The Panda Project
A Guide Horse for the Blind
Written by Alexandra Kurland
I'd like to introduce my newest training project. Her name is Grosshill's Panda Bear, and she's a tiny, 24 inch, nine month old miniature horse. Up until the middle of August she was in the midst of a successful show career. She is now in training with me to be a guide for one of my clients, Ann Edie. Ann is blind and has been a guide dog user for nine years.
Ann and I have lamented many times over the fact that our other horses are too big to be guides. Certainly her Arabian, Magnat, shows great talent for the work. In the past we've thought about using minis, but the only ones we had ever seen were in the thirty inch range, too big to be practical. So it was an idea we talked about, but never pursued.
Then last year two things happened that made us look more seriously at the idea of using horses as guides. In October 2000, Ann's eleven year old guide dog, Bailey, became ill and died very suddenly. At the same time we began to hear reports of a mini that had been trained to be a guide. Ann had actually heard rumors of this the year before and out of curiosity had contacted the trainers, the Burlesons. At that point the Burlesons were in the early stages of their project. They had trained one of their pet minis to do guide work, and they were starting to train another horse, Cuddles. They were hoping to place Cuddles with a blind user at the end of her training.
Ann was intrigued, but her guide dog was still in good health. We were both fascinated by the training possibilities and what it would mean for horses in general to have minis working as guides, but the need to pursue it further was not there.
That changed after Bailey's death. After nine years of service, he left a huge hole in Ann's life. She couldn't bear the thought of getting another dog right away, but as time went on she missed having a guide. We were hearing more and more reports about Cuddles and the successes the Burlesons were having with her. Ann contacted them again. We both had so many questions. It was hard to believe that a horse could actually work as a guide. Could it truly be house broken and go to work with you? Could it ride in cars and travel on buses? Could it fit into all the tiny spaces a guide dog routinely was asked to negotiate? And was it healthy for the horse to be used in this way?
We had more questions than a phone call could answer, so in May we went down to North Carolina to meet Cuddles and the Burlesons. We also met Cuddles' new owner, Dan Shaw, who was in the final stages of his training with her. He would be leaving with her within days to take her home to Maine.
Over the weekend we went out on several training runs and watched them working together. Cuddles and the Burlesons answered many of our questions, but for every question that was answered, we discovered we had ten others. Most of these questions were centered around issues of management and health. How healthy was it for a horse to live and work in heated buildings? Could a grazing animal adapt itself to the demands of our work schedules? That would include being house broken. The Burlesons had indeed house broken Cuddles. She traveled with us all day with no accidents, but could she live overnight in a house like a dog? Could she stay overnight in a motel? What special accommodations would need to be made for her? And was it healthy for a horse to live like this?
We also had questions about mobility. At 55 pounds Cuddles was indeed tiny, but could she fit into all the crowded human environments a dog is routinely asked to go? Just how practical was it traveling with a mini? What, if any, limitations would there be in terms of mobility and access?
It certainly appeared that the Burlesons had addressed all these health and mobility concerns in their program, but it was still hard to imagine living with a horse. I was having trouble scaling my thinking down from the big horses to grasp just how flexible and adaptable a mini could be.
As I watched Cuddles, it was clear she could do the guide work. She handled traffic, navigated Dan around obstacles, stood quietly by his side during a long dinner in a restaurant, and correctly carried out all his requests to find the car, find the door, follow the people, etc... She could do all the tasks that would be asked of a canine guide, and furthermore, she did them well. We were impressed by her training, but we still left North Carolina with many questions.
As Ann and I discussed our trip over the following weeks, we both decided that these were questions that needed answering. Ann had begun the process of applying for a new guide dog, but at the same time she was intrigued by what we had experienced in North Carolina. Horses live so much longer than dogs. With modern health care, it is becoming increasingly common to see horses living and working well into their thirties. Ann had been lucky. Her guide dog had lived to be eleven, and she had been able to keep him in work right up to the time of his death. However, many guide dogs need to be retired after just a couple of years of service. If horses could indeed work as guides, the payoff in terms of a longer working life could be huge.
But the questions were still there, and the Burlesons did not have another horse ready to go. They weren't planning on training another guide until the following spring. Ann did not want to wait that long, nor did she feel comfortable risking her mobility on such a new concept. So, she went ahead and arranged to get a new dog. But in the meantime we continued to explore the idea of horses as guides. We started looking for potential candidates. The first challenge was finding a mini that would be small enough. Don Burleson felt that the minis should be under 26 inches. There aren't that many minis that size, especially since we were excluding dwarfs from consideration. We were concerned that horses showing any signs of dwarfism might have hidden health risks.
