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Allen Pogue
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 Posted: Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 02:48 pm
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Hi Folks,

 I am going to share here a way to give a horse a useful association between play and schooling, This may qualify as a 'Birdie'. The basic concept is nothing new. All old-time horsemen know that if a horse has a job to do that they not only understand but also enjoy then training then to refine their undersaddle skills can be a matter of incorporating the job at hand with the niceties of equitation.

 The attached picture shows Rafieq, four-year-old Arabian colt nudging a large inflatable ball around with his nose just a couple of minutes after his first time being saddled.

 He has worn a surcingle a number of times and so girth pressure was nothing new, but the western saddle presents a lot more distractions.  The first couple of minutes he had the saddle on he stretched his head and neck down, arched his back and wiggled a little as he walked then trotted around the pen, but absolutely no bucking or pitching. 

 Now Rafieq really likes 'herding' the big ball around. He has a special trick in our Liberty presentations where two other horses stand side-by-side and Rafieq has learned to playfully nudge the ball around at a pretty good clip and make the ball pass in between the other horses as if they were goal posts. We work constantly on encourageing him just to use his nose and not bump it with his chest or forelegs.  This way he can actually guide the ball like a human soccer player using his feet. Horses that learn this trick have learned to anticipate which way the ball will travel according to how they use their nose. This takes a little more brain power than many things we ask horses to do .. and most importantly the horse has to learn to do it on his own.

So for the first five minutes or so I let Rafieq merely track the ball around the perimeter, not at all unlike a cutting horse learning to track a cow by following it everywhere. He kept the ball moving completely on his own because this is something he likes to do. During this time I sat on the edge of a large multi-level agility platform that is placed permanently off center in this 50 ft diameter ring and talked to Rafieq to help keep his interest and accuracy with his nose going. Then I began to request that he bring the ball to me. This requires him to choose which side of his nose he uses to bring the ball in off of the perimeter and then to make corrections using both sides of his nose to guide the ball.

What we are talking about here is attention, concentration and focus all wrapped up in a work ethic.

 We spent maybe a total of 15 minutes engaged in this activity, then I brought Rafieq over to the edge of the agility platform and used it like a mounting block. Typically when stepping into a stirrup for the first time one places a little weight into it and then back off. But I could tell that Rafieq was completely at ease and so I  swung a laig over and settled into the saddle in one smooth motion.

 I tipped his head to the left and right a few times then used a back and forth movement of my seat to encourage him to move forward and we began to track the ball. He immediately got into the spirit of the game and went right back to work.

 This was one of those moments that was so safe and simple that it makes training and then riding horses worth all the effort.

Allen Pogue

 Austin, Texas

Attachment: pushing_ball.JPG (Downloaded 570 times)

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 09:24 pm
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Hi, Allen, haven't heard from you in a while. Thanks for your as-always useful and cheerful contributions.

Yes, giving a horse a job and a focus is related to 'Birdie theory'. The Birdie is not the same as the job; the Birdie is innate to the animal, to all animals and to all people. But having something to focus on, especially something that will move away from the horse toward the front, is an almost-foolproof way to bring the Birdie out of the horse and to keep it STEADY on the moving object. This, as you point out, does have a tremendous influence in developing not only a horse's thinking-power, but also in causing him to be able to be brave. It promotes the "curiosity" thermometer while diminishing the "fear" thermometer.

When the Birdie goes out from your horse, Allen, to the ball, it is the same as having the speaker stand up in front of the classroom, for people: they put their eyes upon the speaker, they send their energy up to the speaker, they "pay" attention to the speaker. With a herd-type animal such as a horse, we don't use a speaker but instead a calf, another horse, something being dragged along ahead of the horse, a rolling ball -- all of these imitate the herd "leaving".

The Birdie is connected back to its owner by what we refer to as the Thread. Interestingly, though we admire the Circus Knie from videotapes, we have never met anyone associated with that organization; nevertheless, we were fascinated to notice that their most recent videotape is entitled "The Art of the Thread". We understand that THEY understand and make use of the exact-same metaphor!

