Cycles of learning

For some reason, Zum decides he no longer wants to get into the two horse trailer. He stops 6 feet from the trailer and won’t move forward. This is the spot that Zum feels safe. I show Zum that there is nothing to be afraid of by loading both Kamar and Huszar into the trailer. They love being loaded into the trailer as they both love going out for trail rides. But Zum isn’t convinced. I let Zum wait in his ‘feel-safe’ zone and I allow him to calm down. I don’t want to fight him or force him to do something he refuses to do. I am telling him that I am not going to pick on him and that he is going to be just fine. I have read that once a horse knows the gist of what I want, he will go through learning cycles. His performance may start off bad, then get good, then get worse while he tries every option he knows. Then he will get better for a short time, then bad again but not very bad or for very long. Finally, he will be good consistently. Then I can say he has learned. So I cannot be discouraged that Zum got into a horse trailer easily to get from Santa Fe to Phoenix and now acts like he doesn’t have a clue. I just will keep working with Zum, getting him consistent at every baby step I ask of him and soon he will know this lesson for life. For now, I will pony Zum from Huszar from my house!

Pretty goatie

My parents believed in living off the land, growing gardens and fruit trees, building their own homes and having lots of animals. I have always been surrounded by animals. My parents especially loved goats! I was raised on fresh goat milk. My mother milked goats twice a day. When I was a teenager, she told me that my first baby words were ‘pretty goatie.’ People who know me well know that I love goats. A well known artist in Santa Fe painted a painting of me when I was in my early 30s. I am standing in my bellydancing outfit in front of an Adobe gate next to a white goat. I am holding a staff with my ballet slippers dangling at the end of the staff. The painting is called ‘Tanya of Tesuque.’ I bought a young hornless goat in Taos a couple years ago. This is my billy goat named Pan. I rescued a white pygmy goat last year. This is Somana. My goats love to butt heads and dance together! They climb up things and leap off of them. I take them on goats walks with my pet sheep. They all follow me around like dogs. They are constant entertainment!


I was so proud of Zum last October when he loaded easily into the stock trailer with my other horses! He was a champ for the entire 9 hour trip to Phoenix, Arizona. He unloaded without a scratch! I have a round pen in Phoenix, which is a great training tool for young horses like Zum. The first time I put Zum in the round pen, I let him gallop around as much as he wanted, as free as a bird. This is liberty! And Zum loves to trailer out with Huszar into the beautiful Arizona desert! Zum is always ready for an adventure and a new place to explore!

To Trailer

To teach Zum to like getting in and out of a horse trailer, I have to approach the trailer with Zum without conflict and make his loading experience pleasant. I want Zum to be tolerant and trusting of everything I ask him to do. When he gets nervous, I never fight with him. I take his mind off his insecurity by asking him to do something he likes to do and then by rewarding him with a treat. When I try to lead Zum into the trailer, I don’t pull on his halter. This creates resistance and Zum is more apt to balk or pull backward. I tap him on his hindquarters as I ask him to step forward. I have learned that encouragement to move forward is best when it comes from behind. I reward Zum when he moves forward. I am rewarding any forward movement by letting Zum stop, stand still and by petting and praising him. If he backs away, I go with him. I keep his head pointed at the trailer. I wait until he is relaxed. I patiently work with advance and retreat, approaching the trailer calmly to get Zum to lose his fear. I never force or whip a horse into a trailer. Then the horse thinks the trailer is scary. With my patient work, Zum learns to get in and out of the trailer easily and effortlessly, like Huszar and Kamar!


My mother firmly believed that when a beloved pet got very old, the best thing to do is to get a new, young pet. So when my Arabian stallion, Khalifah, could no longer be ridden, my mother bought me a 4 year old Egyptian Arabian gelding named Kamar. I am actually writing a book about Kamar as he had a serious accident right after we got him and my mother and I saved his life. Kamar is alpha-male, proud cut and the apple of my eye. And even though Kamar is handicapped from his accident, he is a healthy, feisty and energetic Arabian horse. Huszar follows Kamar around all day. And Kamar loves Zum! They like to play together! ‘Toss the rubber ball’ and ‘who can bite the fastest’ are their favorite games!

Every horse

Last summer, before I met Zum, I had my heart set on adopting an Arabian mare. She was brown with a black mane and tail. She hadn’t been ridden in years as her owner could no longer ride her. The owner told me she was looking for a good home for the mare. I invited my girlfriend to meet the mare and my girlfriend noticed that the mare was cribbing. The mare was grabbing the metal fence with her teeth. We could hear the mare sucking air in through her open mouth as she pulled back on the fence, over and over. I researched cribbing later and discovered that cribbing is a sign of something wrong with the horse’s mental and physical environment. It is the horse’s way to cope with stress or the way the horse is handled. Confined horses that are not ridden often suffer from cribbing which can cause gastric ulcers. The owner decided to keep the mare after all. But I learned how important it is for every horse to be in an environment without stress. Every horse needs social contact with other horses or companion animals. Every horse needs to be exercised with the ability to move around. Every horse needs toys to play with like rubber balls. I fill a plastic jug full of rocks and hang it from the corral for Zum to toss around. And every horse needs a salt lick. I am so happy that Zum has my other horses to play with! He also has my miniature pony and miniature donkey. Zum adores them!


