Friday, February 14, 2020

Preview 30 days of Husbandry

I am about to open my new 30 Days of Husbandry course for registration. From now through the weekend this post will be available which allows you to preview the detailed description and the Introduction. I was going to open registration today but decided I better have access to my tech guy for the initial registrations so am waiting until Monday but you get to read the Introduction for free.  

Please note that this is copied from the course. Links, arrows, and things "to the right" are not available in this blog post!

Who is this course for? Participants should come to this course with at least a basic understanding of clicker training.  If you know the importance of good timing and keen observation; and have the basic mechanics of how to click and feed safely, this course can be a great next step of what else you can do with clicker training. Many of us have found ourselves in the position of needing better behavior for certain situations and wishing we had already practiced them.  These 30 skills will give you a launching pad toward that end.


In this course are 30 things you can do with your horse to help her become more comfortable with her care. They include things as basic as haltering and as challenging as injections. To be clear, I am not teaching people how to administer injections, apply bandages or drive a truck and trailer. I am going to demonstrate how I teach a horse to stand still for injections, desensitize a horse to bandaging materials, and the process I use to load a horse into a trailer. 

The day that your horse gets injured or ill is stressful on you both. I want to encourage people to be proactive in training for these times. A horse who has been exposed to procedures with positive reinforcement ahead of time will be a horse who is happier and safer to be around than a horse who has no, or only unpleasant experience with them. 
I came up with this list when I had a horse on stall rest last summer. I needed things to do with him to keep his brain busy and provide his much-loved clicker training sessions. As a result, all but two of these things you can do in a stall. It’s always good to practice in a variety of locations, but it’s nice to have a list of things you can do when injury, weather, or time constraints call for a quick training you can do in a stall. I like to add one of these lessons to everyday grooming sessions in order to keep up with them even when not on stall rest. 

You will see real life oops moments. You'll see poorly timed clicks, unintended cueing of other behaviors, and some rushing through training. I try to note them so they serve as examples. Noting our mistakes helps us quickly regroup and with that knowledge we can adapt our training to get back on track.

You'll also see real life situations such as the presence of errant dogs and a cat. My intention is to have dogs confined away when working with horses and this is what I strongly recommend.  But you'll see I don't always take my own advice.
Bookends Farm is located close to the 45th parallel.  Some of the videos were taken in warm weather and some taken in winter. As a result, some of the videos show sleek and shiny individuals, and some show fuzzy and stained ones. Training can't wait for the perfect moment or the perfectly groomed pony. I love grooming and a well turned out horse, but I took advantages of training moments when I had them so you'll sometimes see us dirty.
My hope is that the variety of what you see here will help you decide what you could work on to help your horse, and a range of possibilities as to how to use positive reinforcement with them.

The Introduction

THE LESSONS- Each lesson includes writeup and brief video of various phases of training. Some lessons show the introduction of a topic, such as introducing a pony to clippers for the first time, while other lessons show progress toward comfort. Your horse will most likely offer a different response than mine do, because each horse is different. This is why you will want to work your way through all the lessons, even if you start with the ones which interest you most. If you feel frustrated or are looking for troubleshooting help, be sure to read the lesson called "But My Horse..." very carefully.

To navigate through the lessons as they are listed alphabetically, you can use the blue arrows toward the top right of the screen. Clicking the blue X will take you back to this introduction. To keep track of which lessons you have completed, click the red "Mark Complete" button. You can always come back to any lesson, even if marked completed.
You can also jump around to the lesson of your choice by using the menu at the right.

THE GOAL- My goal for your horse is what I will call Relaxed Cooperation. Please note that this course does not include what can be called “consent”, “choice” or “start button” training. This course will, however, give you a foundation for that type of training.

Let me define what I mean by relaxed cooperation because it is possible to have cooperation without relaxation and relaxation without cooperation. 

Relaxation- I assess relaxation by watching for stress signals. As you watch the videos in the course and then go out to work with your own horse, I encourage to you look for things like wide eyes and pricked ears. Does the pony lean or step away from me or an object I hold? Does she raise her head or have nostrils flaring or heart pounding? These responses tell me if my horse or pony is feeling stressed. We know they respond to fearful situations with fight, flight or freeze. I want the opposite in a horse who stands while maintaining body signals of comfort: soft eyes, ears at rest, head at mid height, muscles relaxed.  

Cooperation- Cooperation needs to be considered on a case by case basis with each topic.  Before beginning to work with your horse, decide how you are going to define cooperation. What may be cooperative in one situation may be uncooperative in another.  A horse who stands with four feet planted firmly on the floor is being cooperative for an injection, but uncooperative for having her feet trimmed! Have a picture in your mind of what your horse looks like while you are working on something and then be sure to include that picture in what you reinforce when training. 


