Monday, October 17, 2011

Make the Practice Work for the Horse Brain

I took advantage of the dwindling sun at the end of the day (no rain!) to ride Starlight and practice for our obstacle-course-and-Halloween party, coming up on Saturday.  

At first, she didn’t really understand what I wanted, when I kept walking her up against the big, blue ball that my husband bought to do human exercises on, but which I eventually stole for horse games.  After patience and praise, however, she actually ended up dribbling it ahead of her, repeatedly hitting it with her front hooves.  It was amazing to me when she figured it out!
Starlight and the ball.

She also carried my blue jacket from one barrel to another and even carried the plastic bag full of cans back and forth for me.  She quickly understood the pattern of walking from one barrel to the next and waiting there for me to pick up or drop off the jacket or cans.

Those who know me might remember that I was once bucked off a horse while attempting to carry a bag of cans from one barrel to another.   That horse was my faithful Hudson, and she and I had practiced carrying things for quite a while before the fateful day, when she freaked out under a bag of cans during a trail trial.  We had practiced carrying bags of plastic bottles, tarps, jackets, plastic bottles filled with rocks and hung together on a rope, but NOT CANS.

Ever since then, I include bags of cans among the things I ask my horses to carry.  It’s very practical, you know.  You just never know when you might be out in the wilderness with your horse and you come across a bag of cans that needs rescuing.  

Starlight and I will continue practicing carrying things this week, and I’ll place the things in different locations around the farm, to surprise her a little bit.  If there’s one thing I learned from past mistakes, it’s that horses feel way more threatened by carrying strange things when the things are not where they expect them to be.   So, my having success with Starlight and the barrels does not necessary translate to my having success when asking her to carry things between, say, the truck hood and the baler.    

Horses and people do not think the same way about this kind of activity.   They might come across a bag of cans in a trail competition in a place where they have never ridden before, with a bunch of horses the mare has never ridden with before.  The human thinks (foolishly), “Oh, this will be easy.  My horse has carried all kinds of scary things.”  Whereas the horse might be thinking, well, I don’t know what the horse might be thinking, but I guess it might be something like, “AHHHHHHHHHH!”

This is why people like me get into trouble in new places when they ask the horse to do something they assume the horse understands, just because they have done it successfully at home.

Anyway, I digress.  Starlight did great tonight, and we'll keep kicking it forward this week! 

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