Training notes, Part two

January 1, 2008
A sunny day with strong wind.
Erich gave me a helpful clue about managing Romeo's rearing. He advised me to look into how dog clicker trainers deal with rambunctious puppies that jump. There is a "four on the floor" exercise that might be useful for us.
This really helped me out of my feeling of being stuck. The main thing was that once again I had let myself feel trapped instead of treating this situation as another puzzle to solve. I read one relevant discussion snippet from Karen Pryor website while getting ready for a walk. Although it was not directly useful, it jump-started me thinking of creative solutions.
I had turned Romeo out in his enclosure by the kennel. When I came in, he came to me. I could see that he had some energy, but instead of waiting to see whether or not he would want to greet me by rearing up, I initiated a more traditional greeting by clicking for approach and then for parking up to me.
The walk to the barn was uneventful. There were only minor attempts to nip at my foot. Erich and I had a box of chocolate truffles with us to welcome our new neighbors who had just moved into the house where Ed used to live. We spent a long time talking to the neighbor, Nina, standing on the lawn in front of the house. Romeo started nosing for acorns, and I put him on a high rate of reinforcement for keeping his nose in a neutral position. This had a very positive effect on him. After a while, he was not trying to put his nose down anymore. I was happy with his patience, too, because it was a long time to stay stationary on a very windy day.
We walked to the round pen and I turned him loose. He walked around, eating grass over the bottom rail of the fence. Then he was done with it and focused completely on me. We did some cool liberty work, which Erich documented with lots of pictures. In addition to walking, turning, and backing, I did some Tai Chi rope exercises without the rope. I was delighted to see Romeo respond as if the rope was there. I also had him target my glove that I threw on the ground.
He left me briefly after Erich and I got into a little bit of an argument about cues. We both realized that he was responding to the tension between us, which was enough for us to see that the argument was unnecessary. Romeo played in the puddle, then went to a dry spot and dropped a pile. He turned around and sniffed it carefully. He is developing some stallion behaviors as we go. He did not use to do that. I also saw his testicles today for the first time. I suppose they finally descended? I wonder what is the normal age for that to happen.
We played some more, then Romeo wandered off to get some grass over the fence again. I was close by holding the halter that I had just taken off the fence. My hands were frozen and I was ready to end the session. Quite suddenly, Romeo left the grass and parked up to me. That was really neat!
On the way home, he started the annoying nipping game and also lagged behind. I reinforced him for catching up, but that almost seemed counterproductive, because every time we started again, he planted his feet. I experimented with not reinforcing when he caught up with me, and he just jogged along pleasantly, with his ears up. Apparently, movement was more reinforcing than food at this point.
In the evening, I brought him inside, and Erich and I played the recall game with him. It is just amazing how fast he catches on to new things. Erich used a target at first, and Romeo would come and touch it tentatively, then back up to be at my side. Then an interesting thing happened. Romeo came to Erich's target, but instead of touching it, he parked up to Erich. It was as if he figured out what the game was about and saved us the trouble of fading the target out. We were able to quickly move on to standing some distance apart. After a while, I did not have to use the target at all, and Erich used it only if Romeo did not respond to his name and "come here".
Then Romeo and I played with the hula-hoop. He was so into it that he would forget to get his treat and kept picking it up.
I found out from Romeo that the spilled timothy hay at the hay shed was safe for him to eat, so I collected two bags of it and gave him plenty for the night. This was timely, because I had not been able to get more Happy Hoof: Bar G was closed on the 31st and everything is closed today.
I just typed "stallion testicle descend" in Google search, and the very first article that came up was about miniature stallions misdiagnosed as cryptorchids. Apparently, testicles in miniature horses quite often do not descend until they are 3 years old, as opposed to normal sized horses that are diagnosed as cryptorchids if the testicles have not descended by the time they are one.

January 2, 2007
Freezing cold, with icy wind. My hands were numb by the time we finished our walk. Erich and I played the recall game with Romeo in the round pen. When we finished, he went off exploring. Then he came back and parked up to Erich. Erich did not feel like continuing the game, and Romeo came over to me. Every time things slowed down, he demanded to play and made nipping motions at both of us. Erich did not like that at all, and I cannot blame him. When Romeo ran up to me and reared up, Erich stepped out of the round pen.
At the mailbox, Romeo made a face at Erich and threatened to bite when Erich was in front of him. All of this is worrisome to me. Here is an email exchange I had with Alexandra about it.

Hi Tanya,
Fascinating report. I think I would come down on the side of gelding Romeo while he is still young enough for it to be minor surgery. I looked at the pictures first and thought you were dealing with the sort of behavior Panda used to throw at me when I first started working with her. She would rear up to her full height which brought us eye to eye. I couldn't help but laugh. Poor Panda. Perhaps she stopped rearing out of embarrassment. She thought she was being the mighty lead mare, and I was laughing at her.

As soon as I taught her lateral flexions the rearing and the airs above ground disappeared. She settled into her worker bee mode and never looked back.

But Romeo's does sound more like stallion behavior, and of course, lots of two year old geldings go through a very mouthy stage. That can certainly be controlled, but if being a stallion is making it worse, you don't need that. And if he is in agreement about the gelding, I'm not sure I'd resist too much. It certainly would be better for him, if he had the operation while he is with you and you can do the after care.

That said, Sindri was a stallion when we got him, and he remains a stallion. He was in Iceland, so I saw only pictures of him - and after saying I would never buy a horse from photos only that's what we did. And because he was still a stallion, I wanted to get to know him first as the horse that he was. He has never shown any behavior that would create any stallion handling issues. He is better behaved, less reactive than most geldings. There is a stallion enegry to him, which I enjoy, but none of the unfocused, distracted behavior we associate with stallions. I think we have been breeding for the wrong characteristics and I think we have self-fulfilling expectations about what stallions are like. The Icelanders have a very different horse culture and expectation which is reflected in their stallions. Every Icelandic stallion I have met has been a gentleman like Sindri, easy to handle, easy to have around other horses.

I think if you had the luxury of time, you might explore the possibility of working Romeo as a stallion. But it would always be a worry for Renata, and too easy to blame any little mishap on his being a stallion. Romeo may answer the question by changing his behavior. He clearly has the understanding to do that. If the rearing and nipping remains, there is always the gelding option.

I got a lovely note from Renata. She is so appreciative of all that you are doing, and thoroughly overwhelmed by how much progress Romeo has made in such a short period of time.

Happy New Year!

Alexandra

Hi Alexandra,

Thank you so much for your thoughts. I have never thought that undertaking this project would unearth so much for me. I pretty much have decided that gelding him is the only option given his mission as Renata's guide. So thank you for your support. I need that, because it is surprisingly difficult for me to face the inevitability of doing this.

It will be a pity to lose all that extra energy that is surfacing in him. When he first came, I thought that the discrepancy between how he appeared and how he talked was odd. He sounded so cocky and self-confident, whereas in his behavior he was meek and reserved. He said the funniest things. Once, while frustrated over his loading issues, I asked him why he loaded so well the day before but would not do it now. He said: Because I was cool. I just had to laugh because I remembered from the day before his winning look when he got in the van. Cool was written all over him!

Now all this confidence has reached the surface. He is so self-assured, it is hilarious. During his play time, he struts around as if he is the king of the world. I am seeing other stallion behaviors surfacing, like sniffing his own manure. Yesterday, for the first time, I also realized that his testicles had descended. I became curious when it normally happens in horses. The first article that came up in Google search was about the late descent of the testicles in miniature horses! It said that they sometimes do not descend until three years of age. Romeo should be approaching three, I think. This is another indication that it is time to geld, since with the testicles retained it is more of a major surgery, as far as I understand.

Since I have been collecting data on Romeo's new behaviors, some solutions are coming. He definitely wants contact play, since nipping and rearing comes up mostly when he is excited while we are together, such as when we first start moving or during his play time. His energy can be compared to that of boys playing. It is definitely aggressive. Not meaning to harm, but at the same time there is a risk. Just like with boys, when games can become fights.

I thought that reinforcing existing behaviors incompatible with nipping and rearing would be a good thing to do. We already have some good ones, such as parking up into a heel position and head lowering. Ritualizing them seems like a good strategy. I am also already reaping the rewards of Tai Chi rope exercises. When we are walking and Romeo makes a "bity" face, all I have to do is to slide down the rope and lift it. It forms a purely symbolic barrier between his nose and my leg, and he instantly responds by turning his nose forward. I think that this is really neat.
Erich gave me an insight that might be very promising: dog trainers have to deal with rambunctious puppies that jump on people all the time, so there is a lot of knowledge in dog clicker training community on clicker compatible solutions to that behavior. That might be an interesting venue to explore.

