Thursday, August 1, 2013

Listen to Your Trainer

Who is your trainer?

These days, I'm bouncing around between three, The Big K, HMT and ... myself.

Working with K for ten days was beyond great. He (1) got after me where I needed it, (2) got me thinking in a few new directions and  (3) made sure I understood he feels I'm doing a fine job with my horses. The first two I expected, the third I wasn't sure I would hear.

To be honest, I am pretty confident in my abilities and weaknesses with the horse deal at this point in my life. I know what I want and with periodic prodding from my peers, am capable of getting it.

Part of me, the part that yanks the legs out from under my confidence, the same part that drives me so hard to keep going, to keep learning, to keep trying, seems to have grown up some. Because not so many years go, I couldn't, wouldn't, hear K when he tried to say the same thing.

I didn't trust that other trainer, as in me, enough to accept a vote of confidence from K. It was a good part of the troubles we found ourselves in, and helped build a rift we almost didn't recover from.

"You can ride way past your thinking," K said.
"You are so chicken you won't try," I heard.

"Let go, that horse has nothing you can't handle," K said.
"I'm going to die," I thought.

"Find the worst he's got, then you know what you're riding," K said.
"If I face the worst, I'll fail in front of everybody, then they'll know I can't do this," came screaming out of me, but died in tight lipped silence before it left my mind.

K ran into my silence often back then, it's my worst vice, even if my Comanche warrior name is "Chattering Squirrel."

He ran into it so often, eventually he returned the favor and our troubles began to run deep.

Will I ever write about that time? I don't know, it's a tangled mess of things and I don't really feel a need to wade through it all. For now, it's enough to say we wanted things to be right enough to go through the work it took to recover. Good friends are rare, hard to find and impossible to replace. Lucky us, we know that.

There are some constants that come with horse training.

I learned these from the horses, K and myself.

Patience. Horses deserve it. If they don't get it from their rider, you won't end up with anything worth a damn.

Quiet. There's a big difference between quiet and silence. Fast hands, loud voices, jumping, screaming, slinging, screeching -- horses hate it. So do I. Steady hands a horse can count on, legs that communicate clearly, even smooth movement, confidence around them and on them, this makes for a secure horse. I'm talking in the barn, in the arena, on the trail and especially during a crisis.This is quiet.

Fairness. I can only expect from my horse what I've taught him. If I didn't explain or make myself clear, then I don't get to blame my horse.

Know my craft. I mean, really, really know it. When I realized I could feel which lead my horse was going to take, from the trot, or at the walk or just standing and thinking about a depart, and coax out the lead I wanted, then I knew I understood leads. My horses are only as good as my knowledge and my ability to give it to them. Which goes back to actually riding them.

Never, ever, say "Been there, done that," when it comes to training horses, because either been there or done that will immediately bite you in the butt.

These things are so ingrained in me it's the same as breathing.

These days, Brockle and I are working with the Heavy Metal Trainer, and I'm having to sharpen my listening skills again. HMT has said, more than once (OK, like 30 times each session), "Wait a little. He's still a puppy. You don't want to shut him down."

So I do. I take a breath, step back and promise to be patient. Even when he charges the chihuahuas, the Angus bull, or the barn kitties. I grit my teeth, calm my mind and say, "Leave it!" with appropriate ferocity, but only once. Then, when he finally comes back, with a scratched nose, a castrated bull crying behind him and chihuahua parts dangling from the huge grin on his speckly face, I dig a little deeper and say, "Good leave it!"

It has been hard. Brockle is a dog that tries me, stretches me to my very limits.

He is so very different from any dog I have ever had the privilege to own. His devotion and loyalty are so intense it can be unnerving. Every fiber of his being is dedicated to figuring out what I want, what I need, in order to make our partnership what he so clearly wants it to be. Mix it up with high, exhausting energy, pure, wild joy with life in general, and some pretty crazy interpretations of what I'm trying to say and I've got a headache.

He reads my mood, better than I know it, and can tell me when the PD is about to curtail ALL my fun way before I'm aware. When I'm about to get staggery,  he is at my side as a physical point of balance before I know I'm going to need him. He also knows the second I'm distracted and whether or not I'll notice in time to stop him from starting a fence war with the dog next door. He knows he can get me off my computer if he wakes up Snocone, since she has to be taken outside immediately after she gets up. He knows bouncing a tennis ball in front of me for eternity will get me to do almost anything...!!!

Through all of this, HMT says, "Be patient, wait, give him time."

So I try.

"Don't point your finger at him," HMT said.

"Say what?" I was truly confused.

"You want to avoid using your hands as any kind of punishment."

"I was just telling him to stay in the car."

"It was still negative. A pointed finger is an extremely strong statement. Use your voice."

"OK," I answer, all sweet compliance. Of course, inside, I'm grumbling. Don't point, don't let anger show in your voice, or your face, get rid of your negative feelings before you correct him, don't, don't don't. How the heck do I deal with him when he's at his most Big Fat Jerk Brockle-est?

I decide, in revenge, to begin training by sniveling. Brockelllll...doooonnnnn't dooo thaaaat...Brockelll, quit eating the little kiiiidddssss. HMT will love listening to that.

All this positive attitude crap is killing me.

Then, I filter things a little more, remind myself I swore I would learn this method of training before I passed judgement. Remind myself the HMT has a whole yard full of very large, very well behaved GSD and they all turn into joyful, obedient, balls of goo around each other (HMT included) when called upon. Then I sigh, find my happy, happy, joy, joy spot and get to work.

