Why?

If you think about it, the reason most horses are behaving so badly is because they are frightened. I think, no I KNOW, being frightened interferes with performance. If you fear something you are going to get in your own way to protect yourself from the perceived danger.

I understand this all too well because I’m an expert in shooting myself in the foot when it comes to achieving big goals. Remember the earlier blog where I told you about winning the spelling contes--and then having my best friend tell me she hated me because of it? That fear of having people “hate” me because of winning a goal has stayed with me for nearly sixty years now.

I have a lot of company. There are millions of people who get in their own way because of their fears. I’ve coached many people who used the excuse, “I want to show, but I need a better horse.” as I stood there looking at a potential champion at the end of their lead rope. Their minds won’t let them see the potential or hear when someone tells them about the possibilities.

The way I’ve learned to get around this handicap is to play tricks on my subconscious. I don’t set myself up to win. I tell myself my goal is to get third place. The trick to this? Which third place?

I taught myself that if I want to win a third place at a national level then it is okay to take a first place at the local level. After all, in the overall picture, a first place locally is nothing in the overall scheme of things. Really, it doesn’t even qualify as a third place when you look at the regional, state and national levels.

Does this mean I’m allowed to have a goal of making the New York Times Best Seller lists? Sure. If that’s my goal then I don’t have to worry if I make some other list do I? How about if I get a book to the first place on the NYTBS list? I’m still safe because there are lots and lots of writers who’ve make the list multiple times for multiple weeks.

If you have a really BIG goal you must break it down into the smallest possible bits. If your mind gets worried and tries to sabotage your efforts give it something else to worry about. If it is panicking over the production of the all time best dressage horse, agility dog or a record NTBS book then it isn’t going to be paying attention to today’s effort to meet a tiny goal.

Lazy Trainer’s Tip

Break your biggest goal down to the tiniest possible steps. Give your brain something huge to worry about so you can accomplish those little bits without interference. And enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


That cute little mare in the photo came free with several other minis. All of them are nice animals and well cared for, but before it is over they will cost my friend a significant amount of cash as well as time and effort.

As a kid I’d have been thrilled if anyone offered me a free horse or pony. It never happened. Now I have people approach me on a regular basis wanting to do just that. Because of past experience I look that gift horse in the mouth every way I can. I’ve learned there is not only no such thing as free, but a free animal can cost you more than if you went and bought one outright.

Case-in-point Our last “free” animal cost us over five hundred dollars before we’d had her a week. We acquired her this way:

We went out for a nice Sunday drive in the Texas Hill Country. For those of you unfamiliar with Texas that is, roughly, an area west of I-35 that extends north from San Antonio to the Dallas/Fort Worth area and west to the Edwards Plateau and Staked Plains. We had a nice drive and stopped at a rest area to check out the view.

There was a young black and white kitten. I judged her to be about 16 weeks old and she wanted to approach us, but was terrified. We went back to the nearest town and got a big box (we were driving our new car and did not have a crate in it yet) as well as some cooked chicken.

Cooked chicken is something cats and dogs find irresistible. I carefully lured her close with the chicken and Larry grabbed her and stuffed her in the box. But not before she laid his hand open.

It was a good thing we’d been given a full “tour” of our new car and knew about the first aid kit because we needed it. Her back claws really did a number on his hand.

We eventually named the kitten Kewtie Pi (she’s an engineer's cat after all) and she is a very loving little girl now that she's recovered from her scare of being out in the big outdoors.

Lazy Trainer’s Tip

Check offers of free animals carefully. Sometimes, as with the kitten, you just have to take an animal. If you have a choice though be as choosey as if you were putting down big bucks for the animals. Because, one way or another, you will be.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Learning Language

I went to the feed store to pick up my usual order of feed and supplies. As a regular client of many years I’ve come to have a pretty easy relationship with the owner and his employees. I drive up and they are getting my order together before I ever hit the door.

This time the owner was doing the grunt work himself because he’d fired someone. We talked and he commented he’d given the guy eighteen months and if he hadn’t figured out how to do the job by now he probably never would.

From this launch pad we went into a discussion about communication. He was frustrated because he hadn’t been able to get through to the kid and I was a bit aggravated because I’d spent my morning trying to convince someone, who should have known better, that she didn’t need to shout at her horse; shouting being why her horse wasn’t cooperating in the first place.

