Training Notes, Part one

November 19, 2007
Picked Romeo up. Had a little trouble loading: he was not so sure about jumping into the crate through the narrow opening. I put his bowl with some pellets in it, and he was there before I had time to move out of the way. We had to turn the crate sideways to fit it into my van. This made it more difficult for Romeo to balance. He pawed and turned around when we started moving. I started warning him about every stop, turn, or start, and he seemed to appreciate it. Several times he neighed so loudly that I got startled. I talked to him and sang a song. He liked it. I asked him questions and mostly could understand the answers. He loves Renata and will miss her, but he is happy to come here.

He felt right at home upon arrival. All horses got very excited and ran around, but he kept his cool. He whinnied at me every time I came by his kennel, even when I had only been gone a minute. He did not seem needy though, it was just a greeting. I gave him his dinner and put his crate in the kennel. He said he would not go into it because he did not like it, but I still put it in there, because it makes good rain shelter. He might get used to it if I feed him in it.

November 20, 2007.
Took out to graze for 10 minutes at 7:30 in the morning. In the afternoon, did an hour long session. Took him for a walk down the trail leading to trailhead. He liked it. Worked on Ed's stairs: approach and put a foot on. He did not like the stairs, but we did a few reps of just approaching, and I reinforced him for standing in front of them. He volunteered to put the foot on and felt better about it. He seems to follow the edge well. Tried some obstacles, but I need to give it more time and to explain it better. Took him to the round pen and turned him loose, but all he wanted to do was to follow me and park up to me. He doesn't like to go back in the direction of the barn. I reinforced for one step forward with me. With targeting, I put him in a more forward position, and he stayed there for the duration of one to several steps; reinforced that.

He did not like flax mash. Later, he told me that he disliked the session, that it was too long, that he did not want to learn any of it and just wanted to go home. He said he didn't like to work with me, that I had a huge ego and didn't know what I was doing. He hated the mash too!

I was rather taken aback, but then I had a suspicion that he was having a kind of emotional tantrum. I asked him more about it, apologized for not doing things right, and explained why I did what I did. I also reminded him that learning would not always be pleasant, but that I have his highest good in mind and I am doing my best to help him achieve his goal. I said I would do shorter sessions. I reminded him that it was his inner intelligence that suggested to give him flax mash, and that it was good for him. I also reminded him that his body needs to be healthy and strong. He seemed to have relented a little, and we reached a sort of a compromise.

November 21, 2007
Took him out to graze in the morning. We met some people and horses. Romeo remained unflappable, as always. I thought how Romeo has the power to bring out the best in people. I asked Romeo if he liked meeting these people, and he said yes. He did not like any of them though. I kept thinking about the incongruence of his statements, when it occurred to me that he might be doing it as service. He confirmed my thought. He said that this was his service to mankind. He reaches out to the higher aspect of people he meets, even if their attention bothers him. I was awed by this lesson from him.

Late morning, did a half-hour session. Walked along the driveway. He did a great job following the edge. I also got to reinforce multiple times for leading up in a more forward position, since he liked going away from the barn. We walked to Hartley's house. There were some building materials on the ground, and he navigated our way around them beautifully. He definitely made decisions when we came to turns. It was amazing that he did not even look at the grass beyond the curb. He got distracted by the grass when we got closer to his pen and walked up to the truck that was parked on grass. He liked the session. Instead of the second session, I had to tie some tarps to his pen for rain protection, since it might rain later tonight. Before leaving, I asked him if there was anything he wanted to tell me. He had something for Renata: that he loved her and that he worked for her. He also wanted to work more. Finally, when I was about to go, he said: you are not that bad. I thanked him.

November 22, 2007
In the morning, took him to the barn, trimmed his feet. His toes are very long, and he has a lot of laminitic rings and bruises on the white part of hind hooves. I rolled the toes and shortened the hoof wall, but left it a little long to give him a transition period. I will need to work on picking up his feet. He doesn't mind, but no duration. He starts squirming and trying to walk on three legs.

Later, took him to the house. He liked the walk. All the horses started running, and he trotted along too. He did not get overly excited though, not half as much as the big horses. Took him to the front steps. He walked up, but walking down was again a major problem. I clicked him for gathering hind legs under and hanging one front foot off the step, but he did not dare to do more. The one time he tried, he seemed to have slipped and fell sideways off the stairs. I felt so bad for him, but he just started grazing as soon as he was on the ground. I walked him to the gate and down the flatter steps to the parking spot. He negotiated these steps just fine. I tried the front steps again, but there was no success, and I did not want him to fall again. He got off the porch by jumping down at the side opposite to the steps, and that did not seem to faze him.

Took him to the van. He did not want to consider getting in. I suspect that traveling in the crate was a serious enough aversive that he doesn't want to try again. I clicked and treated for just facing the open door. Then the wind blew the door closed, and Romeo barely avoided being slammed. That scared me and we changed to the downwind side. He was interested enough to lean into the van, and I decided to stop there.

November 23, 2007
Worked more on van loading. In the first session, he would not get in until I put my equipment box at the door as a stepping stool. He was very hesitant and seemed to expect a slippery surface. He did not want to jump up like he did when I first taught him. When he got in, I reinforced him for standing there, then we got out. He did not want to get in again. The second session, he was equally hesitant. He got in two times, and the second time, we spent a few minutes in the van, and I reinforced him at a high rate for standing there. Went for a walk to Hartley's house and back. He likes walks.

November 24, 2007
Haltering was better: he was putting his nose into it. Still backing once it is on. I targeted him forward.

I am putting the halter on Romeo Romeo starts backing up I am targeting Romeo forward

He backs most of the times when I come to the front of his pen. Took him to the barn in the morning, had him walk with me while I prepared his food. Groomed him and picked out his feet. He likes being brushed. In the afternoon, took him for a walk along the driveway, then back to Hartley's house, to their door. I reinforced him for standing by the door, then had him target the door handle. Went to the van, worked on loading. I did not use the stepping stool, since it tips over if he stands on the edge. It took about an hour. I did not use targeting this time, because he volunteered pawing at the doorway, and also because reaching out to the target and leaning forward was incompatible with the desired behavior of lifting himself and putting front feet in the van. I reinforced all the pawing and rocking back. Eventually, he put both front feet in the van. He insisted on standing at the very edge of the doorway, at an angle, in a position from which it would be most difficult to get in. I reinforced two feet in the van and stopped reinforcing just one. He hesitated before jumping back down, and I reinforced him for standing with two feet in the van.

November 25, 2007
Went for a walk down the driveway, stopped at Hartley's house, targeted the door handle. After Hartley's house, he started lagging behind and did not get unstuck until after the bend. Getting into the van: did not make much progress. Got two feet in the van at most. Then he started getting tired. He needed a break, so I took him for a walk to the mailboxes and back to the van. He wanted me to use targeting. I did. It brought his enthusiasm back, but only briefly. He was tired. I took him back to the pen. I was frustrated with how little progress we made. I talked to him about it, and his response was that I needed patience. He felt too much pressure to get in the van. He wanted me to use targeting and to start in a neutral situation before going to the van.

Teaching Romeo to target the door handle On a walk Stopping at the speed bump

November 26, 2007
I got to spend all day with Romeo, and we made some progress. Haltering is starting to look much better. He still backs up a little when I put it on, but that is getting better too.

I focused on van loading. I used the target first, but not to target him forward. I held it right in front of his nose as he looked into the van. Then I waited before presenting the target and looked for any signs of thinking about going into the van: weight shifts, ear movement, lifting of the head. I clicked for that. If he put his front feet in the van, I clicked and treated, then let him touch the target three of four times. So I basically used the microshaping protocol. It kept the rate of reinforcement high. Eventually, he would stand with front feet in the van for a few minutes. I kept that on as-fast-as-I-can-click rate of reinforcement.

Another nuance was that since he was not at all committed to getting in, he kept putting his feet on the very edge of the door opening, essentially preventing himself from being able to jump in. After some time, when the behavior of jumping in with front feet was sufficiently strong, I stopped reinforcing those corner jumps. I presented the target towards the center of the opening and fed him there. Then I shaped standing in the middle of the opening and going through all the jump preparations there, so he was not jammed into the corner when he got on with front feet. It was hard work for him to stand with front feet in the van, after a while his legs started shaking. When I felt him getting tired, I put him back in his pen and left for 20 minutes or so. He really didn't want to be in the pen. I felt heartless leaving, because he kept staring at me and whinnying.

We had two sessions like this, and on the third, he jumped in. I was happy to close the door, because it was raining, and everything was getting wet. I looked for any signs of distress, but he was fine. I kept him on a high rate of reinforcement as I climbed into the driver's seat and slowly drove to the house. He looked out the window, chewed his treats, and seemed to be enjoying himself. He got up the steps without hesitation, enjoyed being towel dried, and did not care at all about Roland barking his head off. The barking made me nervous, but Romeo could not care less. I was going to ignore Roland, but he just kept barking, so eventually I told him to stop in a scary voice. To my surprise, he stopped and lay down. I fed him some cookies. After that, he was not a problem. I decided I would take Romeo to the bedroom, where the dog crates are, and get that over with. He walked between two crates like he had done it all his life. He did not even look at two big scary dogs, one on each side of him. He parked up to the bed and we worked on ears forward. I think that his matter-of-fact attitude had an effect on the dogs, they just gave up and went to sleep. I was happy, because they are very "gamey" about other animals.
I took him outside twice (he went down the stairs without any hesitation), but he did not want to relieve himself. When I turned him loose in the house, he just followed me at a heel position, keeping up with all the turns.
When I decided to take him back, he would not go into the van. He looked tired, and I did not insist. When I went back to the house to cut up some more carrot, he refused to go up the stairs. I knew he needed some time off. We walked back to the barn, and he decidedly took me around the puddles. I let him into an empty stall, thinking he might want to roll, and he urinated right away. He was obviously holding it in the entire time. Then he went "number two". I got to say my mantra.
What surprises me about Romeo is that he really wants to be with me. Even after all those hours of work, he did not want me to leave and tried to engage me by backing up when I was outside the pen and by parking up to me when I came inside. In the house, I gave him a little Happy Hoof in a bucket for a break. He ate some, and then came and found me in the living room. Later, I was putting my shoes on and he was eating Happy Hoof. He got quiet, and I looked around the corner. He nickered as if I had been missing for hours and left his food to come over. I know already it will be hard to let him go home.

November 27, 2007
Did another van loading session in the morning. I brought the wooden platform, since Alexandra said they used a platform at first for Panda. I put it so that one side was close against the wheel, giving it stability. Romeo got in with front feet, but that was as much as he was willing to do. I had an appointment to go to, so I did not get to work with him until afternoon. Did another loading session, with the same result. Then took him for a walk along the driveway to the house. Stopped at Hartley's house and went to the door. Targeted the door handle. He got a little irritated for some reason and did a lot of pawing at the doormat. He even got his teeth on my hand while targeting, the very first time I felt his teeth. I had a feeling that he was somewhat uneasy about the big horses in the paddocks along the driveway. His ears were back until we approached the house. He was a little reluctant going forward until we turned around the bend. He just told me that the big horses made him irritated. He stalled out at the steps to the side porch, and I was getting tired holding the door open for him. I took him to the front steps and used the target to lead him forward. He climbed up, although it took a few minutes. I took him through the house and to the side porch, brushed him and picked out his hooves. He was a lot less squirmy about his hind feet. He wanted me to support him on the side with my leg, and then he was fine standing there. Front feet were not a problem at all.
We spent a little time in the house. He was good about letting Masha pet him and stood still. He followed me at liberty, then we spent some time shaping ears forward when I sat in the chair. He was not giving me a lot of ear movement. When it was time to go, he did not want to leave. The step down to the side porch is slippery, and he did not want to take it. His hind feet always slip on it, so this time I put the rug close to the edge. When he finally stepped down, he did not slip as badly. Going down the steps was not a problem: he was interested in grass. On the way back, he was energized, and his ears were forward a lot. I reinforced that. At a bend in the driveway, I kept going straight to see what he would do, and he kept following the edge.
It seems that part of the problem with stair climbing and van loading is that he is weak. He is starting to leave the less palatable part of Happy Hoof untouched when I sprinkle it on the ground for him, which means that he is not feeling starved.

November 28, 2007
Haltering is even better than yesterday. Very little backing now. I found a wooden pallet and a matching piece of particle board and nailed them together. The resulting platform formed a bottom step for van loading, and I put the smaller platform on top of it. It did not take Romeo long to get into the van. I sat there with him on the back seat and shaped ears forward. He got out without much trouble. We did this several times, and I took him for a walk as a break. We went towards the cow pens. He was energetic and was leading farther ahead than usual. I reinforced that. Back to loading, he even got into the van as I stayed outside. On the last loading, he did not want to get out, his usual trouble with steps. I let him take his time, and he finally walked down the steps. What he doesn't do is put his hind legs farther under him. He leaves them parked out and tries to hang one front foot down the step. Sometimes he loses his balance and slips because of that. I tried to catch moments when he stepped under with hind feet, but I could not see them behind his belly from where I was standing. I had to put my foot on the top platform to prevent it from tipping over when he put his weight on its edge. He urinated and defecated in the pen and I got to reinforce him. He clearly sees the connection between the action and reinforcement and it almost seems to surprise him that he gets rewarded for elimination. In the afternoon, I took him to the arena for some recess time just to do something different. I turned him loose, and he followed me around. I thought he would not be interested in the mounting block because of his dislike of stairs, but he was all over it as soon as I started reinforcing any signs of interest. In just a few seconds, he had his front feet on the top step, looking comically proud. We played with that for a few minutes, and then he did not want to leave it. He did come when I called him. It is amazing how easy these things come to him. I have been reinforcing him for pressing against my leg, but if I put my hand on his opposite hip he scoots away or backs up. We worked on that a little, until he started swinging his hips over to press against my leg. For fun, I put my hand behind his shoulder and held slight pressure, and just after two or three "wrong" answers (backing up and trying to park up to me) he moved right over laterally. Amazing. Then we walked around the arena, targeted some cones. He left my side and switched to the right side. Then he parked up to me again when it was time to go. On the way to the barn, he acted a little impatient. He got a little rough taking the treats, which is not typical for him and did a strange thing of ducking behind my feet and going to the right side. I stopped and waited until he got to the heel position again, which he did, but only to repeat the whole thing in a few steps. I thought he wanted to go to the round pen and took him there, but he only followed me around. He defecated though when I was about to take him out, and he urinated as soon as he was in his pen. Maybe his impatience was just a result of necessity.

November 29, 2007
Romeo is just amazing! When I showed up this morning, he went through his usual greetings, then parked out on his pile of shavings and urinated as I recited my "Park time!" cue. Then he nickered as I clicked and gave him a treat. I went to the barn to prepare his breakfast, and when he saw me coming, he immediately parked out on his pile of shavings. Laughing, I said: "Park time!", and he let out a small stream of urine, looking quite proud of himself. Click and treat, of course. I cleaned his pen as he was eating his breakfast. I put some of his Happy Hoof in a bowl, added the supplements and made it wet just enough for the supplements to stick to the hay pieces. This is the only way he would eat the supplements. I waited for him to finish before sprinkling the rest of Happy Hoof on the ground. He ate a little bit and started nosing around in the corners. I sat with him and stirred the stuff in the bowl with my hand. He promptly started eating it. I sat scratching and lightly massaging his neck and chest, poll and around the ears. He was eating contentedly, and his eyes took on a blissful expression that our German Shepherd, Hilda, has when she rolls over for me to scratch her belly. I call that heaven-eyes. Romeo definitely had a case of heaven-eyes. Oh dear. Do I have to sit and make his company now every breakfast? Maybe I should start getting up at 4 in the morning.

I had very little time for Romeo today. My day was filled with appointments. I checked on him at noon and we played just a little bit in the pen, shaping ears forward. In the evening, I finally had time to work with him. I took him out to the car and opened the door. I was not expecting much enthusiasm, but he immediately jumped in with front feet. I got in and sat in the back seat, and he jumped right in with me. We stayed there for a few minutes working on happy faces, then I got out. He hesitated a little bit, then jumped out. Success!
Yesterday, he had bent a sliver of hoof wall on left front foot, probably from all the pawing he did at the car. I let him nibble on some grass behind the car and cleaned out his feet. He was perfect. There was almost no fidgeting when I picked up hind feet. Although he was busy with the grass, he lifted his head after every click to get his grain pellet. I trimmed off the bent piece and renewed the bevel on all four hooves. Now that he is getting more exercise, his sole is exfoliating, revealing how long his feet really are. My plan is to shorten the overgrown hoof wall a little at a time to let him get used to shorter feet.

