Equine Ponderings, Some Pretty Flowers – and More Training Fun – Back the Truck Up!


Hope you are all continuing to stay safe and well as this coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on our world… I’ve decided that as soon as we are okay to re-open, we need to start with a Fidos on the Farm class so everyone can take their dogs for a good long hike outdoors!!!

I have adored horses ever since I was a little girl. I started riding lessons at Red Raider Farms, outside of Cleveland, Ohio (sung on the bus that picked us up to take us to lessons: “I’m Red Raider born and Red Raider bred and when I die I’ll be Red Raider dead, yoo-rah-rah!”). I still have all my Breyer horsed lines up on shelves in our 3rd floor guest room, and all my Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry books on the downstairs bookshelves. I remember our first walk-trot schooling show at Red Raider – I got first place, my older sister, Liz, got second. First time in my life I was ever better than my sister at something… I was hooked!!! I’ve ridden horses ever since, and my professional career included a stint teaching at Burgundy Ridge Farms in Mequon, Wisconsin, working under Mike and Sandy Heneghan. There I had the privilege of teaching a very talented little girl, Beezie Patton, to post to the trot and jump over cross-rails on her pony, Little Bo Peep. Beezie grew up to be Beezie Madden, Olympic Gold Medal Rider on our US Equestrian Team!

I continued to ride during my years at the Marin Humane Society – this is one of my all-time favorite photos of me on Boss Casey, courtesy of Sumner Fowler, photographer extraordinaire:

We currently have four horses of or own, and board five more. Our four are Rafiki, Levi, Mikey and Olivia. Rafiki, now 30 years old, is our last Marin Humane adoptee, and I thank and credit my dear, longtime friend Janet Hamilton for her. Janet was answering phones at the shelter one day, and took the call from an owner who wanted to surrender her 5-year-old off-track-Thoroughbred mare, then named “Mona Lisa.” We didn’t normally just accept horse surrenders, but Janet said “Yes,” and Rafiki (means “Friend, in Swahili) soon joined the Miller family.

Levi is my husband’s 28-year-old Quarter Horse – a nice, easygoing gelding we acquired in Tennessee. He and Rafiki have been together 18 years now, and are very bonded.

Mikey is a wonderful Welsh-cross driving pony, given to me by client and friend Sandy Goldstein, when she sustained an injury and could no longer safely care for him.

Olivia is a 15-year-old Miniature Horse. She was one of 75 horses impounded by the humane society here in a horse-hoarding case in 2008, when my husband was director of the shelter. We fostered a number of the horses at our farm and another farm directly across the road, including a dozen darling minis – some of whom foaled while here (and the baby minis were even darlinger!). I knew we were going to adopt one of the minis, but I couldn’t decide which one, until one day I walked down to the lower barn, looked at Olivia, and said “You’re the one that I want!” (So she’s named after Olivia Newton John, in Grease.) Olivia is quite talented – she fetches tennis balls, does a number of other “trick” behaviors, and rides in the back of my mini-van.

But – I hardly ever ride anymore. As I dive deeper and deeper into the force-free world of dog training and our emphasis on giving dogs choices in their lives, I realize more and more that many horses, probably most in fact, given the choice, would choose not to be ridden. I do think my Spotted Saddle Horse Molly, enjoyed our rides.  She had long been my favorite riding horse, and I miss our gallops across the fields. I have many lovely memories – one time, a half-dozen deer darted out of the woods and ran alongside us for several hundred feet. Another time we were walking past our pond and a spotted fawn walked out of the tall grass and sniffed noses with her.

We sadly lost Molly to old age four years ago at age 33, and while I do think Mikey enjoys carting, and I plan to do that again one of these days, I don’t think any of our three big-enough horses like being ridden all that much, and of course Olivia is too small to ride. So I don’t.

It’s a dilemma, because horses are expensive pets, and most people won’t keep them around just to be lawn ornaments. (Yes, of course, we will…) I am trying to figure out how to help them enjoy it, because I would like to sit on a horse again from time to time without feeling like I’m imposing. I think I might start by hopping on Mikey bareback (no tight girth!) and wandering around in the indoor arena. I plan on just using a halter, or a bitless bridle. Lots of horse treats might help. We’ll see. If anyone has any brilliant thoughts about helping a horse love having the weight of a human on their back, I’m all ears…

Around the Farm

On the Peaceable Pastures side. we just got a new boarder. Inga is a lovely Norwegian Fjord mare. The Norwegian Fjord Horse is one of the world’s oldest and purest breeds. It is believed that the original Fjord Horse migrated to Norway and was domesticated over 4,000 years ago. Herds of wild Fjord Horses existed in Norway after the last ice age. Archaeological excavations at Viking burial sites indicate that the Fjord Horse has been selectively bred for at least 2,000 years. They all look pretty much exactly like Inga.

Cute, right? You can’t see it in this picture, but they all have a black strip down the middle of their white mane.

It has finally warmed up some – more of our flowers are starting to bloom around the farm… (YAY!!!)

Peonies!!!

Volunteer Jack-in-the Pulpit in a flower bed

Star of Bethlehem – nasty invasive weed, but the flowers are pretty…

Don’t know…

Don’t know…

Beautiful – Dandelion! I appreciate dandelions more now that I know they are very good for honeybees. Anyone know where the name “dandelion” comes from? (I do)

Now for a bit of training…

Beep-Beep – Teaching Your Dog to Back Up

The most common way to teach your dog to back up is to move into her space and pressure her. When she takes a step back you click and treat. When she backs easily you add your back-up cue – (my favorite back-up cue is “Beep – Beep” – the sound your garbage truck makes when it backs up). However, I much prefer the less-well-known, no-pressure method of teaching Beep-Beep, in keeping with positive training methods that avoid coercion as much as humanly possible and set our animal companions up to make choices that we can reinforce. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Set a folding chair, or dining room chair, against a wall.
  2. Stand in front of it with your legs apart so that your legs and the chair legs make a small tunnel your dog can enter.
  3. Toss a treat between your legs under the chair. Your dog should lower herself and move under the chair to get the treat, and then back out. (If she goes forward out the sides of the chair instead of backing out, block the sides with something and try again.)
  4. Click (or use a verbal marker) as she backs up, and then toss the treat for that click under the chair so she can move forward and back up again. Each time you click, the next treat goes under the chair.
  5. When you can reliably predict that she will back out, say “Back” (or Beep-Beep) just before she backs up. Click and treat.
  6. Repeat multiple times until she is backing up each time easily and smoothly.
  7. The next time she backs out, click, but feed the treat to her mouth instead of tossing it under the chair.
  8. Now say “Beep-Beep.” If she makes even the tiniest movement back, click – and toss the next treat  under the chair.
  9. Every once in a while, repeat Step 7, and gradually shape for more and more movement backwards without the under-chair toss.
  10. When she will back reliably and consistently without you tossing the treat under the chair, move away from the chair and generalize your “Beep-Beep” to all kinds of other situations.

There you go – no-pressure and it’s fun!!

As always… stay well – we’ll see you next time!!!