Mr. Feed Store Owner shook his head, “Yeah, I see stuff like that all the time. I want to tell the people, ‘Why don’t you go get a job with someone who only speaks Russian and then yells at you because you don’t understand him? See how well you do?’”

“Wow that is a great visual. Okay if I use it?” I asked.

He generously gave me permission to use it. And now I’m sharing it with you. Stop and consider how you would handle it if someone who didn’t speak English had control of your life and yelled at you in their language when you failed to do what they wanted. Now consider that this is what we do with our animals all the time.

Lazy Trainer’s Tip

Make an effort to learn how animals communicate through body language and use this to improve your training skills.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

It's a a beautiful day. A front came through and it is cool, low humidity and Spring. So I am going to go out and play.
Hope all of you have a wonderful day.

Lazy Trainer Tip

Don't be afraid to seize the moment and enjoy it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Public Wrecks

When I go to a clinic or seminar given by an animal trainer guru I watch the event differently than most people. I watch for the wrecks and how the trainer pulls out of them without giving away the fact he or she just had something go haywire.

I’ve also noticed that most of the men tend to never, ever admit they just had a wreck, while most of the women will tell the audience that something went wrong and this is how they are fixing it.

I’m a connoisseur of wrecks because I’ve had so many of them myself. I mentioned in an earlier post about the wreck where I got a rope around a foal’s neck and then didn’t know what to do next. That is how most wrecks happen. You do something and then don’t know what to do next.

Since that first incident with the foal I’ve put ropes, halters, collars, and harnesses on hundreds of animals (including my daughter) and gone beyond the first step to a subject trained to lead perfectly.

I mention my daughter because, after halter and collar breaking hundreds of horses and dogs, I had an all mighty wreck teaching my daughter to wear a harness.

I know some of you are going to object to the idea of a child wearing a harness, but my view point is this: I put a lead on a horse or dog to keep it safe because it is valuable. Much as I love animals my children are far more valuable to me than any of those animals. Therefore I will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.

My daughter was an active curious toddler that got into everything. One day at a mall, after several other incidents, she got away from me and stuck her head through some railings. I thought we were going to have to call the fire department to get her out. But fortunately we finally got her head turned just the right way to get it out of the “stocks” she’d put herself into.

I spotted a store for children and went in to ask if they had harnesses. I’d worn one as a child and decided maybe my grandmother had been on to something. The store had such harnesses and I bought one. Once we were outside the store I went to a bench, sat down and put the harness on my daughter.

Every thing was fine for a few moments. Then she spotted something she wanted to see up close and took off. When she hit the end of the lead she stopped looked around incuriously at the lead and then threw a bucking fit worthy of any foal or puppy I’d ever trained.

The fit was so impressive that when I went in the store with her two years later to buy a replacement harness the sales lady commented when I put the new harness on her, “That’s nice. One time we had a woman buy a harness and put it on her kid out front. The kid had a temper tantrum that lasted fifteen minutes.”

I blushed, but confessed, “That was us. I’d recommend to anyone who is going to put a harness on a child that they do it at home the first time.”

Why I didn’t realize I’d have to teach her to wear the harness and lead just as I would a foal or puppy is typical of the blind spots we have concerning other humans. They need for new things to be taught step-by-step the same way an animal does and we cause all sorts of problems for them and ourselves by not learning how to do this.

Lazy Trainer’s Tip

Don’t assume anything when introducing something new to human or animal. Learn all the steps of the process from the first one (getting the rope on) to the final step; a companion leading quietly on a loose lead.

Additional tip

The harness and lead saved my daughter from any number of bruises and skinned knees because when she tripped, instead of falling, she was supported by the harness and let down easily instead of hitting the ground.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Just what IS lazy?

I thought about this question after watching a woman and her dog in one of the pet allowed stores get in a major battle over whether or not the dog was going to get to keep a bag of dog bones it grabbed. It was a pretty good sized dog and it took several minutes for her to get the bag back. Just out of curiosity I kept following the pair and watching the show.

Now a lazy dog owner would have taken a different path to resolve the various issues. Some, the truly lazy, would never take their dog into such a store anyway. Another type of lazy would put the dog in a basket and push it around.

A smart lazy, the kind I am and advocate, would stop the problem before it got going. A quick correction when the dog first looked (a dog looks with its nose first incidentally) at the shelf of goodies would have kept the whole ruckus from happening.