I took him for a walk along the driveway. In the beginning, he did his thing of ducking and switching sides, so I increased the rate of reinforcement for staying on my left. He perked up and started leading in a more forward position, with ears forward. I kept reinforcing for that. In this position, it was more evident that he was making choices. He slowed down at speed bumps and corners. I am not saying "He stopped" just because I am being conservative. I was slowing down in preparation to stop, and he may have been taking his clues form that. But he was definitely not going ahead full steam, blowing past the landmark where he was supposed to stop. He seemed to be enjoying himself and his pace increased to a nice lively walk. We turned onto the walkway leading to Hartley's front door. I said: "Find the door", as I have been saying every time we approached it. He started for the door, following the edge of the walkway, around a decorative boot, and then he stopped. It took me a second to realize that I had forgotten that I treated the space between two columns as a doorway and always stopped there. I forgot, but Rome didn't. Click and treat! He went to the door and stopped on the mat. His ears were forward. He definitely knew what he was doing. I told him to find the handle, and he stretched his nose towards it. I helped him by putting my hand on it. He definitely bumped it with his nose. Click and treat. Then he did it again. And again. We turned around and walked around the house. He confidently walked me around the turn, through an arbor. At this point I realized that there were a lot of doors in the house, and we can practice with all of them! We were right near one. I told Romeo to find the door. He perked up, hesitated, and stepped towards the door, right onto the doormat! We did that at every door and found the handles on all of them. At first, I was not sure if he could reach them, but once he got the idea, he stretched his neck and bumped the handle with his nose without hesitation. There was a patio table to the right of one of the doors, and as we left the door and walked along the wall, I bumped into it. We stopped and backed up a couple of steps. He looked. Then he turned right and took me around the table. Incredible! He did not go into the space between the wall and the table, which was just wide enough for us to fit through but would not be safe for a blind person to try to navigate. I saw videos of Panda solving similar puzzles, but seeing Romeo make a decision of this level of difficulty in his second week of training was just mindboggling to me. We continued along the adge of the patio and back to the barn. All along, Romeo was confident and leading up, with his ears forward. We found the car again and he was quite eager to get in! I could not believe it, after all the days when we spent hours at the open door of the van, with no go. We did ears forward in the car. He looked very proud of himself. I couldn't help praising him to the skies and ruffling his neck fur, he looked so cute. Luckily, he really enjoys neck scratches. He had a little difficulty getting out again, then finally jumped out. I let him graze for a few minutes, then we walked back to his pen. As soon as I stepped out, he stood on the shavings and urinated proudly. Click and treat. What an amazing horse!

November 30, 2007
In the morning, took him to the barn. He found the door nicely, then found the door of the tack room and found the handle on it. I groomed him and cleaned his feet. He enjoyed the stiff brush. Touching his head with my hand was not always well accepted, so I reinforced standing quietly when I touched his face, especially near the eyes. We walked to the van and… He was not loading again. Even with the small platform. I could have put the big platform down, but I thought I would try something else first, since carrying the big platform in the van was unfeasible. I put the small away from the car and asked him to walk onto it facing the narrow side. He stepped on it with front feet right away and creatively swung his hindquarters around to avoid stepping on with hind feet. I used "Tai Chi wall" to move his hindquarters over. Then I slid my hands apart on the rope to send him forward. This managed to mobilize his hindquarters and give him some support, something I could not achieve with the target. He still had too much "wiggle room" and was able to avoid stepping on with hind feet. I moved the board alongside the car, and that made things easier. He finally stood on the board with all four feet, and I reinforced him at a high rate. He did that twice. We took a break and I put him in his pen. He urinated, then defecated. I moved the board up to the door and opened it. It did not take him too long to get in. I took him to the house. He clearly enjoyed the ride, looking out the front window. At the house, he balked at the side steps. I waited as he stood there. After a few minutes, I presented my hand as a target, and he got up the steps after a few attempts. I let him loose in the house, and he followed me everywhere. He stood in a heel position when I chopped up a carrot for him. I sat at the computer for a while, and he stood by my side. When we walked around the house again, he looked like he needed to eliminate, so I took him out to the front porch. He balked at the steps. We spent about an hour there, and the most he could do was hang one front foot down and gather his hind legs underneath him, putting all his weight on the other front leg. In this position, he kept leaning forward until his hind feet would start sliding, then he would jump back. We were not getting anywhere. I thought we would take a break in the house, but when we walked into the living room, he gave me an impression that he was about to impress me with a demonstration of how well he can pee on the carpet. I took him by the halter, and he immediately dug in his heels. I practically pulled him to the porch and immediately regretted doing this. This is a kind of mistake you pay for with many hours of trying to replace bad history with good history. He did not need another poisoned cue. The stairs were not working, so I showed him the far side of the porch, and he promptly jumped off. I let him graze and let myself take a break and think things over. I went to the house to get myself some apple juice, and when I came out, he was urinating on the grass. I gave my cue, albeit a little late and reinforced him. He kept grazing as I sat on the chair. Every now and then, he would glance at me. I clicked him for that and offered a pellet, but he was not interested. I did not seriously hope that he would leave grass for a pellet. After a few clicks, however, he suddenly lifted his head from the grass and turned to me. Click. He started walking in my direction, stopping at clumps of green grass (most of it was dry and brown). He came up to me and took his pellet. Then, after some consideration, he swung his hindquarters around and parked up to my chair. He worked on ears forward, then he walked off and grazed. After a couple of minutes, he came up to me (click and treat) and parked up the chair.
It was time for me to run some errands and for Romeo to go to the barn. He did not want to load in the van. I was tired and feeling a little desperate by this point. I took the slack out of the lead rope after he backed away from the van for an umpteenth time. My trailer loading nemesis came back to haunt me. It was a feeling that I did not need to experience again. I targeted him forward, making the best out of a bad situation and left the rope alone. I used the target and high rates of reinforcement, and after a few minutes, Romeo was in the van. The ride was fun, and jumping out was not a problem this time.
In the evening, I had to make his company for a flax mash. Although I mixed it with Happy Hoof, he would not eat it unless I sat with him.
Erich said that as he was walking with the dogs on the other side of the driveway, Romeo saw him, went to his pile of shavings and urinated, then nickered at him, anticipating a goodie.
In the evening, I asked Romeo about his van loading, and he said it was physically difficult for him to get in. I asked why he loaded so well yesterday, and he said: "Because I was cool". Apparently, he did not feel so cool today.

December 1, 2007
Took Romeo to the barn in the morning to follow me while I prepared his food. He was very eager to "find the door" of the tack room and to "find the handle". He did not like his food much, since it had supplements. I sat by his side and started scratching his neck. He started eating. Who is training whom? He indulged me as long as I sat with him, but even that did not last long. I started grooming him, and he was a little fidgety. He seemed to be ready to do something more active and wanted to leave the grooming area. One of his avoidance behaviors is backing up from the touch, and he was now doing it as I tried to groom him. I reinforced him for standing and targeted him forward when he backed, but grooming proceeded slowly. There was a crosstie hanging down almost to the floor, right at Romeo's height. I thought I would try and clip it on instead of the lead rope. This would free up my hand that I held the lead rope in and give Romeo a safe experience standing tied. This worked well. When he backed up, he barely took the slack out of the tie before stopping. I watched for any signs of stress from being confined, but he was perfectly content. He actually settled down for the rest of the grooming.
I took him to his pen briefly, and he urinated and defecated. For now his cue is going to his pen after some time of work. He also recognizes the "Park time" and "Get busy" verbal signals: he perks up, nickers and usually goes to the shavings pile or turns in place. He cannot always "perform" on cue though, so I save the verbals for until he is ready to urinate or defecate, and then say them, so as not to devalue them if he does not respond. It is funny that when he sees me leaving, he often goes to urinate in the last attempt to get my attention. It usually works too.
I had to put some thought into Romeo's loading and stair issues. Erich reminded me recently that if you encounter a persistent training problem, you need to rule out physical issues first. He recently helped a client of mine to teach his dogs go up the stairs in the house. One dog caught on quickly, but the other did not seem to be able to master the task. She was later diagnosed with severe hip dysplasia. Romeo's inconsistency with loading and climbing stairs has the most parsimonious explanation in his lack of physical fitness and poor muscle development of his hindquarters. I had to rethink my approach to these issues in terms of helping him be successful while increasing his fitness. I needed to be able to start taking him places, but his inconsistency with loading made it impossible. I could not afford taking him somewhere, having a great time, and then getting stuck in the parking lot for hours because he refused to load. Hauling a big platform with us was out of question. He had to learn how to walk up straight onto the small platform with all four feet to help him get into the van. In order to teach him that, I needed to be able to move each of his body parts and have control of them. We needed the "duct tape" lessons.
We went to the car (he "found the car", taking me to it quite deliberately after we stopped at the edge of the driveway next to it). I picked up our smaller platform and took it to the round pen. I let him loose, and he spent a few minutes climbing on the mounting block.
I clipped on Romeo's lead rope, and we set to work. It was quite interesting to see how similar his reactions were to those of our big horses, but how different they seemed because of his size. Getting stuck and pushing into pressure seemed endearing, with his height being barely to my knee, whereas with a big horse these same things would be at the very least unpleasant, at worst threatening. He was a super bright student though, and we breezed through some of the basic lessons in less than fifteen minutes. Not to say that we mastered them, but he had enough understanding of their meaning to be able to proceed to the platform. To begin with, I asked for the give of the jaw and discovered that, just like big horses, Romeo had a stiff side. He caught on to the concept of flexing to the right quickly, but on the left side, he wanted to turn his entire body as if he swallowed a poker. I started getting dizzy turning small circles in a half bent position before he finally stopped and offered a tentative hint of flexion. Click and treat! After a few repetitions, he was getting lighter, and, to my delight, offered a bonus of slightly flexing at the poll! How lovely!
From there, I could ask him to move his hip over. Then we practiced the walk forward cue that I introduced yesterday. My clinic lessons with Ogeechee on sliding my hands apart applied perfectly. I was able to move his shoulder or hip over, just depending on what I focused on as I was sliding my hands apart on the lead rope. We went over backing, then I introduced backing in a square. Again, I encountered the so familiar stiffness in Romeo. For now, I was perfectly satisfied with just one step over. We will build on it later.
We were ready for the platform. To eliminate the temptation of "cheating", I put it against the bottom boards of the round pen. I found Romeo delightfully responsive to my lead rope directions. It was easy to align him with the board so that he stepped straight on. It was easy to move his hip or shoulder if he found himself too close to the edge of the board. After just a few minutes of frustration free work, he was standing on the board and I was reinforcing him for duration. There was no pawing and pivoting around the board. He was just perfect!
Later in the day, we repeated the same exercises, and Erich took pictures. He did a great job, as always, capturing whole sequences of behavior. One of my favorites is when we are working on the platform, and Romeo is almost on, but his hind leg is too close to the edge of the board. I slide my hands apart on the rope, thinking left hind foot, and it comes right onto the board, positioning Romeo securely balanced on the platform! It gave me a thrill to apply "big horse" Tai Chi rope handling skills to help the little horse be more aware of his body and be successful in a task that has important implications for his future job.
We applied the newly acquired skill in practice and loaded into the van without a problem. Then we went for a walk to Hartley's house. Romeo found the door even more confidently that yesterday. On the series of pictures that Erich took you can see him targeting the door handle. When we put him back in his pen, he treated us to the sight of him urinating and then defecating as I recited his cues.

December 2, 2007
Worked some more on duct tape lessons. Focused more on backing in a square. Romeo did not understand the yielding of the hip, but finally it came. Then worked on the platform by the wall again. He got up on it much faster and easier than yesterday. Now I would like to work on getting off it slower than in fast forward. This was about the end of an hour of work, and I could tell that Romeo was getting tired. Not a good time to work on anew thing. I let him loose in the round pen. He looked like he was going to relieve himself, but it was a good roll that he had in mind. After the roll, he was ready to go back to the pen.
Today was his first trip to Athens. Erich helped me by driving, so I could concentrate on reinforcing Romeo. Before the trip, I took him to his pen and he relieved himself. What a good horse! He loaded easily with the platform. I helped him direct his hindquarters. He enjoyed the ride, looking through the windshield. I reinforced him at a high rate, then gradually slowed down to the count of 20. We parked at a quiet street where we used to go for walks when we lived in Athens. Romeo acted like he had done this all his life, walking energetically with his ears forward. Naturally, he attracted attention. People actually opened their doors and came out to look at the "pony". They were smiling and waving. An elderly man came to the curb from his front door asking if he could look at Romeo. Romeo let himself be petted on the head and didn't blink an eye, which was surprising. Later he said that he had compassion for the man. After a long block, he started slowing down, and his ducking behind my legs behavior reemerged. He was very interested in grass as well, unusually so. When I came to take him for the trip, he had eaten all of his Happy Hoof, and for all I could tell now, he was hungry.
We had two scares: he was startled by the storm drain and snorted at it like a big horse would. I let him look at it, clicked and treated and continued the walk. I did not want to tackle this one when he seemed to be tired. One block later, a big and alert-looking dog suddenly barked at us, startling Romeo and me, I don't know who got startled more. He settled right down, as the dog was still barking.
We walked back to the car, and before getting in, I took him to an area covered in fallen leaves. I thought he needed to defecate, so I started saying "Get busy", but I had to change my tune as he parked out to pee. Click and treat! Now it was time to "get busy". He walked around a little, sniffing the leaves, obviously thinking about the meaning of my words. Then he dutifully produced a pile. This was the first time he did it in an unfamiliar place and while I held his lead rope. This was great. A car pulled up with a man and a boy, and the man excitedly told us how beautiful Romeo was. We talked for a minute. We came closer to the car, and Romeo tried to touch the door handle. This was a great generalization. Of course, I could not reinforce him, since it was an off-cue behavior, but I asked him to back up a step and reinforced for that.
The trip back was good. Romeo was a little more fidgety, but he mostly stayed with his head between me and Erich, where I could reinforce him. Back home, we let him graze as I prepared his evening ration of Happy Hoof. He went to work on it with ravenous appetite, confirming my thought that his lack of enthusiasm towards the end of the walk was a sign of him being hungry. He needs to gain a lot of weight in muscle mass, so I have been making sure that he had enough Happy Hoof sprinkled on the ground in his pen 24 hours a day. Today I made a mistake of letting him run out of it before taking him out for a session, and he let me know that this was not acceptable.
He really liked the duct tape lessons, because they make him more aware of his body.

December 3, 2007
Another day when I did not have much time to devote to Romeo. I had just enough daylight left to do one thing with him. I thought of taking him to the Gratis store, since it was close and did not have steps. I took him to the barn, to the near entrance. He found the door and the handle beautifully. The door was locked though. We went around the right side, the one we don't usually go. As we approached the office door, I thought it would be interesting to see if he could find an unfamiliar door. I stopped opposite the short walkway to the door and told him to find the door. I did not turn to the door, which would have given him a clue. With very little hesitation, he turned onto the walkway and took me to the door. He found the handle, which was a little high and he had to really stretch to reach it. Nobody was there when I knocked, but the door was not locked, so we entered. I wanted him to know that there are doors that open!
Jim was showing some prospective borders around. He told them about Romeo, and they were excited. The lady made a comment that she had heard about minis used for guide work. She wondered out loud if they were still "trying" to do that or not. I did not interject, although I had a response bubble up inside and a living proof at the end of the lead rope. I had to admit to myself though that what they were seeing was a cute mini being fed treats.
I clipped a crosstie to Romeo's halter for grooming. When I had to take one step away to pick up a brush or to put it back, I clicked him for standing still. At first he wanted to walk forward. I think that he treated a curb that was right in front of him as a step to put his feet on. As I kept reinforcing him for standing and asked him to back every time he started moving forward (click and treat), he became more stationary and let me walk around him without trying to change position. That was very good.
I put his harness on him. He did not mind that at all. We went to the car and I set up our loading platform. I suppose today he did not feel "cool" enough to load, but when I applied the forward cue from our "Tai Chi rope" toolbox, he mobilized himself and walked into the van smoothly.
As I drove down the driveway, I considered our options. We only had about 20 minutes left until the time I feed my horses. I could not feed them any later, because then it would have to be in complete darkness. I quickly designed the plan "B". We parked at the house and I told him to find the stairs. He did, and with a surprising enthusiasm. These were the stairs that he has no trouble with, leading to the door in the picket fence. We practiced on the stairs to take one step at a time, especially going down. He was perfect. Then we took a walk to the mailboxes, which included crossing the road. After that, we headed back to the barn. He was energetic, which I used once again to start approximating a more forward leading position. I used his momentum after delivering the treat to give him more of a head start, clicked for a few steps in the new, more forward position, and fed forward. This started to go smoothly by the time we reached the bend in the driveway, and I added a marker for myself: when I let my left arm hang at my side, if my hand touched the handle of the harness, I clicked and treated. This worked beautifully for some time. As we started approaching the gate to the mare's pasture, halfway down the driveway, Romeo started showing signs of getting tired. He started hesitating and slowing down. When I waited longer for him to line himself up for a click, he ducked his head behind my legs, the first one on this walk. I lowered my criteria and just clicked him for a slightly more forward position than his usual one. That boosted his spirits, and we made it back to the kennel in good form.
He found his kennel with an eagerness that made me suspect he either needed to eliminate or was hungry. He took care of the first one on cue, and then I gave him his dinner and "tucked him in".

