Monday, December 8, 2008

Mona's Thoughts on First Meeting Cali

Last week, for the first time, I met Dolores and Cali, and my life, the possibilities in it, changed.

There is so much I could say, and maybe one day, I'll write a book, or, if that turns out to be too daunting, perhaps something shorter, about the experience. This was only the first meeting, and hopefully, Dolores and Cali will be back in February, bringing with them more excitement, possibilities, and yes, even stress.

When Dolores got Cali out of the trailer for the first time and I was able to put my hands on her, to "see" her for myself, the joy of it was immeasurable. I wanted to hug Dolores, to hug Cali, to stand there and just revel in the whole idea that this little living creature would open up my world. At that point, I knew theoretically that Cali would show me things I didn't know, would take me places I wouldn't dare try to go on my own. I say I knew this theoretically, but even then, standing there with Dolores and Cali those first few minutes, I didn't truly understand it.

Dolores and I took Cali for a short walk around the block, a walk in which she held one leash on Cali's left and I held onto the other leash and the harness on Cali's right. Even so, I was walking with her! I was so excited and had to be reminded to slow down. "Take a deep breath," I told myself. "You can do this." And I did. At first, Cali trit-trotted along faster than I was comfortable with. Usually, when I'm confident about where I'm going, I walk at a brisk pace, but because I was nervous and had never walked with a guide animal, let alone a mini, going slowly seemed the more prudent choice.

And when Cali understood that I needed her to slow down, there was a moment between us, as if we knew each other, and without pressure on the leash or words, we communicated. She slowed for me. C/t, Cali!

Which brings me to clicking and treating. There's a real knack to it, one which I can't claim I've gotten quite yet. I wanted to click and give the treat quickly, but I kept forgetting to stop first by letting the harness handle go, then reaching for the treat _after I clicked. Dolores finally told me that I couldn't expect to do everything right the first time. What I really wanted to say was, "Why not?" But, again, I tried to be prudent and reminded myself that she was right, after all. I'd get it in time. Meanwhile, she was there to help see that I got it through my thick head.

That day flew by like a blur, with Cali coming to work with me, standing beside my chair while I pretended to get work done. The office door was closed and her leash was off, so she was able to move around the office at will. I clicked and treated when she came to stand quietly next to me and then when she stood quietly for a minute or two.

The next day, Dolores and Cali met me at work, and again, Cali had to stand quietly in the office. Again, I pretended I was getting work done.

In the afternoon, Cali, Dolores, and I went for a walk, and that was when I really understood what Cali may someday become for me. She was pretty excited to go for her walk, and I had a hard time getting the harness on, but eventually, it was on and we were off. The happy sound of her hooves clicking on the pavement gave me a little thrill. She kept the perfect pace for me, and we walked around the block first.

At first, I thought it would be a good idea to walk next to the curb. Well, it might have been a good idea had I been somewhere else, but as there were so many obstacles in the form of planters, posts, and things I can't even remember, we decided that walking close to the buildings would be a better option.

But what was really exciting was that Cali showed me things I'd never seen before. For instance, I didn't know about the posts or the planters or the driveways we came across. Sighted people don't tell you about these things when you're walking along, mainly because they're not important at that particular moment. They may not be essential, but imagine! Cali showed me things that I didn't know existed. She'll show me trash cans or fire hydrants or mail boxes—anything that is on our path and that she thinks I'll find interesting. That is more amazing than I can say, and definitely more than I'd expected. That's when I truly understood what Cali could bring into my life.

When we came back around to the building where I work, Cali pointed out the front door even though she had never walked through that door to get into the building. We always went in through the back, yet she knew! How thrilling! C/t. Go Cali!

Our walk took us to MacDonald's, where she stopped to show me the flagpole. It wasn't on our path, but because I'd been here before and heard the flag waving in the breeze, I knew why she'd stopped. Dolores told me to always assume that Cali had stopped for a good reason, at least in the beginning, and even though it was hard, I did. Sometimes, Cali stopped, and I couldn't figure out why. It would turn out to be an obstacle to my right, a crack in the sidewalk, a wide driveway, a terrain change, or something else that she thought I might find interesting. C/t.

Then Cali stopped, and neither Dolores nor I could figure out why. I thought of asking Cali to go on, but it was clear she was a bit nervous. So I didn't push her. Instead, Dolores and I waited for something to happen. Apparently, there was a man some ways off. I don't know if he looked shady or if he was even looked at us, but Cali didn't like it. We had passed other people and Cali hadn't reacted that way, so I c/t'd, and after a bit, we continued. Who says horses can't be protective?

Which brings me to people and their reactions to Cali. All along, as we'd been walking, people would stop their cars and stare. I could hear them stop, and often, they'd yell, "I thought that was a dog. Is that really a horse?" Or, "Is that a guide pony?" I mostly didn't respond because I was concentrating so hard on where we were going and what Cali was trying to show me. Thank God for Dolores, who answered the questions and allowed me to focus. One person asked if she could pet Cali, and again, Dolores came to my rescue and explained that no, Cali couldn't be petted because she was working. I had been about to say yes. At one point, Cali decided we were passing a particularly delectable stretch of grass, and she needed to have a little snack. Dolores told me to pick up her head by applying a bit of pressure to the leash and turning her nose toward me, and at first, I thought, I can't do this. She's too strong. But I got her head up, and we continued. She stopped several more times, insisting that this was perfectly good grass and shouldn't go to waste. After a while, I felt when her nose was turning and automatically turned her head back so that she was facing straight ahead. Finally, she remembered herself and her guide work, and on we went.

When we returned to my building, Cali found the door, and as we'd been working on "find the handle," she found thatas well, and in we went. C/t for an awesome walk, Cali and Dolores!

For a while longer, Cali stayed in the office with me, "chilling". There was one moment when I wished someone had had a camera, because Cali put her head on the arm of my chair and stayed like that for a bit. But alas! There's never a camera around at the perfect moment! As a matter of fact, my boss, who had to take pictures because people he knew insisted on seeing photos of Cali, claims that Cali isn't very good at picture-taking. As soon as he's ready to take the perfect shot, Cali looks away or puts her head down. He even claimed I'd done that as well!

Dolores and Cali left a bit later as it looked like the weather was going to get pretty bad, and I was left to really get some work done and then go home. The visit had been the most incredible thing I'd ever experienced, and it had been exhausting as well. I wished Cali and Dolores could stay, but I knew that I had to take some time out to recuperate. It had been stressful to learn how to interact with Cali, how to put the harness on, to take it off of a prancing, excited horse, to keep hold of the leash and take off the harness. I wouldn't have traded it for the world, though. I am eagerly awaiting the day when Cali and I will become partners and will travel to places neither of us would have alone. My world is now a place I never dreamed, one I never dared hope for; it is now a world full of hope and possibilities and opportunities. It is a world where the words "I can" are once more a part of my vocabulary. With the help of Dolores and Cali, I am now beginning to find my way.

