Hello, my friend!
I'm so glad our paths have crossed, even if just virtually! It's always a pleasant surprise to come across fellow wanderers that are searching for a more holistic approach to their relationship with horses and ourselves.
We all have unique paths that lead us to the point where we realize that traditional methods aren't fulfilling for us. I look forward to hearing your story sometime.
I "grew up" in the hunter/jumper world. I didn't choose to jump, I happened to start lessons at a jumping stable and stuck with jumping for 13 years. I began competing around 2000 and showed consistently and to a relatively high level until 2012.
Below is a summary of my experiences in the jumping world:
Showed at local and rated shows in Nevada, California and Oregon for over a decade.
Showed both green and seasoned horses from flat classes to the 3'6 medals, hunters and 1.10 jumpers. Including Championships and placements at Medal Finals.
Trained several ponies for a breeder in California, around 2002 and 2003. Ponies were "green broke" and I brought them along to walking, trotting, cantering and jumping 2'3-2'6 courses and showing.
I have participated in the training of more horses than I can count, into the hundreds.
I spent 8 months as an intern at a large, well known show, breeding and sale barn. I rode up to 8 horses a day, 3 or 4 days a week from starting young horses, working with stallions, to high end hunters, equitation horses and 1.20-1.30 jumpers. My niche was, of course, the "problem horses," the quirky horses. There were certain owners that preferred that only I work with their horses.
I was selected in 2010 and 2011 to participate in the Emerging Athletes Program. The program that was created to foster up and coming talent in show jumping. It emphasized horse care, basic veterinary skills, ground work, advanced flat work as well as jumping and competing at 1.10 and above. I was selected to advance to Level II both years, the top 60 or so riders in the country. I had the opportunity to study with Melanie Smith-Taylor during this program as she was the founder, as well as an Olympic Gold Medalist. The program also incorporated natural horsemanship methods, and I had the opportunity to study with Mindy Bower. I had seen Monty Roberts work when I was around 10 years old. Since that, this was my first foray into natural horsemanship.
In 2012, I started departing from jumping. I had graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Religious Studies with an honors designation earned by my thesis on the evolution of horse show jumping. The project followed the development of the practice of jumping horses through history (starting with Xenophon, the use of jumping by cavalry, then the development of the sport itself in the late 19th century). I also included an oral history piece about the oral histories told by those in the sport, what the sport means to those who participate in it, as well as the future of the sport. I had the opportunity to interview local riders and trainers, well respected trainers and judges all the way up to Gold Medal Olympians.
After graduation, I wasn't sure where to turn. I knew I didn't want to pursue a Masters at that time. I had discovered that I did not want to be a professional in the show jumping world. So where to turn? I had the opportunity to do a half day session with Koelle Simpson, protege of Monty Roberts and Martha Beck, who is the founder of Equus Coaching. Initially, I thought I would immediately participate in her training. However, Koelle guided me toward getting a coaching certification and forging my own path. I'm so glad she did. I completed my coach training with MBI (Martha Beck Institute) in 2013 and completed certification in 2014. I had been around Emergenetics for over a decade because it's a tool used by my family's organizational effectiveness company. I completed my training for Emergenetics in 2014 and completed my certification in early 2015. Since then I have been developing a method of incorporating the mental and emotional skills from coaching, the framework and information that Emergenetics provides for understanding and better teaching horses and humans, with horsemanship.
Around the same time, 2011 and 2012, I first came across the use of clicker training with horses. I actually don't remember how I heard of it. Probably through Facebook or research. I studied, studied and studied it. But didn't adopt it. I couldn't see how to and, at the time, I didn't know how to access the resources I needed. It wasn't until 2013 that I tried some positive reinforcement, and not until 2014 that circumstances aligned that "forced" me to try clicker training.
In 2013, I purchased my first, small horse property. It came with two miniature donkeys that were roaming more or less feral on the property. They hadn't seen a vet in years and their feet didn't look like they'd been done in at least a year either. I began using clumsy approximations of positive reinforcement to countercondition them to my presence, and then using positive reinforcement (just food rewards when they performed the behavior I was looking for or an approximation of it, but no bridge signal) to train approaching, haltering, grooming, standing for the vet and trimmer, etc. I re-homed these sweet girls to someone I thought was going to be a good home. That didn't happen, and they didn't follow through on returning them to me when it didn't work out. Instead they were sold to someone in northern California. More on that later!