Yesterday's session in the round pen proved to me again how solid Romeo is despite of his hormones tweaking with his energy levels. He was so focused on me that even the green grass he could reach on the other side of the fence was only a temporary magnet. We played at liberty, and he delighted me by doing our Tai Chi rope exercises (duct tape lessons) without a rope! That was so neat! It was an incredibly windy day, and all the horses' spirits were up. Erich and I walked to the barn with Romeo and had a very long conversation with a new neighbor who had just moved into the house that Ed used to live in. Romeo was just perfect the entire time. And when we finally got into the round pen, he showed no inclination to run wild. He was so serious about our work together.

If he were mine, I would definitely give him a chance as a stallion. I can still explore this before he is gelded. I don't know much about the aftercare involved, but I suppose that milder weather would be easier on him while he is recovering. We had below freezing temperatures and brutal winds lately.

Charmer is coming on the 7th! Joyce Milner (our first clinic) is going to trailer him with me. I am very excited about it!

Thank you for your post about grass! As I read it, I realized that Romeo and I need this lesson. And there is plenty of grass here at this time of the year. As always, everything is perfectly timed!

Happy New Year!

Sincerely,

Tanya

January 3, 2008
Alexandra's email:
You certainly are at an interesting cross roads. How much of the stallion behavior do you let surface? You don't want things to become a habit, part of who he is. So if you are going to geld, doing it sooner rather than later might be a good course to follow. Sounds like a chat with your vet would be a good next step. We generally geld from fall to spring to avoid fly season. You want it to be mild enough for cold hosing the incision, but not warm enough for flies, so probably any time this winter would work for you down there.

Another question with Romeo is is he going to be content being an only horse or does he need another mini to play with? The other two minis I know of who are guides are both mares and they, like Panda, seem perfectly content as single horses. Panda has shown no desire to have an equine companion. But Romeo may need that, so we may be learning something here about the choice of candidate for this work. Of course, he could be perfectly happy in a working relationship and just needs to outgrow this juvenile stage.

Alex

 

Hi Alexandra,

Good points and good questions.

< How much of the stallion behavior do you let surface? You don't want things to become a habit, part of who he is.> -Very true. I felt that I needed to collect data the first few days. Now I am really trying to be proactive and initiate some incompatible behaviors in situations that are conducive to unwanted behaviors. But this is not enough.

I have thought of my choice of vet yesterday. I think that as soon as it gets a little warmer, I will get that ball rolling. Thank you for the tips on aftercare. Renata wanted to geld him before the clinic, which at the time was unnecessary. An interesting caveat is that she has a verbal agreement with the farm where Romeo is from that if he doesn't work out for her, she would return him intact to put into their breeding program.

Does that bring us back to whether he is suitable or not??? I am pretty confident that he would work out. He only started showing interest in other horses and in roughhousing in the context of his stallion behavior. His preference is to be with me all the time, something I cannot give him but Renata can. Of more concern to me is his reluctance to do the stairs and the continuous van loading issues. I have credit with our massage therapist and he would work on Romeo. I'd like to know that there are no physical reasons for his reluctance. But again, he is just fine running and rearing and walking on hind legs!

And how much of this do I tell Renata? She has high hopes for Romeo, and justifiably so. She would likely loose sleep over any of the current problems if I tell her. Suppose I could tell her it is time to geld because his testicles have finally descended, and hopefully by the time she starts working with him, he would be back to his pre-stallion pleasant self.

I think I will proceed according to this plan. Even if Romeo ultimately does not work out as a guide, I don't think it would be hard to place him. I would take him in a heartbeat, if not for our big dogs.

Quite honestly, I feel a lot of apprehension and fear regarding this whole situation. I feel very responsible for the outcome of the Romeo project. It means so much to Renata. It means so much to Romeo. Once again, I find myself in the position of responsibility. I think of myself as a responsible person, the problem is, I have always taken responsibility to extremes of making myself overly responsible, to the point of getting physically sick from overburdening myself. Somewhere along the way, I have to resolve this harmoniously. Once again, every situation that emerges is a learning opportunity, and Romeo certainly have come into my life as a catalyst for many underground issues.

I am grateful for your understanding of these dilemmas and for your constructive insights. Living in the new paradigm is the only way to progress and evolve, but it is not always pleasant or easy! You are one of my most prominent beacons in this new world, for which I am grateful from the very depth of my heart.

Sincerely,

Tanya

P.S. Just as I was about to send this email, I got a call from Meg, and we had a great conversation. She gave me some useful insights on my situation with Romeo. Again, I feel how all of us are connected. There is no place for being an isolated human anymore, we are all together on this path of light.

Today was cold, but the wind had died down. We took Romeo on a long walk. We went to the lake, through the field, let him hang out in the round pen, where he did some running, and then walked to the creek and back to the house, two and a half hours in all. By the time we were approaching the house, he was tired. He did not show any worrisome behaviors until we turned back from the creek. He started threatening to nip, then reared up. I stepped away, and he walked up to me on hind legs to engage me. He did not repeat this, but nipping threats continued. I felt disappointed and irritated with him, since this was such a pointless behavior.
I did not manifest my feelings outwardly, but if I thought that Romeo didn't pick up on them, I was wrong. While making dinner, I did my usual night check, asking him how he was doing. "Not so good. You don't love me anymore", - was the answer. When I assured him that I did, he said he did not believe me, because I withdrew. I had to be honest and admit that I did withdraw, and I explained my feelings to him as best I could. I sensed a sigh from him, and he said that his behavior was also worrisome to him. He felt that he was doing wrong. I told him that this was how I felt, and that I knew that he was doing his best, that he was the most awesome horse I have ever met. "Thank you", he said sadly but with a degree of relief, - "You are pretty good too". I told him about my plans for gelding him, and he said that it would be a relief. We ended up agreeing that I would take him to the house tonight to play.
We played fetch. I found a lid from a plastic container that made a much better object to pick up than a hula-hoop. Romeo was, as always, perfectly sweet in the house. He loves being in the house. It makes him happy. He loved the game of picking up the lid. Eventually, I reinforced only the trials when he picked it up off the floor. I scratched and hugged him in between. He enjoyed that too. I clicked him for it anyway, but it was obvious that even without clicking this was pleasant for him. I felt sad again that he would have to be gelded and that part of him would be gone forever.
We worked then on shaping the pose. He offered ears forward and eventually squared up as well. Not a lot of nose tucks this time, but I was sitting on the wrong side of him, and he had been offering the pose before from the heel position. It is good to unglue the pose from this positional cue.
There were no nips on the way to the kennel. I don't think there are any doubts left in Romeo's mind whether I love him or not.
Meg had a very interesting conversation with him. I will paste it in when she emails it.

January 4 and 5, 2008
Romeo, can you help me summarize yesterday's and today's training?

Yes, gladly.

I know we talked about it already, but I was not writing it down. Could you repeat your highlights of yesterday?

Yes. We walked and I was wearing a harness. I was good. Then we played with the white thing in the house. I bit Erich. We watched a movie.

Ok. You didn't really bite Erich though. You just threatened him.

True. But I wanted to.

Can you tell me about the most important things of that day for you?

Yes. Wearing the harness makes me feel responsible. Also, I should not bite.

Anything else?

Let me think… the movie. It was weird. Made me anxious. Horses were calling me. It was bad. Bad feeling.

Yes, it was a scary movie. That's why Erich turned it off. You mentioned that wearing the harness made you feel responsible. How so?

Of course. That's how I help Renata. It makes you feel responsible.

How do you know what the harness is for?

I just do. I just know it.

I am asking because you have never guided and you have not seen another horse guide a person. A human would conclude that since you did not have an experiential knowledge of what the harness is for, you would not know its purpose.

Humans are funny. Why do you always have to learn from someone? Just know it. It's all there.

There is knowledge out there?

Yes. You are making me impatient. You know it.

I know it because I read about it and talked about it to my friend Janna. I don't have access to this knowledge at large. I have guidance, but it comes from a localized entity, the totality of myself. You seem to refer to nonlocal knowledge that you can tap into.

Yes. There is knowledge out there. It is very simple. You humans make things complicated.

Romeo, you also had an insight about biting?

Yes. I need to discipline myself.

Why did you feel like biting Erich?

I was impatient. He was too slow. I got irritated. He didn't know what he was doing. I feel bad about it. I like Erich.

Don't feel bad. All three of us made mistakes there. We did not give you enough support to exercise self-control. And I should have told Erich he could ask you for head down as a behavior incompatible with biting.

Yes… We need to get better at it.

What about today, Romeo? What would be your account of the things we did today and how you feel about them.

Well, we didn't go in the house. I missed that. Also, you trimmed my hooves. And we went for a walk. I was good. I wore the harness. John petted me.

Did you like John?