Friday, December 5, 2008

If you don't see it, It doesn't exist

"If you don't SEE it. It doesn't exist". Mona said that when
Cali targeted a fire extinguisher that Mona never knew was
there. Mona was thrilled not only because Cali will help to
take her places and keep her safe but that she will point
out things that Mona didn't know were there. Mona can
then decide whether its important or not. How much more
colorful will Mona's world be with Cali as her eyes.

Everytime Cali stopped, Mona would ask "Why did
she stop". I said "Explore it and find out". I won't always
be here to tell you. But, Cali will.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cali made her first visit to a restaurant today. With permission of the
owners we attended the year end banquet for the local Mini Horse club.

Cali, rode in the SUV. We towed her bathroom. Which is her trailer at this
moment.She is comfortable "going" there. She goes right on cue every time I ask
her. She did need her ramp to get in to the SUV, but she jumped out. Good girl!

She found the door, stopped at the step, found the door handle (this one
still needs work) and found an empty chair. She stood by calmly while I ate brunch and answered questions.

As at waitress came over to pour some more coffee I asked her what her
impressions were of having a horse in the room. She answered in a way that was most
rewarding. She said at first she didn't even realize that it was a "real" horse. She thought "How cute, the club has brought a stuffed horse". This is a great testimonial on how good Cali was. She told us she felt no fear walking around her to serve and that she was not a disturbance in any way. She didn't think she took up too much room at all.

I sat on the left end of a table. Cali stood by my left knee sometimes with
her little nose resting on my knee. She never intruded on the table goodies. What a little star.

As I've said before this being "still" is the hardest thing to train. Just
being still while she is alone is one thing. But, being still while her person is there is quite another.

After about 1/2 hour, I took her out to her bathroom and she went easily and

She stayed in another 1/2 hour before I took her out again. She went again
and that told me she was a little stressed by the experience. When not stressed, she
goes for about 2 hours when doing nothing.

She can work a lot longer but the doing nothing is still confusing.

Then, she led me back in. She knew right away where we were going to get
back and pointed out all the terrain changes along the way. She found the door, the
mat at the doorstep (wouldn't want any tripping) and she found our chair.

This is the conclusion of a week that had her inside quite frequently. She
stands on her rug, or stands quietly with her nose on my knee. She has a toy or two in the house but doesn't play much yet.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Just Do Nothing

If training a guide was all about training leading, following a path and
avoiding obstacles Cali would be ready to go home with Mona.

It's not though. With dogs we are now entering the phase of training that
would be termed - easy. Teaching a dog to do what a dog does best. That's
nothing. Dogs are perfectly happy to sleep 17 hours a day. Unless that dog
is a Border Collie or Siberian Husky it would just be a matter of setting
the dog up for success at what he already wants to do.

Horses on the other hand sleep a very little amount of the normal 24 hour
day. And, when they do sleep it is for much shorter periods of time. For a
dog, the normal cycle might be sleep, eat, sleep some more. For a horse it's
more like
eat, sleep a little, eat some more. It's no wonder we find little horses so
hard to keep from getting fat.

That's been one of the challenges for Cali as well. Finding the right amount
of food to keep her happy and keep her weight down. Toys are a good
distraction. Cali has a Jolly ball, a regular ball, a tire tug toy and a
rope to play with.
When she's not in her stall eating, you can find her in her stall playpen.

With the purchase of a ramp Cali has now shown us her mountain goat
imitations. She'll take the ramp, even very steeply up into the SUV. It's
the foldable kind and somewhat narrow. By starting slowly she will now use
it to climb up into any car that the ramp will fit in. We haven't tried
small cars yet. We got our ramp from
We got the MMC by Pet Step - Gray. I guess they are discontinuing Gray
because it was a lot cheaper than the Beige one. Who knows.

Now, once in the car we have the "do nothing" issue. I've said before that
if Cali is with me in the bus, car or elsewhere she is happy. That's because
she knows that I'll reward her for something soon. We've lighted the fire of
learning in Cali and she wants to learn more and more.

The challenge is to turn the learning into waiting. Still it's learning.
And, it's something she did as a show horse. When she went to a horse show,
she'd stand tied to a trailer and wait for her classes. We need to re-tap
into that skill.

The skill she is learning again is called in training terms "duration". We
can use the idea of standing on a mat which if you think about it is a
measurable task. Cali has her ramp which folds in half and makes a nice
platform to stand on. We hope this will solve the instability and possible
damage issues surrounded around standing on a back seat.

She also has a small rug to stand on. These are positive cues and clues for
her. When we stop at a corner, Cali understands wait. Soon, we will shape
her to find her rug and her folded ramp. At this time standing quietly gets
rapid fire reinforcement. It's like saying yes, yes, yes and yes over and
over again. It will be up to her to discover what the yes is for.

Conversely, if she paws or fidgets, she is asking for either me to leave.
Not fun. No chance of reward or further fun. In horse training circles when
you want the horse to continue doing what it's doing without feed back you
might say something like "don't make me ask again" Usually the "ask" in this
scenario is some form of pressure.

Step by step we will shape standing still.

Another interesting sideline to this training is that a horse cannot eat and
potty at the same time. Who would have guessed this. They actually stop
eating to go. This is one little detail that I had not really recognized
until the beginning of this "do nothing" training.

Again, in horse training circles people talk about rhythmic pressure. The
flip side is that rhythmic feeding will prevent the unexpected. Of course
this must be within the limits of the digestive tract. Using all of these
tools we were able to go a whole day with out Cali "going" in her stall

Another interesting learning is that "girls" like privacy. We might need a
little screen for her. All of the "going" does seem to be predicated by a
schedule. Cali anticipates when we are going to go to work. She never has to
go on request at the beginning of a work session. I'm not sure how she knows
but she does. I never see her do it but by the time I'm there with her
halter and harness, she's gone. If I put her into her potty place she just
doesn't have to go.

The other thing is that a horse will "go" when stressed even a little. One
can determine stress from this fact. My big horses and most of my student
horses never "go" in the arena while we work. This is true unless I've
pushed them into stress or confusion. This almost never happens.

I doubt that many people think about this kind of thing with their big
horses. It's fun to discover. At a recent dressage show, I noticed that no
horse "went" during it's test. Funny what you notice when you are looking
just a little out-of-the-box.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Intelligent Disobedience

We've been focusing on Cali pointing out interesting things - to her. She
cannot be wrong. I wanted to discover what she could find. I wanted to know
what was important to her. And, at the same time point out to her things
that I thought would be important to Mona.

Whenever you train a new thing it's important to relax your standards on
previously learned work. the beginning of the week had Cali pointing out
tree branches on the ground, light and dark spots on the road, telephone
poles along with the more preferred mailboxes, driveways, obstacles to
travel like overhead obstructions and cross-walks. For awhile, her dead on
shore lining suffered while she left the track to point out something of
interest which might be a bush.

That was OK because the more she pointed out the more I could refine. It
would be a lot harder to add things that she didn't notice that to exclude
those that she did.

The first fix was not to leave the track. Within a day or so you could
clearly see that while she thought about a post that was off the track she
understood not to deviate. All on her own she discovered the lines in the

Our own driveway has been a little bit of a problem because we were walking
at that point with the traffic she did not see the driveway as an option.
And, if the truth be told I don't think she wanted to find the driveway
because it led home and to the end of work. Cali loves working and would
much prefer to go down or up the road again instead of going home.

