Welcome to my blog - a diary about living with donkeys, notes about care, my training sessions and the absolute pleasure of donkey companionship.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Clicker Training Clinic, May 6-9

Back from an amazing clinic with Alexandra Kurland in Cochrane, Alberta.  She comes to Canada once a year, so this is a great opportunity, although too far to take my donkeys.  But this year, I attended as a participant instead of auditing and that means a "private" lesson a day, master class style (with the rest of the class watching.)

Alex has people working with people, before including the horses.  That way you get to practice rope handling mechanics and body posture/ language on a person before messing up your horse. And your person/partner can tell you if you are rudely jerking the lead or if your body language is confusing.  It's a great aproach.

Alex says:  first practice with a chair (attach the end of the lead to a chair) then with a person and THEN with an animal!

What I particularly loved about this clinic was the emphasis on body language.  With Blossom, the very shy rescue donkey, I was asking her to target my hand through a fence, then guiding her along the fence and having her turn her head into the fence to reposition for a walk down the other way.  I practiced using my shoulders, then adding my arms and hands like a symphony conductor, with awareness of hips and feet too.

So both she and I were flowing, so to speak, along the fence line and her turns became deliberate as she anticipated what we were doing.

I also worked with Snowy, the clicker star pony and what a great experience to feel how a well trained animal should move.  With rope reins used as a lead, I was sliding my hand softly down to the snap and asking for
lateral flextions.  I realize I said (hand, singular) when actually both hands should be in play, moving in opposite directions and then releasing AS SOON AS the animal yields.  I have a very bad habit of hanging onto the lead rope with my right hand!

Alex is the most thoughtful and articulate of instructors.  Every action, method and approach can be backed up by a veritable treatise that has been mulled over well and planned.  This made for very long days as we started discussions over breakfast at 8 AM and continued until well after dinner.  I realize though, that  a head full of theory is useless unless you can put it into practice.  It's one thing to write pages of notes and "think" you get it but quite another to work beside a living breathing animal!

Meanwhile, it's a gorgeous spring day and the garden awaits - more thoughts later ...

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