He was all right. Did you notice how good I was?

Of course. I was so proud of you. For me, it was one of the highlights of today.

Thank you. I was good.

You had your ears forward. You even seemed to enjoy the scratching.

It was pleasant. Gave me a warm feeling.

That is great! Does anything else stand out for you? It is interesting for me to have your perspective.

The smells. Of earth and pine needles and horses, and sky. The sun. It was pleasant. Peaceful.

You didn't get to run much today. Do you miss the exercise?

Not really. I did not feel like it.

OK. I guess this would be it, unless you have something to add. Do you?

No. This is enough. I cannot write your essays for you.

That's true. Good night, Romeo. Thank you for your input.

No problem.

The white thing was a container lid we used for the fetch game. I reinforced for picking it up so that I could take it. We started playing the recall game, but Erich did not reinforce frequently enough and we did not have things going smoothly. Romeo threatened to nip Erich's legs, and Erich did not want to continue. The movie was about samurais and had a lot of fighting. Romeo was glued to the screen at first. Then there were battle scenes, and he was disturbed by horses calling. He ran to the door to look for them. He did not like the ominous music. At that point, Erich turned the movie off.
Today, there was no biting or rearing. Romeo was perfect. I did not take him to the house because of a lot of writing that I had to do, and it is hard to concentrate when he is around. He still needs a high rate of reinforcement.

January 6, 2008
Worked on the ramp again (we also did the day before). I used free shaping only. He got to the top of the ramp and tested the step down. That took about 45 minutes. Went for a walk after I have worked with Arrow. Romeo was very placid, no biting. He enjoyed the walk and did not require a high rate of reinforcement.
In the evening, worked on fetching in the house. It is looking better and better. I reinforce now for placing the plastic lid in my hands. He has unlimited enthusiasm for this game. We also played the recall game. Romeo came to Erich and parked but immediately proceeded to make a biting motion at his leg. Erich blocked his neck with his arm and clicked for facing forward. Things got better quickly. Then Romeo decided he didn't want to come to me and sniffed the floor gleaning the pellets that I spilled earlier. He pretended that I was not calling him, since it was time to go back to the kennel. He never likes to leave the house.

January 7, 2008
Spent all day picking up Charmer and settling him in.

January 8, 2008
Went for a walk and worked on the ramp. Finally, Romeo carefully stepped into the van. At first, he only put front feet in the van and then backed out. Eventually, he came in all the way. Then he walked up and down the ramp. So we are back to where we were a couple of weeks ago, but, hopefully, at the new level of confidence. The fact that he walked in step by step might mean that he is more comfortable with the process. Before, he used to jump in and skip the steps in between.

January 9, 2008
Went for a walk to the barn and worked on different things along the way. I wanted to see how Charmer would behave when other horses were taken out for a lesson, so Romeo got to practice head down and building some duration.
There were a lot of people at the barn. Some lady had he Jack Russell terrier loose, and why she was admiring Romeo, her dog was being a nuisance, running at us and trying to sniff Romeo from behind. The lady was oblivious, so on the dog's second charge at us, I could not help myself and yelled at him. I was not sure he was not going to jump right at Romeo. Then I asked the lady to take the dog. I felt bad about yelling, that was not polite at all.
The barn aisle was crowded, and I was not sure how to navigate this. I took Romeo around a tied horse, because he was going to follow the wall and approach him from behind. I wanted to get my grooming box from the tack room, but the entrance was cluttered with a boarder's grooming supplies and tack. Romeo made an attempt to go in the door, then backed out. I was fixated on the idea of getting my grooming box and told him to go forward again. He tried and backed out, making me finally realize that he was simply doing his job. This entranceway was too cluttered to be safe for a blind handler.
I reinforced him for his intelligent disobedience and took him to the opposite wall where I tied him. He stood perfectly. I made sure he was content by taking steps away from him, then clicking him for standing when I was away, increasing the distance gradually. I was able to make trips to the tack room, and he stood quietly, waiting for me. Each time I came back, he greeted me with an almost inaudible nicker. While grooming him, I noticed that he definitely started shedding.
I took him to the round pen, and he checked the other side for grass, then rolled, then ran full speed to me and reared up. Sigh. I put him back on the ground and asked for head down, then to walk with me. He gladly did, but did not abandon his attempts to rear and nip occasionally.
On the way back, he was distracted and walking off the edge repeatedly. Then he wanted to nip me when I walked faster. I ended up using the Tai Chi rope for a forward signal, and he responded well to that. After several repetitions, he adjusted his speed to mine without reminders.
I made an appointment with Dr. Myers to geld him next Friday, the 18th.

January 10, 2008
Worked some more on the ramp. Now Romeo really mastered the going up part. He became pretty fluent at it. As soon as he walked down it, he turned around again and walked up and into the van briskly. The down part needs perfecting. He is a little cautious. I think that this might be for the better, since I get to click him for individual steps. Going up the ramp, this seemed to have given him a lot of confidence. He liked the ramp game so much that he did not want to leave.
On a walk, I gave him a forward rope cue to speed up to a jog initially. He had not had much exercise, and this was our only chance for today, since it was getting late. My previous strategy of increasing my pace is not working so well anymore: if he disagrees with me, he would try to pin me from behind. Keeping him in front of my leg feels like a much more comfortable option.
He did a great job with head down when I stopped to talk to Holly. On the way back, he started getting stuck, as he often does. The good thing though, there was no nipping. Maybe it was just a lucky accident, but whenever he felt the pressure of the rope, he dropped his head, which is, of course, incompatible with biting. Another behavior that seemed to replace biting was pushing into me with the shoulder as we were walking. This was easily turned into a lateral yield. If I asked for too much yield, he became belligerent and pushed with his head into my hand. I need to keep it softer and build on it gradually. I was glad that we had some workable and constructive behaviors in place of biting.

January 11, 2008
I knew I would not get to spend much time with Romeo today because of my training and trimming appointments, so I decided I would give him his breakfast in the house so that at least we would spend time together. After he ate, I let him out of the playpen. I sat down to eat my breakfast, and he stood close by. For some reason, he would not park up to the chair as he usually does. Eventually, he shifted his weight, and I clicked. Another shift, and then he finally swung his hips all the way around and parked by me.

January 12, 2008
We took a walk to the barn. Along the way, Romeo would get a little feisty sometimes, which drew my attention again to how much his feisty behavior changed since its first emergence. He doesn't really go for my legs anymore. When he feels like it, which I can see by the change in his expression, he seems to initiate a process of negotiation. He would push into me with his shoulder, and then, as he feels the pressure of my leg, he steps away sideways. I click and treat for that. Or, he would slow down, and as he feels the pressure of the rope, he drops his head. This seems to be evolving out of me asking him to lower his head instead of biting my legs and to step sideways instead of pushing into me. Now he seems to initiate clickable behaviors himself when he feels an urge to bite or push. This is quite fascinating to me. He seems to be learning to manage his own behavior. If I punished him for misbehavior in the first place, I would have never witnessed this.
With Romeo's contrary behavior, we are getting to fill in the blanks that were not there before, when he was agreeable about everything. Now I have to consider and find solutions to a number of "what ifs": what if he doesn't want to go forward and wants to bite me instead, what if he pushes into me, what if he wants to rear, etc. For a while, it seemed discouraging. Now I am seeing that he is as interested in these behaviors going away as I am.
There were a lot of people at the barn, and we got to practice standing while I talked. He also did a good job standing tied and navigating in the barn. I did not know what to do when we had to go past horses tied in the aisle. Romeo is so full of confidence that he is willing to take on any horse, and I really did not want him to try. I would take initiative and navigate him around the horse. Today, I gave him freedom to make his own decision, and he took me around a tied horse giving him appropriate space.

January 13, 2008
We made some good progress with the ramp today. After a session at the van, I brought the ramp to the front porch as an aid for Romeo to work on the stairs. He walked up the stairs and, as I expected, would not even consider walking down. After some experimentation, I put the ramp on the top step to make it easy for him. Even that was a stretch for him. Eventually, with freeshaping, he walked down it. He was hesitant to walk up again, but did that after a few minutes of freeshaping. He made it down again, and I considered it a good end of that session.
In the evening, we worked on fetching objects in the house. I wanted Romeo to pick up the container lid that we have been using for that, but while I was looking for it, he found the hula-hoop and started playing with it. It was so hilarious that I forgot all about the lid. He was tossing and flinging it all over the place, and eventually flipped it onto his neck. That was not in my plans, but how could I not click for that! He looked so proud of himself, too! Then he lowered his head to let the hula-hoop slide down to the floor. He repeated the feat of putting it over his neck several more times, after many trials in between. We also worked on picking up the lid.
For me, this was a weird day. I had a sort of emotional meltdown. Something deep down got triggered and brought up an overwhelming feeling of complete misery, separation, being pent up, and anger. I don't remember crying so much in a long time.