Our search via the internet turned up only four possible candidates, one in Oklahoma, one in Wisconsin, and two at Grosshill Miniature Horse Farm, just outside Ocala Florida. One filly in particular at Grosshill caught my eye, a beautifully proportioned, black and white pinto. She was nine months old which meant she still had some growing to do, but Jack Burchill, the owner of Grosshills, thought she would mature under 26 inches. She had two older siblings who had each stayed very small. It was a risk buying a horse who had not yet reached her full height, but, on the other hand, there were training advantages to starting with a weanling.
We flew down in the middle of August to meet her, and discovered she was irresistible. Panda is an elegant, beautifully proportioned, sweet-natured little charmer. Her manners were impeccable. She was calm, easy to handle, exactly what we were looking for in a guide. As long as she stayed tiny we would be all set. From my point of view she would be a horse I would welcome into our training family. It was up to Ann to decide if this was a project she really wanted to pursue. The answer was yes.
A Horse in the House!
So Panda became ours. She arrived from Florida on Sept.19, 2001. I very quickly discovered that she is an astonishing little horse. She is certainly answering far more quickly than I would ever have imagined the questions I have about using a mini for a guide.
The first day she arrived, I walked her up the backsteps into my house. Now I should say at the outset that my house would not win any prizes for neatness. The dining room doubles as my office and a store room for books and videos. Panda had to negotiate an obstacle course of boxes and other clutter. She looked at nothing. She walked through my house as though it was the most ordinary of events. My three cats shadowed her from room to room. She sniffed noses with Lucy, my youngest, which pleased me that neither one of them seemed unduly concerned about the other.
I loved the sound her tiny hooves made on the stone floor of my kitchen. Tic-a, tic-a, tic-a, tic-a, she pattered across the room and on into the garden room. There we paused to take pictures of this most extraordinary sight: a horse in my house! Then I took her down the three steps out into the back garden. Panda followed me without hesitation. Going up stairs, going down stairs, going into strange spaces, nothing bothered her. I was floored. She was so mature, not at all like the rambunctious young horses I normally get to work with! Grosshills had done a superb job with her "puppy raising".
Over the next couple of days we faced more training challenges. Our most pressing need was getting her used to riding in cars so she could travel with me to the barn. I didn't feel comfortable leaving her home unattended for the four or five hours that I spend at the barn every night. Ann uses a mini van which she specifically chose because it gave her guide dog more room. I, on the other hand, have a subcompact, not exactly the ideal vehicle for transporting a horse. But Panda very quickly learned to jump up on the back seat. Her first few attempts were not very graceful, but she now jumps right in without the least bit of hesitation.
Panda learning to get in a car.
She is also well on her way to being house broken. She relieves on cue, even on pavement. And she has had no "accidents" indoors. It's been her clear choice to avoid eliminating in buildings.
She has had several shopping excursions with me, the first to Petsmart to buy some supplies for her. I've never had such good service! Every employee in the place came over to meet her. I was astounded at how well Panda handled everything. Nothing startled her. Nothing got her excited. Shopping carts, small children, towering stacks of pet supplies, nothing bothered her. She treated her adventure as the most ordinary of events.
Our next shopping trip was to the post office where she got to stand in a long line. Panda waited patiently next to me. She also answered another major concern I had, which was how she would handle the different surfaces she would have to walk on. Slippery floors were not an issue for her.
Clicker Clinics and Training Sessions
The weekend after she arrived, I was giving a clinic about an hour north of where I live. Ann and I loaded Panda into her mini van. Another one of my clients drove, and we put Panda to yet another test, could she travel in a car for that length of time? The answer was an easy yes. During the ride I used the clicker to work on "table manner" issues. She was at the stage with the clicker training where she knew that certain behaviors got me to click and hand her tiny tidbits of grain, but she didn't yet understand that in between she couldn't help herself to my pockets. So I reinforced her for keeping her head straight. During the car ride I was able to build duration and add ears forward as a second criterion.