Now with the discovery of white lines that mark the shoulder of the road, we
also have the end of the white line that marks the break where our road
comes in. voila! discovery! Nose to the ground and a little hoof paw tells
you where the white line ends. Very cool.

So, travel with Cali is really fun.

An important aspect of the guides job is to notify the handler of things
that are unsafe. My husband walked one day with us as we discussed how we
would safely attack the idea of cars coming from no where. Cali was
unconcerned by the conversation and led us along with aplomb. As we walked
up the road, suddenly Cali stopped dead in her tracks.
With eyes wide open we discussed what had made her stop. We looked far ahead
and only a little ahead. I can see and I didn't see anything. But, still I
was hesitant to tell Cali she was wrong.

Cali refused to budge as I gently asked for forward. I asked with a question
mark not wanting to make her feel wrong for stopping. Good thing because
just at that moment a deer stuck it's head out of the woods. Had I not been
looking so carefully I'd have missed it. But, Cali didn't miss it. She knew
the deer was about to cross our path and it would be best to wait. Now, Mona
is not likely to encounter too many deer, that deer could have been a child
on a bike or a car coming to cross our path. Good girl.

Lest anyone think that deer are a problem for Cali, we've easily passed deer
in yards, pastures and other places without a problem. Barking dogs, cats
and other distractions have caused no concern at all.

Then very next day we parked a car across the road. It got there while we
were out walking so Cali would not have seen it on the way out. As we
approached the stopped car Cali stopped about 10 feet before the car. That's
her way of telling me that something new is out there. A "forward" took her
right up to the car. Cali targeted it. When directed right she turned and
targeted the front bumper of the car. Turn left and she targeted the end of
the car. Over left took us back to the path.

Over the weekend we had the opportunity to speak to Ann Edie. Ann is the
owner of Panda. Panda is Ann's mini horse guide. I am very fortunate to have
Ann live not far away and it is invaluable to get her input on guiding.

Mona's life is quite different from Ann's and so many of the things that are
important to Ann, may not be as important to Mona. The input is most
valuable and I am grateful to have it.

Where and when to potty became an interesting discussion. I'm using what is
called an environmental cue. One can think of the restroom as an
environmental cue. Most of us wait until we are in a restroom to perform the
desired action. Dogs too are trained with environmental cues which can be
general or very specific.

Small show dogs are often taught to go only on wee-wee pads. Their little
feet never hit the ground. Animals are quite amazing in their ability to
figure out what's ok and what's not.

That said, it's important to vary everything except the one constant that
you want to become the environmental cue. Many people that are not well
travelled have difficulty in public restrooms or even at the homes of
friends. This can even be unhealthy if a person suddenly has to travel for
many days. So, we want to be as flexible as possible and at the same time
limit the action to only appropriate times just as we might potty train a
child. We have to be careful of not making it so re-enforcing that it
becomes a behavior that can be used to "beg" us to participate in. This is
like a dog who has learned to bark to go out. He might bark to go out just
because he wants to go out and play rather than to do his business.

This is a tricky business.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Busy Week

It's been a busy week here in New York. I haven't had much time to write.
But, that doesn't mean we haven't done lots.

We had a second visit to the little town of Broadalbin. On the first visit
we walked through the town while I showed Cali all the interesting sites.
She did a great job of guiding straight on the sidewalks, across the
cross-walks. She had just started to show interest in pointing things out.

We have now focused more on pointing out interesting things. We've also
worked more on the pointing out of terrain changes. To do that we worked in
our arena with various objects. At first I took her to objects and showed
her how to target them with her nose. I also showed her how to paw at a
terrain change. A terrain change in the arena was defined as dirt to a
board, dirt to a tarp, up onto a platform.

Later, I sat in a chair and asked her to find interesting things. But, she
could only find the same object once. We are still at the point on our walks
where she would like to point out every post in the guard rail. Very cute
but not very useful. This is an interesting concept to get across to her.
Point it out once. What to her is only once?

The arena exercise went well. No clicks for objects pointed out a second
time. And, she had to come back to me in the chair to get her treat. Then,
she could start out again to look for another interesting object. She found
the tarp, the mounting block, a rope on the ground, the barrels with a bar
across which she could fit under but I could not, a fence placed across the
arena, jumps, a cart and the platform. She had a lot of fun with this. The
one thing that I thought very interesting was that even though she could
have gone under the barrel obstacle on her search of things to touch, she
did not. The importance of this will become apparent.

In another training session, we walked the arena with her guiding. I set her
up to walk along one wall. Then, I let her choose a route. She chose a route
that took us around all the obstacles and went in a square. An interesting
object was the rope on the ground. She had no trouble pointing it out with
her nose. But, then the question of should she walk over it or around it? A
good question. She has a clear idea of what should be gone around and what
can be gone over. I don't. So, for now, I'll trust her. A pole on the ground
should be gone around. The coiled rope can be walked over. We'll continue to
do information gathering on this.

The second walk in town took us up and down the bank steps. The bankers
welcomed her and were excited that we were using their place for training.
We traveled to the post office, we found grates, intersections and cross
walks. She was even able to find the yellow painted curb that indicates a
cross walk. Good girl.

We've also walked in the dark at night several times. There was no moon so I
could barely see a thing. Her route modified only slightly. She stuck less
close to the side of the dirt road. Many leaves had fallen. It was clear
that she was tracking the light part of the road and avoiding the leaves.
She is having a lot of fun finding things. I had to smile and I did reward
the finding of a stump. It could have been a mail box. We can refine as we
go along.

Yesterday we had our longest walk. She did not get tired physically nor
mentally at all. She had enough energy left to get into the car when we got
home. Last week she told me that was very hard. She can only get in without
her harness and from the drivers side. Hmmmm..... More work to be done
there. We went for a little ride and she worked to find a good place to be.
The choice is on the floor or on the seat. Both seemed to do although going
down the bumpy dirt road was a little unbalancing for her. I think she got a
little nervous.

She is happier when I sit with her than when I drive. When she thinks she is
taking care of me, she is all business. When I let her be her, she is full
of fun. I've made it clear that if I lead her from her left, she can be a
horse. She'll trot and play and generally be full of life. When I am on her
right, she is the guide and becomes very serious about everything. Loose she
will often choose my left (her right). I can put my hand on her hindquarters
and even though there is no harness nor halter, she will take me places.
She'll find things and she will guide using the hand signals with forward
and over left. These two she knows well. The other turns not so well but
they are coming. I think she knows go right. But, it's not smooth.

I like that she will find things. That's because Mona says she sometimes
loses things never to be found again. So, if Cali will simply find things,
they can play together to discover what Cali can find. Later, I'll put
smaller objects out for her to find. If we use the "find only once" skill,
Mona can let Cali find and decide if that's what she wants or not. That way,
if Cali doesn't quite understand the "keys" or "gloves" or if Mona loses
something that Cali doesn't know the name of, Cali can still help her find

Next on the agenda is "do nothing". This is an interesting topic. When is
Cali on her own and when is she supposed to simply wait. Suppose I need her
to wait for me. How long can she "wait" disengaged from my active
activities. This is important while Mona works. We started this task. Habit
or patterns will help. Cali understands patterns very well.