January 14, 2008
A reporter from Oconee Leader, a local newspaper, came this morning. I had some concern about Romeo's nipping and decided that the only thing to be done about it is to explain what he is doing and how I am managing his behavior in a positive way. I think Rebecca understood what I meant, because she got to see a lot of feisty behavior form Romeo. She saw that when he had an inclination to nip at my leg, he would lower his head instead.
Cator stopped by in the beginning of the interview but did not stay long. She said a lot of nice things about me, and when she got up to leave, I felt awkward for not returning the favor.
I did my best to present Renata's story and to give credit to Alexandra for making this possible. I also asked to put in a request for donations for boarding Romeo and Charmer. I don't know how Cator felt about it.
We spent some time in the house, went for a short walk with Romeo in harness, I gave him a potty break at the kennel, then we came back to the house and Rebecca took some pictures. I think she had missed some good shots on our walk. Romeo performed his hula-hoop fling for her.
After Rebecca left, I let Romeo stay in the house longer while I sat at the computer. Then we did a little work on preparation for lying down: I asked him to pick up his front foot and held his knee and fetlock, gradually moving his knee back and letting him relax into my hand. I clicked when I felt him dropping his weight into my hand, lowering his shoulder.
I put Romeo in the enclosure by the kennel to graze and went to feed the horses. When I came back to the house, there was a phone message from Cator that a reported from TV channel 11 was coming tomorrow to interview me. I thought the timing for that was bad, in part because Renata could not come, in part because Romeo's stallion behavior would not make the best visual impression. As I suspected though, the time was non-negotiable. Cator suggested that they could interview Renata on the phone. I called Renata later, and her inclination was to stay home, on which I supported her. It doesn't seem worth compromising her health, which is still fragile, for a TV story. She liked the idea of a phone interview though. As she started asking me what I told the newspaper reporter about her story, I also realized that it would lift a burden off me if she could tell her story herself. She was quite particular about all details, which, I realized with guilt, I had left out of my account to Rebecca.
I took Romeo for a walk to the round pen and let him be a horse for a while. Then he came up to me and we did some liberty work. He had a good roll and seemed satisfied by the experience. He had some very contrary moments on the way back. At one point I felt compelled to hold his halter, because he was determined to stay back, and I did not like how he would try to nip me on the back of my legs while catching up. He hated this, and I did not feel good about either. He opted for jogging in the leading position, but I did not like how we got there. I still need to come up with a consistent and kind management technique.
Renee called in the evening. She was the one who wrote to Wes Sargenson, a Channel 11 reporter, about Romeo. She put a lot of thought into her message, and was surprised to get a call only an hour or so later. Apparently, someone had told her that he had been interested in a horse story, and that inspired her to email him. Needless to say, I have no idea who the fellow is and what channel 11 is about. I think my main task would be to give credit to everyone who has contributed to Romeo's story, to pace it in a bigger context, which would be of a global scale… other than that, I can talk about whatever I feel moved to… Gee.
So now the connections are spreading out. It did not surprise me that clicker community participated in Romeo and Charmer, but now I am rapidly moved, or pushed, to open my heart even more. To receive gifts from people whom I barely know, don't know, of had opinions about. This is overwhelming and humbling.
I asked Romeo if he would have a message to the TV guy if this person could understand him. He said no. I was surprised, but Romeo was, as always, cool. He said that he is his own message. When I digested this simple answer, there was nothing to add to it. Talking is for us humans.
I got an amazing message from Jill about Charmer:

Hi Tanya I did pass on the e-mail to some friends. I wanted to tell you something interesting. Yesterday I was letting Checkers eat grass by Jake and Charmer. Charmer was standing at the fence watching us. Every
time I looked into Charmer eyes I felt great sadness to the point of tears. I went over to him and he pressed his head into me. He then just let me stroke his face and almost hold him. If I had the money I
would love to own him. There was just some sort of connection. I can say I have never felt that way before about a horse. I really can not say I understand it. But just wanted to share with you.
Thanks for your kindness and listening ear.
God Bless Jill

I realized that I had been so busy that I left Charmer with no support when he most needed it. Thank goodness Jill was around and helped him cry. I asked him if he had a message for he and he said: Yes! Tell her thank you. For loving me and being sad with me.
I felt remorse for having left him like this. I had been mean to him too, trying to protect my horses from him when he wanted their food. He feels lost and sad. Oh, when do I learn to love? I went out after dark to talk to the horses and to feed Arrow and Charmer the grain that they had not finished. I felt that I reestablished the connection that I had interrupted through neglect. Charmer is so nervous about things. He doesn't need me chasing him off my horses' feed. I need to come up with an alternative.
Being with my horses and hugging them gave me so much warmth. Ogeechee is mastering the pose. Arrow let me hug him and did not walk away in disdain. He had been sad since the herd turnaround. There is something going on that I don't understand. Yesterday and this morning both he and Charmer were pacing the fence. Arrow had to wait his turn, for crying out loud. Then, later, all three horses were lying down taking a nap. This had never happened before. Arrow had always stood as a sentinel when others rested. Is it an upheaval or healing, or both at once? I could not understand it from Arrow. I wish I could understand them better.

January 15, 2008
I wish these guys just stayed in Atlanta and didn't bother to come. I feel used and very angry. The camera man was nice, but the main guy was so condescending, a Big Brother type character. He didn't care what I really had to say or what Romeo really was about. He just wanted me to fill in the blanks. And there I was, thinking I would get to state the case for clicker training, for Renata, for global consciousness... blah, blah, blah. Instead, I got to answer some stupid prefabricated questions for two minutes, with freezing wind blowing my hair all over the place, and he was done with me. I was a bug that did not even deserve to be looked at through the microscope. He said that this was supposed to be the story about me so he did not care about Renata or any other people. I wish I'd known, I'd have told him he could forget it. I really feel violated. I hate myself for participating it this. People like this Wes don't even think that women are human. I wonder what Romeo thought of me for participating in this farce.
To recapitulate. I had canceled my morning trimming appointment to give myself time to prepare. I felt fine until Renee called with some useful suggestions for the interview. When I got off the phone, my stomach was in knots. I felt sick. All of a sudden, it seemed that I had no time and was grossly unprepared. I forced down some breakfast and turned on some meditation music. I let myself be carried by the sounds and felt the tension leave my body in great wave. My solar plexus relaxed and I could breathe deeply. I let myself stretch and move the way my body wanted to move, feeling deep satisfaction of energy pathways opening and my body being guided by an invisible force. At the end of forty-five minutes, I only felt a slight tingling of nervousness.
I cleaned Romeo up and decided we wound drive to the barn. Part of the reason was that it was bitterly cold, and icy wind was blowing from the west making for a bone-chilling weather. I took the envelope with relevant information (Alexandra's work with Panda, Renata's phone number and brochure, and such) and my "props" (guide harness, container lid that we have been using for the fetch game, and the hula-hoop), all Renee's suggestions, Romeo walked into the van, and we drove to the barn.
The crew showed up, consisting of Wes and his camera man. I was taken aback and my nervousness returned when Wes dismissed my offer of taking relevant information to help with his work and did not take the envelope. He said he had everything he needed. I had to carry the envelope, and later on, my "props" as well, which made for awkward going. The resulting video shows me with the envelope in my hand. Wes did not seem very curious or even interested and did not start asking questions. They wanted to get to work, so I suggested several options. They opted for the one that allowed for less time spent outside.
We loaded into the van again, and the camera man got into the drivers seat, while Wes followed in the vehicle they came in. Romeo was feeling feisty this morning and made repeated attempts to bite me and the camera man. Then he sunk his teeth into the ran rest and tried to wrestle it down through a good part of the drive. I asked the camera man if he was recording the sound and I should talk, but he said he was just recording the wind. I did not know what to think of it and mumbled some comments about the training, but they did not seem appropriate.
We arrived at the house, and the camera man got out to film us unloading. I had to take the props out of the van and take them to the house, so my arms were full and that made opening doors a challenge.
Cator had come, and we all went in the house. The camera man put the mike on me, and Wes told me to do what we usually do and be natural about it. No questions followed and again, I sensed no interest to what we were doing. Cator asked me if I had given Wes information about Renata and Alexandra, and that led to him finally taking the envelope I had been carrying around. He asked what I teach Romeo to do. I had started telling him that I had no previous experience training a guide animal, leading to explanation of Alexandra's work with Panda and how she is helping me with Romeo. Apparently, I had taken the wrong start, because Wes interrupted me and told me he could hook me up with a guide dog school in Atlanta, and then went on telling us all about how amazing these dog are, and how they even teach them how to do the laundry. I expressed reasonable enthusiasm to be polite, but I did not get to tell my story. By that point, I felt increasingly uneasy. We went to the room, I sat at the computer to show how Romeo stays glued to the handler when he is in the house. I sat in another chair to show how he would park himself into a heel position. I waited for him to put his ears forward, and he got fidgety and almost knocked the aquarium over. We worked on picking up the hula-hoop. Then they wanted me to put his harness on and go outside. We did. Romeo was very good guiding me to the gate, pointing at it, finding the steps, taking me around the parked car, walking down the driveway, crossing the road, finding the mailbox, and walking back to the gate. I made minimal comments on his work. I felt tongue-tied by then and had an overall feeling of failure. Wes had disappeared. I could not see him anywhere.
When we were back at the house, I looked at my watch and saw that Romeo was due for a potty break. I told the camera man about it. He was busy setting up the tripod for Wes to interview me. I took Romeo to the kennel, and he eliminated on cue perfectly. No one was watching.
The camera man had found the boss, and we stood in the wind, while Wes made a sincere face that transmitted a clear feeling of "You better hurry up with your answers, I want to get out of this wind" and asked me several canned questions. I could have been creative and put more substance into my answers, but at the time I felt like I was being herded down the chute, so my answers came out to match the questions. Subsequently, all I said about Renata and Alexandra was edited out anyway.
Apparently, that was the end. Wes stood chatting with Cator. The camera man was told to film some horses in the field. I perked up, wanting to tell them about Charmer and my horses, but no one paid more attention to me than a group of adults would to a babbling toddler. I felt embarrassed and choked on my words.
No one paid attention to me. I tried to hand out with "adults", felt stupid, walked away and watched the horses, felt stupid, moved closer to "adults" again, was dismissed with "you can go in the house and get warm". I felt that leaving like that would be impolite, and there was no break in conversation for me to say good bye, so I hung around, probably with a hangdog look on my face. Finally, Wes took notice of me and commented grandly that the story was really supposed to be about me, and that was why he was not interested in Renata or any other people. He added that it would be aired at 6:12 tonight and that I should tape it ad use it any way I want, just don't ask him! He seemed to imply that he was doing me a big favor. I mumbled my thanks as he walkded down the steps. Half way, he seemed to remember something and turned around to shake my hand, thank me and say good bye.
I talked to Cator briefly, then went back into the house. Slowly, I became aware of anger and humiliation choking me. I sat at the computer making notes until I started crying. I felt, used, violated, treaded upon.
This is the story that was posted on the channel's website, along with the video.