Something I had to teach my students over and over again is that you can’t just sit on a horse hoping it will behave. You have to take an active part in the process and the quicker you get active the less work you’ll have to do and that is being smart lazy.

This is a pretty good plan to follow with children, employees, dogs, horses or any other being you are in charge of. See the problem and take steps early on to redirect. Don’t just wait and watch, hoping the wreck won’t happen.

Incidentally the wait, watch, hope strategy is really unfair to all concerned. When you do this it takes a LOT more effort to correct any problems and can leave the one corrected feeling confused and abused; which then sets up a whole new round of problems.

Lazy Trainer’s Tip

When you see the very first hint of a problem take action right THEN and THERE. An huh-huh, a tiny sideways tug on the leash, a stop of the hands on the reins or the seat in the saddle, can keep a tiny problem from becoming a major one and will not cause the resentment a bigger correction can.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Learning To Be a Trainer

When I first got Doc he was a yearling who hung around humans and went with them when on a lead rope because he wanted to. He was not truly halter-broken and I was betting he wasn’t trained to stand tied either. I had a lot of experience with these problems by the time I acquired my big, black horse. And it was a darn good thing too!

The first time I ran afoul of the problem of an animal not being trained to wear a halter or collar was when I was about six years old and my grandfather gave me a puppy. If you want to know what it looked like look at the picture of Sassy. Incidentally, Sass is a descendent of the dogs my grandfather bred.

My grandmother named him Tripper because he would run between her legs and cause her to trip. Now, at sixty myself, I have a LOT more sympathy and understanding for the problem.

Putting a collar on Tripper was easy enough. He pitched a fit about wearing it, but eventually settled down and carried it. The real problem began when I tried to put a leash on him. He pitched a fit and alternately either was at the end trying to run away or laying down being dragged. I think my mother was the one who eventually taught him to lead, sort of. Tripper was never an ideal dog, but he sure taught me a lot of important things about animals.

My education with teaching animals to lead continued when we were at the farm of one of my mother’s cousins and there was a new foal. It was by a stallion named Yellow Jacket, something I didn’t appreciate until many years later, just as I didn’t recognize the significance of Joe Hancock as the sire of the old stallion another relative kept. For those of you not familiar with Quarter Horses these are some early stallions that contributed to the breed in a major fashion.

I was out in the pen with the mare and foal. Being a kid I found a bit of rope and managed to get it around the foal’s neck. The foal got away from me and wouldn’t let me near it again. Finally, afraid the foal would hurt itself with that noose around its neck; I went into the house and confessed what I’d done. The cousin who owned the mare went out and removed the loop. Then he told me, “It’s best not to mess with other people’s animals if you don’t know what you are doing.”
Sometimes I wish I’d taken that bit of advice to heart, but I didn’t.
I continued messing with other people’s horses every chance I got.

It may help you to understand when I tell you I was the kind of kid who, after watching her first episode of Superman, got a towel, tied it around my neck, climbed on the garage roof and jumped off. For most of my life that is how I’ve done things. Watch someone do it, then go out and try to do it myself.

Really now that I think about it this isn’t too far off the mantra of how to make a surgeon. Show one. Do one. Teach one. I will say though you end up with a lot more injuries when this is the way you learn to train horses and dogs.

As for Doc it was a good thing I had learned my lessons well by the time he came into my life because, as big as he was, I needed every thing I’d ever learned to turn him into a well-mannered horse.

Lazy Trainers Tip

To learn to train an animal find a professional you are comfortable with and learn how they do it. Then try it yourself. After that—teach someone else how to do it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


I love to watch Dirty Jobs. Mike Rowe has a wonderful voice, thanks to his training as an opera singer. I also have to admit that when watching him deal with horses I frequently end up laughing myself silly.

Last night I was watching him handle a group of draft horses and was amused at both his body language and his voice. While trying to lead four Belgium horses (he called them Percherons, but if you want to know what a Percheron really looks like look at Doc's picture) he tried to slow them down and stop them by repeating whoa in an increasingly higher tone of voice. The body language alone was enough to cause the horses to ignore him, but add the voice and you were assured those horses were not going to regard him as anyone to take seriously.