December 4, 2007
Today is one of the days when I am frustrated with myself. When will I learn?
I had wanted for a while to take Romeo to Winder Corners animal clinic and take his weight. Now that he can travel, this seemed like a good trip for him to make. It is not too long, and I was sure he could easily handle the distractions. I called, and people at the clinic said we could come.
I gave Romeo a quick grooming. At one point, I wanted him to target my grooming box (thought it would be nice to teach him to find it), but he kept going for my arm, and not just with his nose, but with is entire mouth. I wondered where that was coming from. He did not seem to want to bite me, but he was opening his mouth really wide. I finally lifted the box, put it under his nose, and clicked when he bumped into it. We needed to go, but this was something to sort out later.
I put his harness on, made sure he relived himself before the trip, and off we went. At the clinic, he made the stairs fine and found the door. The door handle was a different kind he is used to, so he needed help identifying it. Then he could target it. He was perfectly well-behaved at the clinic. There were no animals in the lobby except for some resident cats, who stared at him disapprovingly from their perches on the desk. He stepped on the scale without hesitation. His weight is 137.3 pounds. Out of the clinic, he hesitated at the steps. The clinic has a handicapped ramp, so I was not concerned. He took one step down, then jumped the remaining two. This was pretty good. We walked to the end of the curb, crossed the parking lot, and I took him to the lawn, hoping he would take a potty break. However, he wanted grass. He pawed at the ground and did not listen to my instructions. There was no spot without grass, so I just asked him to find the car. He did that nicely, but then he did not want to load. Tai Chi rope did not do the trick. He was stuck. I used targeting, and that finally got him in.
On the way back, he defecated in the car. I saw it coming, but there was nothing I could do. I parked at the house and took him to the yard. I though he would urinate and then I could take him in the house for a little bit until I have to feed the horses. I had a small pile of shavings in the backyard for him to go on. He refused. He wanted grass. He pawed or tried to get in the heel position as fast as I tried to walk myself out of it. This was frustrating. I repositioned him multiple times and reinforced him for standing on the shavings, but that did not help. And I did not want to devalue my cue. And I felt irritation building between us. I knew I was not being fair to him.
I could not risk the chance of him urinating inside the house: that would set an undesirable pattern. I asked him to turn and walk forward. I had left a stepping stool on the walkway, which made a nice obstacle. I stopped, clicked and treated, then told him to go forward. He took me around it, which meant off the walkway (I stopped at the edge of it to click and treat, since he was not going to do it by himself), then back onto the walkway and along its edge. This was good work on his part, and it reminded me what we were here for.
I thought that maybe adding more shavings to the pile would make him more interested in urinating. I brought more from the car, where I have a bag of shavings for cases like this one. No, he was not urinating. He wanted grass. We went back to the car. I decided to take him to the barn, since it was getting late and I had not prepared my horses' feed yet.
He was not loading into the van.
I closed the door and set the platform alongside the car to review the platform lesson. He got up on it with no trouble. I opened the door and asked him to go on. He was not going. This was the left door, and we usually load from the right. I moved the platform to the right door. He was not loading.
At this point I needed a break as much as Romeo. I turned him out in the yard for some much desired grazing and went to prepare my horses' feed. This gave us both a few minutes to unwind. Then we went back to the van. He was not loading. He would not put his hind feet on the board. He didn't care about Tai Chi rope. He was not going. On the contrary, he started pulling back. I started tightening up more and more, slipping into my own trailer loading mode. It was getting dark. Three or four times, he pulled back. Since he is small, it was easy for me to anchor my hand until he came forward. I clicked and treated, but I felt bad. This was wrong. I was definitely putting too much pressure on him.
Finally, I did what I should have done a long time before: put the platform back in the van and walked Romeo to the barn. He enjoyed the walk, giving me the opportunity to reinforce the more forward position and ears up, while I was beating myself for being so dense - how many more times do I have to do this before I learn? He was not going into the van means he was not going there. He doesn't have to start working tomorrow. We still have time. I don't need to pressure myself, and more important, Romeo, into doing more than what he is ready for. If he cannot travel in the van yet, there is plenty we can do right here. What I did was put myself and him into a situation where I had to be a "horse trainer", which I myself consider a cardinal sin, don't I? Besides, I have not taught him to load consistently, I have not taught him to be cool about the temptation by grass, I have not taught him to take a potty break anywhere regardless of circumstances, I have not taught him…! What do I expect?
In the pen, Romeo relieved himself on cue. What a good little horse. I am sorry, Romeo. I hope I can do better than today and stop repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

Had a conversation with him late at night. I did not record the answers, because he preferred it "live", so here is what I remember. He was not upset with me. He said something to the effect that I meant well. His tone and meaning evoked the refrain phrase from Astrid Lindgren's "Mio, My Mio": "You yet know so little, Mio!". This is what everyone was telling the young prince Mio when he first arrived in the Faraway land and did not know yet he had to fight with the cruel knight Kato to bring light back to the Land of Eternal Night. Romeo confirmed that this was his meaning.
I was both relieved and perplexed that he was so dismissive of me. His advice to me was to trust myself and to take hold of myself. As far as training, he repeated again that he needed time. He will be good at it (meaning guide work), but he needed time. I need to go at his own pace and not pressure him.
I asked him what he wanted to work on tomorrow, when I can spend most of the day with him. To my surprise, he said: "Circling". Meaning lunging. He needed it for exercise. I asked why he wanted to exercise in a circle, and he said that it will make him complete.

December 5, 2007
I had a lot of time to spend with Romeo today. I decided to refrain from the controversial issues of van loading and stairs and just do something different.
In the morning, I took him to the round pen and we started by practicing liberty leading. He sticks to me well anyway, but now I added verbal cues: forward, back, right, and left. At this stage, I am giving him a lot of body cues, so it is often hard to see if he understands a cue or not. He reads my intention before I start moving, making it seem like he is responding to a verbal cue. If I remained motionless, he did not know what to do. I focused on Forward as something we do a lot of. I started clicking him for any hints of movement when I said "Forward". He soon started moving out by himself. When we tried this game later, he had forgotten and waited for me to move. This will just take a little time.
Something that he really seems to understand is "Find the door". When I say it, he looks around and turns to the nearest door. He even found the gate of the round pen, although it doesn't look anything like a door.
I thought that playing a little targeting game would be fun. It would also be useful if he started building his "vocabulary" of things he can identify. I had his lead rope in my hand and a glove in my pocket. He is eager to target anything, so I had him target the glove, saying: "Find the glove", then the rope, saying: "Find the rope". He quickly progressed to finding the glove when I threw it on the ground. He had a conflict though: he thought it was really important to stay by my side, so if I threw the glove out of his reach, he got frustrated and pawed the ground. I resolved this by walking with him. I thought this would be only practical. If I wanted to teach him how to retrieve, I can work on it later. After spending some time targeting the glove and the rope separately, I showed them both to him and asked to find the rope. He kept targeting the glove, and when this did not work, he got frustrated and tried reparking himself to me. Finally, he touched the rope and earned himself a click. Over the next few minutes, his accuracy increased, although he was obviously playing hit or miss: if one object didn't work, he tried the other. This was a good start.
From this demanding work, I switched to the familiar rope exercises. Flexions of the jaw were very nice. I focused on the forward cue so that I could eventually turn it into "circling", per his request. His desire was to stay "behind my leg", so to speak. After a few minutes, we got more forward motion. I use the lunging whip as an extension of my arm to increase the working distance from me. We mainly worked clockwise, because he finds counterclockwise movement harder.
I gave him a break, but of course, he wanted to follow me. I ran a little, hoping he would want to run too. He trotted a little bit, and I reinforced him. He looked so funny that I could not help hugging him and ruffling his neck. He enjoyed this form of attention, but he did not show much inclination to run.
We went for a walk, and I took him to a grassy spot for a few minutes of grazing. He followed the edge of the grass very well. He is actually better at it than I am. In places, the edge is so indistinct as to be nonexistent, but it never seems to bother him. He makes a decision and follows it.
We went for a bigger walk later. Halfway down the driveway, he started ducking behind my legs again. I usually stop, wait util he reemerges on the correct side, start walking again, and click him for remaining in the heel position. This seems all good, except that he has a way of controlling his rate of reinforcement by throwing in this undesirable behavior. He often starts doing it when he thinks that he has not got a reinforcement in a long time. He first turns his head and looks at my legs with an unpleasant expression, and then he ducks behind me.
This time, I kept walking. Romeo lagged farther and farther behind, then started putting a drag in the rope, and then, finally, came to a halt. I kept walking. Reluctantly, he followed behind me. This was no fun at all. We walked almost to the bend in the driveway, and he was still dragging behind me. But wait. The drag in the rope turned into a slack, I heard the pattering of his hooves getting livelier, and finally his little head emerged from beneath my elbow. Click and treat!
He kept on in the heel position in a perfectly cheerful manner. We walked to the mailboxes (he targeted our mailbox, click and treat!). We crossed back and were maybe 20 feet from the road, when a truck went by, and Romeo shot forward, kicking behind him. This was the first time he ever spooked like this, and the last, I couldn't help thinking, regarding his hindquarters in this new light. If I had not let some lead rope out, I could have had his footprints on my leg. I acted like nothing happened though. As soon as he was in the heel position, I clicked and treated.
When we neared the house, I told him to find the stairs. He did that eagerly. He likes these stairs. He is overly eager about them. He climbed on before I asked him, so we had to reset and do it again, in a proper fashion. The door in the fence is always troublesome for me to navigate with Romeo. It opens forward, and he has to back halfway down the stairs to accommodate it. I have not invented a good way to handle this.
I wanted to put the mail on the porch before continuing our walk. I offered him a chance to go up the stairs with me, but it definitely looked like it would be hours with nothing but a meager offering of one foot on the bottom step. We did not have to do it today. I left some garbage bags by the steps, and Romeo regarded them cautiously on the approach. Now he had investigated them and found them harmless. I wanted him to target the nearest bag, but here, again, we encountered the same problem of him not understanding that large stationary objects on the ground could be targeted. He pawed at the bag furiously and was about to tear holes through it. In between pawing, he tried to dive for the grass. This needed to be addressed. He seemed to regard our yard as a place to graze and anything else as a distraction. The walk was postponed for an impromptu head down session. Bright as he is, he caught on very fast, and soon his nose was in the grass. I let him graze until he started shifting his weight forward, at which point I asked him to back. His head went up. I asked for head down. He dipped his head a couple of times and was reinforced, and then his nose was on the ground again. This time he was not eating though and lifted his head to take his grain pellet. I asked for head down again, and again he put his nose in the grass but did not eat. The problem was gone, at least for now.
On the way back to the barn, I watched him walk and decided this time to concentrate on ears forward. He usually walks with ears firmly back. I think he is concentrating, but it does not give him a friendly appearance. I gave a few clicks, and then there was a long pause. He was frozen (in motion) in anticipation, and his ears were glued to his skull. He turned and looked at me feet in annoyance. Then he ducked behind my legs. I kept walking. He resumed his heel position. Still nothing. Finally, one ear flickered tentatively for a second. Click and treat.
So far, I have been avoiding frustrating Romeo by finding something to reinforce so as to keep the rate of reinforcement high. However, I want him to build enough emotional resilience to be able to cope constructively with frustration, instead of having a temper tantrum. This was pretty good. As we continued, I was able to reinforce more ears forward, and he stayed in a heel position.
Ears forward is a tough behavior for him because he tries so hard. After a break, we went to the round pen again, and worked on the ears forward paired with free shaping standing on the mat. I walked to the mat with him and started clicking any interest in it. He soon had his front feet on it, but at the same time, he was trying to track me and stay in the heel position. I slowly shifted myself to his front, clicking as he remained stationary. After several clicks, I backed away and called him to me. He came and glued himself to my side. Click and treat, and we worked on ears forward. At the beginning of each ears forward mini-session, he showed a lot of frustration if he did not get reinforced after a few seconds of standing. He would try reparking himself, and even sampled my boots. Once we had the first click though, it got better, and the ears started coming forward more consistently.
This was the extent of our work today, except that I touched up his hooves again. He is wearing them off on pavement nicely, but I needed to renew the mustang roll to keep them from chipping.

December 6, 2007
I needed to go to the bank today, so I thought that if Romeo was up to loading, I could take him with me. I only needed the ATM machine, so we did not have to go inside.
He always greets me in his pen with an array of winnies and nickers. He also flashes his tail and backs up. He backs up when I enter the pen. I hold out the halter and he jams his nose into it. He used to back up when I started buckling the halter. Now he mostly stands still. There is a little backing sometimes.
Another thing that I started working on from day one but forget to mention is touching around his eyes. He always has some discharge that dries into crud around his eyes. The first time I tried to gently wipe it off, he avoided me. Every time I groomed him, I spent some time clicking and treating for allowing me touch near his eye. Now he doesn't draw away when I wipe the crud off.
He stood perfectly still for grooming today. I just dropped his rope and reinforced him at intervals. At one point I went to the grooming box to put a brush in and realized that I was not reinforcing. Romeo was so good standing still that I had forgotten I had to reinforce him.
He would not load. Before I knew it, he was pulling back and I was a horse trainer. I closed the door and set the platform alongside the car. He was as eager as ever to climb and stand on it. It was hard to back him away from it. Put it back where it was and opened the door - no go. Moved it farther away from the car - climbed right on. It seems that when it is set up to be a stepping stool for him, he doesn't think he has enough room on it to put his hind feet on it.
We spent over an hour on it, including the potty breaks. We also got introduced to a prospective new trainer who might start working at Serenity Creek. There were a lot of people at the barn today, and, of course, everyone thought the "pony" was really cute. Romeo takes all the attention with pleasant indifference. Nothing ruffles his feathers. A boy came up and petted him on the forehead, and he didn't even blink an eye. I, on the other hand, bristle up with hostility. Inside, I mean. Externally, I do my best to support a pleasant conversation and explain what we are doing. Inwardly, I am pinning my ears and swishing my tail. I see myself slip into my old, childhood pattern of "Us", meaning animals, and "them", meaning people. It was painful to see and admit this defense mechanism surface in me. At this stage in my life, I need to grow out of these old clothes. With Romeo, I need to be an educator, not a harassed, insecure kid in an unfriendly world of people. On a bigger scale, part of my task is to embrace humanity just like I embrace nonhuman creatures. It was quite lovely that all these people were so moved by Romeo's appearance. As he himself said to me earlier, he reaches out to the highest in people. So should I, but I need first to come from the highest part of myself.
Later, we went to the round pen for some liberty work. We also had a chance to work on happy faces, standing on the mat, climbing the mounting block, duct tape lessons, and object discrimination. These were quite a few "magnets" for Romeo, but he was handling this challenge well. He was able to switch between different tasks. There was a little pawing at the mat and at the mounting block. He also was frustrated when he picked the wrong object in the choice between the glove and the rope. His default then is to park in the heel position and then give the task another try.
We went for a walk in the morning, a short one along the driveway. I tried not stopping at the speed bump. I discovered that Romeo was not yet ready to stop there on his own and we need more time for it to sink in. In the afternoon, I picked a different route. We went to the lower barn, stopped opposite of it, and I told Romeo to "Find the door". He looked around and took a tentative step towards the opening to the barn. Click and treat. In the barn, I told Romeo to find the door to former Ed's office, which he did. We came inside and walked the perimeter of the room, then came out and continued along the wall of the barn. There was a trailer parked outside the barn, with an opening between it and the hay storage shed. The opening was wide enough for both of us to pass, but it was cluttered with objects that would have made the passage just on an unsafe side for a blind person. There was a cord coiled on the ground. Romeo was about to go straight. I stopped and asked him to back, then told him forward. He headed straight again. Another reset. It took more than once, and I was about to show him the way out, when he finally stretched his nose to the trailer, hesitated, and then took a step to the right. Click and treat!
I set up some more tests on our walk and found that he needs more time learning to stop and warn me of upcoming turns and obstacles. He was working nicely on green grass though, with only a few attempt at grabbing for it.
We walked along the fence with a big, excited Thoroughbred following us on the other side. I saw again that Romeo was bothered by close proximity to a big horse. I could not tell if it was intrinsic caution, given Romeo's size, or a consequence of having been turned out with Charmer. When I came to pick him up, they were in the paddock together, and although Charmer had no bad intention, he was pushing Romeo around with his nose, herding him, seemingly just for fun, while Romeo pinned his ears and staunchily kept his mouth on the grass while being moved from place to place.
Since the horse could not reach us and we were safe, I kept reinforcing Romeo for following the shoreline and maintaining a walking speed. He is not bothered by horses being handled, neither is he by loose dogs barking and trying to sniff him. We made it back to the barn following the line of the grass, and I tucked him in for the night.