When 11Alive's Wes Sarginson started talking about Tuesday's Wes Side Story, everyone had the same sort of response -- no way.

Seeing eye dogs provide many people with new mobility and open doors to a new world. But there is another animal that may be able to the job just as well.

To our knowledge, no one has done this, but Serenity Creek Farms in Monroe is trying to teach Romeo to be the first seeing eye horse.

Tanya Kiselyova, who has a Ph.D. from Georgia, is teaching the horse to lead a blind person, retrieve dropped items, and later even believes she can teach Romeo to open doors.

The main reason for teaching Romeo to be a seeing eye horse is that seeing eye dogs only last about ten years. Horses can live up to 30 years.

Horses and dogs are, according to Tanya, equal in intelligence, and can be trained as completely.

There is one question that didn't need to be asked -- it's about potty training a horse. Cleaning up messes after a horse is not a lot of fun.

http://www.11alive.com/video/player.aspx?aid=86663&bw=

This was the story that was aired on Channel 11 Alive in the evening. It plunged me into a feeling of rage and hatred so intense that it startled me. Obviously, Wes did not even read any of the information Renee and I have provided him with. I felt I was almost choking with rage. Romeo being the first seeing eye horse ever was the top insult. I was also indignant about the notion of Serenity Creek Farms teaching Romeo, whereas their only contribution is to charge me $100 a month for keeping him in my backyard. A minor but irritating point was them inventing that I had said I was hoping for him to learn how to open doors. Did they think I imagined Romeo to grow an opposable thumb? The final straw was a poop joke at the end. If Wes had not been hiding from the wind in his car, he would have seen that Romeo was house trained, as I took him to his kennel at the end of an hour, where he eliminated on cue. When a lady in the studio made face over a notion of potty training a horse, I had an overwhelming desire to slap her.

I stewed in these poisonous fumes until Erich went to bed, then found the channel's website to view the report again. There was a "post a comment" window below the report, so I set to work and wrote a comment. It came out as bitter as I was feeling. Relying on my common sense and internal guidance, I kept editing it until, after two or three hours, all the ten or so sentences of it were neutral in tone and constructive in content. I hit "Submit". My understanding is that at this point my comment got flushed down into cyber space and lost there, because later I could not find it anywhere, and the "Forum" page it was supposed to go to was reported to no longer exist. No matter, writing it served a useful purpose to me. It allowed me to examine my feelings closely, and by the time I went to bed, I no longer felt hatred or rage. I had forgiven Wes for having done what he had done.
The next day brought more processing. When I was in the shower, it suddenly hit me that instead of blaming others for what happened I could ask myself if I carried out my part. Once I saw it that way, I could not deny my role in the course of events. I was victimized because I behaved like a victim. I felt a new wave of guilt, remorse, anger and hatred, this time, self-hatred. It was my responsibility to speak up, regardless of the atmosphere, and I failed. I failed those who deserved credit. I did not stand up for them and allowed myself to be belittled.
I choked down these feelings as I got in the car and drove to the client in Monticello. As I thought of how things unfolded for me internally, I saw that self-hatred and guilt were a stage, just like my earlier hatred towards Wes. I needed to forgive myself somehow, but I did not even remotely know how I was to approach it. Thinking about it did not change anything.
I kept on driving, and various things started vaguely rising to the surface. I re-felt various scenes of humiliation, not being able to speak up, feeling worse than others. I had an understanding of having modeled my father's self-restraint after having sworn to myself that I would not fly into rage like my mother. I saw his composure as a virtue and learned to suppress my emotions early on. I thought about the many instances of passive fatalistic acceptance, including my bizarre marriage to Victor. Finally, the incident of the elevator rape surfaced in my mind, and the overwhelming despair of having fallen lower than low, so that even my parents despised me and turned away from me. I saw myself as a scared twelve-year-old child in my room, crying alone after my father condemned me as a coward. No one was there to forgive me or even give me a hug, and so never have I. I felt tears well up as I felt myself both one with and separate from this child. Deep grief, love, and forgiveness burst out with tears. I felt an all-embracing sense of communion with everyone who was oppressed, humiliated, violated, unable to speak up, filled with anger, self-hatred, vengeance, hopelessness, and despair. I embraced them all, women, children, horses, animals, I was one with them, I prayed with them, I loved them, I felt their pain. I told them that we had to stand up for ourselves and love who we are. We need to find our own voice and speak our truth. We need to take up the sword and be warriors of light, not victims of violence and oppression.
These powerful feelings washed me clean and left me at peace.

January 16, 2008
After my trip to Monticello, I had enough daylight to take Romeo for a walk in the field. He was pretty excited to begin with, and soon it expressed itself in rearing, boxing and biting. He was actually trying to bite me in earnest, and I had to hold his halter to wait him out. I felt rather discouraged, both by his behavior and by having to resort to protective measures. I knew he did not like when I held his halter, and he struggled so much that I was afraid that he would rub his eye on my knuckles. At one point I felt angry and had a desire to grab him and wrestle him down. I am glad I restrained myself. The sobering thought that helped me was that if I did that I would never forgive myself.

January 17, 2008
It had snowed, then rained, and Violet canceled our appointment. I took Romeo for a quiet walk. He did not do any biting or rearing and was calm, enjoying our walk. In the evening, I felt that he was lonely. He was afraid of surgery and wanted to come into the house. I brought him in. We had started working on kneeling, so this was the first thing we worked on. He progressed very quickly to going down to his knee. Then we played with the hula-hoop. He was even more deliberate at flipping in onto his neck. Then I had him park by my chair and worked on duration. I gave him some Happy Hoof in a pan for a break, then we worked some more, and I took him back to this pen.

January 18, 2008.
While waiting for the vet, we worked on the ramp, which I put over the front steps. Freeshaping, I had Romeo go up and down the ramp a few times, and then he was back to the first try again: very hesitant, not wanting to unglue his hind feet off the ground. Finally, he pushed through that, and was going up and down the ramp again.
Dr. Myers was good to Romeo and the operation went smoothly. It was still very traumatic, and I felt very sad and sorry for Romeo. There was a finality about changing his sex, and whether or not he felt grief over it, I did. I accidentally woke him up too early, and he tried to get up, groaning and looking disoriented. He was wobbly for a long time. I sat with him, and when he could walk, I took him to his enclosure out of the wind. Later, I tried to take him for a walk, but he was dull and got stuck often. His head hung low and he had a stuffy nose. He started eating when I managed to get him to grass, and I let him graze until it started getting dark. Back in his pen, he started nibbling on his hay. I brought him a chopped carrot and half an apple, but he was not interested. Later, when I checked on him, he nickered at me, and I felt relieved that he was feeling better.