I've disrupted her patterns a little the last few days. Horses do like a
pattern like the same feeding time each day. Research has shown that they
can get stressed when their patterns are disrupted. A horse can get ulcers.
If they are fed at 4:00 each day they are already preparing to digest and
the stomach acid starts to fire up. If they don't get fed one day at 4:00
the acid can create an ulcer. That's only one example of a pattern. And, we
can use patterns to train.

But, if we don't vary the pattern enough, the horse doesn't get flexible
enough to cope with changes. Stress occurs. A horse with more experience in
varying situations will become more responsive to now, and not to the
pattern and better able to handle a new situation.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A trip to town

Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera rolling as Cali carefully walked up the steps in the bus with me in tow. The plan was to go to the little town of Broadalbin to test drive some of the obstacle and terrain training we've done in the arena. In the arena, Iset up roadblocks in the form of gates in our path, barrels for noticing,ladders etc. All these things were in our path. I wanted

Cali to point them out by targeting them. We also targeted a chair. Then, we targeted her feet by asking her to touch a plywood mat, a tarp and the change from sand to grass with her feet.

So, Cali traveled in her bus. I don't think she was too comfortable with the bus and neither was I. There is an odd feeling that you must have to get used to to drive a vehicle with steps and glass down to the roadway as it whizzes past.

We parked in the parking lot of a market. The boys at the school yard were most amazed at a little horse getting out of a bus.

Cali when down the first step easily but jumped after the second one. Note
to self: raise the priority of carefully going down stairs. Up to now, I've been happy she would even go down stairs like these. And, we were off.

Cali tracked the street as if she'd been doing it all her life. There was traffic in the store parking lot but she just tracked straight. The sidewalk starts at the first corner. I stopped her at the curb and we turned right to track down the sidewalk. There was a post today on one of the lists
discussing whether the guide should stop at every driveway or only where there is traffic. I stopped her at the driveways. She found and targeted fire hydrants, and sign posts if they were on our path. Too far off our path, she didn't target them. She looked though. On the way out, I stopped at terrain changes. Soon though, I just let her guide.

She doesn't yet know to stop at curbs. We had an interesting trip through the town with very large trucks including tractor trailers and motorcycles going by beside us on the street. Cali was not phased at all by all that noise. The road curves around past a bank, past a post office. Soon, we'll visit the bank and post office and maybe the pizza place or sandwich shop. But, for now, we stopped at the crossroad.

It's nerve wracking focusing in on all the things she needs to be aware of and at the same time letting her do what she can with as little help as possible.

We crossed the street and there was a cross-walk to "find". I pointed it out to her. The curb by the cross walk is painted yellow. I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of vehicles. As the traffic goes slowly thru this part of town, the sound of cars is low and not that easily discernable. And, we had a small motor bike go by that was very quiet.

Cali waited with me. Soon, the sound was quiet and we crossed. She stayed straight and followed the cross-walk. She did stop at the curb on the other side. Good girl.

At this side walk we turned left to pass a few more shops. There was a sharp dip in the sidewalk for deliveries to a store. We stopped there a long time as I decided where next to cross the street. I decided to go down the hill across a bridge over a rather large stream. On the way I noticed a smiling young high school student coming our way. I closed my eyes. I trusted her.
She glided on by without a look. I didn't even know we'd passed until I opened my eyes again. I thanked the young man and we smiled.

On the bridge Cali slowed noticeably. Caution that tells me. She carefully crossed the bridge and picked up the pace on the other side. There was a good place to cross the road. We turned left and stopped and waited as I listened. Just then a cement truck came around the corner it was very loud.

A motor bike driver stopped to wave us on. Thanks but no thanks as Mona would not see nor should she trust that wave. He went on. When it was quiet again, we crossed.

On the other side we again encountered the bridge. Again she slowed - caution.

After the bridge we pass a firehouse. It's all road surface without a sidewalk for guidance. Cali took aim at where the sidewalk started again and took us straight to it. She targeted a electric pole where the route narrowed sharply. Still enough room for us but worth noting. In front of us,
I noticed a metal ground doorway. The old kind where people load and unload delivering directly into a basement. I knew it would sound hollow and decided to see what Cali would do. She stopped at the metal. Good girl.

Forward took us onto the metal. I asked her to stop before going off the metal. Another person was coming the other way. Cali lifted her head to notice this woman go by. That woman I feel certain wanted to pet Cali but held herself back. Cali did acknowledge the admiration.

What took me by more surprise was that Cali stopped at the next yellow painted curb. I knew it was a cross walk and so did she. I had not planned to cross there but because she noticed it I thought it would be a good reward to cross there.

Again we waited for traffic to be quiet. Across she went. On the other side we turned right to follow our original outbound sidewalk. She thought about targeting the same hydrant that she had on the way out. But, that would have made her cross in front of me. I slid down her lead and told her forward. It was just a flicker of a thought and on she went.

This time there was a truck parked partially on the sidewalk. She targeted it. Hmmmm an interesting concept still about targeting each object only once. Or is it OK to point out that this object is long. So far, I think only once will do. So, I just ask for forward when she targets that same object more than once. Down to the next curb and turn left to go to the bus.
She did not veer directly to the bus. She stayed straight until we were quite close. Then, she targeted the bus. Good girl. I dropped our makeshift guide handle and sent her up the stairs onto the bus for the ride home.

Home I decided that she might as well begin to learn how to go slowly in a guide way down the stairs of the bus. We carefully took each step, waited and clicked. It takes a good deal of hindquarter balance to come down the steps of a bus one step at a time. But, with help she got it. She is very willing to let me help her.

I picked up her harness again and sent her forward wondering what kind of route from the bus she'd take us on. She decided to go straight towards our road. That's her normal route. In the heading straight, though she came across a pole on the ground with a storage box in my way. She stopped - good girl. She targeted the pole, I turned her right and she targeted the box.
All unasked. She made these decisions. We went left around the box, she found our trash.

Technically, that wasn't in our way. I accepted the try anyway. It would give a person some reference of where they were in a tricky situation. She had to pass the horse trailer. She targeted it. I sent her home. She now knows that home is her living space. At least for now.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Bus

Cali's bus.

With thanks to Nancy Scholz, Manora Labradors, Nancy raises great Labs contact her via Nancy also carries on the legacy of Braken Schipperkes through her newest Champion "Gates"

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Details, details, and fitness

So far we're doing pretty well with:
Go through doors
Go around obstacles
Adjust pace - up to trot for me that's a run
Find home (defined as her home for now)
Find mailbox
Over left
Over right

But, within all of these commands there are the details. Like when I click she over rotates around me. That was ok in the beginning but now we need to refine this so that she stays in position. So, that's one detail that we will add in now. Even though she will over-rotate, she still recognizes forward as where I am pointed. So, when I give her the forward she adjusts to find forward based on the flow of my hand and my heading.