From a conversation I had with Romeo this afternoon. I was asking him if there is any way I can help him load into the van comfortably. He did not have an answer for me.

Romeo, can we talk?
Yes. I want to talk.
I am sorry I put pressure on you at the van. It was a mistake.
I know.
Can you please tell me how I can help you load in the van comfortably?
I need that board.
OK. Is that one board enough for you to load?
No.
Do you know what you need?
That's the problem. I don't.
Do you need a wider and longer board?
That might help.
Are you afraid to lose your balance?
Yes. I am afraid to fall.
I'll try to make a different board for you. Is there anything you want to tell me?
Come and play more. Need to play more. I need exercise.
OK. Thank you. I will play more with you today. (Sensing something from him) Romeo, am I frustrating you?
Yes. You are dense.
Are you angry with me?
Yes. How many times are you going to do this?
I know. I am sorry. It is like training an animal. (not spoken, but I was thinking about our van loading session this morning, feeling that I was just spinning my wheels and being inconsiderate of Romeo).
I feel sorry for you. It must hurt to be so dumb.
Thanks.
No problem. I can teach you.
Romeo, am I just inventing our conversation?
No! What do you mean? Think I cannot talk? I am pretty smart, you know.
I don't doubt you at all. It's just that it sounds like my own thoughts, almost. I have trouble telling them apart. Any advice?
Yes. Look at the speed it's coming. It comes at lightning speed. That's all I can tell you. You will learn to distinguish the flavor. Mine has a different smell.
You really mean it?
Yes, why not. Different smell.
Does it smell like you?
It does. Have fun.
OK, thank you. Anything else you can tell me?
Just don't be so… You are too slow. Lighten up. Speed up. It's coming to you.
Thank you, Romeo. I will keep in mind what you said. I will go now so that I have time to spend with you.
As you wish. Glad to help.
Romeo, you are a cocky little thing, aren't you?
Is this an insult?
No, I am just admiring your spirit.
Yes, I am bright.
Thanks. Bye, I will see you soon.
See you later.

December 8, 2007
Due to my schedule, we only went on two walks today, but Romeo made another breakthrough.
We followed the usual route along the driveway, past my house, to the mailboxes. He targeted the mailboxes, and I clicked him for it. His habit of targeting is getting to be very useful. I took the mail and we went back to the house. I had chosen the section of fence at the entrance to the farm as a crossing landmark. We crossed the driveway and I told him to find the stairs. He took me to the stairs very deliberately. There is no doubt that he knows what it means. He also turned his body to face the stairs, which he had not done before when we approached along the curb. Wonderful. He found the door. We negotiated the door in the fence better than we usually do. I told him to find the stairs again, and he did take me to the side stairs of the house. I opened the door, and he climbed the stairs with me.
Found the door again, then found the handle. It was a little high and he had to stretch, all the more deliberate the action of bumping the handle with his nose. We came into the house and I checked my emails while Romeo stood parked by my chair. I did not want to create a precedent of him trying to eliminate in the house, and it had been a long time since he last had a potty break, so I took him outside. He did not want to leave. He really likes being in the house. I had to use my hand as a target to get his feet unstuck. From there, the stairs, surprisingly, were not a problem.
I let Romeo loose in the yard, where he happily nibbled on meager grass while I made myself a quick lunch and sat outside with him. Arrow and Ogeechee came and hung around. They are fascinated by Romeo. Romeo had sniffed noses with Arrow a few times. They both seemed peaceful about it. I don't want to leave Romeo in the yard unsupervised though, knowing that Arrow likes to pinch other horses to make them move.
We spent about half an hour hanging out all together. The sun had come out, and it was one of those peaceful, dreamy winter afternoons, when the earth delights in a rare moment of warmth in the midst of the long cold season.
I clipped Romeo's lead on to take him back. I was pleased that he left the grass without fussing and seemed ready to go. I don't want him to feel that the fun is over as soon as I approach with the lead rope. I always click and treat for clipping the rope on, for lifting his head out of the grass, and for taking a step with me.
I took Romeo to the shavings pile that I put in the backyard, hoping that he might want to eliminate there. I looked for the signs of pre-elimination behavior and said my mantra when I thought I saw them. He at first tried to park up to me. I shifted away and clicked for standing apart form me. He did, but still nothing was coming.
We started on our way back to the barn, and he immediately assumed a more forward position. I started clicking for that, counting steps and very gradually increasing the duration. If he happened to put his ears forward before my count expired, I clicked right there. I noticed that I also wanted to click when his ears were up but he was not in a desired forward position. That made me think about layering the criteria. It seems that I was completely opportunistic on what to click. This came from watching for what he was offering and clicking for the most probable behavior. Maybe this was OK in the beginning, but now I had to think about layering? He was pretty consistent about coming ahead of me in a guiding position, but his ears were mostly flat against his skull. It seemed that naturally, this was to become my second layer.
There were some interesting dynamics with grass. Now he was ahead of me and had plenty of lead rope at his disposal. Every now and then he was tempted by the grass at the edge of the road. I did not prevent him from grabbing it but did not stop to accommodate him either. When he left it and resumed his position at my side, I clicked and treated. There was a great moment, when he considered going for the grass, hesitated for a split second, and hurried up to resume his spot at my side. Click and treat! Excellent!
Now that he was ahead of me, it was much more evident that he slowed down in front of our usual landmarks. Progress!
We squeezed in another walk in the evening. Now Romeo was definitely leading, with his hip level with my leg. This was way cool! The same slowing down at landmarks was evident. Now I could click for ears forward. While watching his ears, I realized that there had not been any ducking behavior on his part ever since the hard lesson of dragging behind me with no reinforcement coming. A couple of times, when there had been a long pause between clicks (because no ear came forward!), he slowed down, but promptly hurried up to be in front of me again. It was endearing to hear the rapid pattering of his feet on the pavement as he assumed the forward position that unlocked my treat pouch.
He definitely showed more emotional resilience when no click was coming. I could wait for an ear to come up and not worry about him falling apart emotionally.
My car was parked at the house near the stairs, and he came to a small gap between the curb and the car. I stopped and clicked. Then said Forward. He hesitated, targeted the car, then looked to the right. Click and treat. We walked along the side of the car, and he pointed every door and the back bumper. What a smart horse!
More slowing down at speed bumps and landmarks. When we reached the end of the driveway, he started taking me the usual route along the very approximate edge of the gravel. I realized that we always have to follow that route because of the parked cars. Now the edge of the fence was exposed, and shouldn't we have been following it. I took him to the edge and we walked along it. He was more distracted, because the grass was better there. We approached a small gap between the fence and the tool shed. Again, he looked to the right instead of trying to go through the opening. Click and treat! As we passed the tool shed, I told him to find the kennel, and he took me straight to it, targeted the open door, and I let him in. He topped the walk off by eliminating as I recited my cues.

December 8, 2007
I finally realized how I can keep Romeo closer to me. If I put his kennel behind the house and fence off the back corner of the yard, the dogs would not have direct access to the kennel. I would be able to spend more passive time with him, which is what he needs and wants.
I set out to work on my plan, which required a trip to Home Depot. To my disappointment, they didn't have the stakes I needed for the fencing. All they had was very heavy-duty posts. And all that shopping took away the time that I could have spent with Romeo. Instead, all he got today was a grooming in the barn and a walk.
First we went to the lower barn. I told him to find the door, and he really looked around, while his ears were scanning the surroundings. He correctly identified to the opening of the barn. We went around the trailer again. He was distracted by the grass and not paying as much attention to where he was going as he normally does. He was not doing badly though, considering the temptation. We encountered our first overhead obstacle: a gooseneck trailer. Romeo turned to go under the gooseneck, and I slammed into it (with my hand. I could not make myself bump into it with my head). Romeo didn't seem to take notice. I backed him up and reset us both a few feet away from the trouble spot. I told him forward, and again, he turned under the neck of the trailer. I repeated the hand slam. This time, Romeo was visibly startled. He drew back and considered the gooseneck. I told him forward, and he turned right and walked along the trailer. Click and treat! I wanted to see what he would do if we replay it again. I reset us both again and we walked along the trailer for the third time. Romeo did not even try to turn under the gooseneck. He kept on without stopping until he reached the end of the neck. I clicked and he plunged his nose in the grass. This was minor, however, compared to his first successful navigation of an overhead obstacle.
Once we reached the paved driveway, he started moving into a forward position, and I started counting the steps. He soon added both ears forward, and kept on like this most of the way to the house. On the way back, the ears went to a default position. I waited as long as to the count of forty, but the ears were still back. I could see him getting discouraged, although there were no external signs of it yet. It was time to lower the criteria. I clicked for duration of walking in a forward position. His spirits went up again, and so did the ears. And this time around, it was clear that he came to a complete stop at speed bumps and our crossing landmarks.

December 10, 2007
I spent part of the day getting the fencing supplies and setting up the fence (still incomplete). In an email this morning, Alexandra suggested the use of a dog ramp to transition Romeo to getting into the van on his own. I had no idea such thing existed, and it seemed like a perfect solution. I was thinking of building a ramp myself, which filled me with unease, since my carpentry skills leave much to be desired. A dog ramp sounded like a perfect idea. I did a little research on the Internet and ordered a ramp and an exercise pen for the house. I also had to make a little time for Arrow, whom I promised to take out for some work and kept bumping that back to the bottom of my list for two days. Between all these activities, all Romeo got today was two walks. They were, as always, productive.
I keep reinforcing his leading position at the count of 20, if nothing else is going on. This is not 20 seconds, probably much less, as I count in Russian to the rhythm of his steps. If he puts his ears forward, he gets a click any time, as long as he is in a leading position. When we are on challenging terrain, such as grass, I reinforce for leading more frequently.
We made a deviation from our usual walk to the house. There is a grassy spot at the back corner of the front pasture, and I thought I could give Romeo a grazing break there. The entrance to the spot is blocked with telephone poles lying on the ground to prevent people from parking on the grass, and there is one opening for people and horses to access the lake.
I stopped and clicked where the first pole ended, marking the opening. This made me think, should I have stopped and clicked here on every walk? There is so much I don't know about training a guide! I told Romeo Left and turned left myself. At this point, I cannot expect him to have an understanding of this verbal signal that I use so infrequently. Click and treat, and Forward. He followed the edge of the dirt, slowly, but did not try to dive for the grass, which was quite impressive to me. We followed the semicircle of packed ground around an oak tree to the back corner of the fence. This was the spot I had in mind for grazing. I released Romeo with an "OK" and let him eat. Again, I don't know how acceptable this is for a guide horse, and I would not have done this if he was wearing a harness. "OK" is what I have been using with my horses to let them know they are "off duty" temporarily and can have a snack.
I let him graze for about five minutes, then slid down the lead rope and said Froward. It did not take force on my part to break the gravitational pull of the grass. Romeo stepped forward towards the fence and stopped at the pole. Click and treat. He pawed it, click and treat. I said, Forward, and he turned right and walked along the pole, around the tree, and then cut across the dirt patch to the end of the next pole on our right, which marked the right boundary of the opening. He targeted the end of the pole, click and treat, then put his foot on it. He apparently viewed it as something to climb I let him experiment and see that no reinforcement was coming, just for a few seconds. I did not want him to spend too much time figuring out on his own that this was an inappropriate situation for climbing though, so I asked him to back up and told him forward again. He looked around, with his ears moving in all directions, then turned his head to the left, where the opening was. Click and treat, and he took me through the opening and to the edge of the driveway. Good for a start. Next time, I would like him to follow closely around the tree trunk instead of cutting across. Knowing him, he may very well have already figured it out on his own.
It was a Sunday, so there was some traffic to and from the barn. I have always felt impolite staying on the edge of the driveway with people driving by. There was plenty of room, but everyone is always so considerate that they almost drive off the road trying to give us enough space. I decided that when we hear a car approaching, we would step laterally just off the edge of the driveway and wait for it to pass. I started practicing this yesterday, for now using the Tai Chi rope mechanics, eventually meaning to transfer it to pressing with my leg behind his shoulder. Maybe I should add a verbal to it to distinguish this from accidentally bumping into him? This needs more thought on my part.
Our evening walk was to the lower barn and the gooseneck. I was very pleased to see that Romeo was much less sticky leading me over grass. He followed the shoreline around a camping trailer, hay shed, and various objects on the ground, marking the turns. This was perfect. We walked around a truck and I decided to alert him to a more subtle overhead: rearview mirrors. The way he was taking me, I avoided hitting them, but narrowly so. He was not aware of them. As we approached a mirror, I stopped, clicked and treated, then we continued, and I deliberately bumped into the mirror. I reset Romeo, and he looked around, then targeted the mirror with his nose (he had to telescope his neck out to reach it!). Then he continued straight on, and I bumped into it again. Reset and go, with the same result. On the fourth attempt, he gave me a slightly wider margin. I am quite sure he still did not have an understanding of the why this needed to be done, so this is something to have fun with tomorrow.
The gooseneck trailer, he navigated perfectly. We turned back to the barn, and made another side trip, to the arena. He perked up as soon as we entered it and walked ahead deliberately. I was curious where he would take me. He crossed the arena diagonally to the right, reached the rail, targeted it, and then continued along it back to the gate. The gate was open to the inside, and he followed around it, marking the turn. He looked ready for another lap. It seemed that he considered this fun. I asked him to find the door instead. He did his thing of scanning the surroundings, then tentatively turned his head to the left. Click and treat. He took me to the opening of the gate and targeted the fence post on his left. What a smart horse!
We went to the barn and talked to some boarders that were still there. Romeo was perfect standing in heel position and pressing himself to my leg. I let a boy of maybe 8 pet him and was in for a surprise. As the boy approached him from the side, as I instructed, Romeo's ears went back and his face acquired a very unpleasant expression. Then he quickly turned and nipped at the boy's pants. The boy only laughed, so luckily, no one was hurt or scared. I slid my hand down the rope asking for Romeo's head to come to a forward facing position and clicked as soon as his nose was forward. Then I told the boy to scratch Romeo on the shoulder, as I kept clicking and treating at a high rate for his nose to remain facing forward. There was no more snaking of the head to attempt a nip, and Romeo tolerated the petting, albeit only tolerating. After about a minute or so, I thanked the boy for helping me train Romeo, and he left his side.
I had no idea that Romeo didn't like children, since he is so cool with adults, but it was good to discover. He seems fine with bigger kids. Just the other day, he was completely nonchalant about another boy petting him on the head.
Walking back to the kennel, I was thinking that it would be good to follow what Alexandra taught Panda to do in response to being petted. The first lesson I need to introduce to Romeo in this regard would the "Leave it!" game. He is so polite around food that I had not spent any time on it so far. A vision of him biting into some kid's fingers makes it a pretty high priority on my list.

December 10, 2007
After my morning appointment and a trip to the feed store, I continued setting up the fence in the backyard. This took two or three hours, and still I did not finish. I went to work with Romeo, who was shortchanged yet another day.
We went to the barn and got invited to the office, where I had a conversation with the barn manager and the new trainer, while Romeo stood in a heel position. At first, he was restless and pivoted around, then got locked into a heel position and even started offering ears forward.
I groomed him while he stood tied. He did really well with both standing and grooming. Lucio, Hugo's brother, approached and petted Romeo on the left side, and just like yesterday with the boy, Romeo swiped at him with a nasty expression on his face. Hm-m. So it is not only children that he dislikes.
We went to the round pen and did some liberty walking plus standing on the mat and on the mounting block. Then I introduced the "Leave it" concept. After several unsuccessful attempts to grab for food, Romeo tried to park up to me. I held his halter with the right hand and reinforced him a few times for facing me. The I resumed the lesson. Instead of drawing back, as I was hoping, Romeo started averting his head. At first, I reinforced this two or three times, but I did not want this behavior to get established. I clicked a few times for nose forward, then was able to reinforce for hesitation before he made yet another attempt to take the clickless treats from my hand. I will need to work on head forward before we continue with this exercise.
We reviewed some of the duct tape lessons and then had to go back to the kennel, as it was getting dark.