January 19, 2008
Romeo is back to his normal self. It drizzled melting snow all day. I took Romeo for three walks and he had a lot of energy. In the evening, Erich came with us and we ended up going for a jog.

January 20, 2008
It was sunny, but the temperature never went up above freezing. We went for a walk and took a detour to Hartley's house. Romeo found the doors and the handles. He stayed more focused than he usually is on our walks along the driveway. Maybe going places will help him make progress in his work by providing mental stimulation that the farm environment falls short of. We went to the barn, I tied and groomed him. He seems quite comfortable standing tied. I checked the surgery site as much as I could see it, and apart from some dried blood, it looks good. I took him to the stall for a potty break. It took a few minutes, but he urinated and defecated.
He had some grazing time in the yard and another walk. He had been unwilling to put his nose in the halter for the last couple of days. I spend some extra time targeting it until he puts his nose in it. Maybe he is unwilling to have it on because it felt cold when it got wet the day before.

January 22, 2008
Yesterday and today, we went on walks and Romeo had some time in the yard. When he first came out of the kennel, he motored around at top speed, but by the time I brought out the camera, he was settled and grazing.
Today, we worked some more on the ramp on front steps. It took 20 minutes for him to put his hind feet on the ramp, and another 30 seconds to walk all the way up. The same pattern was repeated the next time we worked on the ramp, except that this time, I ran out of food before he walked up with his hind feet.
On our walk, I experimented with dropping my glove and asking him to pick it up. He picked it up and held it, and I took it from him. I wanted to take him to the house in the evening, but it got late before I was able to do it. It is very frustrating to me that there is no easy way to bring him to the house and have him spend more time inside. He occupied the same niche as the dogs, and putting the dogs away for long periods of time disturbs the household equilibrium.
People from another TV channel want to come and film Romeo. Jim put me on the phone with the person who is going to do it. He was nice, but mostly interested in the horse, and not in Renata. I see that I don't know where the middle ground is between letting people walk all over me and digging in my heels like a donkey. I did want to talk to the person, and Jim accommodated me despite having worries about control over this matter. I did not feel like I could make any strong statements about what I wanted to do. I suppose as long as they present the information correctly, there will be no harm done. Although I absolutely disagree with Jim that any publicity is better than none.

January 23, 2008
Somewhat of a breakthrough on the ramp. I moved the ramp from the top step to the next, and he was able to negotiate it. It only took about an hour, but he walked up and down it repeatedly.
In the evening I took him to the house. We practiced going down on one knee from both sides. Then I used the target to have him circle with his nose to the floor. When he sniffed the floor, I reinforced him as well. I would like him to start thinking about lying down. We did the hula-hoop trick and picking up a glove. He was so much fun!

January 24, 2008
Had a walk and about two hours in the house. Still thinking about lying down, I freeshaped him to circle with his nose to the floor. It was so easy to do with him and so much fun to see him getting it. He had such a winning look when he turned his first circle! Other than that, did the same things as yesterday, plus had him stand by my chair, working on duration with ears forward. I had not built duration on any behavior, except for walking. He is still very high maintenance in the house, wanting me to play with him all the time.
The ramp still takes at least 10 minutes to negotiate. He does his usual thing of getting all stretched out, and then he cannot move forward. I took him to the lawn, practiced the forward cue and then transferred it to the ramp. He did much better, because his hind legs were finally underneath him. I could not have used the forward cue earlier, because he would have perceived it as too much pressure to go, and he was concerned about going. At this stage though it was helpful.

January 25, 2008
Went for a walk to the barn. He was just perfect in the leading position. He got a little distracted by the mares in the pasture by the driveway, but it only took as much as sliding my hand down the lead rope to get his attention back. We went to the round pen. I was hoping to catch the moment when we would want to lie down. Lucio stopped by with his son, and we talked about Romeo. They were really interested in his training and asked a lot of questions, so I was happy to talk to them. Right when I turned my back, Romeo lay down and rolled. He did not want to do it again afterwards, although he offered his new trick, the pirouette. We walked at liberty. Sometimes he would stop following me and start digging the sand. I was not sure what it was about. I increased the rate of reinforcement, and he stuck to me better. If I sped up, he would either stop or trot with me a little, then twist and shake his head, then fall behind. He did not seem comfortable trotting with me (he is fine doing it on the driveway). I started clicking him for shorter stretches. This evolved into a game, where I would call him, he would come over into the heel position, then we would jog together.
On the way back, I played a little with speeding up and slowing down, clicking him for following my transitions. He did great with it. I need to work more on duct tape lessons and WWYLM with him to improve his flexibility. When he gets excited, he stiffens his neck and it takes a few repetitions to get the gives of the jaw.
Worked on the ramp again. He walked up and down three times, then got stuck on the second step and would not go any farther. I used the forward cue to get his hind end in gear instead of having it parked out behind him, and it worked very well the first three times. Now nothing was working, and he was getting discouraged. My plan was to take him inside, and I knew he would be unhappy if I just put him back in the kennel. I stood on the porch and took the slack out of the rope. He leaned back on it, felt that he could not back off the ramp, and walked up onto the porch in a matter of seconds. I had been avoiding doing what I did, because of the pressure factor, not so much physical, as psychological. I was puzzled by the his response.
In the house, we practiced going down on one knee, alternating it with circling. Played with the hula-hoop and picking up a glove. Then I sat in the chair and we worked on duration of standing. I feel that I should really focus on it. When he is in the house, he expects to play all the time, which makes him a demanding house guest. I found that the count of 20 was his absolute limit. He would walk out of position and try to repark. I clicked him at intervals between 5 and 19. We have a long way to go.

January 26, 2008
I asked Erich to document our ramp troubles. Again, Romeo would not move his hind feet off the ramp and up the steps. The forward cue mobilized his hind end, but only up to a certain point. I tried targeting, but he would only stretch as far as he could without moving his feet. Then I tried the thing that worked yesterday, standing at the top and taking the slack out of the rope. It worked again, and then Romeo ventured to walk up the steps with me.
Going down is another problem area. He wants to rush it, often jumping off the second step. The ramp taught him what I hoped it would: how to put his front feet on the lower step. But after having done that, he simply took the plunge, instead of moving one foot at a time. I worked on slowing him down as he walked down the steps and ramp. I found that keeping my hand on the snap of the halter worked best. I could stop him from leaping down and click when he took his weight off my hand on the snap.
After Erich went inside, I folded up the ramp, and had Romeo face the steps. He had a resigned look on his face that usually signifies that he has all day and is willing to spend it glued to the spot. I took the slack out of the rope to get him started. He walked up the steps slowly but without getting stuck. We did this two times, and on the second time going down, I managed to slow him down enough for him to take one step at a time. He got a small handful of carrot slices for each step, and I let him graze in the yard.
When he was in the yard earlier, he wanted to play with me and reared up. I stepped away, and he stood on hind feet for a few seconds, then lowered himself on all four and parked into a heel position. His biting behavior improved so much that I do not feel threatened when he is in a bity mood. He would threat to bite, but would be just as open to doing something else instead. It is mostly enough for me to put my arm against his neck or to slide down the rope if I have a halter on him, and he would abandon his biting attempts.
Van and I had an email exchange about dealing with bad behaviors, and I asked Alexandra's opinion. Here is the exchange.

<<We have gone through a period of Tempo being bitey and nippy. Our solution is to shoo her away for a temporary time-out and that seems to work. She behaves the same way toward our adult horses , so we figure it is a normal adolescent phase. We've also noticed that fading treats for cues she knows well helps minimize that behavior. In a couple of instances, we have inadvertently taught her behavior chains, the first link of which is a bad behavior, like crowding our space. One of the vital lessons I have learned from the Clicker Academy is that you should never correct a bad behavior with a cue for a good behavior. In other words, if a dog is jumping on you and you say, "Sit," then click and treat, you've in essence taught your dog that he can earn a treat by jumping on you. Ramirez covers this concept well in his book on training. He offers Least Rewarding Scenario as a solution. In the Clicker Academy, they use the phrase, "Be a tree." Do absolutely nothing in response to bad behaviors. We tried that with Tempo, but some of her bites were a little too much to ignore. So we simply shoo her away. But, that may not be an acceptable solution for a guide horse. And it may not be a solution of which Alexandra would approve.
Challenges, challenges.
Van>>

<<Hi Van,

Thank you for your thoughts. Excellent points on solutions for bad behavior! Thank you for mentioning the Ramirez book. I had not thought of consulting it, and it is an excellent resource.