The clinic proved to be a training bonus. I was able to stay with her throughout the day. While we worked in the arena, we put Panda in a temporary stall. I could stay near her and still teach, which let me get a head start on many training projects, including house breaking. During the breaks, Panda came with me into the house. At lunch on Saturday she lay down in the middle of the living room and took a nap. Just inches away from her, Ann's new guide, a German shepherd, was curled up, also taking a nap. It was a great picture, but, of course, no one had a camera handy.
At home during the week, I took Panda for daily training walks. It was clear from the beginning that she led well to the left, but to the right was another matter. She wasn't comfortable with me on that side. She pushed into me with her shoulders, and even at one point kicked out at me over her frustration of having to deal with such a "stupid human"! Didn't I know where I was supposed to be!
John Lyons Symposium
On October 5-7 John Lyons gave a symposium in the western part of NY. I very much wanted to go, but we had the issue of what to do with Panda. She wasn't ready for an overnight in a motel, so we decided to drive out with a trailer. Panda could easily spend the night in the front box stall.
After her transport up from Florida, it was clear Panda was going to be stressed by another solitary trip, so I rode in the back of the trailer with her for the four hour trip out. Naturally, I couldn't just sit with her during the trip. I had to train something, so I built the foundation for teaching her to lie down.
Friday evening when I walked into the arena where Lyons was holding the symposium, I thought: what in the world was I thinking bring Panda! The place was packed with people. We weren't two feet into the arena before she had a crowd swarming around her. She was wearing a guide harness, and a sign identifying her as a guide-in-training along with a reminder not to touch her. That didn't matter. She was too cute for people to resist. They were all over her. Panda isn't yet solid about being handled, so I had to watch her closely to make sure we stayed within her comfort zone.
Lyons had a round pen set up in the center of the arena with metal chairs surrounding it ten rows deep. We found a spot off to ourselves at the back of the arena. Panda's lesson for the evening was on moving her hips over and lining herself up next to my chair. Lyons worked for well over two hours during which time she stayed quietly by my side. She fussed a couple of times, so I took her away from everyone and offered her a chance to relieve herself, which she did not take advantage of. I had no idea what the limits were to her bladder control, but if she had needed to go, she could easily have used the bark footing of the arena as her "liter box".
After the symposium ended, we went back to the trailer where she finally relieved herself. Her bladder was very full, so she had clearly been controlling herself until she could return to her preferred location.
I slept up in the gooseneck so I could keep an eye on her during the night. Everyone else headed off to a warm night in a motel. Spending the night with her was another training bonus. I wanted her to develop a close bond with me, but I also needed her to be comfortable with being left alone. By staying with her, but out of sight, I could help her adjust to being alone in an unfamiliar location.
Saturday was a further test of Panda's suitability for guide work. Lyons was working an unbroke horse. Panda ignored everything: the people walking past her, the commotion of the horse, the loud speaker, the applause of the people. She again treated her surroundings as perfectly normal and remained focused on what I was asking her to do.
I trained Panda as I watched the clinic. I had to pick a lesson that didn't require much movement, so I continued to work on teaching her to lie down. I shaped her to drop her head, and to yield her front knee into my hand. I could draw her knee back so she was starting to kneel. Click and jackpot: a tiny bit of carrot. Once that was consistent, I let the clicker take over. At first she wasn't sure what to do next. This was not the way horses naturally lie down, but as I let her sort out the possibilities, she quite abruptly folded her legs underneath her and dropped to the ground. She didn't stay down more than a second, but that was long enough for me to click and reinforce her.
Throughout the morning I continued to work on lying down. It took just a few minutes to establish a consistent trigger for the behavior. Once she was down, I clicked and treated, clicked and treated in rapid fire succession. By keeping her on a high rate of reinforcement I was able to built duration into the overall behavior.
Lyons took one break during the day, shortly after noon, which meant that Panda was in the arena working with me for over three hours. Remember, this is a nine month old horse, so any of you who are worried about your horse's attention span, relax. When lessons are fun, horses can play all day!
Panda got a mid-day lunch and nap break. Then from 1:30 to 6:00 she was back in the arena. It was never my intention to keep her in the arena that long. I was expecting Lyons to take a late afternoon break, but he worked straight through to the end. Panda seemed perfectly at ease with his program. She lay down at my feet and took an extended nap. She didn't even stir when people stepped over her on their way back to their seats. Astounding. She was still napping when Lyons finally finished up and applause broke out. Not even that disturbed her beauty sleep. I was truly amazed.