When I was a teen I thought I wanted to be a vet. It was the wrong time because women were not allowed in vet school; which was a good thing in my case. While I’m very good at dealing with animals I’m lousy when it comes to dealing with humans. A vet has to be good with humans as well as animals.

Nevertheless, I got a job in a vet clinic while I was in high school and learned a lot there. One thing I learned was the importance of quiet confidence when it comes to handling any animal, regardless of species.

An early example of this was the day a woman brought her Peke in for his annual check up and shots. When the little guy strutted into the examination room I said "Hi, kiddo," and reached down, grabbed him firmly and hoisted him onto the table. Everyone, the Doctor included, gasped. It seems this particular dog had quite a reputation for biting.

I’ll have to confess here that I had an advantage concerning this particular dog. He was one of my mother’s breeding. I knew how he’d been started out and his basic temperament so I had confidence that he was a sensible dog. Which he was, he’d just been allowed to think he was top dog in his household and took full advantage of it. When confronted with a person who knew better he was perfectly willing to behave.

That absolute confidence is what every animal trainer needs in order to handle animals safely. Without it even a Chihuahua can control the human. With it a human can control an elephant. The confidence has to come from knowledge and skill. But we humans like to use our voices. We are a very vocal species. We can use this tendency either in a right way or wrong way.

It is necessary to learn how to “read” an animal and its body language. Dogs are fairly easy because they are predators and humans are predators. We have a common language that we can use. Horses are difficult because they are strictly prey animals and have a vested interest in doing just the opposite of what we want them to do.

One of the first things I always tell students is “Everything you want to do naturally is wrong.”

In working with horses we have to completely retrain ourselves in order to gain a horse’s trust and cooperation. This takes years of effort and practice. Gaining that absolute confidence is a long journey and there are more than a few pit falls along the way.

None of this is to say you can handle dogs without making the effort to acquire knowledge and practice skills; because you must learn how to meet their needs and communicate in a manner the dog can understand in order to have a successful partnership with your canine companion.

One huge mistake a lot (really most) people make with both dogs and horses is using a high pitched voice. The reason this is so wrong is because among horses high pitches signal danger and distress. Dogs have a different take on a high pitched voice. To them this is the sign of a prey animal they can take down. As you can see the reactions of horses and dogs are opposite, but the result is bad for humans in both cases.

Low pitches to horses are friendly. These are the pitches used among companions, mares and their foals, a stallion to a mare. Low pitch is good.

Likewise low, calm pitched voices are good with dogs because this doesn’t rev their hunting and killing drives.

In addition to low-slow speech is also a good thing. Animals have lightening quick reflexes and the more you can slow these down the easier it is to handle your horse or dog.

Lazy Trainer’s Tip

About the most important thing you can do when around animals (besides using correct body language) is always use a low pitch when speaking. Practice using the lowest pitch you are capable of until it becomes second nature when you are in the presence of a horse or dog.

Don’t forget to add slow to this practice as well. While body language is how both dogs and horses really do most of their communicating they do use some vocalization and we can take advantage of this by keeping the low and slow mantra in mind.

Monday, May 5, 2008


I trained my first horse from scratch in the summer of 1964. I was 16 years old at the time.

For many years after I focused on all the things I did wrong training that colt, but now, forty-four years later, I can look back and see alot of things I did right.

One important thing I got right was training the colt to have good grooming and ground manners. At the time I was riding some good horses, including a California Spade Bit horse. For those of you who don’t know about this type of training this is the equivalent of an upper level dressage horse. The horse is started in a bosal hackamore at age four and finished at eight, finished meaning ready to carry a spade bit. The critical word here is carry. A properly trained spade bit horse has a mouth that is so sensitive and delicate that you can ride it using silk thread as reins. The real key is you use your seat and legs to give the signals.

Maybe it was being raised by people who raised dogs, but one thing I noticed at even that early age was the fact that many horses were excellent riding horses, but had terrible manners when handled from the ground. Some to the point of being dangerous. I saw one friend get her leg broken by one of these ill mannered horses and knew of a young woman who was killed when her horse lashed out and kicked her in the head. It seemed to me at the time it was just as important to teach good manners when you were handling the horse on the ground as it was for the horse to be well-mannered under saddle. I had no idea of just how right my idea was.

That almost perfect California Spade Bit horse was so bad about having his feet handled that there wasn’t a good farrier in San Antonio who wouldn’t charge extra to shoe him. I knew how much importance my mother, grandfather, and uncle placed on good manners while being groomed. I didn’t understand why horse trainers didn’t have the same standards.