I have created four loose phases for these lessons. First, is the Introduction. By introduction, I am referring to the very first time that a horse or pony is presented with a particular experience or piece of equipment. This is relevant for both young horses and for horses who may not have had much handling in the past. But it can also involve a situation where you and your horse are just lucky to have avoided the necessity of that experience, such as an x-ray or ultrasound machine. The saying "you only get one chance to make a first impression" applies here. After that, you are in phase four, recovery phase.

The second phase I refer to as Progress. This comes after the first introduction but does not necessarily get you all the way to being ready for the real thing. The Progress portion of the training may just take a session or two or it may take weeks or more, depending on your horse and his history, as well as you and your skills. Please don’t rush this phase or you may find yourself in an unpleasant state of the fourth phase unnecessarily. 

The third phase is Ready. This means that you have gone through a thorough training process to prepare your horse and yourself for whatever is to come and you are ready for it. When you do, you’ll find out how well prepared you really were, and what holes there may have been in your preparation. And that is why there is a fourth phase.

The fourth phase is Recovery. The recovery phase is when the horse or pony has already experienced a procedure, even once, but you return to work on it more. At this point the previous experience is going to affect responses.

Many people skip this training phase and regret it the next time they need to do something.  A classic example is loading a horse in a trailer. A smart person will begin weeks in advance of actually needing to haul the horse somewhere, or better yet, when you don’t even have plans to haul but you want to be ready Just In Case. So you practice in careful and simple training sessions until your horse walks calmly into the trailer and remains relaxed while you close him in and you have even taken him for short rides down the road. Then comes the day when you need to go somewhere. You load him up, and take him to a show, or to meet friends for a trail ride, or wherever you need to go. After you get home, you clean out the trailer and put it away. That’s the mistake. How often have we heard, “he loaded fine last time”. We need to leave that trailer available after our adventure and go right back to loading practice again. Just because he got on the trailer that time, doesn’t tell us how he felt about his trip. We may have thought it went well, but we don’t know the horse’s opinion until we ask him. Maybe you had to travel on a really bumpy portion of road, or got stuck in noisy construction traffic, or the horse next to him was trying to bite and/or kick him for much of the trip.  Or maybe he didn’t like where he went: a long day of showing, being tied to the trailer in the hot sun, going to the vet clinic. Or maybe you weren’t your normal self that he has come to know and rely on because you were nervous, or distracted by other people, or just concerned about your horse.  All these things factor into your horse’s experience of what happened after he got onto the trailer and will affect how he feels about getting into the trailer again. Going right back to training the day after you return will show you whether he is still willing to load and stand calmly, or whether you have more recovery training to do (as well as thinking about what might have upset him enough to make him less cooperative afterward).  And this kind of thing happens with all our husbandry interactions from vet visits to care from us at home. That’s why it’s important to add regular husbandry training to our days.

EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES- Some of these lessons require nothing more than you and your horse, but others will be more effective with some basic supplies. I have included a list of things to have on hand. If you don’t have them, you may be able to borrow from a friend or create something out of things you do have on hand.  In the lesson on x-rays, for example, I use a small piece of plywood as a mock x ray plate. 

LASTLY If you have a serious behavioral problem, please contact a positive reinforcement professional for assistance.  I know people in different parts of the country (and other countries too) that I can refer you to if you email me, and many of us also provide online support if you don’t have anyone in your area. 

You will have six months to work on this course before your registration expires.

There is no particular order in which to do these lessons. I recommend beginning with the Haltering lesson. This lesson shows how to break things down into baby steps. After that, the Picking Up Feet lesson will give you an example of how to look for tiny beginnings like weight shifts without expecting the full lift of the foot immediately. Once you have done those two, there are a couple approaches to consider:
  • read and watch through them all before ever including your horse
  • choose what looks most interesting to you, do the lesson, and take it to your pony

That's it! All you have to do is check back on Monday morning (7: AM EST) for the link to the new website where this course will be available. I will be posting it here, on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. The cost for the course will be $100 but I will be giving 50% off next week.


HippoLogic said...

Where can one sign up?

Bookends Farm said...

On Monday, I will give the link to the site where you can sign up. Thanks for asking!

KindredK9 said...

Is there an email list to get on as I don’t want to miss out!! I’ve been wanting to do something like this for awhile. I’ve done some things on my own: it will be great to have some guidance in this specific area!!

Bookends Farm said...

I guess I need to get organized and get a mailing list but for now, just know I will post here, on my Facebook page, Instagram and Youtube channel with the site on Monday!

Faith said...

I'm signing up! I think my horse Dancer is a lot like Percy in many ways, certainly the most challenging horse I have ever taken on. I was getting nowhere until I found Alexandra Kurlands books nearly 2 years ago. We're definitely doing better, but he's still like a green colt, especially in handling him on the ground. This is the first course I have come across that I can afford. Thanks for making it available!

Bookends Farm said...

Faith I am so glad you found Alex. We'll take all the help we can get with those challenging ones, eh? Alex's work is the very foundation of everything I do. I hope you enjoy the course!

Bookends Farm said...

In case you haven't seen it, the site is now live at