After the symposium I took her out for a walk. She was full of energy and wanted to go exploring, but our walk was interrupted by a cold rain. I took her back to the trailer and worked on some basic ground control lessons just to give her some exercise. When it was too dark to see, I gave her her dinner and slipped away.
Sunday Panda was every bit as good as she had been on Saturday. I now had two useful guide behaviors to work on, lying down, and standing quietly by my chair. The lying down was solid. I had only to touch the front of her chest and she was plopping herself eagerly down on the ground. I let her snooze by my feet most of the morning, and in the afternoon we worked on having her tuck herself in close beside my chair. That would be a very useful skill in restaurants and other places where Ann might need her to wait quietly by her side.
Lyons ran the day again as two long training sessions. I watched Panda for signs of fidgeting or discomfort, but she seemed very much at ease. One of our concerns, and one of the arguments against using horses as guides, is that of the whole question of the work schedule. People argue that horses are herd animals and asking them to work in this manner will be too stressful. Panda on the contrary has shown me that for her this is not an issue. She seems ideally suited to being a guide. Panda loves being with people. When we got her, she bonded almost immediately to me. So from her point of view the weekend was great fun. She got to spend the entire day with me. She was perfectly happy playing funny clicker games with me all day long, even surrounded by all the people and commotion. Rather than being a stressful situation, the clinic gave her something horses very much need, social contact.
Tufts Animal Expo
Panda's next huge challenge came just a few days later. I was scheduled to be one of the presenters at the Tufts Animal Expo which was being held at a convention center in downtown Boston. I couldn't leave Panda at home because there was no one to horse sit her during the day. But if I took her with me, Panda would have to handle city traffic, elevators, slippery marble floors, the exhibit hall and conference rooms, and long hours indoors. The overnight accommodations were taken care of by Sarah Stuurman. She arranged a stall for Panda at the barn where Sarah keeps her stallion, Gregor. By Tuesday I had decided to wimp out and leave Panda there during the day. There were just too many unknowns and stresses for such a young horse. My first presentation was at nine o'clock. If she couldn't handle the elevator, or refused to walk over the marble floors of the convention center, I'd be stuck.
That was Tuesday. Wednesday I decided that it was less stressful for Panda to go with me than it was to leave her by herself in a strange barn. Sarah was going to be with me. If Panda couldn't cope with the convention center, I could always leave her with Sarah. If she could handle her stallion, Gregor, she could certainly handle little Panda.
I drove to Boston Wednesday afternoon. Panda dozed during most of the three hour trip, settled into her overnight accommodations, and didn't make too much of a fuss when I slipped away out of sight. She had learned at the Lyons' clinic that it was all right for me to disappear. It didn't cause the stress that it had just a few days before.
In the morning we got held up by commuter traffic so she was in the car longer than I would have liked. Before we went into the conference center, she had her first major test. Would she relieve on-cue in a parking lot? I put a couple of handfuls of shavings down on the pavement and gave her her cue. Without any hesitation Panda responded. I have to say, my mouth dropped open. I was not expecting the house breaking to be this easy!
Panda relieving on cue in a
downtown Boston parking lot.
I continued to be astonished by this little horse. Elevators, city traffic, slippery floors, crowds of people, she handled everything like a seasoned pro. My first presentation was at nine and lasted two hours. Panda showed off her repertoire of clicker-trained behaviors. Then I played some videos. The videos were projected up on a giant screen. The first horse I showed was a clip of Fig, taken from my first video. Panda watched the screen along with everyone else! Ann is going to have to get cable so Panda can watch Animal Planet!
When the tape stopped, Panda lay down for a nap. It didn't matter that she was surrounded by people. She stretched flat out on her side and had a long, and, I trust, wonderful dream.
After my presentation Panda had another potty break outside. As we headed back to the parking garage, the streets were full of people. We couldn't go two steps without somebody coming up to us to ask questions. Most people had heard about minis being used for guides. The response to Panda was incredible. Everyone was so gracious, and so very accepting of her. That was especially true at the conference where people were thrilled to see her. And, of course, everyone wanted to touch her.
Panda in downtown Boston.
That was the one area that caused some training concerns. Panda is not yet entirely comfortable being handled. She fidgets for grooming, and she doesn't like people rushing at her. One of the principles of training states that "you can't ask for something and expect to get it on a consistent basis unless you have gone through a teaching process to teach it to your horse."
