Trust and Clicker Training

August 10, 2016

 

The following post was made by Carolina W. She has been here about two weeks now and will be here a few more. She is from Germany and her family raises Fjords.  She contacted me early this year asking if she would be able to come and learn from me. She has taken Alexandra’s online course but  wanted more!

 

Do you remember the old fairy tales you were told as a child or read yourself being a little older? Do you remember all these feelings in there, the whole variety of feelings we all (sometimes) have? Like fear and anger and love and hope, new unthought-of possibilities or help showing up while wandering around in a dark wood? Even fairies show up to help you out for your dreams coming true.

 

Right now, just for a little while, I live with a fairy and all her horses and ponies. She is The Pony Fairy. This was not the most obvious thing to happen in my life, as I usually live in Germany. But sometimes if we dare, dreams come true or there shows up a path not yet thought of. So when I had some difficulties with my pony leaving her friends and passing through a (from her perspective) monster filled exit way, I stumbled across the clicker training. I found Alexandra Kurland’s online course and took it via the internet. I was also very lucky to be able to participate in one of her very rare clinics in Europe. I was hooked on clicker training.

 

I loved the idea of positive reinforcement, to see what is already good in my pony and in our relationship. It made me feel much better going out to the barn trying to see the bricks and gems we already have instead of focusing on what is missing, or what we still cannot do. Nevertheless, it was often hard for me, to see things from this perspective. And sometimes I lack creativity, how can I get where I want to go on a different path? How can I get there on a positive way? How is it possible to live the idea of positive reinforcement and play in our everyday lives? Even in trailer loading for going to a clinic? And if I were successful, how could I handle more than one pony, being trained positively, eager to play, fulfilling the needs of each?

 

A dream came true when a new path to feeling successful with my pony appeared: Go to see the Pony Fairy. Whoohoo, do I dare this? Do I allow giving myself such a big gift as to take time out and go overseas? Well I took the chance and I did. And it feels great to overcome the inner critic and outer critics who tell me “How dare you? How selfish doing this just for yourself? How can you leave your husband home alone?” Well my husband is neither a toddler nor needs elderly care, so he is doing fine (and supported me in this crazy idea). And who knows what will come out of this experience for me and for others.

 

Being here I started playing with Annie, a chestnut Dutch warmblood mare. In playing the Why Would You Leave Me? Game, a cone circle we both walk along, with her, she taught me, to trust in her and let go to get what I need. Not even recognizing it, I held our rope tight in my hands. I already knew how little I can feel of a horse‘s movements when being tight versus being relaxed. But I was not aware of holding on at the time. I felt Annie say, I will stay with you, voluntarily, most of the time, trust and let go. No need to hold on. Just let things happen and it will turn out fine. The more I got into this, the better we got.

 

This feeling of trust is a basic feeling here at The Pony Fairy’s.

 

On my second full day here, The Pony Fairy asked me if I could let the boys in. The boys are four geldings, amongst which is her clicker superstar Icaro. I felt very much trusted, to be asked to help out with Icaro on day two, when I would not have minded not being allowed to touch him throughout my whole stay here. The same day I was stunned to be told I could play with Annie on my own. I have just arrived and I am given so much trust.

 

Thinking about this and how it all gets together with clicker training, trust is one of the main parts of clicker training: All tasks get to be thin sliced into tiny steps, giving both horse and human the feeling of trust in themselves: Yes, I can do that. Just add a tiny bit, get a yes again. Self-esteem of both horse and handler rises. It feels good on both sides to be trusted. And it is sometimes so hard to really get into thin slicing. To trust that these tiny steps will lead to something, instead of trying hard, pushing it through or just missing the moment our partner says, it is getting too much here for me.

 

There lives a rescue mule named Flower here in Fairy Land. She must have been brutally abused in her former life and is still full of fear. She loves to come and play and at the same time she is scared what might happen when she does. She has already learned to stick her head into a halter which is held in front of her. But it is a huge step for her to do this with a new person, to trust another person. The chance to leave is always there for her when fear hits in too hard. How happy did I feel when “Mulie” first put her head into the halter I presented to her. We did need a couple of steps to get there: Reinforce her for coming closer to me, for touching the halter, for sticking her nose in just a little bit and accept a couple of leaves on her side. But she always came back. And all of the sudden she wore her halter. And it seems she is feeling proud and a little happier too, whenever she can wear her halter, gets lots of attention and cookies for it and she overcame her own fears. Trust makes both of us happy. And well, how proud do we humans feel, when we overcome our own fears? To me it seems a wonderful idea, playing with the horses with the clicker helps to raise trust in our world, what a wonderful world it would be to live in where trust is the main feeling.

 

And if you want to learn more about how to reach the furthest dreams with your horse, see The Pony Fairy. Although I was talking more about the animals who taught me, it was often her keen eye and comment helping me to understand the tiny instant which makes the difference. She teaches me to see and accept thin slices. Watching her riding her horse Icaro on the highest dressage level, doing piaffe and passage, she is just a wonderful role model how far you can get with thin slices and trust.

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