A metaphor is a way of PICTURING things that are real and yet have no physical existence. So we picture that Allen's Arab's Birdie flies out from his forehead, and lands on the ball. But the Birdie is still connected back to the horse by the Thread, which is strong but rather stretchy. When the horse rolls the ball, and the ball moves away from the horse, the horse's Birdie is sitting on the ball and it goes away with the ball. By the Law of the Birdie, the horse's body MUST go where its Birdie has gone; so as the ball leaves, it pulls on the thread which connects back to the horse's body, and the body then comes along, too.

In "The Birdie Book", I give many pages of pictures showing this same technique in numerous variations, i.e. dragging a tarp, dragging a tire, using another horse, using a flag, the rider slapping his thigh, etc. I explain "turning by the Birdie", "Jumping by the Birdie", etc. One does not always, of course, have to think in terms of the Birdie metaphor: but in many situations, I think it is very useful. -- Dr. Deb

Jean in Alaska
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 Posted: Thu Jul 24th, 2008 04:13 pm
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So, Dr. Deb, how do we get these Circus Knie videos? And are they in English?

Jean

Allen Pogue
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 Posted: Tue Jul 29th, 2008 04:36 pm
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Jean,

If you GOOGLE "Free Dressage in the Circus Ring"  you can find several sources for this video about the Circus Knie.. this is an overview, or sort of a behind the scenes documentary about the circus. It is not however the title that Dr. Deb mentioned.

 If you look close in the Free Dressage video you will see several clips of my friend Sacha Houcke Jr . He us shown breaking a giraffe to ride (only in the circus!) as well as another clip schooling a mixed act with miniature horses and elephants. There are several video clips archived on Youtube.com  of Sacha performing with Arabians and Friesians. Sacha worked at Circus Knie for 20 years, his father worked with Freddie Sr for 40 yrs.

 I was able to make the acquaintance of Sacha in America when he was head trainer for the Ringling Brothers circus touring show identified as “the Blue Unit”. And then over the next six years or so whenever the circus came to Texas Sasha would email me in advance so I could schedule a visit observe his training sessions here in Austin or San Antonio. One of the most important concepts I observed was the value of  a "error free learning" environment.

 This is a training technique perfected by Freddie Knie Sr. that has been adopted across the board by other trainers in the modern circus. Before Freddie Sr. crafted the present method, circus horses were broke to ride and then assistants rode the horses through the intricate steps of a sorting routine. Nowadays, each horse has an assigned handler that leads the horse through every step from stall to ring, through all the lessons and then back to the stabling area. In short the handler does all the thinking while precisely following the commands of the head trainer who stays for the most part in the center of the ring. Initially the handler uses a short lead rope and leads the horse through every movement indicated by Sacha who stays in the middle of the ring calling out vocal commands along with whip cues. Every movement has a name usually spoken in French. The vocal command is often followed by a sharp ‘report’ or snap of the ring whip in mid air. This ‘pop’ is a definite call for attention.

    As time goes by the horses are given a longer lead rope and after a few weeks or months they are all working at the end of a lunge. Now this is where it gets a bit ‘tricky’. Typically there are four to eight horses and handlers and lunge lines so keeping them all sorted out is like a well-choreographed dance. As time goes by and the horses become reliable the best ones have the lunge removed and work from memory. Sacha has endless patience with the horses, but should a handler make a misstep and turn right when he was supposed to go left, he is subject to a sharp reprimand, because as Sacha says this one seemingly simple error can set back the training sometimes weeks. The overall idea is for the horses to learn the pattern and the vocal cues correctly from day one and to never give the horse a chance to deviate. 

 I have learned to incorporate this concept in my training of young horses. Instead of assistant humans,  I use an assistant horse that knows how to follow precise vocal, whip and body posture cues. First a young horse is taught his ABCs in the confines of a 15x30 schooling stall. To walk and trot on cue, to halt, to back up, to reverse directions,  to circle a pedestal placed at one end and then to make figures-of-eight around two pedestals at each end of the stall, to ‘go to’ a pedestal and stay put while the other horses circles and to circle while the other horse is on a pedestal.. and then to stand side-by-side on adjacent pedestals and accept cues.

    Then the two horses are linked together side-by-side with a short ‘breakaway’ rope clipped to their halters with quick release snaps, or in another fashion, the lead horse has a neck rope that has a long tail clipped in the following horse’s halter so they can proceed in single file. In the confines of the rather small schooling area there is very little room for evasions and so from the first get go the ‘green’ or young horse only has to follow.