Over left is really solid. That's defined as a move to the left while heading straight. Left and right are defined as 90 degree turns moving or from a stop. Since she is over-rotating she doesn't quite get the turns. She is a real trooper at crossing the street dead straight.

And, she has targeting mailboxes dead on. We can find a mailbox, go forward from there and find the next one.

Targeting with the feet is on the agenda now. Targeting with her feet will help her point out terrain changes and curbs. This will be a new concept for Cali.

Her pull is really steady and she is more than willing to pick up the pace. We'll keep at this average pace until we meet with Mona to determine her walking speed. By then, we'll be able to adjust up or down. "Easy" is her cue to slow down. "Easy" goes along with a little pressure on her halter when she gets too exuberant. She loves knowing what to do.

While she can jump in and out of side door of the trailer, she struggles with climbing into the car. That's because she has to pull herself up. Most cars will not have enough room for her to simply jump. It will have to be more controlled. So, we'll go back to climbing the steep ramp as a conditioner.

Along with training Cali, it will be necessary to teach Mona how to handle her. That's because Mona has never had an animal guide. To that end, I gave Cali to my husband today. I instructed him to close his eyes. I gave Cali the "forward" command and off they went. Cali dead on straight. Dave, well..... He'll be a good subject to teach. Cali was a little confused and looked back for me and tried once or twice to find me. That's OK, she'll get it. A click and treat for her. Good girl. That was a good test. She knew what to do but the feel in the harness was different. She will have to learn to generalize and make good choices on what to do even when things aren't completely clear.

Our bus arrived thanks to my friend. It has an elevator for wheelchair access and a reasonable set of steps. I think Cali can climb them. We'll see. We got as far as standing on the ramp facing onto the bus. I could raise the ramp a few inches off the ground. It was the end of the day. So, I decided that was enough for now.

I am so proud of Cali in the relieving department. She has not once offered to "go" while working. Even when we've worked for 3 hours or so.

And, Mona had better not plan on being late for work or she will get a tongue lashing from Cali. Yesterday we were a little late getting started. Just like an alarm clock, Cali started to whinny exactly when we usually work. Very cute and smart.

Cali and cars

Mona asked if it would be possible for Cali to get into a Ford Focus or maybe a Ford Taurus.

We'll see. I'll be teaching her to jump a little higher and to climb in better. She's a fearless climber. This afternoon I thought I'd teach her to jump over what's called a Caveletti. For horse's this is a jump not too big but for Cali it was higher than the length of her leg. I thought she'd jump it. But, not our Cali. One front leg over. There she was straddled with one leg over the pole the other front leg on the other side.

I used a target for this. She loves targeting. No pressure whats-so-ever on her halter. Just the target. She somehow got the other front leg over and then climbed the rest of the way over. So, once she is strong enough, she'll be able to climb into things. But, just what is possible we'll have to see.

After we did that a few times, we went outside to have a little grass because my husband had arrived home. As Dave walked down to say hello, Cali left the grass, went into the arena and targeted a cone. So, we figured it was time to start to teach her Cali's version of Panda Catch. For those that don't know Panda, if a few people come into the arena, Panda will run to a person's side and into "heel" position. For Cali, we took the cone she chose and tossed it to one another and let her run to us to "touch" the cone. Of course she got a click/treat for each touch.

Today, she also "found" mailboxes on our walk down the road. Today, 3 mailboxes where our "directions" to cross the street. Her crossing is really getting good. Very straight. And, she stops square when she reaches the terrain change road pavement to stones at the shoulder.

She found the guard rail again. Now, an interesting conundrem. She kept finding the guard rail. I don't want her to feel wrong as she pointed out each part of the rail. Not every foot nor every inch. But, somehow there was something that she was seeing that seemes worthy of pointing out.

For the second day I also carried a cane. Because I can envison Mona wanting to check out something that Cali points out without walking up to it. So, I didn't want Cali to be afraid of the cane. It took her a little while to discover that the cane was not a target. She wanted to "touch" the end. So, for awhile I'll let her point things out to me. Then, we'll try to refine what she finds. I did name some of the things like "mailbox" for future use as a "find".

"Hup" is coming along as a cue to speed up. She "hups" into trot. Generally a nice day.

Cali - A ride in the car

What an interesting day. Cali was really excited to go today. She started
out trotting along. I would have had to run to keep up. Coming back we are
all up hill and she gets a little tired. We are beginning to find more
options for just the right amount of pull. She seems to understand over left
and over right. She defiantly follows the hand signal for forward, go left
and go right.

Today we decided to start to point out interesting obstacles. She found a
mailbox and targeted it. She found that same guard rail the found yesterday.
I clicked it. Be careful what you wish for because she targeted that
guardrail every few feet. It was cute. Alex always says not to make them
feel wrong so I didn't correct her. I just didn't click the tries.

Crossing the street she goes very slowly and carefully. I think we'll need
to work on that. She seems to be a little confused as to whether she should
cross the lines in the street. Interesting what she notices. She stops
straight when she reaches the end of the pavement. We can then choose a

There was a lot of traffic on the road today. So, it was a longish wait to
cross the street. I decided to cross when I could hear no car noise from
either direction. I closed my eyes at times traveling down the road. I
didn't feel uncomfortable at all. We went straight and true.

Crossing back across the street went well.

Back home again Cali hopped into the car again and we went for a very short

Housebreaking continues to go well except that Cali anticipates when we are
going to work and "goes" before I get there. She hasn't had any accidents.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Another milestone

Little things make the heart go pity pat sometimes. I've been stressing about getting Cali into a vehicle other than the trailer. Of course, you know I like to create baby steps. We've done a lot of preparation for jumping into and out of odd places. I even figured out how to make the back of my SUV lie completely flat. You will be surprised to learn that I've had the thing for 2 years and didn't know how to make it go flat. In fact, I assumed it didn't.

Then, yesterday at lunch with a friend it just seemed obvious. Where the heck have I been for all that time. You know necessity is the mother of invention. Since I didn't think Cali could jump in the back of the SUV without help I created the little course you see on the video. Like me, once Cali realizes it's possible there is no stopping her.

Having been in the Bravada she knew she could and she did. We did it just like Alex and Panda did. Panda is another mini horse guide. Alex is Alexandra Kurland her trainer and my teacher. You can see the Panda video along with other clicker training video under the label "We're using clicker training" down on the right hand side of this blog.

I sat in the seat and had Cali target my hand. The next thing you know there she is standing on the floor of the Bravada. Wow! Out was no problem either.

Tonight or tomorrow I go to pick up my friend's bus that is wheelchair accessible. We'll have that right here to practice with. I'm envisioning having a friend drive the bus to the end of the driveway. Cali and I will walk to the bus, get on and together we'll go somewhere to practice walking.

