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Article by Debra Olson Daniels

Arrow's eye




                                   winged horse                         
Black Winged Horses
To Magic, Arrow, and other crossover horses who change our lives as we change theirs

Equine clicker training is still young. Which means that most of us who clicker train horses are crossover trainers. We used other training methods before we discovered clicker training. And many of us have crossover horses whose body and mind carries the legacy of all the training techniques we have practiced.

Even though I embraced clicker training wholeheartedly from the start, shifting into the new paradigm proceeded in stages. Between me and my horses, we had the inheritance of trainer ego and poisoned cues to deal with. By then I had been privileged to witness their true bright, intelligent, creative self, and it broke my heart every time a familiar glassy look clouded their eyes. Sometimes it was their response to me inadvertently shifting into my old trainer self. Sometimes they just seemed disinterested and unwilling to try for no apparent reason.

Below is an excerpt from an email I wrote about three years ago to a fellow clicker trainer who brought up the topic of helping our crossover horses feel more enthusiastic about training:

… What came is that the answer lies completely outside of training. I don't mean to say that there is nothing we can do training-wise to increase our horses' trust and enthusiasm. There is just this other plane that is not on the same scale as training. To me, it has to do with who I am, what I want, and what I am doing here. When I get frustrated with Ogeechee's lack of "go", it is not the same I who put the halter on him half an hour before, and it is certainly not the same I that was happy and accepting of every little micro-success earlier in the session. The only strange thing about it is that I don't notice the seams between these different people in me. Ogeechee does, and I cannot blame him for being distrustful of someone who acts like a schizophrenic. And you know, the one who always has problems is the one who thinks she is a trainer!

I have not reincarnated since I learned about clicker training, and my horse is perfectly aware of it. He sees the same body and pretty much the same mind as the one that did some not-so-good things to him in the past, and he has reservations. I think it is all right. I work with one horse who had not had much of any training before I started clicker training him, and I know what you mean about the enthusiasm that just makes you laugh. It really is precious. There also seems to be a reason why our partners are not those starry-eyed horses that did not have any of the hard experiences of conventional training, but the ones that bear emotional scars that we directly or indirectly inflicted on them. I was not raised with clicker training. I relate deeply to how my horses feel about my change of heart. There is change, there is hope, there are new wonderful things, there is new trust. There are also deep-seated doubts, hurt, and distrust. And there is healing. Not just for my horses, but for me also. And maybe this is why we are in it together.

I had an idea of a sculpture yesterday, of two winged horses, one white, one black. Then I realized that it was the black one that I really was interested in making. Still later, the image of the black winged horse came back, and I thought that it could be a symbol for our crossover horses. They had their wings clipped for years, but the wings are still there. We are helping them to spread their wings and learn to fly, perhaps at the same time as we are going through the same process ourselves.  

I would not claim that I never more come across the ghosts of Training Past. But when my horses look at me now, they don’t shield their greatness behind the mask of dull, shrunken obedience. They shine forth. They smile out of their eyes. And it still takes my breath away.

Arrow's face

January 2011 


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