When I found a book by Margaret Campbell Self I discovered someone who did place importance on good ground manners. In fact, when I trained my first horse I did so consulting her book every step of the way. That was one of the smartest things I ever did with horses. I still recommend that anyone just starting with horses find her books, read them, and take her words to heart.

I still didn’t realize just how critical good manners while being groomed were when I wrote an article for Horse and Horseman magazine in 1987. Side note here, this was Doc’s first official modeling job. He was two and I was just beginning his training. We used him as the demo horse in the pictures that accompanied my text. I got a lot of comments about his size.

It was another eight years before I finally realized the critical factor in grooming. Horses groom one another. Everyone is familiar with the picture of two horses standing nose to tail scratching one another.

What took me so long to realize was that grooming among horses isn’t just a mutual friendship thing. Grooming is a way of establishing rank. Only a higher ranked horse can start the grooming session. What Parelli likes to call the Friendly Game is actually a game of dominance. This dominance begins a few minutes after they are born when their dams (mothers) begin licking them and nipping at them to get up and get moving.

If your horse will not accept grooming with good manners it is because the horse thinks it has a higher rank than the person doing the grooming. Having to cross-tie a horse is a sign that the horse does not consider the human to be in charge.

When meeting a horse for the first time it is important to be quietly confident and to be the one to initiate the first physical contact. The act of reaching up and rubbing a horse’s neck is establishing your right to be in charge. In a horse that is absolutely convinced it is superior to all humans this simple gesture can provoke a reaction such as a lightening fast bite or kick. So don't assume "petting" is a safe thing to do to any horse you meet.

If the horse you are working with does not have impeccable grooming manners then you need to seriously work on this. You need to play that Friendly Game until the horse will accept your touch anywhere on its body with any object you choose. Anything less is not enough.

Lazy Trainer’s Tip

If there are any problems with grooming your horse then that is where you need to begin your work with your horse. Start by rubbing your horse with your hands and do not use anything else until it will accept you touching all part of its body. If you have problems please consult my book How to Have a Civilized Horse for detailed instructions about how to resolve these issues. There are links at the bottom of the page to my books.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Forgot the Lazy Trainer's tip.

Learn what is really important to the animal you are dealing with. For horses comfort, play and a safe enviroment are critical. They need a herd and a secure place within that herd. They need to move. In the wild a herd will travel a sixty mile loop in a week. That's a far cry from a few hours in a paddock or an hour ride.
Dogs need to move. They need to know their place in the pack. They need to know the one that is in charge will meet their needs.
Other animals will have similar yet different needs. Meeting these basic needs will enable you to be a better trainer with far less effort.
I wish I didn't have to say this, but I know I do--be sure your animal has adequate amounts of water and food as well as suitable shelter.

Some Definitions of Leader

The Encarta Dictionary offers some of the following definitions of what a leader is;
1. Someone people follow
2. Someone in the lead
3. Someone in charge

I’ll add the definition most of us pick up in our first years in school
4. First in line

Notice that the idea a leader should be trustworthy is not included. Yet that is the very foundation of being a leader of a herd of horses or pack of dogs. It is also critical to cows and goats. I do not include other animals because I have not had a chance to observe group interactions as I have with these animals.

A common mistake a lot of people make is that control and leading are the same things. They are not. Most of us want control of our immediate environment, but we don’t want to be the one responsible for everybody else. This is okay. Too many leaders can lead to chaos as anyone who has dealt with two alphas (i.e. leader types) in a group of animals can attest. Something many don’t realize is that among horses two omegas can cause just as much chaos. I’ll do a blog on that later.

I was raised as an only child among older adults. I saw my cousins a couple of times a year and occasionally played with a little girl that lived several blocks away from me. I had no skills in dealing with groups of other children when I went to school.

We started in first grade back in those days. I was a leading baby boomer so the class was large—about thirty children. Further more I was the only one who spoke English for the first couple of months. Everyone else in class spoke Spanish. They also had lovely, straight, black hair, large brown eyes and beautiful tanned skin that didn’t burn to a bright red when they stayed out in the sun for fifteen minutes. I had curly light brown hair, green eyes and the pale hide that burned.