 ONLY when the lessons are confirmed in the small space do we go outside to the 42 ft diameter circus-sized round pen. And that is where the real fun begins.

I differ from Sacha in that I will accept improvisational moves from a horse. I have seen time and again a horse come up with a new and useful variation on previously learned behaviors. It never fails that at some time during a hour or two long training session that one or more of the horses will come up with something quite remarkable. I try to be observant and respond immediately and to capture the new 'trick', reward it by acknowledgement and another repetition or two and then add it to the repertoire. I believe that these behaviors because they came about as a result of the it being the horse's idea are somehow more indelibly imprinted in their mind and so they become a new addition without much repetition or practice.

Allen Pogue

 Austin, Texas

 

 

Attachment: Fijords on lunge.JPG (Downloaded 453 times)

kindredspirit
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 Posted: Tue Jul 29th, 2008 05:06 pm
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Hi Allen,

I would love to hear some examples/stories of the improvisational moves.

Best,

Kathy 

 

 

>I differ from Sacha in that I will accept improvisational moves from a horse. I have seen time and again a horse come up with a new and useful variation on previously learned behaviors. It never fails that at some time during a hour or two long training session that one or more of the horses will come up with something quite remarkable. I try to be observant and respond immediately and to capture the new 'trick', reward it by acknowledgement and another repetition or two and then add it to the repertoire. I believe that these behaviors because they came about as a result of the it being the horse's idea are somehow more indelibly imprinted in their mind and so they become a new addition without much repetition or practice.
Allen Pogue
 Austin, Texas<


Jean in Alaska
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 Posted: Thu Jul 31st, 2008 03:38 pm
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Allan, How nice of you to post the photo of these four Fjord Stallions!  I knew that these four Fjords had been carefully recruited from the Fjordhorse breeders for the ringling Bros. circus.  we , on the Fjordhorse list, had been excited about this, then a terrible accident occurred when two were killed by a train as they were unloading them at one location.  I think they found two more to replace them, I am not sure about the details!

Allen Pogue
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 Posted: Fri Aug 1st, 2008 04:45 am
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Jean,

I heard about the accident with two of the original four Fijords. As I recall they were unloading them from the train compartment and the horses were on the ground when another train came through the yard unexpectedly blowing hit horn.. The horses bolted and ran off and somehow met their untimely demise. So two replacememnts had to be found in short order. This meant that Sacha had two half-trained and two very green ones in the troupe of four. This meant that he had to start from scratch with the untrained ones and used the half-trained ones in a fashion that I use my older horses.. So in any given session he was dealing with a wide variety issues. This was probably the one season that stands out where I learned the most.. I met Sacha and observed training sessions in San Antonio, Austin and College Station. The the next year he was performing with this act, which in its final form included four elephants..

 This is one of the hallmarks of the Circus Knie style, that is mixed exotics. That year the circus also had  another act that Sacha created and his daughter Karin showed that was comprised of a miniature Scottish Highland cow (very shaggy), a Zebu (looks like a small Brahama), a Llama and a very flashy Miniature horse (who was the star of the act).

The act with Fijords and elephants was really 'circus' at it best. I will attach a picture showing four elephants on pedestals doing a ponderously slow spin while the Fijords made a serpentine pattern around them. I really filled the ring with color and movement.. It took me a couple years of practice and time for my young horses to mature but I was able to nearly duplicate the 'trick' using three horses on revolving pedestals with two others on the ground making the serpentine pattern.

 To me the interesting part of this style of training is that the challenge is to get multiple horses doing different behaviors simultaneously. There is only one way to accomplish this, and that is to have their attention and respect and have instilled the  work ethic to perform a complicated series of manouvers pretty much on their own.

Allen

Attachment: Elephants on ped.JPG (Downloaded 389 times)

Allen Pogue
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 Posted: Fri Aug 1st, 2008 04:49 am
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Jean,

 Here is the picture of my troupe nearly duplicating the previous picture. The two chestnuts and the gray are on pedestals that have rotating tops. The hard part is keeping them all moving in sync while the two bays thread the needle inbetween and around them without bumping into them and knocking them off balance as they pivot around.  