December 11, 2007
The saga of the fence continued today, and it had quite a sad twist just when I thought it was close to conclusion. I was short of the wire mesh by some 5 feet when I had to stop yesterday. Today, after coming back from Violet's, I drove to the back field, where some discarded fencing material was piled up in the bushes and found two pieces of horsewire fencing that looked like they would cover the gap. I had the dogs outside with me while finishing the last stretch of the fence. Hilda had taken interest in it from the time I started working on in last week. She particularly liked going in and out of the new gate. Roland stayed near the front of the house, out of sight. Just when I was putting the finishing touches on my work, Erich came home, and the dogs greeted him with the usual display of exuberance. They started wrestling and chasing each other. As I looked on, Roland, in pursuit of Hilda, crashed right through my fence, breaking one post, bending another, and knocking the section of the fence to the ground. The accident didn't bother him one bit. I, on the other hand, took it close to heart.
After a cup of tea and a yogurt, life seemed more on a bright side again, and I realized that I could just tie the broken post to the gatepost. After that was done, Erich worked with Roland to get him acquainted with the fence. He showed it to him and then did some short distance test recalls. On the first one, Roland tried to run through the fence again, but luckily Erich was there to stop him. He chose the gate several times afterwards. We needed to test the back part of the fence. I kept Roland with me inside the fence, while Erich walked around the house and called him. He tried to claw his way out, which I stopped him from. Then he had a lightbulb moment, took off the other way to run around the house, and crashed into the same section of the fence that he broke before… This time, since the posts had been tied securely, he tilted one of the gateposts. Oh dear…
More time spent on repairs, and I ran a line of duct tape at the level of Roland's eyes to make the fence more visible. This time around, he went through the gate.
None of this has anything to do with training Romeo, but I just had to include it, because it is such a preposterous story and because working on that fence had been my everyday afternoon activity for several days. Now to Romeo. I took him to the barn and groomed him while he stood tied. Today was unusually hot, in the 70s, and Romeo felt like being scratched. He stretched his lip out when I scratched his hip, neck, and shoulder.
I unclipped the tie and continued yesterday's lesson on "Leave it". To begin with, I shaped looking at me as he stood in front of me. Then I offered him a piece of carrot. He stretched his nose towards it, and the carrot disappeared. He soon started showing slight hesitation to grab for the carrot, which earned him clicks and carrot pieces. This was very good. Romeo started showing some restraint in the face of temptation.
With Hugo's help, the kennel was disassembled and moved to our yard. Romeo had to wait in the stall, from where he whinnied every time I walked by. Finally, as it was getting dark, I walked with him to his new temporary home. He did a fine job of leading up with his ears forward. Earlier, on the way to the barn, we encountered an obstacle: some kind of electrical device was left at the side of the drive, with a cord stretching across our way. This was a good one. By the trailer parked at the back door of the lower barn, Romeo seemed oblivious to electrical cord. I clicked him as he stopped at the box. This obstacle was good, because we normally go around to the right, but if we did that, the cord was a tripping hazard. To my utter amazement, Romeo took me around the box to the left, giving me enough room to pass between him and the box. Then he tracked to the shoreline like nothing happened.

December 12, 2007
I came home from my trimming appointments in the afternoon and took Romeo to the house. He negotiated the side stairs with only little hesitation. He stood with me as I chopped a carrot for him. We went to the living room and played the "Leave it" game. He is very good at pulling away from the carrot if it is presented without a click. I wish he drew back with his nose down, but he has his nose and neck up. Ogeechee did the same thing, so with him I gave up on the idea of teaching him the pose this way.
I sat in the chair and Romeo parked up to me. I reinforced him for standing there. I also targeted ears froward. I would like him to be in a more forward position, but for some reason he would not stand this way. It may have something to do with the way the metal chair feels to him when he presses himself against it. I noticed that every time after I clicked, Romeo dipped his chin into the position where I would offer him the treat. I watched him to see if he would do it between the clicks and was able to capture some very slight dips of his chin. When I took Romeo out to his pen, he immediately urinated and defecated.
I gave him a little Happy Hoof and started putting up tarps over his pen for rain protection. He did not like it one bit. He tried to engage me, and when I went to work outside the pen, he just stood there looking at me as if I had failed him.
After feeding the horses, I took Romeo for a walk along the driveway. It was getting dark, but that did not faze him at all. He seemed glad for getting some exercise. We went back to the house and did some more standing by the chair.

December 13, 2007
An interesting day today. When I got up this morning, I felt like I had been run over by a truck. The prospect of going to Violet's, or doing anything at all, for that matter, seemed like an impossible feat. I contemplated it in the shower. I felt that canceling was wrong, but my body was screaming for some rest. I felt that this entire week I had been running on empty. I called Violet and canceled. She was, as always, understanding. I had breakfast and went to bed.
When I got up an hour later, the world was a much better place. I had a big mug of black tea and was ready to spend some time with Romeo.
Since I moved Romeo to the house, all four big horses spend a lot of time hanging out by his pen. Arrow particularly took an interest in him. I let Romeo graze in the fenced area while I cleaned the pen, and Arrow came and stuck his head over the fence. He sniffed Romeo, then started nipping at his rump. Romeo paid no attention. I was ready to intervene if necessary, but the next thing that Arrow did was quite unexpected. He put his nose on Romeo's back and started licking his fur. I had thought before that he was trying to be friendly to Romeo, but now there was no doubt. I was particularly surprised, because Arrow is not the one to make contact, much less to insist on offering of friendship.
I asked Arrow, and he said that he had been trying to talk to Romeo, but Romeo would not talk to him. That led to an interesting conversation, but I will save it for my notebook.
I needed to get more of Romeo's pellets from the barn. I thought that this would be a good excuse for taking him for a walk. I thought I would take him to the house and cut up a carrot for him to last us up to the barn.
He balked at the stairs that he had climbed with very little trouble yesterday. Now he had a NO written all over his face. When I watched him yesterday, he walked up the steps without strain or rushing. If there was a difficulty, it did not seem to be physical. I tried targeting him up the steps, but it was quite clear that it was not going to work. As he stood at the bottom of the stairs refusing to move, I asked him if he was afraid or did not know how to walk up. He replied, no, he was just being stubborn. I am not sure what it meant (and it does go against my belief, which I think is useful for a trainer, that animals are never "just stubborn"), but I explained to him, out loud, that we needed to work on this issue. If he truly wanted to be a guide, he needed to learn to be able to put his own interests on a backburner at times when he is working, trusting that they would be taken care of when he is off duty. He agreed with me. I asked if he wanted me to let go of the rope when he pulled back refusing to step onto the stairs, but he said to hold it.
With that permission given, I stood next to Romeo, then took a step up the stairs. He put his front feet on the first step, click and treat. I took the next step. He balked and pulled back. I held my end of the rope at my core and waited. He took another step up. Click and treat. This was working. Two more steps, and he was on the porch.
This was interesting. I would not have done it if I was not pretty sure that there was no fear or physical problem involved. And it was a new and strange experience to have a horse direct his own training. But he was right. It worked very well and saved us both hours of being stuck at the bottom of the steps. I was also attentive to any signs of stress in him, and he was showing more of it standing at the bottom of the steps (a sad, withdrawn, resigned look being the main one) than he did going up.
In the house, he stayed with me as I started cutting the carrot. Then he walked off and went to the living room. I had a suspicion that he viewed it as a potential bathroom. I followed him and clipped his lead rope on. He wanted to stay in the living room. I waited and clicked him when he shifted his weight to move. He followed me to the kitchen and stayed with me as I finished cutting the carrot.
Walking down the stairs went without a problem. I took him to his pen, and he eliminated there. We went to the barn. On the way there, he lagged behind. He didn't seem to want to go. When we walked by the mares' pasture, they came galloping up behind us and scared Romeo. He bolted forward and kicked out. Then he quickly parked up to me and pressed himself against my leg. His spook ended as abruptly as it started.
In the feed room, Romeo was as eager as ever to sample anything that looked edible. Right there, we worked on "Leave it". That brought a welcome change: instead of trying to dive into the feed bucket, he was parked to my leg and standing politely as I scooped some pellets into my pouch. However, as soon as I went to close the bucket, he tried to stick his head in there again. I put some grain in a small plastic bucket and played the "Leave it" game with the bucket instead of a hand-offered treat. He quickly started ignoring the bucket. I congratulated him with his improved table manners and we went back home. I gave him another potty break and left him in the pen to make a call to the feed store. I was going to take him with me if he was up to it. I asked him and he said he would load. He wanted me to use the Tai Chi rope to help and support him. He also said definitely not to use the target.
I put his harness on and took him to the car. No, he took me to the car. I set the platform by the door, but Romeo was in the "no go" mode. He would only offer to stand on the platform with front feet and then would pull back. If I did not let the rope slide, he would rear up. At this point I asked him if it was a bad thing for him if I did not let him pull back. Remembering my, often traumatic, experiences with trailer loading Ogeechee, I had formulated a rule for myself that goes something like this: When you are teaching a horse to load, never (NEVER!) prevent him from backing out of the trailer. To my surprise, Romeo said that it was good for him if I held my end of the lead rope steady while he was trying to pull back. But I needed to reinforce him more. I was quite concerned about hurting or scaring him by not letting him back out and asked him several times if that was safe and if that was what he wanted, and he was firm about it being in his best interest.
I started reinforcing when he put a slack in the rope after pulling, curiously aware that this horse was giving me instructions on how to train him best. The pulling decreased in frequency, and I started asking him to go forward by sliding my hands apart on the rope. He became noticeably more interested in solving the problem. For a while, our pattern was: I ask, Romeo walks onto the board with his front feet, takes a few steps forward so that he is now standing with front feet at the front edge of the board, and I click and treat him. My rate of reinforcement increased, showing me we were on the right track. The next stage was when Romeo started offering to put one front foot in the van. This was a dead end, I knew. From past experience, he would do that, then put both front feet in the van while his hind feet were still on the ground and, finding himself in this stretched position, he would stall out, unable to move his hind feet onto the board. But I also found that if I waited to click, he would back off the board alltogether. He would not pull back anymore, but still we would have to start all over. I took a minute to explain my dilemma to him, and his answer was, definitely, reinforce for front foot in the van.
Again, I followed his instructions, and received my lesson while he was receiving his. After taking his grain pellet, for which he usually stepped back (despite of my food delivery forward), front feet still on the board, Romeo would step forward and put a front foot in the van. Over and over again. There were no other behaviors offered, but his enthusiasm increased. After several sequences like this, I waited to click him while still holding my hand at his hip near the "forward" spot. He thought, then backed off the board. He immediately walked onto it again, and I clicked for putting a front foot in the van. On the next sequence, I withheld the click and kept my hand on the "forward" spot. He took his hind foot off the ground for a split second, and I clicked before he put it down on the ground. This was the start. Over the course of several sequences, the mobility of his hind feet increased enough that I was able to start reinforcing for a "hind foot off the ground while the front feet are at the front of the board". He started offering little high steps with hind feet, not high enough to put a foot on the board, but definitely with that intention. Before long, we had one hind foot on the board. A few more minutes, and he stood on the board with all four feet. Wow! Click and jackpot, and lots of praise.
In several more tries, he jumped into the van, and I spent a few minutes reinforcing him for just being there. He seems to like it anyway, but I wanted to create an extra magnetic force to make van loading a highly reinforcing activity. I asked him to get out, and he jumped right over the board onto the pavement. He hit the edge of the board with something, probably the back of his hocks, which made me cringe, but he did not seem to care. He turned right around and wanted to go back to the fun game of van loading.
We accomplished another loading relatively quickly, and I took him to his pen for a potty break. It was around four thirty by then. I still was open to the possibility of taking him to the feed store, but it was not an end goal. It solely depended on how Romeo felt about loading. The last thing I wanted to happen was to be stuck at the store with Romeo refusing to load. The thought of curious onlookers and, possibly, helpers, did not make the prospect more appealing.
We went back to the van and started all over. There was a slight regression before Romeo built enough momentum again. He was definitely interested in the game, just not so sure about committing his hind feet to the board. In fact, he was so into it that after a few minutes I unclipped his lead rope and kept freeshaping his self-loading behavior. This was in striking contrast to the beginning of our loading adventure today, when he wanted to pull back and leave.
After some time of freeshaping, it was clear that this was not enough. He was still very hesitant to put his hind feet on the board and was getting discouraged. I was reminded of his earlier statement that he wanted me to give him support with the Tai Chi rope. I squatted by the board again and simulated the sliding of my hands apart on the imaginary rope, with my back hand ending on the "forward" spot at his hip. And what a huge difference it made! He immediately responded by lifting a hind foot off the ground. Click and treat. On the next try, I experimented by withholding a click and letting him make a bigger try. He made several small high steps and landed a hind foot on the board. He definitely was appreciating the support and direction that I earlier installed with the Tai Chi rope. In just a few minutes, he was in the van again!
We did another loading and called that a day. For jumping out of the van, I moved the board to the side, since the risk of injuring his hocks on its edge was more than I could stand. I was really proud of Romeo's progress. Granted, he had loaded into the van before, and viewed form this standpoint, we had nothing to be proud of. However, there was so much more packed in this long session today. Romeo was learning how to move his body and be aware of its parts, so that loading into the van was not a haphazard hit-or-miss happening but a sequence of precise movements resulting in a smooth and safe loading. I was also thrilled that he relied on my direction and support through something that was hard for him to do by himself. That was just precious to me. That showed a degree of trust that we treasure so much with any horse: he was willing to commit his body to my judgment, trusting that I was committed to his safety!
Last but not least was the unbelievable fact that he knew, and was willing to teach me, how to teach him with his best interest in mind. Admittedly, if I were a better and more experienced clicker trainer, I would not need his instructions, or I would read him using my normal human faculties, without resorting to direct intuitive communication. But I am almost glad that I was not quite so good as a trainer, because it allowed me to experience this other dimension that usually does not enter into training. I was simply floored by his precision and firmness. I cannot imagine that pulling back was comfortable or not stressful for his body, yet his spirit knew that his body had to experience this to learn. And I have to say that if I went with my own judgment, I would probably give up when he started pulling back and would use the target. At this stage, I get disturbed when any force enters the training, even when it is the horse that initiates it. My inclination is to step back, analyze, and change my strategy accordingly, so that the horse does not feel that he has to get violent. I do stand by this. Romeo's feedback was all the more important to me, however, because it let me know that I cannot get lulled into false comfort in any of the rules or principles I establish for myself. Romeo preferred a learning experience that I would qualify as tough and would try to avoid imposing on a horse. Romeo's lesson brought back home to me the fact that when I train, I train first and foremost for the highest good of the horse, not for my comfort and not for confirmation of my principles. I find it all marvelously and inspiringly confusing, mystical, and empowering.
I went on Alexandra's webgroup in the evening and plodded through over 160 posts there. Someone posted a quote that gave me the chills, so apropos it was to today's events, as well as to what had been happening in the last few months:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mythical concept of animals..... We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they moved finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

Henry Beston

You yet know so little, Mio!