I was raised by people who were accustomed to dealing with animals. The closest thing I had to a sibling was my mother’s stud dog, a Pekingese with the kennel name of Pug, and a cat of my grandmother’s. My grandmother had been a horse trainer in her youth (someone had to teach horses to wear sidesaddles and not spook at skirts) and kept a few chickens even in the heart of San Antonio, Texas, which is where I grew up. Animals I knew. My perception of people was they were big and wanted me to stay out of their way.

My first grade teacher decided I was going to be a “leader” because I already spoke English. I wanted to learn Spanish so I could talk to the other kids. Because of this we all got in trouble. The other kids decided I was not a good leader because they got a lecture on the main rule, which at the time was, “Spanish is not allowed at any time during school.”

What they didn’t know was I got taken to the principal’s office and my grandmother (my primary caregiver) called in to deal with my disobedience. Because I spoke English I was some how supposed to know better than to break the RULE!

The next thing that happened was later in the year when I won a spelling contest. By then there were several other children in the class who were not Mexican American. One was Chinese American and the other three were like me, northern European and/or British mutts.
Just in case you haven’t figured it out I know very well what it is to be a minority. It wasn’t fun.

Back to the spelling bee. I won it and got a mechanical rabbit for my prize. When I got back to my table the girl who was my best friend declared, “I hate you. I wanted that rabbit and I’m never going to speak to you again.”

Forever was ten minutes, but I never won another contest. In fact, I decided third place was a good safe place to be. No one gets too upset if you place third. Any first place prizes I acquired after that were by sheer accident.

That was also when I decided being a leader meant having a big bull’s
eye painted on your back.

It was twenty years before I connected that what I was doing with animals was leadership and that I could use the same techniques with humans.

Being the leader does not just mean being first. It can mean being the one who knows which direction to take. Call it being the navigator if leader is an uncomfortable title. The leader/navigator of a herd or pack is the one that knows where food, water and safety is. They know where they are supposed to go and what to do when they get there. The one that knows these things will be the real leader even if they are in the middle of the herd.

When watching a herd of horse the way to determine the lead mare is not by who is first in from pasture, but which horse all the others turn to when something out-of-the-ordinary happens. That is the true leader of the herd. The true lead male (who can be a gelding) is the one that gets between the herd and danger.

So, being the leader to you horse or dog means; knowing how to meet the needs of your animal, keeping it out of trouble and protecting it when danger threatens. It isn’t about being the one who yells the loudest or beats up on others. It is about knowledge and protection. It is also an excellent way to take care of your family.

Once I realized those points I sometimes did allow myself to be the leader of a group of humans as well as an animal leader. Sometimes a group needs someone to pick a direction and when someone does that person tends to end up leading the group.

There are a lot of bad leaders in our world. They are all about being first and doing things for themselves. We don’t need that kind of leader any more than a herd of horses or a pack of dogs does. We need superior navigators who will guide the group and protect it.

This is what we need to be to our animals. We take them into our lives and unnatural circumstances therefore it is up to us to teach them the rules and guide them to the safe places in our world.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Weekend Change of Pace

I'll continue stories about my misadventures of being a Lazy Trainer in my next post, but this one is going to be a catch-all for several things that near and dear to my heart.

One is the Make-A-Wish foundation. I saw several stories this week that really impressed me.

One was on Dog Whisperer about a young woman, suffering from cancer, who wants to be a Dog Whisperer. She, her family and dogs were sent to California for a session with Cesar Millan. I'll have more in later posts about children who are especially gifted when it comes to animals. This is just as great a talent as being able to play music or paint pictures in my opinion, but is seldom recognized as such.

The next story was about another young woman who is battling a different type of cancer. Her wish was for a house to provide shelter for orphans in Zambia. Here is a link to her story and how you can help her make her wish come true. Make-A-Wish provided seed money for the project.

I've recently become aware of Zambia because a friend and her husband went there on a mission trip recently. She wrote a blog on April 30, 2008 that is also worth reading. Mary Ann's View

Also, please note Mary Ann's post about the wall along the Border. I have other reasons I'm against this project (WHEN in all the history of the world have such walls worked?) but this is one potential problem we need to be aware of and conduct some studies on before arbitrally throwing up such a barrier.

