I received the following email from a lady who attended our clinic with Nicole Weinauge.

Hi Winnie,

I have just finished reading a book about someone who was able to teach a horse many things.  Beautiful Jim Key.  Here is a site that talks about him too.


The book is interesting from many aspects – history of slavery right after the Civil War and horse behaviour.  Many people challenged the horse’s intelligence but it did not seem to be reading the audience as did Clever Hans.  Although, it frustrated me, that no one recognized the amazing feat that Clever Hans did by being able to read his owner’s body language.  The average person cannot do that.

What is your opinion of this horse?  Why do we not see the same to-day?  Were these horses rare or are people not putting the time in to this type of training?  I would love your feedback, at your convenience of course.
My response:

Hi, I just looked through the link on Jim Key and ordered seven copies of the book. Can’t wait to receive them.

I think the horses are still as smart as Jim Key, but the people aren’t interested in developing the type of relationship his owner Bill Key created.

I’m sure quite a few people laugh about the things I do with the horses. They probably figure I can’t ride so I play games with the horses.

We got our boys a few weeks after they were weaned. We figured they were NOT going to be lawn ornaments and we weren’t interested in dominating them. Our Vizslas are prime examples of our approach to youngsters.

With the horses we stumbled onto trick training and playing games. We did not receive lessons or watch videos telling us how to do things at liberty. Someone from Colorado visited us to attend the Philippe Karl clinic two summers ago and she had been taught how to do liberty. She was polite and didn’t say to our faces that we were using incorrect body language, however she moved Zelador at liberty and used her body differently than I did and got the same response. So, we’re probably ALL WRONG, but we’re doing it and we and the horses are having a great time!

I think modern society has placed the horse in the “this is like a bicycle” position. Sure, quite a few people say they love their horses, but they don’t watch them, they don’t train them, they hire people to take care of them and teach them (and teach the humans, no trial and error stuff nowadays)…I doubt that more than a handful of horse owners have sat outside a fence and watched their horses in the paddock. I actually sat in the paddock, about 75 metres away from Z and Z and Sherlock (my Thoroughbred who was in his twenties and took on the “interesting” job of babysitting the Lusitanos). Zelador couldn’t handle me sitting on the ground in his paddock. (My sitting on the ground outside the paddock was acceptable.) He stopped his grazing, left the other two horses, came to me and walked around me until I got up. Then he went back to Zeloso and Sherlock.

The boys astound and amaze me pretty much a daily basis. They figure things out that I want them to do before I ask. For example, the first time I had the carpet for “roll out the carpet” I let Zelador loose in the arena, got the carpet, placed it on the ground, walked to the whip-holder to get one of Allen Pogue’s Imagine a Horse-friendly whip with the soft ball on the end and Zelador was rolling out the carpet as I was returning to it. Then he started to roll it back up again.

I recall that people at a meeting where I gave a talk about what we do here expressed an interest in seeing the horses play games, do liberty and perform tricks. A date was established at the meeting for people to come to our farm and within a week the person in charge contacted me and cancelled the date. She did encourage me to bring the horses to an event in June. She said we could be in the indoor arena. I booked a trailer for the outing. A few weeks before the event she said they were too crowded on the schedule for the indoor arena and I’d be outdoors. Well, I’m pretty careful about where I take my horses and what I ask of them. I always put their health and safety FIRST and performing outdoors with the chance of challenging weather conditions is not on my list.

So, what kept the organizer from maintaining the schedule? Why did it evolve to no one seeing the horses playing at our farm? Perhaps what we do is too far from the norm. I’d like your opinion.

I remember showing someone the boys doing their thing when they were about three years old. Now they’re seven. I think Zeloso decided to walk away, stop, turn and watch. He was “regrouping”. The person said something like: children and animals can always make us look silly. I didn’t feel silly because Zeloso needed to think about things. Funny that the person watching thought I looked silly…

Another guess at why we’re not seeing the Clever Hans and Beautiful Jim Keys of the horse world is that people are “sophisticated” these days. An act that goes worldwide is often “death defying” or has tons of theatrical aids (lights, music, fireworks). For people to take a deep breath and calm down to watch horses being horses is asking a great deal. People go to shows to be stimulated, not put in touch with animals and experience inner peace.

I’ll stop here. Glad you could get to the clinic. Oh, here’s something cute. I asked Nicole after the clinic if Zelador had said something that I wasn’t aware of. She laughed and reported that the last few days he kept telling her that he wanted to take me jumping. He wanted to show me how much fun it is!

I know he LOVES to jump. I set up a low jump, throw the ridged ball over it, he jumps the jump, picks up the ball and jumps with the ball in his mouth to return it to me. Often he’s off and running while I’m preparing to throw the ball. Initially I threw the soft-ringed toy, but its softness wouldn’t allow me to throw it very far. Invariably Zelador jumped further than my throw and had to spin around to get the toy. I figured this could get fast and furious and I didn’t want him hurting himself. So, to the ridged ball I went. Often I throw it further than twenty meters. No problem for Zelador (or for Zeloso!).

A clinician who specializes in tricks was here for a clinic last year and he saw me toss a toy about ten feet away. He said, “Don’t do that. It’s too far!!!” I’ve developed the jumping/retrieving game since that clinic. Wonder what his thoughts would be now?


Since receiving and replying to this email the “Beautiful Jim Key” books have arrived. I’m about a third of the way through it. There are many interesting tidbits. One is: when Bill was teaching the horse to identify the letter “A” he coated a card with sugar and drew the letter “A” on it. Well, turned out he taught Jim Key that the card was edible. He went back to the drawing board and decided to draw the letter on a piece of tin, then coat it with sugar. Jim stopped eating “A”. I had to laugh! Been there: done that! Can’t count the times I thought I was teaching one thing and the horse learned another!