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Cowgirl Pearl

by Caitlin Yoder

Published: Friday, November 30, 2018

Cowgirl to the Core

My riding partner has a big personality in a tiny package. She stands less than a foot tall from her toes to the tip top of her ears, but she's all spit and spice. Although she occasionally rides double on my horse, she prefers to run alongside me. Her small stature is deceiving because she is speedy for her size.

My horse moseys down the trail lazily, not a care in the world. All of a sudden, a little red and white Corgi bursts out of the brush in front of my horse. To some, she might seem a nuisance when she pops out of nowhere and spooks my horse. However, my dog Pearl isn't just my companion. She helps me train horses.

Growing up, we only had one dog at a time. My dad uses Border Collies to help him sort cattle, but they would always run along with us when we rode horse. When I started training horses for clients, I realized how much a dog can help desensitize a horse. If they weren't use to dogs, they were scared every time the dog ran up behind them or jumped out unexpectedly. However, the horse soon realized the dog would not hurt them and ignored her.

This also helps when we scare up other wild animals on the trail. The horses are less likely to react, or react as badly, since they are used to animals running around their legs and making noises. I also think it helps make the horse more aware of what is going on around them. Sometimes the dogs will run ahead of us and scare away animals from the path before the horse gets close.

Since my dad takes his dog with him for work, I couldn't take her with me every time I rode horse. I wanted a dog of my own that could help me desensitize my horses but would also be a good indoor pet. Several of my friends had Corgis, and I fell in love with their quirky personalities. They also have a lot of energy contained in a tiny body and can run for long periods of time.

When I tell people about my dog's job, they are skeptical. They think since she is small and short-legged she won't be fast or will tire easily. That little dog sure did prove them wrong. She has a sassy personality and loves to run. Pearl is just 4 months old, but she can keep up with my horse for a long time and still have energy to play afterwards. She looks like a wild bunny bouncing down the trail, over and under logs. It isn't just good for the horses, it's great exercise for Pearl.

My little partner is smart too. She knows when it's time to ride, and stays close to me on the trail. Pearl wonders off to investigate but always comes bounding back to me when I start to get out of range.

I have trained plenty of horses, but I have never trained a dog before I got Pearl. I discovered that training horses is different than training dogs. With horses, I often used pressure and release. For example, to teach them to stop, I put light pressure on the bit or halter. The second the horse stops moving its feet, I release the pressure, pat their neck and let them relax. They soon learn that when I pull back, they are supposed to stop.

My dog learns better with a different cue. I use verbal signals instead of physical pressure. I also use hand motions. When I ask her to sit, I hold up one finger and point backwards over her head. As soon as she sits, even for a second, I reward her with lots of pats and praise. Occasionally I also reward her with treats, but I don't want to depend on this type of reward.

I use to believe that horses could only be trained with physical pressure. However, I have learned that I can use hand signals and body language to train them too. My dog has helped me improve my training skills in more ways than one, and I'm thankful for my furry, four-legged teacher.

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