I'll get back to revealing the Secrets of a Lazy Trainer in my next post by telling you how someone who doesn't WANT to be a leader (me) can become one anyway.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Just a note

The horses on the covers of my books (bottom of page) are my horses. The gray mare has the distinction of being one of the most dangerous horses I ever trained. She's a sweetie now, but I still would never turn her over to any but a highly skilled horseperson.

Leadership is everything to a Lazy Trainer

“A little learning is a dangerous thing.” Ignorance is too, so one might as well make it a point to learn.

When trying to teach others how to train their animals the most difficult thing to teach is just how much effort is really needed to accomplish a goal. The correct answer is just as much as it takes and no more.

Too much effort is just as bad as too little effort when teaching an animal something. This is also true when we are training people.

Just how far is it necessary to go in order to train a horse or dog? The following story will demonstrate the far end of the “As much as it takes” scale.

I had been training horses and people for twenty-five years, but had gaps where my methods fell far short of my goals. I was an accomplished trainer and many would say the places I failed were just because the animals weren’t suited for the task. Deep in my heart I knew the real fault lay within me not the horse or dog. But I didn’t know how to correct the problems.

A friend gave me a ticket to a Parelli clinic and it was as if a whole new universe had opened up to me. Through the application of the Seven Games I began to mend the holes in my methods. For a year or so everything went great. I was frustrated in the beginning because I was using too much effort to get my horses to do what I wanted but I began to see how to damp down my body language so it became easier and easier to do whatever it was I wanted to do.

I began to think I’d really gotten the hang of things when a friend mentioned some problems she was having with her mare. The mare is one that we had trained together and she was endlessly patient with my friend’s grandchildren, but she only had one speed sloooow. Since she was an Arabian this was quite puzzlement to anyone who dealt with her.

I went to my friend’s stable and we started using the Seven Games with the mare. Things were going along pretty well. I forgot one important thing a trainer had told me many, many years before; “The most dangerous horse you’ll ever tackle is the old packer horse that is convinced it is in charge. That horse will not give up its alpha position without a fight.”

Six weeks into the Arabian mare’s rehab I found out just how dangerous that reliable packer horse could be.
The session started out well enough. We played the Friendly Game, the Porcupine Game, the Driving Game, the Yo-yo Game (though she drug furrows in the dirt when I asked her to back up) and were on to the Circle Game. There is where it all went to heck-in-a-handbasket. I halted her, and before sending her in the opposite direction, asked her to back up. It was both the biggest mistake I ever made and the smartest thing I ever did.

At that first Parelli clinic the instructor spent the first session teaching the people, without their horses, how to use their equipment. One of the exercises was rope twirling. Now this sounds silly. What does twirling the end of a lead rope have to do with training a horse? Turns out—a LOT. I took her seriously and practiced the twirling until I could do it with both right and left hand. I could also touch any target I aimed at with the little leather bit on the end of the lead rope. A far more valuable skill than I realized at the time.

When I asked my friend’s mare to back she decided she’d had enough of this human challenging her authority. Now, unlike a dog, a horse is not out to kill. Even the worst horse is actually acting from fear or the need to maintain herd position. The only problem is a horse can dish out and take a lot of punishment. A kick that will make another horse back off a step or two can kill a human. A bite that will merely correct a disobedient herd member can remove a human arm. So, though the intent isn’t to kill it can still be deadly.

The mare slicked back her ears and came straight down the rope, mouth agape, headed for me. I don’t mind saying that was one of the most frightening sights I’ve ever seen in my career. I twirled the rope and caught her on the end of the nose with that little leather bit. It stopped her first charge. It did not stop her attempt to subdue me. We spent the next twenty minutes with her making every attempt to put me in my place as a beta to her alpha.

Finally, both of us dripping with sweat, she stood and dropped her head. I asked her to back and she did. Then she made a ‘lick and chew’ motion with her lips. This is a sure sign a horse has accepted new knowledge; which in this case was that I was her leader.

I walked up to her and rubbed her neck, not realizing at that time that I was reaffirming my alpha status. Grooming is very important because only a higher ranked horse can initiate a grooming session.

In most cases establishing myself as leader requires no more than walking up to a horse with a confident manner (and make no mistake, after that session with the Arabian mare, my confidence is real) moving it out of its place, occupying territory and then rubbing its neck.