I know what you mean about creating chains that the animal initiates by offering an unacceptable behavior. I think that this is what Romeo's negotiations of biting are. I might be really wrong from training standpoint, but I preferred this to outright biting. For whatever it's worth, his biting behavior changed from actual biting, done very fast, to an extended bite threat that buys me time for a request for something else. At least, we had a conversation going. Something like:

Romeo: I want to bite you, but I know this will not be well received. Do something about it.
I: OK, put you head down. Click and treat....

Romeo: I want to bite you. Do something about it. Here, I put my head down.
I: very good, now let's walk. OK, now you have walked with me for a few strides without biting. Click and treat.

And so on.

I raise the criteria for a clickable behavior, but I don't leave a behavior offered "in exchange" for biting without a reinforcement.

I think that rewarding those chains would be a problem if our walks were completely clickless otherwise. But normally, he gets enough clicks for other things, and bad behavior doesn't become his only means of getting attention. I have not yet worked out a strategy that I feel good about in every way.

How do you think you would deal with Romeo's biting if you were training him?

Sincerely,

Tanya>>

I forwarded our exchange to Alexandra, with the following.

Hi Alexandra,
I would love to know what you think. If you have time, of course.
I have thought about those chains Van is talking about on and off throughout the day yesterday, and the more I thought the less clearcut it seemed. Romeo would initiate biting in any case, regardless of what I did. So I like that he initiates it in a ritualized form and offers alternative behaviors. The instances of biting decreased, and I cannot attribute this to decreasing levels of testosterone in his system, because that had not happened yet. Also, he had not reared in a while. Something is working, I suppose.
So, with Van's example of a jumping dog, the analogy would be, I suppose, like this. The dog jumps, you tell it sit, it sits, click and treat. The dog is about to jump, you tell it sit, it sits, click and treat. The dog wants to jump and sits instead, click and treat. Am I completely off track here? The animal does initiate a chain that originally started with bad behavior, but through careful timing of cues and clicks, the trainer eliminates the original #1 behavior in the chain. Or diminishes the manifestation of it to an abbreviated version, which seems to be happening in Romeo's case.
Is it a question of semantics again? The Clicker Academy calls it a chain that the trainer inadvertently teaches to the animal, enabling the animal to get reinforced for a bad behavior. I view the same thing as an opportunity to start an intelligent negotiation with the animal to decrease the unwanted behavior. I don't mind that the animal initiates it. I just need to be somewhat proactive in my responses and lead the change.
I really don't like the idea of sending the horse away for a time out. Stepping away yourself is better, but not feasible in Romeo's case. Besides, I really don't know if that would have worked at all with him. His biting, partly, is an attention getter, a social play behavior that he would manifest with his horse buddies if he had any. I feel that I need to be really sensitive to his need of companionship and not make him feel alienated or ignored in any way, because then his demands for attention might escalate to an even less acceptable behavior. I see human analogy here, being a mother of a teenager. You cannot support outrageous behavior, but you really need to love and support the person who is manifesting in an unacceptable manner. If you withdraw your support, they feel really lost and desperate.
Initially, Romeo exploded into biting/rearing behaviors. I remained as neutral as possible through the data collection phase, then developed a strategy of dealing with biting and pretty much did not support the rearing but left it alone. Both behaviors decreased. I also try my best to provide Romeo with companionship he needs and give him plenty of chances to express himself in acceptable ways by playing games with him.
I see that biting surfaces as a protest or an attention getter. For example, we are in the house, and I am cutting carrots for Romeo, while he stands in a heel position. He thinks he had earned his reinforcement two minutes ago, so I see him pinning his ears and turning his nose towards my leg. Then he drops his nose to the floor. We are up to the count of six duration on that one, so I count to 4 or 5 and click. I make a note to click at shorter intervals, before he has an urge to bite me. I think as we work on duration of stationary behaviors, his emotional control will improve.
Oh dear, I am writing a book again. Thank you for your patience with me. It is hard to resists writing you a personal email on a hot topic like this one, but I do fully understand that your time is valuable and I do not expect that you would always be able to respond. If at any time you feel that having to answer my frequent personal emails is too much of an imposition on your time, I would stop, with apologies.
Thank you!
Sincerely,
Tanya

 

Hi Tanya,
I enjoy your emails very much. Please keep writing them. I tend to get very focused on projects and at times I go into email avoidance so I can create large blocks of uninterrupted time for them. At other times, answering email is a welcome project in itself.
At the moment I'm in email avoidance trying to get the microshaping DVD done before the clicker expo. Deadlines! I do so much prefer life without them.
This sounds like a good topic for our mArch gathering, certainly good evening conversation over dinner. Bottom line - I think there are many different strategies that need to be employed. You have to keep rotating your tactics to keep the learning process active. But timeouts, hmm. I have used them, but in a very limited way. Interesting that they reference Ken for the timeouts. My impression was that he had reservations about their use and didn't employ them very much, if at all. Certainly if you read his book, Animal Training, there are very mixed opinions about them in there.
Chains are complicated. When are you in a chain? When are you asking for an incompatible behavior? Robin has been teaching me a lot about this. I'm not sure how the science matches up with what he is telling me works. But then he hasn't read the texts! Again, chains are complicated and you need to explore lots of different strategies.
I'd say keep a journal of what you use. What are you doing, what effect does it have on Romeo? What changes in his behavior do you see? What are the unintended consequencies if any. This will make a perfect discussion for our MArch gathering. But if things look as though we shouldn't wait that long, I can write a real response as soon as the DVD is done.
Alexandra

January 27, 2008
On our walk today, I decided to test if Romeo would stop at the speed bump. I kept on walking instead of stopping as I always do. To my disappointment, Romeo walked on as well. I reset him several times, and he walked right over it every time. He also started getting frustrated, so I decided we would walk on.
We turned back home from the speed bump, and Romeo did not like that. He habitually gets sticky for the first part of the way home. I deal with it by bracing the rope on my hip and waiting for him to come off the pressure. I do not click him until we have walked a little distance. If I click as soon as he comes off the pressure, he plants his feet after the click and we have to start all over again. I don't feel very good about having to put pressure on his poll, but so far it has been the only effective way of getting him unstuck. I tried the forward cue, and he pushes and fights against it. Targeting works sometimes and sometimes not, depending on how determined he is to stay put. His tendency to get stuck has not diminished, so I am not sure if I need to change my strategy.
Along the way, I practiced the "Forward" verbal cue, once we got past the sticky stage. After food delivery, I can tell if he is going to move forward, so I said "forward" just before we started moving, then clicked after a few steps. Then I extended the time walking and added speed changes. I started saying "Faster" just as I accelerated and "slow down" just before I slowed down, but I don't know if I want to have a verbal cue. I would like him to keep the same pace as I by feel. If he does not speed up with me, I use the rope forward cue, and for slowing down I ask for a flexion if he pulls forward. He usually doesn't pull.
I felt bad for the incident at the speed bump. I got irritated with him for not having learned that he was supposed to stop. I also felt sorry for pulling on him. Of course, he was the one pulling, but it feels just the same. Back in his kennel, I hugged him and scratched his neck and apologized to him. He did not think this was a big deal. He does seem to enjoy hugs and affection now. He does not take it in large doses, but a good hug and a neck rub make him smile.
We worked on the stairs several times. He still balks and I have to brace the rope and let him pull on himself. I wish I did not have to do it. We are going up and down the stairs though. He is actually better at going down now, putting his front feet on each step instead of jumping them all as he preferred to do before. He rushes on the way up, once he commits to going up. Still, this is progress compared to refusing completely.
I hung out with him in the yard and did some work there. We practiced going down on one knee, then I reviewed duct tape lessons. I need to work more with him on all of them. It will help him in other areas.
When he was grazing, I checked on his castration wound, and was alarmed to see what looked like a ball of hair stuck to it. He let me lift his hind leg and look closer, and more alarming than the ball of hair was that the wound had not closed and there was some pink tissue that looked like proud flesh sticking out of it, to which the hair and dried blood was stuck. There was a little pus on it too. It made me worried, not to mention angry with myself for not checking on it earlier. I cleaned it with some iodine and tried to remove the ball, but it was stuck firmly. It made me feel awful that I let this happen.
Later in the evening, I remembered that I had wonder dust at the barn. I brought Romeo inside and he let me wipe the wound with warm water and soak the hair ball to soften it. He stood perfectly still for it and did not seem to be bothered. After cleaning it, I asked Erich to hold his lead rope and reinforce him, while I lifted his hind leg and pulled the hair ball off. I then cleaned the wound with iodine and dusted it with wonder dust. There is quite a bit of proud flesh sticking out of the wound. Romeo was a perfect patient.
Erich and I played the recall game with him for a few minutes after. He was very hesitant at first, then became more confident switching handlers. He threatened to bite Erich once but did not actually bite. We both thought that this was a sign of frustration, when he was not sure what to do.
I called Judy and left a message. I'd like to ask her what to do before I call the vet. The downside of another vet visit is the expense. The trip fee alone is $50.