December 14, 2007
The ramp came by UPS yesterday evening. I set it up in the yard, laying it flat on the ground and introduced Romeo to it. He walked over it back and forth. It is made of heavy duty plastic, with ribbed surface, like a washboard. The ribs are covered in rubbery material that is very grippy. I was very pleased how slip-proof it is.
Next, I set it up to the back door of the van and took Romeo to try it out. Only to discover that he would not go up it. I tried the Tai Chi rope that worked so well for him, but quickly saw that it was not appropriate in this case. He kept pulling back and before I knew it, I was releasing, letting him back off and away from the ramp. The thought of targeting popped into my mind. Romeo conformed that targeting would be a better strategy. He would not follow the target up the ramp though. Sigh.
I gave us both a break and asked Romeo what was the difference between the platform and the ramp. He replied that he was afraid to go up the ramp, which was not the case with the platform. Of course. I could have figured it out myself, but I was misled by the ease with which he walked over it on the ground.
I laid the ramp on the pavement next to the van and invited Romeo to walk over it. He did not have any trouble with that. After doing several times back and forth, he became eager to do more and more. It was difficult to move it to a new place, because he wanted to continue the game.
Next I moved the ramp to the bottom step leading to the gate in the picket fence. Romeo considered the difference, but was up to the challenge. Soon, he was going up and down without waiting for me to ask. I moved the top of the ramp to the next step, and when that was mastered, to the top step. Romeo was walking up and down merrily. Every now and then, he would forget about his hind end and let his hind feet slide down the ramp. I needed to slow him down so that he would take more deliberate steps.
It was time to do the van again. Now Romeo was much more at ease with the ramp. He still was hesitant to move past the midpoint. I targeted him up the ramp first, and then felt that it was appropriate to give him some Tai Chi rope support. He responded by adding forward steps and moved to the top of the ramp. For some reason, stepping off the ramp and into the van was a tough decision for him. There was less than an inch step down, but with every try I saw him gathering his courage but unable to take the plunge. Eventually, he did. It was very smooth. I congratulated him with his accomplishment and reinforced for standing in the van for a couple of minutes. Now we needed to go down the ramp. Luckily, this was not a problem at all.
I was going to return Romeo to his kennel and go to the store before it got too late. Just as I was thinking about it, Romeo turned around and walked up the ramp into the van. He got his reinforcement and walked down the ramp. Great! This was a fun game to play. The ramp did the trick I was hoping it would do. We played the game for some time as I reconsidered my plan. I decided to take Romeo with me to the feed store.
I let him take a potty break in the kennel, then we loaded up and hit the road. As always, he enjoyed the trip. When we arrived at the store, I put his harness on him, he found the stairs, the door, and the handle, and we made our appearance.
While waiting for our bag of alfalfa, I pointed Romeo down one of the aisles and told him forward. He proceeded cautiously and then stopped and started backing. My first inclination was to tell him to go forward again, when I realized what he was doing. The aisle was narrow to begin with, and towards the end it narrowed even more. Romeo made a superbly wise decision to back out and not try to squeeze both of us through the narrow opening. Since I missed my chance to reinforce him, I told him forward again, and he backed a step. Click and treat. This was the intelligent disobedience, one of the qualities so indispensable in a guide animal. I helped Romeo back the length of the aisle. There was no way for us to turn around.
When we were out in the open again, I told him forward. He took me down another aisle, which quickly turned into a maze. Romeo tried all the options, but every way led to an opening too narrow for us both to pass. More precisely, we could have squeezed through, but for a blind handler that would be an unsafe option. Romeo was doing great. We emerged from the maze back at our starting point. With surprise, I realized that I could not access anything in this store if I played by the rules of our guide horse game. And I had to play by the rules, or how would Romeo tell the difference between when the rules matter and when they don't. They always have to matter.
I told Romeo to find the door, which he did, and we went out to the parking lot. I wanted him to take a potty break before loading in the van. Well, this did not work so well. We went to a place that did not have grass on it, but there was enough grass around to make Romeo irritated. He pawed the ground and tried to reach the grass. There were a few times when he looked like he was starting a pre-elimination routine, but then he would just take me to where he could reach the grass. I tried different places, such as old hay on the ground, but all Romeo wanted to do was reach for the grass outside the hay patch. Half an hour later, I had to give up. We needed to get back home.
While we were gone, someone parked next to my van, and when I put the ramp up it rested against the wheel of the other car. Romeo was understandably reluctant to venture up the ramp. I carried it to the other side of the van, expecting him to be more willing. He was not. We started from the square one, targeting, progressed to the Tai Chi rope, and finally Romeo was in the van. I breathed a sigh of relief. We did not need to camp out at the feed store.
I was not looking forward to my van being soiled though. Romeo took care of that soon after we started moving. Bummer. Two times is almost a pattern. Next time I take him somewhere I should plan an extra hour or two, so that he would have to take care of his need before we get into the van.

December 15, 2007
Well, we went to a party today. Hartleys had an open house to welcome a new trainer. A lot of people showed up. I saw this as an excellent training opportunity for Romeo.
We walked to the house. A lot of vehicles were driving by, and as they approached, I asked Romeo to step sideways onto the grass. He knew the way to the Hartley's front door by heart and did a great job of leading me to it. He had his harness on, and it was the first time I held the handle continuously. He was almost in a perfect guiding position the whole time.
His appearance made a sensation. People were seated at the tables having their lunch and everyone started smiling and gasping in surprise. We had a very warm welcome. Cator asked me to introduce myself and Romeo, which I did. Romeo stood by my leg politely. Then we followed Erich and got a plate of food. I let Romeo guide me along a row of chairs to the last one. We had to move them a little to make room for Romeo to park. As we were doing it, people started clapping about something, and Romeo was startled. His eyes got big and he sifted around with his ears back against the overwhelming noise. That was the extent of his spook though. When it was over, he oriented himself and parked next to my chair. Once he was in his spot, he settled right in.
I finished my fruit and got up to take Romeo out for a potty break. He was doing so well on the slippery wooden floor. He never lost his footing or showed any concern. He took me to the door and pointed out the handle.
Outside, it was getting chilly and we felt the first drops of rain. I talked to Jim, and he blocked our way jokingly to see what Romeo would do. Romeo simply took me around Jim in his nonchalant manner.
Every parking spot around the barn was taken, and I welcomed this great navigational puzzle. Romeo took me along the back ends of the cars. He stopped at every gap and pointed at it, then continued to the next car. We reached the last car. There was an empty space in the corner, then the pumphouse, then another empty space, and then another row of parked cars.
Romeo dutifully took me into the corner and around the pumphouse. My plan was to go the spot where his kennel used to be, hoping he would relieve himself there. Of course, the shortest way was to cross the gap between the corner of the pumphouse and the nearest car. But it was a large gap. Romeo did not cross but took me into the gap. He followed along the pumphouse to the fence, turned right and followed the fence. Now we were walking between the fence and the parked cars. The opening was wide, then it narrowed where one of the cars was parked much closer to the fence than others. Romeo stopped, turned right and followed along the front bumpers of the cars, pointing at every opening. None of them was wide enough, so he took me to the end of the row, around the last car, along the back bumpers, and finally to the spot where the kennel used to be. He did not want to use it as a bathroom though. I told him to cross and we went to the barn to one of the stalls. He took care of the business in a matter of seconds.
We went back to the house as it began to rain. At that time, people started coming out. Apparently, the lunch was over. A bunch of children wanted to pet Romeo. I instructed them to approach from the side and scratch his shoulder as I reinforced him for keeping his head straight. I decided to adopt this strategy described by Alexandra, since Romeo turned out to be much less tolerant of people's affection than we initially thought. His ears stayed back but there were no swipes taken at the children.
Everyone was now walking to the round pen, and we followed the crowd. An elderly man approached Romeo with an outstretched hand. I felt bad, but I had to tell him to please not pet Romeo. It seemed that Romeo got all the petting he could tolerate for the time being. This large gathering of people made me aware of what to prepare Romeo for. I saw, like in slow motion, people approaching and reaching for Romeo's head without saying anything or asking me, blocking our way in the process. His irresistible cuteness seemed to put them in some kind of a daze. They all seemed startled when my voice came warning them not to pet him, and they seemed even more surprised at the notion that he was working.
We were walking to the barn the same way we did earlier, and I was curious whether or not Romeo would skip the dead end openings in the corner. He still guided me into the first opening, before the corner. When we went around the pumphouse and stopped at the second opening, Romeo considered the situation and took me straight to the first parked car, skipping the dead end corner. I was thrilled. Then he walked along the line of cars to the round pen.

We have stayed a little too long, and Romeo was quickly becoming unglued. He rushed forward and kicked going by the barn, and then again, as we walked by my horses' pasture and they started to run. He was having a temper tantrum, like a child who stayed up way past his bedtime. I felt bad for him and apologized for not being considerate of his needs. As soon as he was in his kennel and had a chance to relieve himself, he nickered and parked up to me. He was ready for more work! I was not. I settled him in with some Happy Hoof and hurried to the house, longing for some warmth and food.
Later in the evening, I took him to the house and we worked on picking up feet. He had been letting me pick them up, but now I wanted more participation from him. He was, as always, a fast learner. We did one mini-session on the porch and then another in the house, and he started lifting front leg on a verbal cue. With hind feet, he had been letting me pry them off the ground. Now, in a few minutes, he was picking a foot up when I slid my hand down his leg.
As always, he did not want to leave the house.

December 16, 2007
Meg and Nash visited us today. We took Romeo inside. He surprised me by wanting to socialize with everyone. There was a point when I was in the kitchen and everyone else in the living room, and Romeo left my side and joined others. He definitely sees through people. He was completely comfortable with Meg, Erich, and Nash.
As we talked, I worked a little on the pose (or ears forward, if he offered that), then reviewed picking up feet. From there, I held his front leg, supporting his knee and reinforced him first for just letting me do that, then for relaxing as I moved his knee back a little. It would be good to teach him to lie down eventually. When he relaxed his knee into my hand, he also lowered his head.
I went back to reinforcing just standing at my side, when he started offering to lower his head. That was cool. I was able to shape nose all the way to the floor before we put him back in his pen.

December 17, 2007
In the morning, I took Romeo for a walk to the mailboxes. It was very cold and a little windy. I saw that Romeo had some extra energy of a nonconstructive nature. On the way back, he started trotting, then twisted his head and threw a couple of kicks. Back in the yard, I led him in a circle a few steps setting him to orbit me. It looked like he needed to blow off some steam. He twisted his head, reared up and did some airs above the ground. His hind feet flew uncomfortably close to my leg.
I let him loose thinking he might want to run some more, but he started grazing. I put him back in his kennel. This rambunctious behavior was something that had been surfacing a little here and there lately. I would not have been concerned about it at all had it been not for the stallion factor. This preconception about stallions being this and that made me regard this behavior with unease. On the one hand, it was a cold day, and a two-year-old horse naturally felt like frolicking and kicking up his heels. But - he is a stallion…
On our later walk, he was perfectly well-behaved. We went to the barn and I let him take me on a walk of his choosing. He did not seem to have any doubt as to where he wanted to go. It was around our familiar places but not the routes we usually take. He followed the shoreline most of the time. As long as he did, I let him choose the path.
We took another walk in the afternoon to check the mail. He started trotting in the same spot he did in the morning, but it was not out of control. Erich just pulled up to the house. I had told Romeo on one or two occasions before to "find Erich", to which he responded by targeting him. I told him to find Erich again, as Erich stepped out of the car. Romeo took me to the car and hesitated a bit: the car was a familiar target. Then he targeted Erich's hand. Coincidence? He seemed quite deliberate about it.
I took him to the house after dark. We did some hoof trimming on the porch. He was just a little overly alert. He seemed to be hearing the mares in the pasture across the driveway, and it seemed to disturb him. He could not concentrate enough to find the door handle. I decided not to push the issue and let him in anyway.
In the house, he seemed still a little uneasy at first. I asked and he said that he was afraid of the night. We went to the kitchen to cut up a carrot, and he gradually settled, parking up to my leg.
We worked on the previous lessons: picking up feet, holding up a foot in preparation to lying down, head down, and the pose. I also practiced a different way of coming to the heel position: from the front and going around the handler, instead of swinging the hip. I started this on Sunday, as Meg and I thought about the "Panda catch" and that she goes around the handler to get to the heel spot. I first did it with targeting, and then started to merge the steps to where he would start going around my right side by himself.
Erich and I played Romeo catch for a few minutes. At first, Romeo was very hesitant to leave my side. Erich used his hand as a target after calling him. We had the beginnings of the new game: two times, Romeo completed the recall to Erich by parking up to him.
He was very interested in head down and volunteered a lot of it. After doing it for a few minutes, I wanted to switch to shaping the pose. I had to increase my rate of reinforcement to capture the moment before he dropped his head. This is still in the beginning stages. I was sitting on the floor with him (hard to resist the bonus feature of being able to see his face up close), and for him it was different from me sitting in the chair, in which situation he offers a little chin tuck. We ended by transferring head down to a rope cue. Then I tucked him in.

December 18, 2007
This morning, we took a walk to the mailbox and back, and he wanted to trot. After a few strides of trot, he would twist his head and feel like bucking. I had two conflicting feelings about it: one - he is unsafe!, - the other - this is finally the energy and exuberance that was so prominently missing! I felt that I went with the flow of it. I saw that if I let him trot a little too long, he would get too rambunctious and start pulling. Then he did not want to yield to the lead rope and give me lateral flexion. Waiting for it to happen was OK, but then I had a distinctive feeling that I was making him do it and missing something subtle but important that was going on. It felt much more organic to let him trot a little, then click and treat before his emotions became overwhelming. So we proceeded in this manner, and he was trotting longer and longer stretches (for me it was just a brisk walk) without getting excited. After a click, I fed him so that he would take a step back. Then nice things started happening. He rated the speed of his little trot if he felt the slack beginning to go out of the rope. His ears were up. We approached the first speed bump jogging, he smoothly slowed down and stopped. I knew then that I made the right choice.
But the best part was when I turned him loose in the round pen. At first he stood there, as always, and I almost thought he was going to park up to me like he usually does. I ran to the opposite side of the round pen. There was a pause, and then off he went like a little furry rocket! He bucked and he kicked and he sped around and around, with his platinum blond hair flying behind him. He would do sliding stops and motor the other way. I was laughing and cheering. I swear, it was one of the happiest moments I ever shared with any living creature. I had wanted so much to see him run and enjoy his aliveness, animalness, and horsiness, because he had always been so dutiful, as if this was not allowed. I felt that we shared a very special moment together.
After all that running, he stopped, sniffed the sand, investigated the fence, looked at me. I called him. He came at a trot, slowed down, click and treat, and he parked up to my leg, as ready to work as ever. He even showed off one of the top ten on his list: head down. I was in awe! Part of me was concerned about this new energy in him, but he was so clearly and obviously able to switch from complete wildness to total concentration. We walked back home, he was completely content, leading up with his ears forward.
I know a lot of people would criticize me for letting him get away with... and so on. I felt like this morning brought me and Romeo closer together in amazing ways.

Later, we went for another walk, and both enjoyed the consequences of Romeo's finding his second gear. He would speed up and slow down together with me without changing the loop in the rope. That was so cool. I was so glad for having trusted him so that now he can trust me.

December 19, 2007
We took our walk in the morning. When we come out of the gate in the fence that I set up, we encounter an overhead obstacle that I have not been able to successfully navigate. It is a Bradford pear tree that grows in our yard. At this time of the year, the leaves are gone, and Romeo doesn't seem to be aware of the bare branches blocking my way. I always pretend to get poked and make a sound of distress, at which he selects a different route and takes me clear of the branches. To add difficulty to the puzzle, there is grass under the tree, and, although Romeo never gets completely stuck there, he does get distracted from navigation in favor of a bite to eat. Although we encounter this obstacle every day, I am aware that he is only taking me around it because of my cues, not because he understands the puzzle.
We went to the mailbox, and it felt like Romeo wanted a little exercise, but as soon as I turned him out in the yard, he made himself busy grazing. We walked to the barn. He did a little trotting if I moved up to a brisk walk, but did not seem to be as energized as yesterday. In the round pen, he stuck to me and did not feel like running wild. I would not be surprised if he feels a little sore!
We practiced head lowering with a rope cue and gives of the jaw. At this stage, he thinks that everything is about head lowering when it comes to the rope. He gets frustrated and tries to pull his nose to the ground despite of my hand asking for something else. I wanted the gives to become more solid so that I could apply them in motion. He gets a little stiff and high-headed going into a trot, and I want him to become softer and rounder, not only as the means to rate his speed but also for his body's sake. After some gives at the halt, we moved into a walk, and when I asked for a give, it was right there. He also stepped over a just a bit. Very nice.
We had been practicing moving off the road when cars approached on the driveway. He is becoming lighter and more fluid at it. In the round pen, I worked on both of these exercises on his left side as well. He is stiffer there. When I asked for backing in a circle, he dug in his shoulders as if the axis of the Earth passed through them. He even reared up repeatedly letting me know that this part of his body was not to be moved. Although he outweighs me by seven pounds, according to the vet office scale (hard to believe!), I only chuckled and held my Tai Chi rope firm. Imagine a big horse doing that! Eventually, he got the hang of it, and the shoulders started stepping over.
I was planning to spend a lot of time at the computer, since the weather gave me a break from appointments with clients. I invited Romeo in and he hung out in the living room with me for three hours or so, with an occasional potty break outside. He stationed himself by my chair, and I managed to concentrate on what I was writing while keeping him on a sufficient rate of reinforcement.
He was not so eager to follow me to the kitchen. He would try to position himself by the chair and look at me. When that didn't work, he would try to park by one of the car seats that we use as easy chairs, since I sit in one of them too when I read.
When my daughter Masha came from school, he came out to the kitchen and followed her to the refrigerator and back, as she was making herself lunch. He targeted a bottle of balsamic vinaigrette on the fridge door, making us laugh. I let him explore the human world while I made some tea. He stood with a thoughtful expression near Masha for some time, then parked up to her. I laughed and thought it was a good sign that he was willing to do this with another human, seemingly as the means of communication.
Today is exactly a month since Romeo started his training. A good time to assess our progress. He is getting solid on following the shoreline and navigating some obstacles. He is not guiding yet. Sometimes he blows past landmarks and gets sidetracked by grass. We have not mastered overheads. He points objects, marks corners, finds doors, handles, car and mailbox. He is quite solid in the heel position. He is comfortable traveling in the guiding position. He goes up and down low stairs and is comfortable and well-behaved in the house. He gets in and out of the car using the ramp and likes car rides. He eliminates in his kennel when hearing the verbal cue, provided he is ready. He is not solid on house training, since the elimination is not truly on cue and he still thinks that car makes a good bathroom. He is learning to be more aware of his body and is feeling more confident living in it. He is confident on slippery surfaces and with people around him. He needs to learn to accept physical contact from strangers. Ah yes: he is comfortable when I touch his face or wipe his eyes, he shows his pleasure when I scratch his itchy spots, he picks up his feet for cleaning, he stands for grooming, he puts his head in the halter… Big deal? Yes: he is learning how this world operates and gains confidence from knowing that he has the power to control the outcome.
What else? I adore him… Wait, let's not mix the issues!