It seems anti-climatic to say that we also extended our "walk". Past the mailbox, down the road facing traffic, across a bridge over a stream (she stopped there to tell me it was a steep drop off), on to the next driveway, stopped there, turned in left, straight (this was good because straight was not the obvious way to go), to a stone wall, turn right, back down the driveway to the road, wait for no traffic, cross the road, stop at the guard rail on the other side, turn right, shoreline up the road facing traffic, stop at another scary drop-off, stop at two more driveways, at the end of the second driveway turn right, wait at the white line for all noise of cars to be silent, cross to the shoulder, stop, turn left, past the mailbox, past my driveway to the other side, turn right, shoreline up my driveway to home, find the stairs, up the stairs, target down the stairs and after all that, load up in to the Bravada. Whew! We doubled the distance we walked at least.

Now, of course, she was not guiding the whole way. We are, after all, only on week 2. That said, she did a good job of keeping pressure on the harness, finding forward and holding a shoreline. Sometimes she stopped, sometimes I stopped her. So, it was a little guiding and a little teaching. A nice balanced mix. The plan is to start on obsticales this week.

Today, I also carried a walking cane to simulate how Mona might also use her cane to help her orient and find what Cali points out. That way she will know that Cali is right on target or has perhaps made a mistake. In the beginning Cali thought is was a target stick and targeted the tip. When we got to the road I left it behind so as not to confuse her. We did pick it up again and Cali taught me that I could carry it folded and only open it when I wanted to check on what she pointed out.

There seems to be varying opinions from the guide community on whether the guide should alert the handler to an obstacle by stopping or take the handler safely around on her own. Panda guides by taking Ann safely around over heads, poles etc. You can see this on the video clip further down on this blog. Panda stops at changes in terrain like curbs, sidewalks to grass, sidewalk to road pavement. So, it will be up to Mona to decide which she would prefer. Since Mona will be working with a mobility coach, we don't want to rock the boat on this. It's hard for me not to have an opinion. To know one needs an opinion on the subject is the neat part of the training.

Cali - Video at the beginning of Week 2

It's been fun to document the training of Cali. So, we thought we'd do a little video of where she is now. Remember that we are only at the beginning of week 2 of a 9 month plan. As I watch it I can see all sorts of things that will be improved.

Cali's regular guide harness has not yet arrived. So, she is wearing a plain dog harness with a handle I made.

With a good start into getting into cars and busses and "forward" we are on our way.

Cali - Cars, houses, stairs

Each day, we go down the dirt road to the paved road. We turn left and go to the mailbox to pick up the mail. That's the regular route. Cali knows it now. Funny that she's quite happy to continue up the paved road if I don't ask her to turn down our road again. Sometimes horses can be what's called barn sour. Not our Cali. She loves working.
And, on this route, she is out in front with me at her hip. Her pace and pull are getting more consistent.

We got a start today on busses, cars and stairs.We have a small wooden deck with stairs that are open backed. Some dogs have trouble with stairs like that. So, I decided down the stairs where Cali could not see that they were open would be the first step. She came down the stairs like a trooper. She's going to have to come down stairs in a really controlled way in time. I'll be adding a target to help her come down one at a time. But, first things first. We got down 4 steps. And, we went up them too. She was especially careful about going up. I didn't use her guide harness for this work because I wanted her to learn how to do the task. Later, I'll teach her how to do the task while guiding.To get to the porch we took an easy trip through the house. She stopped where there wasn't enough room for the both of us and I had to move a chair. Good girl.

Then we had the big challenge of the day. I wanted her to jump into my trailer through the side door. She's been jumping out that door since the first day But, I needed to show her that in through that door was a possibility. We'll call this the up, up and away day.

We created a ramp up to the side door and Cali just came right in. We went out the other side and with out a thought, Cali jumped in going back the other way. It's a pretty good jump in through a small door. At the same time I wanted to simulate busses and steep ramps. I backed my truck up to the ramp and dropped the ramp so it went up steeply into the pickup truck bed. No problem, she went right up that ramp onto the slippery truck bed. She followed me around the bed of the truck and back down the very steep ramp. The first time I load her into my back seat or the back of my SUV, I'll use the ramp.Into my car is a big jump for a little girl. Only two jumps into the trailer today.We now have a plan for cars. Once she knows she can get in, she is more than willing to try. I've got to remember to let her figure it out and not try to hard to show her. She really is the rule that if she can, she will. And, she's a real thinker.

We didn't do the relieving bag today so Cali kindly went for me while I was cleaning the stall. The girl is thinking ahead. I swear she reads my mind sometimes

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cali's life before

Before going into training as a guide, Cali (Summerfield Mexicali Rose) lived her life ina pasture, visited schools, worked with a 4H'r and somtimes went to shows. Becky thought Cali had that something special. We do too!

Pictures of Cali

This is Cali on our "Test" walk during the busy track season in Saratoga Springs, NY. Throughbred Racing season is a big deal in Saratoga. Our popuation quadruples at least during that time. Although we are only leading Cali during this test walk our goal was to determine if she had the stability of temperment to be a guide.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cali - Housebreaking

Sometimes it's good to write down the plan so as to not forget and be able
to make adjustments down the line. Thanks to Jan Norman for her input on this. More from Jan can be found at: with video on youtube at: clickonsuccess

Here's what we know. Cali will go in the trailer and she'll go with the bag on and she'll go while tied the trailer. So, we'll use these to add a cue.

What we should have at the end of this first phase is a little horse who will go in a bag, while tied in a trailer on cue.

Then, we'll start to eliminate the parts that helped her find the answer one by one. First, we'll eliminate the trailer. This phase may take awhile because what we want is a little horse who will go whenever tied, into a bag, on cue no matter where we are.

Next we'll eliminate the tied. We should have into the bag, on cue no matter where we are. Once this is strong, we'll eliminate the bag so that we only have on cue. We'll still have the bag because that's what Mona will need to pick up. But, she need not wear it. A bag will be much easier to carry than shavings or newspaper. I've spoken to those who get stuck in the horse's location specific cues. I'd like to mitigate that as much as possible because Mona will be travelling with Cali mostly alone. She'll not really have someone to hold her while she uses a rest room. Cali will have to go in with her.

Cali may go too when visiting a rest room and that's fine. But, we do want to be sure we have good control in case a particular Rest Room is not a good place to go.

This morning was a play day. We've had 4 days of active learning. Time to give the mind a rest. So, off we went in our non working halter to the arena to learn how to play. Cali is quiet. That's good in one way. But, to be able to jump up into cars, she may need a little energy. So, today we taught her to target and to go to the target when thrown.We evolved that to going to the thrown target, coming back for the treat and then taking me back to the target with just my hand on her rump. We haven't taught her to retrieve the target yet. Having her take me tot he target
again, will allow Mona to find the target so she can re-throw it. This is a game I expect Mona can play in her back yard.

We picked out her little feet at liberty. Cali didn't seem to want to run or roll while I was there. Although she did roll when we came back to her area. She has a little worker bee mindset. And, for a few minutes we started on the idea of standing by my chair at liberty. A good skill for the house.

Tricky Guide situations

While the normal walking on a street with no sidwalks will be to walk against traffic so that Mona can hear them coming from the front, sometimes, this will not be possible or practical.

The guide must learn to find a shoreline no matter what the direction of traffic is. It would also be helpful for her to find crosswalks. Most safe cross walks will have a painted line markings. Not all painted line marked cross walks will always be safe.