Allen

Attachment: Serpentine.JPG (Downloaded 394 times)

RevImmigrant
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 Posted: Sun Aug 3rd, 2008 10:29 am
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Does the Circus Knie have tigers?  I like tigers too.

kindredspirit
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 Posted: Sun Aug 3rd, 2008 04:59 pm
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Allen,

I ask this respectfully and out of curiosity.  Why the "faces" on the horses on the pedestals?  I have looked at your web site where you have numerous pictures of similar set ups and it isn't something you would notice on other horses in those photos.  But in this photo, I did notice this.  Is there some conflict within the horses on the pedestals?

Thank you for sharing the great photos and information about your experiences and also the circus family.  Fascinating!

I sure would like to get a bean bag that you sell.  Do they come with a training manual. <vbg>.    


Kathy
 

 

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Aug 3rd, 2008 05:37 pm
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Kindred, let me jump in here before Allen answers and ask you to look again at the photo with the horses making "faces". I'm not saying at all that they are not making faces, but -- let us use this as an opportunity to let you talk about what the expressions on the horses' faces MEAN. Specifically:

1. Of the horses on the pedestals, which animal is expressing the most positive feelings?

2. How positive are those feelings in that horse? In other words -- all three horses up on the pedestals have their ears "back". But are there any "modifiers" to the ears, i.e. eyes, lips, posture of the neck? Bottom line: does "ears back" ALWAYS equate to nasty-nasty or angry feelings?

3. Of the horses on the pedestals, which animal is expressing the most negative feelings? Again, you'll be able to tell this by looking at the "modifiers", i.e. eyes, lips, and posture of the neck (tail would be another modifier but tails don't show in this particular photo).

4. Of the two animals on the ground, one has its ears semi-forward, and the other has its ears "back". If you were to translate the expression on that horse's face/body into English, what would the animal be saying?

I'll be interested not only in your answer to this but that of anyone else who wants to jump in. And after the answers slow down and it looks like everyone who wants to say something has done so, then Allen you please come back and tell us your own "translations" (which will be most authoritative, since you know the horses). -- Dr. Deb

Helen
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 Posted: Sun Aug 3rd, 2008 10:30 pm
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OK I'll try this...

It's clear to me that the chestnut on the right is feeling the most negative feelings; he has pulled his head in and is 'glaring' through squinting eyes. It's hard to see since the picture's small, but I think he's clenching his teeth and nostrils too.
I can't really tell which of the other two is feeling better, because half of the grey's face is obscured, so I won't comment there. Of the two on the ground, the one in front looks to me to be warning the other not to get too close. The other on the ground looks to be the most content to me - ears in a V, eyes, nostrils and jaw relaxed.

Last edited on Sun Aug 3rd, 2008 10:30 pm by Helen

kindredspirit
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 Posted: Sun Aug 3rd, 2008 10:40 pm
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DrDeb wrote: Kindred, let me jump in here before Allen answers and ask you to look again at the photo with the horses making "faces". I'm not saying at all that they are not making faces, but -- let us use this as an opportunity to let you talk about what the expressions on the horses' faces MEAN. Specifically:

1. Of the horses on the pedestals, which animal is expressing the most positive feelings?
Hi Dr. D.  Without seeing the gray's entire face I would say that one.  It is hard to ascertain exactly how the modifers are because the picture is not that clear or close up.  I am squinting to look at the "whole' horse.

2. How positive are those feelings in that horse? In other words -- all three horses up on the pedestals have their ears "back". But are there any "modifiers" to the ears, i.e. eyes, lips, posture of the neck? Bottom line: does "ears back" ALWAYS equate to nasty-nasty or angry feelings?
No, ears back don't always equate nasty or angry and I totally get that.  And I wasn't just looking at just the ears.  I actually thought about if it was just the ears, would it have to do with them moving their hind feet around the pedestal and having their thoughts focused behind them.  The gray horse seems less concerned (?) about it based on his overall appearance. 

3. Of the horses on the pedestals, which animal is expressing the most negative feelings? Again, you'll be able to tell this by looking at the "modifiers", i.e. eyes, lips, and posture of the neck (tail would be another modifier but tails don't show in this particular photo).
I would say the one on the left.  I get a feeling of snakiness in the neck, as well as the fact that the horse traveling towards him has his ears back.  The 'discussion" seems about space. 

