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July 13, 2014: Lessons Learned: Overcoming Obstacles

A big day in my life, for me, perhaps a dream is beginning to unfold. I am now in the process of starting to articulate what this dream might be. Here it is: I’d like to have a small farm, in size between 10-15 acres. I would have a five stall barn, a shelter for hay storage, an outdoor arena, and a tack room. I’d own four Icelandic horses and board a fifth one.

As importantly, I’d have a resource/conference center. A large part of my life’s work will center around working with horses and riders, using (for lack of a better word) positive reinforcement training. I’d work with individuals and bring in others with particular areas of expertise. I’d do Tteam training, clicker training, and rely on other complementary modalities.

Here’s what brought this to mind. Today we hosted a get together in which 13 outside horses and riders tried out our home-made obstacle course. After, Pete took them all for a trail ride. I’d been thinking for years about building an obstacle course, and I had made a list of things that I’d like to include in it. Last night Pete and I went over my most recent list, then we went outside and gathered together some of the

construction materials. This morning we got out early, and in the rain we began assembling this course.

When complete, it consisted (in part) of a gate, a sawhorse bridge, a string streamer, a barrel turning device, a teeter totter, and a tarp pull. In the process, horses had to move forwards, backwards, and sideways. I marked each section with numbers on paper plates, and then printed up a list. My hope is that people will, in putting together their own courses, refer to this list. When, finally, people began arriving, the rain stopped and the sun came out.

I ended up being a designated ground person – Pete did the same. The toughest obstacle was perhaps the most innocuous one, which was the tied together corn oil containers. (Even Tinni had a hard time with this.) The bright yellow containers were in a jumble, tied together with baling twine. Riders were to lift jugs off the picnic table, over their horses’ withers, and then set them down on a spool table. I helped the riders who were having difficulty with this. This included Dan and his horse Tinker, a Paso Fino. Tinker immediately made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with the containers—most likely he thought that the GMOs were going to eat him. I went and got an individual container, and first I repeatedly passed it (on both sides) to Dan. Then I had him pick up and set down the containers. Next, I had him lift the containers. And after that, he put the containers over his horses’ shoulder. I used treats – if Tinker had clicker training, I would have used my clicker.

I didn’t work with my horses, although Pete did work a bit with Hrimmi and rode Tinni though a portion of the course. But I learned as much as did the other riders and their horses. What was most significant to me was that I was able to give an assist, using positive reinforcement techniques.

I want to do more of this, and I want to bring in others who think similarly. If they can’t come to our place, we might do a webinar and after a presentation, do a question and answer session. This would then add to my knowledge base, as well as the knowledge base of attendees.

When I again host a trails obstacle day, I’ll do things differently. I put the goats in the small horse pen, but they got out. In the future, I’ll make sure that they’re secured. Terri Mielke also noticed that there was a hornet’s nest at the base of one of the trees. We sectioned it off with the streamer tape, but the next time, I’ll build the course in advance, in hopes of seeing such things, and taking care of them beforehand. I’ll also design the course so that each obstacle is related to a particular cognitive ability –and beforehand, I’ll point these things out to participants. I’ll also have people walk through the course first with their horses; this way they’ll get a better sense of what might possibly be problematic.

I’d say that in all respects, this day was a huge success. I did not work our horses. However, the course is still up, so I am going to do this shortly. All this is the beginning of the realization of a dream.

Next: 192. 7/14/14: A Conversation with Ranger and Rover