On known routes, Mona may make a choice. Cali will have to respect Mona's choice and keep her safely out of traffic lanes.

Cali Day 4

So how many horses do you know that you can just lift their tails slide on a
plastic bag and bungee it to the harness?
I know one and her name is Cali.

The plan was to go to town today. Cali would ride in the trailer. Trailers
are a place where Cali can "go". So, let's take advantage of that. On with
the plastic bag and into the trailer and tied. Voila! Mini horse goes into a
Wal-Mart bag. Sounds like a head line for the National Enquirer. I was so
surprised that it was so quick, I clicked and took the bag off. A bit too
quick because she needed to go again. No matter, a plan develops slowly and
we now have the start of on-cue pottying because we have a sure thing on
where she will "go". We'll add the bell on the next trial. Not only do I
want her to go on cue, I want a cue for her to tell us it's time.

My friend who has big horses that "go" on cue will load a horse onto the
trailer and since for them too it's usually a "sure thing" she stands right
there with a bucket. Cool. I like it when great minds think alike.

Thank you Becky for your article from the vet who collects pee for testing
and her simple system. No complicated stuff for us either. Just a Wal-Mart
bag and 4 bungees - no problem.

Off to town we go. Somehow my mind "saw" sidewalks in our town. Our town is
1/2 mile long and 1/2 mile wide. That's it. And it has a lot of old people.
But, no sidewalks. Just roadway that's been spread wide effectively giving a
wide shoulder to the road. Cali thought the white line was a good shoreline
and was quite sure we should be on the other side of the road. By the time I
realized my error in routing we had passed the single crossing guard cross
Oh well. Next time I'll do better. We walked to the center of town even
though there were screaming kids, soccer practice, and teenage drivers
gunning their engines. That, not to mention the fire siren going off just as
we got to the town's intersection. Do guide horses stop and "pull over" when
speeding fire engines go by. It seemed logical so we did.

Going back we were on the correct side of the road and walked comfortably on
the shoulder. Using the white line as our guide. A nice teacher from the
school caught up with us and we had a nice chat about how one walks the
roadway in town. What's safe and what do most people do.

Once back at the school we travelled around that roadway past young ladies
playing soccer, and "found a door" to the school. They were even going to
let me into the school but I passed on that this day. Soon though. At home,
Cali had been ready for be more in front. But, the rigors of this experience
kept her closer. It was a little stressful for both of us. We made it
through and loaded up to come home. Horses don't get trained in a few days.
Each experience builds on the previous one.

This morning I had someone come for a lesson and as we walked to the arena a
little whinny told me that Cali thought she should be coming too. Going to
the arena is like comfort food. We added another trip down the driveway.
This time I set some cone obstacles in our way. Cali pointed them out and
went around with no problem. On the way back, she thought she should point
the out again even though they weren't in our path. To her they were.

Another good day although a bit mind boggling as I thought about just what
does a blind person do in some situations. I'll be dropping a note to my
friends with dogs and horses to ask.
Just for fun, here's the scenario. You are at a school baseball field
parking lot. There is no crosswalk to cross the street. You are desiring to
go to the market that is a right turn and 1/2 mile from where you are. There
are no sidewalks. You can't cross to go against traffic. Your only safe
option is to go on the shoulder with the direction of traffic. There is a
crosswalk 1/2 way to the market. Do you cross there or continue to the
market on the same side.
Mona, what would you do with your cane?

I'll let you all know what they say.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cali Day 3

Forward is cemented. And, she loves it. I was able to move back towards her
hip. I didn't have a handle so I couldn't go back much. But, I'll be able to
do some crafts tonight and get us set for tomorrow. Her real guide harness
won't arrive for a few weeks still. And, her "Guide in Training" id hasn't
yet arrived. I'll make a temporary one for starters.

She led us down the driveway, back up. Found the door to the arena, followed
a shoreline around the arena and avoided obstacles. She pointed out
interesting things. Hmmm. Click that? We'll see. Not yet. As we followed a
shoreline by the barn we came across the water hydrant. She pointed that out
to me. That did get a click. "Forward" from there took us nicely around it,
around the tree and down the driveway. Her space perception is outstanding.
We shore lined up toward my kennel building. She discovered some 4 x 4's blocking our way. She stopped and pointed those out to me. Click. "Forward" from there took
us on a right turn which would take us past my goose neck trailer, she led
us wide past that. Tomorrow I will set up an obstacle on our normal route
and see what happens.

I sent her to the trailer she arrived in. I asked her to go "in". Seemed to
me that this would simulate a bus. Previously, she'd been led in to the
trailer. This time she took me in. We turned around and I asked her to to go
"out". I stopped her at the beginning of the ramp and pointed out the
difference. I asked her to go slowly down the ramp and stop at the end. She
learned "wait" today. "Forward" again and we were off down the driveway
again. Perfect. I'm also planning to use the ramp skill to help us get into
other vehicles.

I haven't yet taught her to get into a vehicle. I'm wanting to be sure that
she will never again potty in a vehicle including the trailer. At the moment
she thinks that the trailer is a suitable place to go. Or, she did when she
came. I can't be sure now.

So, even though we are ready to go to town, my town, not any big town, the
real learning for Mona will have to be on sidewalks and cross streets with
traffic and such. But, before I do that, I've got to be sure she will not
potty. She has not potty'd while working at all.

With the new more controlled feeding schedule she is going on a more
consistent basis and not as frequently. I think at first she was nervous and
her poo's showed that being a little loose. At first, because she was used
to grazing 24 x 7 she seemed hungry. But, now she's being fed 4 times a day
and she didn't finish her last meal all the way. She "saved" some for later.
Of course, the hay stretchers she gets while working help her too.

I wanted her to understand that she could still graze but only when she
wasn't working. So, I took her out last night to graze on a special halter
and line. She won't ask to graze in her working outfit although I was able
to send her to grass so she could have a few nibbles. Even though she
doesn't have grass and we were passing a lot of grass, she never once put
her head down to reach for it.

She does like the arena. It must seem like where she's used to when she went
to shows.

So, after working we developed a plan for the next steps. Pottying on cue is
high on the list. And, riding in a vehicle. I will likely take her on her
first trip to town in my little trailer. I went shopping for her today and
bought her a reflective vest, a stall ball, and some parts to make a
relieving harness. Because Mona lives in town, there may be times when she
won't be able to find a suitable place for Cali to be able to "go". And,
since it's only healthy for her to wait a certain amount of time being able
to relieve in a bag which can be wrapped up and put in the trash will be
important. This will allow Cali to go places where Mona cannot control the
times to go out like train, bus and airplane trips.

I got her a bell for indicating that she has to "go". And, a rug for her to
stand on a mat in the house.

Like a puppy her first foray's into the house will be very controlled. Stand
on a mat. Stand tied. Just stand, like when I write this update. We'll ring
the bell before going "out". That way, she can find the bell to ask to go
out in time.

We tried on her new vest and she didn't mind that it had elastic that goes
around her loin. That will not be the final set-up but I was pleased that she
didn't mind the "dressing up".