January 28, 2008
Judy Saik returned my call about Romeo. She advised to clean the wound and cold hose it to keep it clean and to stimulate circulation. She also said to put him on a quarter gram of bute for about a week and to call her again if there is no improvement.
I tied Romeo to the fence and cold hosed the wound. He was perfectly placid about it. I kept the rate of reinforcement high. After hosing, I cleaned it with a gauze pad soaked in iodine and dusted it with some more wonder dust. He stood so quietly that I was able to do it from behind without even having to lift his hind leg.
I put the harness on him and we went for a walk. He was so good. We did some speeding up and slowing down. We practiced forward, back, right, and left. I know that he is not responding to verbal cues yet, except for, maybe, "Forward", but he was so tuned into my subtle body cues that an outsider would not have been able to tell. I dropped my keys several times on the walk and asked him to pick them up, which he did. We went to the barn. It was feeding time, and the barn was crowded. I let Romeo pick our way through it, and he did a good job. I let a little girl pet him, and he was all right with it, no pinned ears. He was startled though when she tried to pet him on the top of his head. I told her to scratch him on the shoulder, and that worked well.

January 29, 2008
Cold hosing in the morning - Romeo stood perfectly still and let me run cold water over the wound. I squatted behind him and put the hose between his legs, and he thought nothing of it. Then I cleaned it with a gauze pad, and he had no objections to that either. The wound looks much better.
We were waiting for the TV crew to arrive. I had to reschedule my appointment at Violet's to have time to take care of Romeo, clean the house, make cheese congs for the dogs, etc. I let Romeo graze in the yard, then took him to the car to work on the ramp. He walked up and down it without hesitation. Just as an experiment, I folded the ramp and put it flat on the ground. Romeo walked onto it immediately and even put his hind feet on it without hesitation. I kept reinforcing him for any inclination to get in, and he soon jumped into the van. He did it maybe three times, and I removed the ramp. I was going to finish with the car and do something else, but he came up to the open door and looked inside. I started reinforcing this, and in a few minutes, he jumped into the van! So, we finally were where we had been during our first loading session in October! I chuckled to myself at the irony as I congratulated us both.
We walked up and down the front steps, went to the house and worked on kneeling and circling, played with the hula-hoop, and took a potty break.
When the TV crew arrived, we did some of our usual things: walked to the mailbox, up and down the stairs, and also did a van loading, which went well. We showed our new "tricks": kneeling, circling, picking up the keys, and flipping the hula-hoop over his neck.
Both Simon, the reporter, an Keith, the camera man, were pleasant and took genuine interest in Romeo and our story, so the dreaded encounter turned out well. If anything, I felt that I did not keep my thoughts very well organized during the interview and did not include everything I should have. But again, there is so much to this story! I made sure that the background information was covered, and Simon suggested I email him the references.
Romeo was good with all the commotion around and did not seem annoyed with the strangers.

January 30, 2008
I had a day full of appointments. On my way back home in late afternoon, I was stopped by a police road block by a dilapidated house on Jacks Creek road. The polite black officer asked me if I drove here often and if I noticed anything unusual when I drove through here on Monday. I could not recall anything, except that it was the day when I had a sudden anxiety attack in the morning, realizing that I had not earned enough money to cover the extra expense of keeping Romeo and Charmer. That morning, I decided not to work with Drake, even though I felt guilty about it, because my state was incompatible with training. This, of course, had nothing to do with what the officer was asking me about. I asked him what happened, and he said that they were investigating a murder that happened in that house, some time between 8 and 12 Monday morning. Quite shocked, I drove away.
Romeo was waiting for me as I parked the car. I took care of him after bringing my things to the house. The wound is looking better, and proud flesh is all but gone, except for one bump that is not getting smaller. I peeled the scab off it and dusted it with wonder dust. Romeo is so good for all these procedures.
I untied him and took him for a walk. We stopped for a little practice of turns, then walked on. He kept a nice pace and seemed to enjoy the movement. We made another detour to graze for a few minutes. We turned around at Hartley's house. We usually have some problems whenever we turn back home. This time too, Romeo made a pass at my leg as soon as we started back. I slid down the rope, and he walked forward again. A couple of steps, and I clicked him. He took the treat and put his head down. I told him forward, and he walked on. Click and treat. Head down was an interesting touch. I had no doubt that it was an offering in place of biting. Another time when he spontaneously offers head down is when he comes to me in his fenced-in area. This was another instance when he used to get nippy. Now it has been replaced with parking in a heel position and often head down.
So we had a better-than-usual start on the way back home. We made it past the first speed bump, and then he tried to bite my leg again. I slid my hand down the rope, he tried to push with his shoulder, then walked on. I decided to keep him on a high rate of reinforcement on the way from the barn to see if that would change the biting behavior, so I clicked again after a few strides. Next time he had an urge to bite, he tentatively put his teeth on my boot, then walked forward. This was quite good.
We were walking by some paddocks that have been vacated for the night, and it was not dark yet, so I told Romeo to turn left, and we went to one of them. Romeo was excited, but when I told him forward, he found the fence and took me along it. We walked to the corner and half way down the next side, then I let him loose. He dove for the grass, of which there was barely any, but still more than what we have in the yard. I let him graze for a few minutes, and then my hands were getting too clod to bear, plus I had to give Arrow and Charmer the rest of their grain. I clipped Romeo's lead rope on, and he left the much desired grass with surprising ease. I told him to find the door, and he walked right to the gate. As in many instances with Romeo, I could not tell if he found it all by himself or if he was reading my intention. Interestingly, in a riding horse, this is what we desire and admire so much: the horse reading the rider's mind.
As we proceeded along the driveway, Romeo spotted Erich and the dogs making their way through the field, and wanted to stop and look at them. He finally got completely stuck and was not responding to my target hand. I anchored the rope on my hip and waited him out. When he gave up and resumed his position in the lead, he did not get stuck again. By that point, we were out of the sticky zone anyway, and the rest of the way he was perfect.
The next sticky point came when we were in the yard and I told him to find the kennel. He was more interested in continuing our time together. He did respond to target hand, and we got out of the sticky zone successfully. I did not want to put him back in the kennel either, but I still had a lot to do.

January 31, 2008
During his grazing time in the yard, Romeo took notice of my comings and goings more than usual. I took advantage of it by reinforcing his attention to me. This led to some liberty work, during which we even walked up and down the stairs together. He had not kept his attention on me while in the yard for such a long duration of time before. It may be in part because he has been working on eating down the grass, and supplies have been getting sparser. Regardless of that, it was nice that he wanted to spend some time together.
We worked some more on van loading. We had to approach it from the right side instead of our usual left because the wind would have been slamming the left door shut. Romeo was more hesitant on the "wrong" side. I put the folded ramp by the door as a stepping stool and we spent a few minutes working on it. He did not jump into the van, but I discontinued the exercise before his enthusiasm dwindled. When I removed the ramp, he was interested in the possibility of loading from the ground. I reinforced his eagerness even if it was not leading to getting in. It was good to see that he was inspired again. From reinforcing any attention or movement towards the entrance, I moved on to reinforcing shifts of weight or movement that was more likely to lead to eventual jumping into the van. He was inclined to do either of the two things: put one front foot on the doorstep, or jump up with both front feet coming off the ground in a rearing motion. The latter was much more likely to get him into the van. When he only put one foot in, he became uncomfortably stretched and off balance. I started reinforcing any indication that he was thinking of shifting his weight off the front. Even when the motion itself was not visible, he indicated his intentions by bobbing his head up, flashing his tail, and small shuffles of all four feet. Eventually, this shaped into small rears. All he had to do was to land with his front feet in the van, and he would be half way to accomplishing the task of loading. Again, I ended before there was any indication that his enthusiasm was waning.
We went to the house and worked some more on kneeling. He stays down a little longer, so he may eventually start thinking about going all the way down. We also practiced circling. He seems to even understand the verbal cue that I started preceding the circling with, which is "Circle". He does it with such enthusiasm though that it is very unlikely to lead him to a lying down mode.
It started raining in the evening and rained all through the night. Romeo wanted to come inside, but I had too much work to do on the website. I visited him around midnight and gave him some more hay. As usual, he greeted me with a storm of little nickers and then settled in with his hay.