That's a fundamentally important principle. I had not fussed Panda about her lack of good grooming manners because I had not yet built the ground control that would let me ASK her to stand still. I could MAKE her stand still, but that would have undermined her training and the relationship we are building. With Panda, and indeed with all my horses, I want to be able to ask for specific behaviors, and have them respond because they understand clearly what is wanted and are more than willing to comply. My horses are in the habit of saying "yes" to me, because I don't put them into situations where the only option they see is "no".
Panda was getting flooded with people, and she didn't yet have enough of a foundation to know how to accept all the attention. I discovered that most people greeted her by putting their hand under her muzzle. I hadn't yet taught her "leave it", so she was nuzzling them, expecting food, and then getting annoyed when there was nothing there. That was not a problem for me. I could regulate her behavior and keep both Panda and the people safe. But as a working guide this would present problems. Ann would not be able to see when Panda needed to be shifted back from someone's hand. So I made a mental note that I would need to pay particular attention to this aspect of her training.
Morgan Spector, the author of "Clicker Training For Obedience", was also presenting at the Expo. On Friday morning he helped me with one important element of this. He played the "leave it" game with Panda. He placed his hand under her nose. She nuzzled his hand, and then eventually looked away. I immediately clicked and reinforced her. Panda caught on fast, and has since enthusiastically played the "leave it" game with others.
In her training I use my hand as a positive target, as does Ann. Panda understands that she can orient to our hands, but with everyone else she is figuring out that the best way to get reinforced is to draw her nose away from their outstretched fingers.
During the Expo, she showed me that she has another ability a guide must have: she knows how to take opportunistic naps. When I stopped to chat with people, she would stand next to me dozing. At one point I was in the Exhibit Hall next to the Sunshine Books' clicker training booth. The aisle was packed with people, and I was answering a barrage of questions about clicker training and mini guides. Panda decided it was time for a nap. She lay down on the floor, and, in the midst of all those people, sacked out on her side for a long, deep snooze. I was astounded that not only did she feel comfortable enough to lie down with all the noise and commotion around her, but that she also was relaxed enough to sleep. I was truly amazed.
Panda joined me for lunch with Karen Pryor, and later participated in my afternoon presentation. We didn't leave the building until almost five. On our drive out of Boston we got stuck in commuter traffic. There were a couple of accidents that slowed everything down to a snail's pace, so we didn't get her settled into her stall until almost seven.
Friday morning we left even earlier, but this time traffic was flowing smoothly, so we had a little extra time before the conference started. We took Panda out for a training walk.
The day before I had shown Gale Pryor how the clicker can be used to train obstacle avoidance. I walked into a traffic barrel that was blocking a cross walk, then reinforced Panda for finding the way around. Friday morning we decided to video Panda experiencing Boston. I walked her towards the same barrel with the intent of crashing into it again. Panda walked me around it. I would have had to push her to the side to walk into it. I approached it a couple of times, and each time she maneuvered me around it. That was after just one exposure! I was again astounded at both Panda and the power of clicker training.
Panda is taking me around the traffic barrel. I was trying to walk into it, but Panda took me very deliberately around it.
We had a chance to work with an overhead obstacle, a chain strung between two posts to direct pedestrian traffic into a tour bus queue. I gave Panda the command forward. She could walk under the chain without any problem. I, however, crashed into it. I said "oops!", backed her up, and told her to go forward again.
Panda reached up with her nose and sniffed the chain. I told her to go forward which she did, and I crashed into the chain a second time.
Panda encountering her first overhead obstacle.
I backed her up, and gave her the forward command again. Without hesitation she turned to the left and took me around the chain! Click and jackpot! What a smart horse! I have not begun her formal guide training, but she is clearly showing me that, just like Cuddles, the ability is there.
Friday was a repeat of the first day. I had another two hour presentation beginning at nine. She had a quick bathroom break afterwards, then I joined Karen Pryor and Morgan Spector for the last hour of a training workshop they were giving. After that Panda was clearly getting tired of people, so I found a quiet corner off by ourselves where we could both have a break. Later I sat in on Irene Pepperberg's presentation on parrot language acquisition. Panda slept at my feet. The nap revived her enough for her to return to the exhibit hall for my final commitment of the day.