December 20, 2007
The exercise pen arrived yesterday. As I am writing this, Romeo is working on his Happy Hoof in the pen, which I set up in the living room. Making quite a mess on the carpet.
When I groomed him on the porch, I suddenly realized that his potbelly is not bulging nearly as much as usual. When I pressed down the thick fur on his belly, a definite tuck was evident. And the sides were not as pudgy as I remember just from yesterday. It seems to have happened overnight! At the same time, his hindquarters have just a little more flesh on them, and the back doesn't seem to be quite as ribby.
As I poked at his left hind frog with the hoofpick, checking a loose flap, he flexed his joints just a little. My heart immediately started pounding. The same was true of the front foot. He was by no means sore on any surface. And I might have not noticed the same before, since he is becoming ever more quiet and relaxed with me cleaning out his feet. He was good before, but he would move and fidget occasionally.

I spent the rest of the day at working at Violet's and then at Judy's.
I was coming home when it already started getting dark. I checked in with Romeo, and he sounded desperate. He said he was not hungry, but it seemed that he only said so because something else was a bigger concern. He said he was scared. I asked what he was scared of, and he said: "You left me!"
Arrow and Ogeechee were not happy with me either. Arrow barely answered me, and before I could ask a question, he said: "Where were you?" Ogeechee declared that he didn't even want to talk to me. When I parked the car and went to the door, however, he admitted that he was actually glad to see me.

December 21, 2007
Today was gray, wet, and drizzly. I took Romeo for a walk to the mailbox and then spent a few minutes in the yard approximating some lunging. I asked him to go forward and thought of trotting. He was up to it, so he trotted as I let the rope direct him in a circle. I clicked and treated for a small section of a circle. Counterclockwise direction was harder, and after a few clicks he was not interested in trotting.
I let him spend three or so hours in the house with me. I set up the pen for him and brought a big feed pan that I had bought for my horses. It is spill-proof and worked a lot better for the carpet. Mostly, I let him stand by the chair.
He enjoyed being in the house. He was more curious about things and took little trips to investigate. He was interested in checking out the bedroom, and I had to close the door, afraid that the dogs would scare him.
After about an hour, I took him outside to the pile of shavings I put in the backyard. I could have taken him to his kennel, but I wanted to research the "stuck away from home" scenario. He only wanted to get to the grass. We stood there several minutes, a long time considering the unpleasant weather. Arrow came to say hello. He is really fascinated by Romeo. They sniffed noses, and Romeo wiggled his upper lip on Arrow's nose. Arrow was very gentle with him. Romeo seemed determined not to use the shavings pile, so we went back to the house.
I kept an eye on him while making lunch, then took him out again. He was once more interested in grass. I had to slide down the rope and return him to the shavings over and over again. I mostly did not click for putting the slack back in the rope. Maybe it was a mistake, but I did not want him to think tat this was about standing on the pile of shavings. Eventually, he obliged me. He urinated first, and then, after some failed attempts to reach grass, he defecated. A handful of carrot pieces for both!
We went back to the house and stayed there until Erich came home. I moved the car seats to make room for Romeo to park, and we worked on parking up to the chair. This chair confused him, because it was close to aquarium before I moved it. He still was hesitant to swing his hindquarters to the chair, since he was used to them bumping into the aquarium stand. I kept shaping small steps, and he finally parked perfectly. He was excited about it. He is actually starting to offer a little chin tuck as one of the options. There is extra spark in his performance, his ears are alive with searching and wondering, his eyes are finally reflecting his lively and intelligent nature. He looks so different now. He is really enjoying himself. He owns what he knows and is so much more interactive and personable. He let me give him a big scratch on the neck and really enjoyed it.
He did not like Erich or Masha close to him on his left side. He gave Erich a mock kick when Erich tried to feel for the changes in his body shape. I reinforced Romeo for keeping his head straight, but could not anticipate the kick. Luckily, he did not mean to make contact. Later, he made a swipe at Masha with his teeth when she approached from behind. There is a lot of work to be done there. He is so tolerant of me messing with him that I will need assistants for teaching him to tolerate people more gracefully.

December 22, 2007
Another gray day with on and off drizzle. Masha asked us to give her a ride to her friend's house, and I jumped on the opportunity to give Romeo another van experience. This was not a long trip, and Erich agreed to drive, so I could sit in the back with Romeo and monitor him closely.
At the van, Romeo made a couple of cautious approaches to the ramp, then got right in. I sat in the back seat, with Romeo facing me, and I was wondering if riding this way would be disorienting for him, but he enjoyed the ride and showed no inclination ti turn and face the front. He also balanced quite well through turns, speedups and slowdowns. We pulled up at the gas station, and he looked around winningly. I had an impression that he thought he could drive a car. When Erich stepped out to fill the gas tank, he looked at him and nickered. I think he is starting to treat us as his family. At least it seems that Erich is clearly included.
I used the van time to work on facing forward and either ears forward or a chin tuck. He seemed compelled to look to the sides, and when he did face forward, he raised his head excitedly. We did not make much headway, but it kept me smiling the entire ride. It was so delightful to watch him up close going through all the changes of expression in his face. He did not show any inclination to use the van for a bathroom. I took him to the shavings pile in the backyard. This time, he clearly knew what he was supposed to do. He made one attempt to urinate and several to drop a pile, but it just did not seem to work. I took him to his kennel, and he did it right away.
Erich and I went for a walk with Romeo. He was up to trotting, so we could enjoy a brisk walk. We went to the round pen and turned him loose. I was hoping he would want to run, but he didn't. He followed me around, then discovered a lunge whip someone left on the ground. He went to investigate it, and I clicked him for targeting. I held the whip so that he would not get sand in his mouth. In just a few clicks, he was opening his mouth around it. I thought we could start working on retrieve soon.
I experimented with circling at liberty. He followed the familiar motion of sliding my hands apart. We even had some steps of trotting. He also was confused or concerned at times about the whip touching his hindquarters and turned around to look at it instead of going forward. This is something to work on.
For now though, I wanted him to explore on his own. I withdrew myself, letting him have some private space. He had been digging the sand, so it looked like he wanted to roll. I did not want the magnetic pull of the heel position to distract him. Finally, after much sniffing, wiggling his lip in the sand, and digging, he buckled at the knees and was down. Click, and I gave him a treat as he lay comfortably in the sand. I kept clicking and treating as fast as I could. He looked pleasantly surprised. Then I stepped away and let him roll. He sniffed around for a few minutes, then went down again, got more clicks and treats.
When he got up, he looked thoroughly content. He looked around, tried to follow me, but I kept my distance by stepping away. I could see that if I gave him space, he might find more enjoyable things to do. Next, he came up to Erich. He sniffed him but not as in looking for treats. He just wanted to spend time with a friend. I wished I had a camera, it was such a warm, peaceful moment that they enjoyed. Erich started scratching Romeo's neck, and Romeo surrendered himself to the ecstasy. His lip stretched out, and he pressed himself into Erich's hand. At one point, he put his head under Erich's arm and was wiggling his nose on Erich's jacket.
After that, he walked off and took another roll. More clicks and treats to lying down. Now he was satisfactorily dirty. He walked along the fence blissfully, sniffing the sand. Then he discovered grass on the other side of the fence. That was too much to resist. He stuck his head out and forgot about everything else. Soon, he was practically crawling out of the fence, with his neck and shoulders out and his feet sunk deep in the wet sand. That looked neither safe nor constructive to me. I called him. He came and parked up to me, then left to hunt for grass again. I called him again and clipped the lead rope onto his halter. It was time to go.
Romeo was not happy at all. He looked like a kid being forced to leave the playground. He lagged behind and dug in his heels several times along the way back home. I wanted us to follow Erich to introduce a new skill into Romeo's repertoire. It was the wrong time to do it! Once we reached the paved driveway, he resigned himself to the inevitability of going back home, but he was not happy. I aligned us so that he would follow Erich, and he expressed his disagreement in pinning his ears and using the back part of his body to press Erich off the edge of the driveway that was so rightfully his own! He was also rushing forward and pulling on the rope, not much, but a lot more than I would consider light contact. I kept asking for gives of the jaw, clicking for any hint of lightness. Things began to lighten up. Romeo was no longer pushing Erich off the road and could walk for about 20 strides following him. I thought this was as good as he could manage in his state of intense disappointment. I let him follow his edge, which helped him settle into a better emotional state.
In the evening, I took him to the house. I have no doubt that he wants to live with us and it feels humorous and sad all at the same time pretending to not understand his claims. He eagerly parked himself to the chair and we worked on the pose. His energy was practically pushing him up off the floor. He kept reparking to press himself tighter to me, and his head and ears were bouncing with an effort to outdo himself. He parked right against the wall with his hind end, which was very good, meaning he was not afraid of being in this close space. I rewarded every tuck of the chin that he offered, as well as ears forward. He was pushing himself up and squaring up his feet. This made me think how much his body had changed since he first arrived. His neck was arched and he was lifting his back, which almost had the first hints of topline forming. And he was so into the game!
Soon it was time for him to go back to his pen, and I had an impression that he was doing his best to postpone it. He went over and targeted the rope that I left on the floor. He offered to pick it up. This was such an excellent beginning that I had to make an effort not to follow up. He went over and "found Erich". He found my slipper. He followed my leg forward and back, moved laterally to and away from it.
I felt almost guilty taking him out to his kennel, where he had to spand the night alone, with only remote horses for company. Luckily, he was excited to get his late snack of Happy Hoof.
December 23, 2007
It rained all through the night, then started clearing up at around 11 and the wind picked up. I took Romeo out planning to bring him to the house, but he was so wet and dirty having rolled in his kennel that I thought some grazing would give him time to get dry. I was out with him in the yard, when all the horses took of running. Romeo did not wait to follow their suit. He took off, bucking and kicking, towards the fence in the back of the house. For a moment, I was concerned about him running into it, since, I have to admit, it was almost invisible. But there was no fooling Romeo. A few feet before the fence, he slammed on the brakes, popped up into the air and took off the other way. By the time I got to the gate of his enclosure, he was at the back of it, looking at the horses. Then he took off, slowing down only to get through the narrow space between the kennel and the fence, galloped through the gate and across the yard. He took a few laps, kicking up his heels and making little excited sounds. I happened to have the camera with me this time and snapped a few pictures. The big horses settled down and came over to the water trough, Romeo settled to graze by the pear tree. All of them hung out together for a while. It was sunny and windy by now, a bright day full of energy. I could see the lights standing over the horses' backs. Where the house blocked the wind, it was warm. I stood watching the horses, grateful to be alive in this world.
We played the find game later in the house. Romeo was finding Erich, the slipper, the box, the door, and the door handle. He loved it. I had to give him clues by initiating the movement in the right direction, but he is getting very good at it. I don't think it would be long until he can discriminate between objects.
We spent some time shaping ears forward. It felt like the light bulb finally went on. He would think and then suddenly both ears would flip forward. It took a while to get to this moment, and it will take some more time to achieve consistency, but he seemed to finally understand what this was about.
I went to the kitchen to cut a carrot for him. He followed me but then went back to the room. He likes it there a lot more than in the kitchen. I watched him from the doorway. He walked around thoughtfully, targeted Erich at the computer, went over to the box, the door, nosed the book I left on the chair, then stood in the middle of the floor, deep in thought. His lips and nose were microwiggling. Hew moved on slowly with his nose to the floor, then kicked towards his belly a few times. He was clearly thinking about lying down but was in doubt. Then he stared at me brightly with ears forward. Came up, click and treat. Went back to the middle of the floor. Stood for a while by Erich, almost dozing off. It seemed to me that the warmth of the house made him drowsy and feeling like taking a nap. I would have loved for him to lie down, but I did not dare to click for pre-lying down behaviors, because clicks make him snap into the training mode and he becomes too awake and determined to be thinking about a nap. He went through several cycles of pawing sniffing and almost going down, but then opted for coming up to me. I thought that maybe a personal example would inspire him and lay down in the living room. It made me giggle to have Romeo standing over me and tickling me with his nose. All of a sudden I had a big horse view of him: from below. He was intrigued by me lying down. He pawed the floor by me, nuzzled and tickled my face, ears, hair, clothing, licked my hands. I scratched his itchy spots, to his delight. Finally, I gave up on the idea of him lying down. As soon as I sat up, he parked up to me and nickered under his breath, ready to work as always.
It was bout time to take him out for a potty break. I thought we could tackle the "big" stairs on the front porch. I started with the target, then just reinforced his efforts to go down. Unfortunately, we did not make any progress. At one point, I tried stepping down holding the lead rope at my core, like we did with the side stairs, but this was not a good strategy. He really needed a potty break now, but he refused to jump off the opposite side, like he did before. I took him through the house and to the side steps.

December 24, 2007
I trimmed some horses at Violet's in the morning, and when I came home and put some hay out for the horses, Arrow saw the neighbors across the road transferring trash from their shed into a big dumpster. This triggered one of his panic episodes, and it was not until a couple of hours later that I finally felt that I could leave and he would be OK.
So all that Romeo got today was a short walk in the morning, to the mailbox as usual, and a longer one to the barn and back in the evening. Incidentally, the mail lady did not seem to notice him. It makes me wonder how Romeo appears to be invisible as far as some people are concerned. A notable thing happened on the way from the barn: I was lost in thought and walked right over the speed bump, only to encounter the sudden jerk on the rope: Romeo was firmly planted at the speed bump, awaiting for his click.
After dark, when the dogs were in their going to bed mode, I brought Romeo in. I was going to work on my long overdue paper awaiting publication, my last loose end with science. This was a perfect opportunity for Romeo to stand by the chair for a long time, something he needs to learn how to do.
I asked Erich to take a few pictures, and in the process, one of Romeo's tendencies called for attention: as Erich moved by his left side, Romeo took a swipe at him and actually pinched him on the leg. The same behavior he threatened other people with. It only surfaces when he is in a heel position and a person approaches on his left.
Erich agreed to help addressing this. I stationed with Romeo at halt, with his lead rope without an excessive loop in it, so that if he wanted to take a swipe, his head motion would be limited. Erich simulated the approach, and I waited for Romeo to go from a nasty face with ears back to an ears-forward and looking ahead, then click and treat. Thank to yesterday ears forward breakthrough, this was not hard for him. He only had to control his hostile reaction and manifest the target behavior to get a click. When this was working, Erich gradually moved on to petting him on the shoulder, and Romeo got clicked for standing with nose straight and ears forward. We made some headway and ended that part of training as I went to work on the paper and Romeo back to standing at my side.

December 25, 2007
Took Romeo for a walk to the round pen. In the round pen, he rolled a few times and did a lot of exploration. He did not stay stuck to me like he used to. I contemplated how this seems to be a regression if one were to adopt a narrow viewpoint. To me it was a natural part of a healthy progression. I sensed before that part of the reason he stuck to me so firmly was his insecurity in the big world. It was good to see him gain enough confidence that he did not feel that he had to be by me. I may need to rebuild some of the behaviors that were so easy before, like liberty "heeling", but now they would be resting on a firmer foundation. Romeo has been unfolding like a flower before my very eyes, radiating with new liveliness and confidence.
We were planning to take Romeo to a party we got invited to, but when everything was ready, he refused to go up the ramp. I had a feeling that it was not going to work, just from the looks of it. I asked him, and he said he did not want to go in the van. He offered no further explanations, so all I could do was put him away. It turned out later that he had a very valid reason, on more than one plane, but I was not to find out until after the party.
Reason one (and he said it was not the main reason) is that the episode when he was stuck at the top of the stairs traumatized him. I broke his trust by putting him in a bad situation. So he did not trust me with the ramp. And I did get impatient when he refused to load. I felt the angry, pushy energy rising up in me. Thankfully, I put him away before I went too far, but I did feel like I pushed and pulled on him. Sorry, Romeo.

