I have a problem. I’m a clinician who loves her job and at the same time, wonders if there are better ways to do it. I’m obsessed with evolving clinics to be easier for horses and less stressful for riders. We love the camaraderie of a clinic weekend, if it isn’t our horse in a lather, screaming because he doesn’t know if he’ll see home again. Or our horse is Steve McQueen Cool but now that it’s the big day and seeing the clinician up close and personal is pretty intimidating. Every year I try different ideas, some of which are big improvements. Keyword: Some.
A good clinic should have riding time, but not in a chaotic crowded arena. There should be individual attention and also group learning by watching others. Problem-solving time is important because if the problem mentioned isn’t yours, it has been or will be.
The welfare of the horses must come first, and safety must come first, and the satisfaction of the rider must come first. It’s a tightrope between what works for horses, what works for people, and the simple and ugly truth that clinicians are not capable of faith healing. Then there’s this: tick. tick. tick.
Two parts have to work. First, the horse needs to be comfortable. If the clinic is happening at their home barn, it’s easy, assuming the farm being attacked by space-alien horses isn’t a problem. It works out if the horse is hauled often enough that we think they’re usually okay in strange places. Keyword: Usually. But if the horse doesn’t get hauled often, getting to the clinic might be so exhausting that they can’t do much when they get there. If the clinic is a week long, there’s time for the horse to adjust but if the clinic is just a day long, it can be a wash, and no one wants that. A reminder: On any given day, your horse may behave in a way totally unrecognizable to you.
The second part is that the rider needs to be comfortable. This is trickier. It helps if you like being watched by a group of strangers when you ride. (I hear crickets.) It helps if you enjoy being told what to do in the saddle while the same folks watch you try to figure it out. (More crickets.) And it helps if you can feel that the instructor, who you have just hauled your horse to, and wrote a check to, and have some desire to impress, is nothing special so you can breathe normally. You might think you’d never go to a horse show but going to clinics is a peaceful learning experience, until the similarities dawn on you …by surprise at the mounting block. And on this given day, you become totally unrecognizable to your horse.
My part is the simple stress of being away from home. Whether I drive or fly, the unpredictable nature of travel and weather and a hundred interrelated situations vex me. When I arrive at a farm, people tell me the exact same thing. “The weather is unusual for this time of year.” I’ve become a believer in global warming because I see it everywhere I go. I’ve had clinics canceled for fire and about any other ordinary anomaly you can imagine. And I’m concerned about my own carbon footprint. I worry horses won’t be the long-timers like cockroaches, we’re already dealing with related health issues. So, to be clear, I love my work and I love my home, both the farm and the planet. I won’t entirely quit traveling, but we have to get creative and evolve not only our methods but also how we learn them.
Then Covid kept us all home and
forced inspired me to launch the online school. A crazy thing happened. The loudest voice was from our horses. They all agreed they liked to work from home and blossomed. Simultaneously, the second-loudest voice was heard. It was the high-pitched whine of horsepeople spooked by technology. They shy from seeing themselves on camera. They shut down when shown an obstacle they haven’t seen before. Are you one of them? Well, snap out of it because if you have a horse, it already means you’ll be learning forever. And you’re missing meeting like-minded horsepeople from around the globe. If technology bucks you off, climb back on. You’ve ridden rougher stock than a cell phone. You’ve got this.
I confess, I can’t tell if the real training challenge is with horses or technology but let’s take it on. To start, just see how it works. I invite you to my barn to watch me work in real-time via video diary, followed by a meeting once a month. We’ll have the group dynamic we like at clinics but lasting longer than a couple of days. Horses have a safe place to progress and now, working from home doesn’t mean you being alone.
A few years ago, I was asked to participate in a horse make-over reality show, one of those races to dominate horses and make a spectacle of training. I thought You don’t know who I am, do you? and I’m still laughing. Maybe a friend’s idea of a practical joke, but fair warning, this event will take as long as it takes. Come see what patience looks like.
But wait. My horses are retired and I don’t have room for a new horse … but wait, I forgot. One of them is sound, but he came with a history. He struggles with fear and reactivity and personal space issues and nipping and poor ground manners and anxiety about touch and separation anxiety and body dysphoria and being stuck at training plateaus. He is nothing less than one of the top-five most complicated horses I’ve ever worked with. He’s perfect.
Against the advice of friends who worry it’s too big a challenge, and others who can’t wait to watch, it’s game on! I have a plan and I assume we will immediately veer away from it. The question isn’t if it’s difficult; it’s how we stay inspired and negotiate when things go sideways because things always do.
My goal is cart driving for a non-ridden horse, but the work is fundamental to any horse and any discipline. It’s about communication. Training is the process of collecting good experiences, regardless of end goals. In time, I’m sure that every other extenuating circumstance possible will come up, but we’ll start with separation anxiety and the simple problem that the horse hates me. I don’t take it personally. He hates everyone.
I’ll breathe a lot and use affirmative training and advanced calming signals. I’ll use peaceful persistence to rebuild his damaged training foundation. I’ll show you from a distinct perspective, with a GoPro camera strapped on my head so you literally see with my eyes. It gets a bit wiggly, but the vantage point matters. Our conversation in calming signals should be intimate.
Think of it as a clinic, one horse and one participant, and a trainer who gives commentary. Each week, I’ll post a video of several of our work sessions, with a voice-over explaining my process and the changes I see. View them at your leisure. You’ll be able to comment on the feed with other auditors and me. Once a month, we’ll meet for a live chat to share progress and ask questions, also recorded for later viewing. You’ll need to join my Barn School, but the site is private. I’d never share your information.
No work is required of you. Use it as a case study for understanding the fundamentals of Affirmative Training. Or if you choose, make a training diary for your horse and work adjacent to us.
You’re invited to audit this Evolutionary training clinic. In six months’ time, there will be 24 weekly sessions and 6 live chats, for less than the cost of two days of auditing at a live clinic.
Here’s the information about joining us at Bhim’s Training Diary. Click here.
We start with Week One: He Doesn’t Have To Like Me.
Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward
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Anna teaches ongoing courses like Calming Signals, Affirmative Training, and more at The Barn School, as well as virtual clinics and our infamous Happy Hour. Everyone’s welcome.
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Affirmative training is the fine art of saying yes.