That was the end of the conference, but not the end of the training. Friday evening Sarah needed to get Gregor out, and her husband, Martijn was teaching a dressage lesson in the arena. While I waited for them, I entertained with Panda in her stall. The big horses were practicing their shoulder-ins, so we practiced ours. I worked Panda at liberty, getting her to yield to the pressure of an imaginary rein. By the end of our session she was stepping over sideways in very pretty shoulder-in. I've been adding Robin's pose into her training, so she's already using herself like a performance horse. This isn't just for fun. Adding the high school work will give Ann greater control over leg speed, something that I've seen with the canine guides is much needed.
Saturday morning I again drove in to Boston, to Karen Pryor's house for an editorial meeting on the next book, "Clicker Training With Your Horse, A Step-By-Step Guide in Pictures". We had chosen to meet at Karen's house rather than the Sunshine Books office, because Karen's front porch offered us the perfect training ground to teach Panda to go up and down stairs with control.
Karen's steps were long, so I could turn Panda sideways and let her do only one or two steps at a time. If we had let her, the little mountain goat would have been only too happy to clamber up right to the top, but she probably would have crashed coming down. So Karen positioned herself on the step above Panda to discourage her from going up too far, and Morgan handled the clicker. The goal was to click her for placing her hind feet one at a time on the steps. We wanted her to become more aware of how she was using her hind end instead of just hopping up the steps.
Karen Pryor, Morgan Spector, and myself helping Panda learn about stairs.
As the handler I couldn't see what she was doing with her hind feet, so I was delighted to be able to turn the timing of the click over to Morgan. As a dog trainer, he knew more about teaching stairs than I did. This isn't a behavior that normally comes up in horse training!
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed working with Morgan and Karen. What a treat! There was not one bad click in the entire session, not one piece of misinformation. When Panda learned to go up and down the stairs with control, we let her go all the way up onto the porch. Success! And there was another question answered. It looked as though, with a little more practice, she would indeed be able to handle stairs.
Inside Panda had to pose for more pictures. I had to rein in Karen who wanted to teach Panda to lie down on her sofa, and pull carrots out of her refrigerator! Ann would have had something to say about that! But I did let her shape her to open her kitchen cupboards: a useful service-animal skill. During our meeting on the book, Panda stood next to me, dozing, and eventually lay down on the carpet for a real nap. It made for a most unique and delightful editorial meeting!
What's next for Panda
Panda and I left for home mid-afternoon. She is now back in her more normal routine, at least for a couple of days. Next week, I'll be taking her with me to the clinic down in Virginia, at Darcy Donahue's. She'll be joining Crackers and Sindri as one of our clicker-demo horses. In the meantime she is going for her regular walks and continuing to learn new things. I have been monitoring these training sessions carefully, looking for signs of stress. If she came back from either the Lyons' clinic or the Tufts Expo and started spooking at things that had not worried her before, I would be concerned that I had pushed her too fast, too far. But on the contrary, she is becoming increasingly solid in her work. In fact I've just added an important new element to her training. I was able to let her off lead in my house for the first time. She followed me around just like a puppy. When I sat down on the couch, she lined herself up in heel position and stayed right beside me.
All of her training has been done with the clicker. Nothing has been forced on her. I'm now at the stage where I am building, bit by bit, duration into all of her behaviors. She is showing me that she understands what I am asking of her, and she is also showing me an enthusiasm for her work. She doesn't realize that she is having a lesson. She is more like an energetic toddler with an indulgent grandparent, one who is willing to play with her all day long. Panda is clearly most content when she is with me, even if she is just being asked to stand quietly by my side. That's exactly what we want in a guide.
Ann and I both regard Panda's training as a research project. We have, as I said at the beginning, many questions. I could not be more pleased or astounded at the progress Panda has made so far, but we are very much in the beginning stages of her training. She has clearly demonstrated that she makes a delightful companion. Whether she will also make a guide remains to be seen.
I am going to be keeping a training journal, and posting regular updates about her to this web site, so you can follow along with her progress.
And now that you've read this report, if you find yourself shaking your head in disbelief at all the things I've been asking Panda to do, I would have you remember another important training principle: "Go to people for opinions, and horses for answers." The Panda Project is important not just for service-animal users. Through Panda I am questioning many commonly held beliefs about horses and what they can and can not do. Panda is rewriting the script. Over time that may have important implications for all our horses. She is already being a guide, leading me to places in my training I would never have imagined I would be exploring.
copyright Alexandra Kurland December 2001