4. Of the two animals on the ground, one has its ears semi-forward, and the other has its ears "back". If you were to translate the expression on that horse's face/body into English, what would the animal be saying?
"Outta my way, I am coming through here. (and don't even thinking about touching me)"The horse on the far right looks like he is trying to put his focus else where.  Based on the curve of his neck and his overall appearance.  The horse on the left looks like he would rather not have that horse on the ground traveling into his space.  By way of how his neck and nostrils and lips are.
I'll be interested not only in your answer to this but that of anyone else who wants to jump in. And after the answers slow down and it looks like everyone who wants to say something has done so, then Allen you please come back and tell us your own "translations" (which will be most authoritative, since you know the horses). -- Dr. Deb
Thanks for asking me these questions.  A photo is only a snapshot of a very small moment so it is hard to assess all that is taking place, but then again, there is a reason that they say "a picture is worth a thousand words."  I look forward to hearing from others and Allen as to this moment in time.  (Gee hope he has a great memory, lol.)   Cheers, Kathy

hurleycane
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 Posted: Mon Aug 4th, 2008 01:11 am
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DrDeb wrote: Kindred, let me jump in here before Allen answers and ask you to look again at the photo with the horses making "faces". I'm not saying at all that they are not making faces, but -- let us use this as an opportunity to let you talk about what the expressions on the horses' faces MEAN. Specifically:

1. Of the horses on the pedestals, which animal is expressing the most positive feelings? The red on the right.

2. How positive are those feelings in that horse? The red on the right has soft curious afectionate eyes and a more or less vunerable exposed and curved neck and seems to be smiling - like it is pleased with itself and looking for a treat!  In other words -- all three horses up on the pedestals have their ears "back". But are there any "modifiers" to the ears, i.e. eyes, lips, posture of the neck? The gray's eyes look a little narrow in the picture, more inward verses angry.  Angry would have had pinned ears.  The left red seems mildly amused like it intends to touch the first bay even though it is clearly being told not to.  If it intended to bite - its ears would have been pinned, its eyes slit and its lips tight - the tail and feet would not be so stationary either - it would  be shifting weight at this point. The other modifiers would also be the speed of the movement associated with the espression or pose, along with the tenseness of the body musculature and of course a whiring slap of the tail. Bottom line: does "ears back" ALWAYS equate to nasty-nasty or angry feelings?     No.  Ears back can mean some serious fun is about to go down! 

3. Of the horses on the pedestals, which animal is expressing the most negative feelings? Again, you'll be able to tell this by looking at the "modifiers", i.e. eyes, lips, and posture of the neck (tail would be another modifier but tails don't show in this particular photo).  The grey - It seems inwardly focused - detached.

4. Of the two animals on the ground, one has its ears semi-forward, and the other has its ears "back". If you were to translate the expression on that horse's face/body into English, what would the animal be saying? First is " I'm coming through - don't touch me!" and it looks like it is about to swing that tail and swoop that head.  Second is "Hey this is fun! No pressure! Follow the leader!"

I'll be interested not only in your answer to this but that of anyone else who wants to jump in. And after the answers slow down and it looks like everyone who wants to say something has done so, then Allen you please come back and tell us your own "translations" (which will be most authoritative, since you know the horses). -- Dr. Deb

Last edited on Tue Aug 5th, 2008 02:41 pm by hurleycane

Fuzzy Logic Equine
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 Posted: Wed Aug 6th, 2008 05:39 pm
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" Of the horses on the pedestals, which animal is expressing the most positive feelings "

---------oh, this is fun :-). I'll take a wild stab at it... Light horse in the middle on the pedestal most comfortable (positive?).  A little tuned out and ignoring the other horses, but noet negative. Horse on the far right (with his head turned sideways) is most uncomfortable (negative?).  He's looking to move his feet off the pedestal.  Horse on the left pedestal is telling horse on the ground in front of him to get outa his space.  But he doesn't look uncomfortable (negative?).

Horses on the ground - the "leader" (the one with ears back) is more comfortable, just communicating with the horse on the left pedestal by putting his ears back. Looks like he's saying "I'm coming through whether you like it or not" to the horse on the left on the pedestal.  The horse following (with ears forward) is less comfortable - he's looking to the horse in front of him for comfort.

Just my guess :-). Let's hear what others think!

Dawn
Dawn: Please do not include your business link, business card, or other business information in any post. Thanks for the courtesy -- Dr. Deb

Last edited on Wed Aug 6th, 2008 06:55 pm by DrDeb


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