HMT and I are at a very different place than me and K. We are still new to each other, still figuring out each other's trainer brain.

He gets after me once in a while, but not as often as he'd like to, definitely not every time I need it. Thought I didn't see that, didn't ya, HMT?

He has definitely given me some new direction to think about.

Doesn't know me well enough to know what I hear and don't hear. Yet.

We're doing pretty good though. How do I know?


My poor suburban dog got a crash course in ranching over the last 10 days.

I saw him figure out with lightening speed how things worked around there.

He learned that all business is not his business.

He learned his job was to protect me, our camper and our horse trailer.

He learned to do it within 25 yard parameters, not the entire ranch (sorry Red and Rastus).

He learned that other dogs belong with their people and he belongs with me.

He learned to trail along with my horse quietly, past cattle, other dogs, other riders and things that go bump in the night.

He learned that Charlie really knows his business as a ranch dog and is perfectly willing to throw him under the bus.

This was a huge amount of information for him to digest. He absorbed it with the same enthusiasm, joy and wild delight he has when we play "Find it!" or "Bite!" at home and with HMT.

We got it done without shouting, finger pointing or bad karmic waves emanating from my brain.

The leash and prong collar never had to come out of the training bag.

Turns out I'm really happy I've stuck with this program. So is my dog.

Good down!

Quiet. Yes, even with all that enthusiastic "Good boy!" I can still be quiet.
Fairness. Brockle can look me straight in the eye, without a hint of insecurity and figure out our next step. It's absolutely frigging awesome.
Know my craft. Not yet, but I can feel someday coming.

So it turns out this training is pretty much the same, even though they're worlds apart, these dogs and horses.
It's coming together though.
Because I make sure I listen to my trainers. All three of us, and it's starting to look like I can actually hear what's being said.


  1. Posts like this make me realize how much help I need with dog training.

  2. It's been a mind altering experience, I'll tell you.

  3. Am I the only one thinking the quiet and wait and happy place training could aid in most aspects of my life? Kids. Husband. Horses. Dogs. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Yes, I need to put more effort and time into my dogs. I've got to fix the cat chasing thing. The cow dog clinic is Aug 10-11...but that doesn't help on cats ;~) Well...maybe I better think on that a lil' bit.

    But my latest and greatest new favorite horse trainer is a 900 mile round trip :(

    BTW...My Man is talking about 'riding' in next year's clinic!

  5. How about a cat herding clinic?

    And Yay! for next year!

  6. This could be us!!!!!

  7. Ah, but it is sooo hard to be positive and patient with 120 pounds of enthusiasm! I have a almost 2 year old female Irish Wolfhound who greets everyone and everything with unbounded enthusiasm. We are working very hard on controlling that enthusiasm. I often wonder if we are making progress, but then an example like yesterday, where a group of toddlers in a park came up to say hi, and she voluntarily laid down so they could approach on their own and pet her. It's something she had figured out in the past to lay down so that nervous little dogs would approach and say hi (which she always got praised and rewarded for) she made the connection to the little people too.

  8. Awesome! I think I'm getting the first three, I'm working on the fourth one. I don't have a trainer right now. It has to be me. I'm either the worst trainer I've ever had or the most ignored trainer I've ever had. I'll keep working on that. Great post - I'm saving this one!

  9. Gyttyup - I'm herding Persians, you take the Abyssinians...

    I can't imagine an overly enthusiastic Wolfhound, my biggest problem is Brockle's lethal, huge and pointy nose.

  10. gtyyup:

    The cat chasing thing tapers off at about 14 yrs. At least it did with my Aussie. Patience.

  11. Hmmmmmm...maybe it's because my cats are feral...I should get some registered ones huh? LOL...thanks for the support redhorse...only 12 more years to go! If those cats would just stand up and smack the crap out of them, they'd stop. That's what Tat did and they never chased him...sigh. But, I think the two of them together (Red and Rastus) feed off of each other too.

  12. You know Rebecca, I keep thinking about what you said, I'm still leaning towards shock collars for the husbands and kids.

  13. Just an FYI on the shock collars...if the husbands and kids like them then they aren't really a deterrent...

  14. I have what I believe to be a great idea...Mouthy Monday postings written by the people who attended your clinic (about their experience(s) of course).

  15. The dog training stuff is interesting to me on a purely intellectual level, but crikey o'reilly the hearing something other than what's said? Wow, do I grok that one!
    When I was younger I used to have a big problem with the inner critic getting between me and my ride and causing reaction lag, as evinced by a trainer once saying, "What the f is wrong with you that you can only ride properly when everything's gone to shit!" It was the only time the bitch inside my head shut up - I have since taught enough people to be grateful for this, as it turns out that some people's inner critic only gets worse when faced with imminent doom.
    I used to translate things inside my head too - 'keep the shoulder' would become 'why can't you keep the shoulder you useless idiot!' but I realised with some surprise the other day that since I quit and went cold turkey and came back, and am no longer dependent upon riding for a living, that that has stopped happening. A dropped shoulder is just a dropped shoulder now. Mostly. I still have the occasional obsessive, no-good, very-bad day, but now I can drop into and out of the hyperfocused headspace that let me get past the voices without much of an appreciable impact on my riding. It's a weird feeling, like I don't quite recognise the interior landscape.

  16. PaintArab- I think it would be a great idea! Except someone (ahem) needs to get Mouthy Monday off the ground again.
    FD - I am a much better trainer now that I'm no longer training for a living...

  17. FD, Grok? I haven't heard that one in a long time. That tells me a lot about your age and reading list. I grok you in fullness.


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