I know that Zum gets bored and stressed when I don’t handle him everyday. He needs daily grooming, training, exercise and fun! Not doing anything with Zum is worse than doing something and making a mistake. Mistakes are opportunities for me to try again! So I am teaching Zum lots of tricks! I am teaching him to walk on a tarp, stop and then back up. A tarp is very scary for horses. It blows around like a plastic bag and it makes noises when it is touched. I am showing Zum that he can be brave standing on a tarp. I also put the tarp all over his body and even drape it on his back. I am teaching him to walk on a wooden platform and stop. I am teaching him to drop his head and touch orange cones with his nose. I tied a plastic bag at the end of a long whip. I wave the plastic bag in the air and around his feet, asking him to be calm. I put shipping boots on and off all his legs. I even put a shipping hat on his head, which he didn’t like at first! I am showing him how to walk in and out of a stock trailer. When he gets nervous, I have him do something that he loves to do and praise him for what he can do. Every lesson ends with him doing what he can do so he feels good about himself. He is learning that he can trust me to do what I ask him. My praise reinforces his feeling that I am not a threat. He wants me to be proud of him!


Last night, I went to see the Santa Fe Aspen Ballet in Santa Fe. Seeing the ballet dancers perform reminded me of my own ballerina history. When I was five years old, my grandmother Helena took me to see a movie about a young ballerina in the Royal Danish Ballet. The movie is called Ballerina. After seeing this movie, I knew that I wanted to be a ballerina. By the time I was sixteen, I was a ballerina. Years of study and dedication manifested my dream. I loved ballet as much as I loved my Arabian stallion named Khalifah that I rode everyday after school. I was accepted into the Royal Danish Ballet school and after I graduated from High School, I went to Copenhagen, Denmark. Yes, studying with the Danish ballet was a dream come true. At seventeen years old, I even met and got to know the star of the movie Ballerina. Now she was my teacher! But there were behind the scene things that I saw about the world of ballet that I didn’t enjoy. I missed my Arabian stallion back in Santa Fe! I missed my mother and I missed the sunshine. The winter in Copenhagen was dark and for months, noon was as black as midnight. I learned a lot the year I lived in Denmark and traveled through Europe. But my heart was with my elegant Arabian stallion in Santa Fe!


I decide it is time to pony my colt off my racehorse! A few years ago, I rescued an Egyptian Arabian racehorse named Huszar. Huszar is big and muscular. All I have to say is ‘Go!’ and from a complete stop, he will charge forward into a full gallop! He is an alpha-male with a powerful personality. Yet, I can train people how to ride on him as he is very patient and gentle with people. He doesn’t bite, buck, rear or kick. He is a solid horse when I train and trail ride with beginner riders. As I ride Huszar, I am sure he can teach Zum how to follow on a lead rope behind him. Yes, my hunch is correct! Right away, after I jumped on Huszar, he was putting his ears back and swishing his tail whenever Zum walked too far ahead or got too close to us. We rode together for an hour and what a joy! My colt was so happy to be out of his corral and I was in heaven to be out riding in the mountains with my racehorse and my colt!


Zum loves to be in my space all the time. Also, when I lead him with a lead rope, his natural response is to resist pressure or to stiffen up and refuse to move. A bad trainer resists back. Then, the colt becomes frightened and resists harder. A bad trainer uses an ever increasing level of fear and pain to control behavior. Pain is used as the motivator and punishment is a bad trainer’s tool. Punishment used after behavior is terrible timing, only negatively reinforcing bad behavior. Why punish a young colt like Zum? I need him to learn that he doesn’t need to be on top of me all the time but if I punish him, he may stop coming to greet me when I show up. Punishment produces bad side effects. With punishment, my colt may start to pace in his corral. He could become aggressive and begin to kick or lunge at me. All trust would be lost between us and he would begin to hate me. Punching, whipping, shanking and hitting a horse crosses the line into abuse. Good trainers shift away from punishment. Instead of punishment, I can use well-timed and well-applied reinforcers. I want to teach my colt to move away from pressure. I can touch his ribs and ask him to move away. I can raise my elbow if Zum tries to crowd me. Good training is preventative. If I get my colt’s feet busy and get him to focus back on me and his lesson, I can get him to relax and prevent bad behavior in the future.