But the most important thing, the reason people like Pat Parelli and Cesar Millan are so successful with animals, is that once in the presence of an animal it is necessary to do whatever it takes to gain the leadership position. This is not accomplished by being cruel. It is done by doing only what needs to be done. Like Doc in the previous post it may only be necessary to crowd the horse or dog until they move and yield space. Or it may be necessary to stay in the fight until the animal yields.

If you are going to deal with difficult animals you MUST accept that you will get bitten, kicked, pawed, clawed and body slammed. But you have to hang in there until you’ve convinced the animal to accept you as the leader.

Most animals and most people are looking for a leader they can trust. If you are that leader your cat, dog, horse or other humans will follow you and do your bidding willingly. The reason there is sometimes a fight is because the subject, be it animal or human, has learned that others are not trustworthy.

Lazy Trainer Tips

Confidence is everything. When you buy or otherwise acquire a horse or dog choose one that you are confident you can handle. If you are a couch potato don’t go out and buy a young Arabian or Thoroughbred. In fact, don’t buy a young horse of any kind. If it is a dog you are acquiring, again think about getting an older animal. A dog that is three or older is a wonderful animal to have. Depending on breed you can have it for a long time. I currently have a twenty-one year old rat terrier. She’s getting a bit creaky, but she is still pretty spry.

Practice with your equipment, leash, lead rope, whatever, before you try to use it with an animal. Like the ‘rope-twirling’ the ability to react without conscious effort may even be life-saving for you or your animal.

Before getting any animal learn what that animal needs in a leader. And then commit yourself to being that leader. You owe it to any animal you bring into your world to do the best you can by it. That means being a good, trustworthy leader as well as meeting its needs for food, shelter and other necessities.

Your reward for practicing good leadership skills with your horse, cat or dog will be an unconditional love and friendship. This is something a lot of us need in our busy, stress filled lives.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Horse Trains Man

We had a family/friends get together and naturally wound up out with the horses. It is usually that way at our place.

Most of the people at our summer BBQ were experienced animal people and some were experienced with horses. We saddled my daughter’s horse, a twentysome-year-old Thoroughbred mare, and let anyone who wanted to ride. Foxy was a great horse. I didn’t get her until she was eighteen, but for the next ten years she took care of my daughter and students while teaching them good horse etiquette.

While she was giving rides Doc, my black stallion (now a long time gelding) was hanging with the people. He likes people, but he is also an alpha horse and any human, horse or other animal that comes within his reach is going to be tested. Most of the people instinctively (read—were well trained) knew to not give him an inch of ground. One man, the new husband of a horsewoman, didn’t know anything about horses.

Doc homed in on the man and when he got too close the man would move. It didn’t take long for the rest of us to notice what was going on. We all watched in unholy amusement as Doc herded the guy all around the group. When the man noticed us smiling, snickering and some (the kids of course) laughing outright he demanded to know what was so funny.

I finally explained to him that one way a dominant horse will exercise its will on another horse is by making the other horse move. Then the higher ranked horse will stand where the lower ranked horse was standing. Doc was training him to be an obedient herd member. Since the man was a fairly successful business executive this information came as an unpleasant shock. He was used to being the alpha and the notion that a horse had dominated him so quickly and effortlessly was not easy to accept.

It is easy to see this type of horse behavior in action at any place there is a gathering of horses and people. If you watch you will see people standing, holding their horse, talking to another person and, when the horse moves too close, they will move and let the horse stand where they were standing. The horse is convinced it is the dominant one of the pair.

Tip For The Day

The Lazy Trainer’s secret here is this--anyone dealing with horses should train themselves to never move when a horse begins encroaching on their territory. It is important to train yourself to always respond to a horse that is trying to move in on you by making the horse move and standing in its territory. At first it takes time and alertness to teach yourself this, but by making the effort consciously, all the time, you will eventually reach a point where your automatic response to a horse trying to move into your space will be to move the horse over and stand where it was standing.

Incidentally, this technique of occupying territory and claiming it also works with dogs. It isn’t always possible to transfer training methods from horses to dogs or dogs to horses because one is a predator and the other is prey. This means sometimes they have opposite reactions to stimuli. In the case of occupying territory though, both horses and dogs are inclined to regard this as a test of who is dominant within the group.

How much effort should you expend doing this? As much as it takes. How much is this? Well in my next blog I’ll tell you how much energy it took to convince a mare that’d been alpha to humans for a decade to move her feet and let me stand in her spot.