Brought Romeo to the house later in the evening. We played with the hula-hoop: he quickly went from touching it to picking it up. He loved the game. We also worked on the pose: he is starting to offer the hints of it. After about an hour and a half, I took him out to his kennel for a potty break. On the way there, he surprised me by trying to nip my leg. We went back to the side porch, but he refused to go up the steps. This was strange, but I did not insist. I took him to the kennel and settled him for the night.

December 26, 2007
Took Romeo for a walk to the barn. I put the harness on him. He seemed a little more hesitant to trot with it on. He was also extra distracted and going for the grass endlessly. This was the first time when I had to direct him back to the edge, because he wandered off. We went to a gooseneck trailer to practice overheads. He almost took me under the gooseneck, and I slammed my hand on it for dramatic effect (could not bear to run into it with my face!). On the second presentation, he took me straight.
We played in the round pen, and he explored, rolled, and played in the puddles. He stayed with me more than yesterday. On the way back, he started going for my leg, like last night, and then quite suddenly reared up. He seemed ready for a boxing match. He did not seem aggressive, just feisty. He did it two more times. The last time, I just took him by his front feet and we stood together, then I lowered him down. I asked him for head down. He was pushing into my hand, then lowered his head. We did it a few times, then resumed the walk.
He did not want to come to the house when I asked him in the evening, and was not inclined to talk. He seemed unusually reserved. I pried it out of him that the changes in his body and behavior were disturbing to him. I talked to him about it, giving my considerations of the challenge. I thought that together we could work at positively redirecting all the vital energy that was now manifesting in his body so that it would be aligned with his mission. He seemed to be cheered up by that prospect, although he was doubtful. I shared my plan about working with him on the ramp, starting again by laying it on the ground and progressing to the van gradually. I also wanted to work on Tai Chi rope exercises as the means to channel his energy constructively when he gets feisty. He felt apprehensive but said that he trusted me to be his guide.
I noticed that Romeo's voice changed in our conversations. He sounds more serious, and I had not heard an insult form him in a while.

December 27, 2007
Have been thinking about the "phantom of the stallion" presented by Romeo. I had privately hoped that he could do this work and remain a stallion. I think that deep inside I would like to prove to the world that stallions can be good citizens despite of testosterone. Romeo's recent (mis)behavior took the rug, or large part of it, from under my feet. Considering that he is to be Renata's guide, her and his safety come first before any of my conceptual ideas. And whether or not I can make him safe as a stallion, I don’t know.
I have little doubt that his leg nipping and rearing are young stallion play fighting behaviors. He must be close to three years of age now, and games of assertion are to be expected from any young horse this age. But the stallion aspect of it gives me a knee-jerk reaction scare. All the bad things that Ed ever said about stallions being mean-spirited, deceptive, unreliable, unpredictable, aggressive, came to my mind at once. Would I have been so alarmed if the same behavior surfaced in a mare or a gelding? Unlikely. I would have simply treated it as a training puzzle. With the "phantom of the stallion" looming over me, I feel double pressure: that of insuring Renata's safety and that of people's judgment and disapproval.
I don't know where I stand in regard to the question of spaying and neutering. I do understand the practical consideration behind it in case of unwanted pets. Gelding stallions also makes sense, considering the danger they can present. But there is something about it that subtly irks me. There is just something wrong about the only intact males around being of my own species, not counting wildlife. Is it this overbearing desire to dominate and control that humans are notable for and that is so prominent in the American society? If you cannot control it, disempower it. And this leads to the next issue: how do we alter animal's spiritual evolution by altering its sex? Esoteric teachings talk about the transformational power of sex energy if correctly channeled. Wouldn't that apply to animals?
In talking to Romeo, he has been adamant about gelding him. He thinks that too much male energy stands in the way of his mission as a guide. Does it have to be so? I don't have the freedom to experiment, however. I need to do what is right for Renata's safety. If it is not right for her, it cannot be right, period.
We started the day by taking a walk. Erich went with us. Romeo had a biting and rearing episode, then settled into the walk. I don't have a strategy yet. I grasp his front legs when he is in the air, and when he starts feeling earthbound, I lower him to the ground. I usually try to ask for something like head down or backing. It often feels like a fight for a few seconds, until he gives in. I would like to have a less confrontational strategy. I thought that if I wore my riding chaps I would be safe from bites, and this would allow me to ignore his nipping at my legs. I feel that if I don't reinforce this behavior by reacting to it, something I can't help when I know that the integrity of my skin is threatened, it will eventually go extinct.
When I turned Romeo loose in the round pen and we stood outside, he took a roll, came over trying to engage me, saw that I was not coming, considered this for a few seconds, and then took off kicking and bucking, making lap after lap as fast as he could go. With this much energy to spend, no wonder he was popping up! All the horses started running too, giving him another boost of energy.
Having satisfied his need for wild and crazy, he came to where I was standing, poking his nose between the rails and looking at me longingly, his nostrils quivering in an inaudible nicker. I had some reservations as I entered the round pen, such an unfamiliar feeling with Romeo, such a familiar one from my experience training big horses. The first thing he did was go for my leg in a mock bite, then rear up. I caught and held his front foot and lowered it to the ground. He parked up to me and we walked together. He did some sniffing and digging, leaving me briefly, but then came back for more heeling game. Shortly after, we took him back home, and he was perfectly content and well-behaved the entire way.
I proceeded as planned with the ramp work. I set it on the pavement by the car and brought Romeo out. He engaged briefly in leg biting, but I did my best to just keep walking, and he opted for returning to the guiding position, earning a click and a pellet of grain. The ramp did not present any difficulty on the ground or propped on the steps. The van was a different story. We were starting from the square one again. I targeted him up a step or two, then reinforced any volunteered progress. He was interested enough to continue trying, but did not even attempt stepping off the ramp into the van. I thought how odd it was that I kept offering him easier and easier options for loading, from jumping in, to the platform, to the ramp, and he would try and then reject them one by one. Just to think that initially he jumped into the van after less then ten minutes of targeting! He likes the rides, so they are not likely to blame for his reluctance to load. It seems that ever smaller obstacles, in our case now, a less-than-an-inch step down into the van, were sufficient deterrents for him to reject the whole deal altogether.
We got to the top of the ramp, and I used the Tai Chi rope lightly and successfully to have him step forward with hind legs, which he otherwise left parked out behind him. I decided that this was enough success for now and time for a break.
I pondered my options. I wanted to have my chaps from the barn, but I did not want to interrupt the flow of our work. A walk was in order. I put on my farriers apron, hoping that not too many people would see us on the way to the barn.
Speaking of farrier stuff - I trimmed him hooves again, since the outer wall started bending and forming "hangnails". His feet look so much better with regular touch-ups and exercise. The entire hoof capsule is still long, but he is reworking it into a functional shape. The frogs have shedded and now look brand new and healthy. The heels are getting lower. All I have to do is roll the wall at the toe and quarters. The rings and bruises are growing out.
So we started on our walk, I wearing my strange attire. I made use of it pretty soon. As we started on a straightaway to the bend in the driveway, he planted his feet as a demand for letting him graze, then caught up with me and started making stabs at my legs, snaking his head from the front. He wanted grass, and this seemed to be his new way of expressing his irritation. I kept walking. He got angrier with every step, now grabbing and holding the leather covering my leg with his teeth. When this did not stop me, he hung back, where I knew my legs were not protected. I drew him forward, and he popped up in the air. Once he rears up, he does not try to bite. I backed him up in this upright position and let him lower himself to the ground. I felt myself clenching my teeth as he kept twisting his head and pushing into my hand. I held until he stepped over with his shoulders. It was the hardest thing not to get into a battle of wills with him. He got his click and treat for stepping over, I asked again, he was a little lighter. After two or three more clicks, I let him park into position, and we continued the walk. I took him to a grassy spot and let him graze for a few minutes. For the rest of the walk, he was perfect. He did not insist on pulling me into the grass, the latest and unexpected tendency that emerged together with his new feistiness.
The way our session turned out gave me hope to resolve the rearing issue in a due course. I was just hoping that no one sees him in a full-blown rear or trying to nip at my legs. This is a fear of judgment and criticism. I am not doubting my plan of letting this behavior play out while observing and trying the strategies that work best. It is the encumbering thoughts of other people "out there" that trouble me. I can just hear them saying: "…Fed him treats… no consequences for bad behavior… created a monster…" I cannot put the pictures of Romeo rearing up on Picasa for our clicker clinic group to see, because I fear it will make people doubt. Interesting to observe this in myself. Would it not be more educational and empowering to people to see the whole story: the problem, the search, and the eventual solution. A positive, clicker-compatible solution. What would Alexandra do?
In the evening, I talked to Romeo, and he sounded more upbeat that he has been lately. He felt positive about our session. It gave him confidence that his frisky behavior (which seems to trouble him as much as it does me) can be controlled without harshness on my part. He wanted to come inside. I took him in and we worked on head down, the pose, shoulder yield, and picking up the hula-hoop. The latter was hilarious, because he really enjoyed picking it up and flailing it around. He seems to be a born retriever. This will be useful for picking up things for Renata.
At night, Romeo is always cautious outside. Every noise puts him on the alert. He tries to stay as close to me as he can, which presents minor problems when I want to clean his feet! On the way back to the kennel, he stated going for my leg, and I blocked his head with Tai Chi rope. He almost seemed relieved and proceeded taking me cheerfully to the kennel.

December 28, 2007
Did our regular walks and play time in the round pen. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. The only rearing episode occurred when we first walked out of the kennel. He started nipping at my leg and then reared up. I was curious to see what he would do if I did not interfere. I usually instinctively put my arms out to intercept his feet, but really, he is not striking at me or acting aggressively. I turned my shoulder (I am only realizing it now - it is very hard to remember and report actions that happened at an instinctive level) and let him proceed with what he was doing. He rested his front legs against my body. Apparently, this was all he wanted to do. I looked down to see if he had an erection, but he did not. This was just like the mock mounting behavior that I have seen in colts and fillies at play. They would mount or straddle their playmate from the side. I have not seen leg biting during play, but I have read about it and saw illustrations of it in a book I have by Sue McDonnell, "A practical guide to horse behavior". According to her, leg biting is a part of intermale interactions, both playful and competitive. She has numerous pictures of young bachelor stallions engaging in it.
This helps to put Romeo's behavior into context. He would probably play these games with equine playmates, if he had any. As it stands, I am his only friend he has any kind of meaningful interactions with at this time. Not very good for him, but there is nothing we can change about it. This helps me understand that Romeo's behavior is completely normal and healthy for a horse his age. It goes along with other signs of well-being and increased vitality that he shows. It is, of course, completely unacceptable with a human handler, especially with Renata.
My task, then, is to think of ways to manage Romeo's healthy energy and to teach him to express it in acceptable ways. I need to ensure he gets his play time and walk time regularly. I need to develop and almost ritualize the means by which sudden outbursts can be channeled into constructive, energy dampening behaviors, such as head down. When I said channeled, I don't mean by the handler. With handler's help, yes, but Romeo needs to be able to go through the entire process of managing this of his own free will and volition. Fortunately, this is what clicker training is all about.
Another important aspect of this is that Romeo's play is contact play. We humans don't touch each other enough and forget that most other creatures cannot thrive in the absence of daily physical contact and tactile interaction with conspecifics. In fact, the other day, when Romeo came to the fence of the round pen, that was what he was trying to tell me: come in and play with me, I don't want to play by myself. And as soon as I stepped in, he tried to engage me in his new game.
I need to think of how to fulfil his need of contact play in acceptable ways. "Panda catch" comes to mind. I think "Romeo catch" is in order. Possibly, more grooming and scratching. I groom him regularly, but the importance of the tactile contact value of it had not occurred to me. I think that teaching him to lie down and be relaxed in the presence of people might be another good thing. I am sure that other things will come to mind as we go along.

December 29, 2007
I kept collecting data on Romeo's new behavior during our time together. In the morning, he was lying down when I came to give him breakfast. This is only the second time I saw him lying down. He got up, nickered and stretched by arching his neck and almost standing on his tiptoes. Then he did a cat stretch.
I turned him out in the enclosure by the kennel for half hour before going to my trimming appointment. When I came to put him back in, he came up to me and, when I ruffled his forelock, he reared up. It seemed that he took my action as an invitation to play.
We went for a walk when I came home. I turned him out in the round pen. I felt that he had energy to spare, but he did not want to leave me. We did some walking at liberty and some Tai Chi rope exercises, then I stepped out, hoping he would run and play. He was disappointed that I left and waited for me to join him. Then he walked around studying the sand. Finally, with a buck and a kick, he exploded into a gallop. He did a few laps in one direction. Stood still for a few seconds, then exploded in other direction. Having satisfied his need for movement, he stood for a while looking into the distance, and I was once again amazed to see how much his body had changed. He was a picture of confidence, and he looked quite proud of himself.
Now he wanted me to come and join him again. I reinforced him for coming, then slapped my knees like I would inviting a dog to play, and he was propelled into another lap at a gallop. We played this game for a few minutes, then I came into the round pen. He was still up to some running, but he also wanted to engage me. He came up running to me and circled and pushed me with his shoulder. I stepped away and stood still. He parked up to me and we walked together. He stuck to me, and I increased my pace until he was trotting. One time he was about to start the leg nipping game. I put my hand against his neck, and when he yielded to it, I asked for head down. He switched gears right away, and dropped his nose to the ground. When I felt that his energy was down, we resumed walking. At one point, he left me, walked over to the mounting block and jumped onto the top step with his front feet. I liked this way of directing his energy.
He made no attempts to nip or rear for the rest of the walk.

December 30, 2007
It rained all day today. I let Romeo graze in the yard when we had a break in the rain. Later we went for a walk in the rain. He took me around the obvious puddles without reminders. We worked on duct tape lessons a little in the barn aisle. The only rearing episode today was when I let him out. He reared briefly as if this was an acceptable greeting.

December 31, 2007
Besides our training walk today, we worked on loading in the van. This went very well. I mainly used free shaping and targeting, plus a little Tai Chi rope help in the final stages. He stepped over the feared edge of the ramp into the van, finally. The edge is actually 1.5 inches high, not less than an inch as I thought before. Still, it does not look that formidable to me. I reinforced Romeo in the van, then let him walk down the ramp.
Our walk caused a lot of doubt surface in my mind. Romeo kept going for my shoes with an open mouth and teeth showing. In a way, this was less threatening and easier to deal with than him going for my legs, since my feet are well protected by the shoes. All I had to do was slide down the rope and hold it up so that it created a barrier between his nose and me. The barrier was purely symbolic, that is, if he really wanted to bite me it would not present an obstacle. He understood its meaning though and turned his nose forward without further reminders. This was positive. But every few strides the temptation to nip my foot surfaced again. This was what made me feel so doubtful. Will this continue? It also made me contemplate being in public with him. Not because he is unmanageable, but because of the impression this would make on people. Whether he wants it or not (and I thought that he did), Romeo is an ambassador for guide horses, and aggression, even playful, is not something compatible with this role.
Our time in the round pen only strengthened my unease. He wanted to stay with me and we played our usual games at liberty. I knew he needed to run and let some energy out, but he would not do it with me around. He was too focused on playing the game. I tried moving away and instigating play, like I would with a dog. He responded, but not in a way I would have liked: after initially frolicking by himself, he ran up to me and reared, then circled me pushing and twisting his head, trying to nip my feet. I stepped away, and he stopped, looking at me. I waited, and he parked up to me. I pointed to the ground, and he lowered his head. We stayed with head lowering for a few minutes, then walked at liberty. This showed me that he is more than willing to play, but it is contrary to my goals to initiate it, since he gets so physical.
I stepped out, hoping he would run. He only did a couple of laps, and came to the fence, sticking his head out, obviously waiting for me to come back. So we hung out together and played some more. I caught myself feeling apprehensive that people at the barn would see him rearing and nipping and would pass their judgment.
We went back home. On the way, the nipping continued with regularity. He never actually made contact and responded to me sliding down the rope instantly. I felt sad about the feeling of unease that it created in me. When I talked to Rome later, he also seemed to feel uncertain and stuck at this stage of our experience together.
I do feel somewhat stuck as well. We are not going anywhere because of loading issues. It seems like our progress slowed down, and I blame myself for it. Romeo's new behavior and new presence raise concerns. I feel that he is perplexed and sad as well, probably feeling somewhat alienated. I never dreamed that this project would go so deep into existing and new issues. I feel defeated, and I am not sure where to go from here.