Via Nova was so happy to have our student trainers, Cami & Jasmine, kick off their Via Nova: Priority to Positive® Program in August of 2021.  Soaking up the experience in the classroom, in the barn, and around the property, they shared a day in the life after their first four weeks on board.


Our day typically begins at 8am by feeding our mustang, Taz, her breakfast. As we bring out the hay, she meets us at the gate with a nicker. She takes a few handfuls from each of us in a calm and comfortable manner, then is rewarded with the remaining hay. Feeding her breakfast from our hands gives us the chance to continue classically conditioning her that our hands provide food to her.


Just after feeding Taz, we knock out some chores and important barn tasks such as feeding and medicating the barn cats, getting Taz’s training reinforcement prepped, and stuffing some hay ball feeders to distribute in the turnout paddocks. The hay ball feeders have greatly improved the horses turnout time. So much more than munching, they stay active kicking the ball around and also get good mental exercise that simulates grazing.

Cami feeding Taz hay


Before it gets too hot, we take the ‘boys’ (two great geldings), Peter and Drake, for their daily walks around the property. They appreciate getting to stretch their legs; for Peter, it’s part of his rehab program. And for Drake, it’s to keep him from getting stiff. They’re looking good and were both cleared to add in some trot work. For Drake, it has also helped him gain confidence and bravery out of the arena. He’s taken everything from neighbors walking their dogs outside the fence to snakes crossing our path in stride. For us, it’s a nice chance to enjoy our property’s trails and the great views in our backyard. Spending time grooming and riding them has been nice as well, as we settle into our routine and get to know the horses.

Cami and Jasmine, PtP students


After we finish up putting the boys away, we grab our stuff and head to the pavilion to meet our instructor for our next curriculum presentation. We usually start off with a quiz/review session going over the material from the last class, which often opens up a good discussion and also lets our instructor know what we retained the most. Then we go into the next lesson, making sure to take good notes as we absorb all the useful information. The lessons are always interesting and engaging, as the concepts and science being taught are all things that we will eventually be using with the horses. It’s so interesting to learn about the science behind how we influence our horses every time we interact with them.

After the lecture, we usually have an observation exercise where we go watch the trainers work with a couple of the horses and write down what we see happening as it pertains to what we learned that day, as well as any questions we might have. This part of the learning process has been especially interesting, since we have the chance to immediately see real-life examples of what we learned, and it tends to build upon each lesson so it all connects and helps to solidify the information for us.

More recently, we’ve started learning about the mechanical skills necessary for positive reinforcement in class. We’ve gone over hand-feeding safely, target handling and bridge conditioning. Whenever we have extra time during the day, we use it to practice our skills.

via nova classroom cami and jasmine with meredith

We’ve been using the TagTeach method with each other, which is a great way to learn. When one practices, the other will click for specific aspects of the mechanics to make sure that we really get the movements down and pay attention to things like keeping our elbow straight or keeping the target low when not in use. We continue to get more comfortable and confident with the mechanics.  We are working on the movement becoming second nature to us for when we add in a horse.


Currently, Taz is getting much of our attention on the training front. Her current training program requires us to do short and frequent sessions. We continue to classically condition our hands to provide her food. The only requirement is that she remain relaxed while we move around to feed her. Oftentimes this session will be broken up into a few pieces involving a different trainer with just a few minutes in between. To show us that she’s ready to play again she will come up to the fence and wait for a new person to engage her! It is great to see her appreciating our presence and choosing to ask us to play and ignoring the hay that dropped on the ground.


After our session with Taz, we take a break for lunch.

jasmine and taz


After lunch, we usually fit in one more session with Taz. She is often a little bit more relaxed later in the day, and so we usually keep this session short and sweet, doing more of the same classical conditioning. At this point she will nicker to each of us as we come up to the gate to start feeding her, and eagerly follow us to her pen where we work with her. Once we feel like she is adequately relaxed, we give her one last big handful of hay and open the gate to the track paddock so she can go join her mini friends and chill out for the night.


Our afternoon can vary but typically consists of getting the school horses groomed, lunged, and ridden as needed. Many of the horses are familiar with positive reinforcement sessions for things such as bridling, lunging, and taking medications. While we are beginning to practice our skills with them we aren’t fully ready to do all types of sessions. Observing the difference in their behaviors when in a positive reinforcement training session versus traditional settings has revealed the possibilities of R+ joining the traditional scene. 


By 3:00, we’re usually done with all of our horse work and handle anything else that needs to be done around the barn, which could include sweeping the tack-up bays, pulling the hay balls out of the pens and filling them back up, doing laundry, or other various things to keep the barn running smoothly. We typically end our days by journaling and reflecting on the day’s activities, and around 4:30 in the afternoon, we clock out and head back home.


We each alternate doing night check. We take a walk through the barns and the track paddocks making sure each equid, capra, and feline are healthy and happy. This practice is important for us to see if any animals might have an injury or illness post supper when the humans have gone home for the night. 

Our days are filled with great opportunities to observe and practice our new knowledge and skills on positive reinforcement! We feel settled in now and eager to continue our journey as Student PtP Trainers!