She pee'd for me right on time. Good girl. Now to start logging this.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cali Day 2

Wow is all I can say. I told Becky that Cali wanted to be a guide. And, she sure proved it today.

Yesterday I said that forward would be our theme for a time. When I went our with halter and harness Cali immediately lined up on my left side for her harness after I put on her halter. Very cool. Forward with a tug was no problem.But, we circled a bit in the driveway because she was not sure where to go.

Once she thought she'd take me over to the grass. But, my lead was as if I held a rein on my riding horses. So, as she started to put her head down she encountered the lead and her head popped right up.I took the lead and sort of headed her down the driveway.

We have a 1/4 mile long dirt driveway with grass on both sides. Every time I picked up the harness Cali had no trouble putting a little tug on it and taking us forward. Every few steps I'd click and she would get her treat.

Pretty soon though she had the idea that the word "forward" meant to put a little tug on the harness and head on down the road. So, when I clicked she didn't stop.What I figured out was that she understood the word forward meant head on down the driveway with a tug on the harness. So, in order to get her to stop for her treat I had to let go of the harness. She happily stopped for her treat.

Her understanding of "forward" would become more apparent later.We went all the way down the driveway and for a good part I was able to close my eyes. Boy do you loose all sense of where you are going with your eyes closed. At times I was certain that we had drifted from the side of the road. But, when I opened my eyes to check there we were right beside the grass. How humbling.

Trust her I told my self.We got to the end of the road. Ann told me that on a road without a sidewalk one walks against the traffic. There was no traffic when we got to the road. So, we turned left. Cali decided that the shoreline would be the white line which put me in the traffic lane. It was a valid choice based on the way we'd come down the driveway.I helped her over to the other side of the white line and discovered that Cali has a wide idea of obstacles. So, her idea in going around the mail box was to take us very wide. We'll refine that later.

Then, the coming home from work traffic seemed to appear from nowhere. Motorcycles, trucks, cars all speeding in both directions. Cali was unperturbed but I was scared to death. If I'd been riding, I'd have headed inland off the road.Since that was more traffic than I wanted to deal with, I decided to cross the street and go back towards home.

An interesting puzzle. Do you cross the street where there is no walk-way? Mona what does your mobility coach say about that.Well, we crossed anyway. She happily took us up the other side. Interesting that going back seemed to her to be a different skill. So, she kept hesitating. I decided to lead her back to my driveway.

Now all of a sudden the traffic picked up even more. Cali was unsure where the traffic was and stopped and stayed stopped when she heard traffic of any kind. Good choice. That will have to be refined later too.Once the traffic calmed down I told her forward and she happily took us back across my driveway and headed down the driveway. So interesting that she had decided that forward meant going down the driveway away from home.

Since Mona will want to take walks in the park and then let Cali help her find the way home, I decided that I could start that process by giving her a cue "Find home".She'd been heavily reinforced for going down the driveway and we were a little stuck in going up the driveway. So, I dropped the harness and decided to show her going up the driveway each time I adjusted her and said "find home".C/T when she continued on her way. A few times she started to cross over to the "down" side of the driveway. I just said, "Find home" and corrected our direction. She got it. And, pretty soon I had my eyes shut again as we traveled"finding home".

At one point our path comes to our Trailer garage and the beginning of a stone wall. True to form Cali decided these things needed a wide path. I wanted to see what she'd do. Sure enough once we passed the building she was back to the shoreline.Now yesterday, we'd gone to the arena. So, what does find home mean. A good question. Mona's home will be much more distinct than what we have so far. And, later when Cali is living in the house, find home will become more meaningful. So, she wasn't wrong to head for the arena.

At the entrance to the arena, I decided to test what Cali thought "forward" meant. So, I gave the cue "forward".Cali happily turned us around and headed back down the driveway. Smart girl.We turned back around and started home again. At the end of the driveway where all our out buildings, my dog, my stallion and the trailer and car were I decided we were done. I dropped the harness and Cali moved fluidly into leading mode. I think this is a nice skill to keep in place for when Mona is wanting to follow friends and wants Cali to just come along.

On the housebreaking front, Cali has been at pasture. It's only been one day where her food is given at controlled times. Like a puppy, I think to house break it is critical to control feeding times. It might be more normal for a horse to graze all the time. But, in winter, our horses are fed at certain times and don't have food all day. If they did our horses would be blimps. Panda gets fed 4 times a day. So, it seemed like this would be a good plan for Cali too.She's getting hay stretcher pellets for training so it's not like she will be hungry.

Tomorrow will be two days on the controlled feeding and I'll start to document more exactly when she goes. At this time she is poo'ing within about every 2 hours. I'm certain that she could hold it. But, before I ask her to do that I want to know what's normal for her. She pee's about 3 maybe 4 times a day so far. I have a plan in place to put the potty'ing on cue. But, we'll hold off on that for now.

She does not go while working. So, we have time.

Cali has a ball. She plays with it by pushing it around with her nose. I see it move throughout the day. I saw her play with it when she was finished working. But, mostly if I show up she's right there ready to go to work.

Like an endurance horse or a sled dog, we want to build up her ability to work just as you would build up your own body with exercise. You don't start running by going out and running a marathon. We call that Long Slow Distance or LSD for short. Cali will need to work up to working all day with breaks. That will take a little time. I'm comfortable with the time frame we set for our first shadowing session with Mona. By then, I think Cali will be in shape mentally and physically for the work.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cali Day 1 - Session 2

We had a second session this evening. Working on forward with a pull. I'll take forward anywhere. Click.
Once we get consistent forward, we can begin to train choices of where. Cali's used to being led. Taken where we want her to go. This is her "first toe in the water" of making decisions. I let her decide where to go. For a little horse, that's confusing. So, it's natural that she would choose to go the places she is used to.

She chose the trailer, the car. When asked to go forward from there she deftly turned to guide along the side.

On the way to the arena, she followed the normal route that horses take day in and day out here. There was no confusion. Clearly the answer was not to continue down our driveway. The better choice was to go where people and horses had gone before. How did she know? She's never been here before. She knew though.

Cali's First Day

Cali is settling in well. She's was a little nervous at first and she and my old mare scared each other.

We had a first lesson: Putting on the Dog Harness I got her. I'd opened the large dog harness as large as it would go.
Sigh... our perceptions are so weird. The first thing I had to do was to make it smaller at every angle. She was patient even though the wind was howling.

Next, I let her take me where she wanted to go with a little tug on the harness. She didn't pull hard and stopped a lot to check things out. I clicked when she went forward using the word forward. We walked up to my cart which was in the arena. She stopped. Good girl. Turn to go around and off we went again. The hardest part of this is to trust her. Allow her to see what she sees. As soon as I get a steady forward, we'll go off on walks in town.

She walked happily on the left. She'll learn to wrap around in that direction in time. I didn't worry about that right now.

She's in a bank of two 12 x 12 stalls with a 12 x 24 ft outside yard. She has only gone in the yard area. She also knows about going in the trailer. I put her in tied her and she poo'd right away. She didn't even think about going while we were working. She seems to understand inside and outside and prefers outside or the trailer. I will likely use the trailer to help us put it all on cue.

She going to be a good teacher.