Prior to selling the mini donkeys, I purchased two young ponies, a mustang and a tri color pinto (unregistered paint). Both ended up having unique challenges that spring boarded me into clicker training and learning theory. The first was with the mustang, Friday. Friday was three. He'd been orphaned on the range when his mom was killed in a traffic accident, so he was hand raised. It sounds like he bounced around a couple of homes. The woman I bought him from had purchased him when he didn't work out for grandparents that had bought him as a yearling for their teenage granddaughter to train. It sounds like she didn't particularly have time for training him, but gave him a home. He was lovely the first month I had him. He had a high flight drive and a flight distance of over 50 feet, but he came along quickly with allowing me catch him, groom him, pick his feet, etc. However, the first time our farrier came to trim his feet, he wouldn't allow me to catch him. Once I caught him, he wouldn't let the farrier touch him. We called it a day. Following that experience, he experienced either reinstatement or rapid reacquisition of fear of his feet being handled, and I was no longer able to handle his feet. I reached out to the previous owner and she explained that the only way they'd been able to get his feet done or his vaccinations was with twitching. After a few weeks, we could pick up and pick out all feet but his right hind. I was desperate and at a loss, so, cue clicker training. I bought a clicker. Practiced my timing. Then went out and tried it. Within 10 minutes I was able to pick up his right hind and pick it out. The fire was lit...
I began implementing clicker training in all of my work with Friday, and began integrating it into my work with his girlfriend, the pinto, Ciara, who was shut down and disengaged. Soon after I began using it with clients and their horses, and my own more seasoned horses.
Back to the miniature donkeys. The new owner contacted me on Facebook, hoping for more info on them. We got to chatting, added each other on Facebook and I saw a video of her and someone I had studied in my efforts to learn clicker training, Shawna Karrasch, doing some clicker training games. I immediately reached out and asked about her use of clicker training and it ends up Shawna was working with her rescue horses and now the mini donkeys! I later had the opportunity to work with Shawna to pick up rescue horses for this woman, and visited them another time as well. I feel so lucky to have been able to meet and work with both of them!
I have researched and researched and researched then gone out and experimented. Reviewed results, adjusted my plan, and tried again. That is the way that I learn best. I've read books and articles, listened to podcasts, and watched videos by Shawna Karrasch (On Target Training and Terra Nova), Alexandra Kurland (The Clicker Center), Ken Ramirez, Karen Pryor, Dr. Susan Friedman (Behavior Works), Georgia Bruce (Click with Horses), Bex Tasker (Positively Together), Adele Shaw (The Willing Equine), Hertha James, Ben Hart, Jessica Gonalez (Empowered Equines and Empowered Equestrians), Katherine Bartlett, Sandra Poppema (Hippologic), Patricia Barlow-Irick (Mustang Camp), Alize V Muckensturm (FairHorsemanship) and many, many more. I'm lucky enough to have several peers that I can rely on for brainstorming help and who will give me feedback on my videos and methods.
Since 2013, I've been blessed to work with quite a few horses implementing the version of clicker training that I was capable of at the time, it's truly a journey, not a destination. They range from seasoned show horses to unhandled mustangs. I've had the opportunity to bring along several green horses (Friday, Ciara and a client's horse) from limited handling to walking, trotting, cantering under saddle, agility games, trail rides, etc. with the purest form of clicker training/reward based training I was capable of at the time. I've also been lucky enough to countercondition and retrain some pretty amazing traditionally trained horses, a couple of my own, and quite a few for clients. I've been able to help horses and humans with behavior modification for behavioral issues. I'd estimate I've worked with upwards of 50 horses with clicker training/reward based training and introduced several dozen humans (adults and kids) in person to kinder more humane methods of working with their horses. I can't wait to work with more and continue learning, growing and evolving with each horse and human that comes my way. Most importantly, I've helped humans learn how to honor themselves and honor their horses.