Friday, February 18, 2011

Tricks and treats

Apologies for not writing for awhile. I have been playing sporadically with all and sundry when the weather and schedule has allowed. Today was Bruce's turn. I have been inspired by some videos of Pat I've been watching where he says that he just takes what the horse offers and shapes it, etc. Of course, he always seems to be playing with forward going horses, and while I want to use this approach, I wasn't too sure how it would translate to a pony like Bruce. Bruce can be an obstructionist! I recently "quoted" Bruce's stance as being "If I do what you ask, how is that a game?" and very often that seems to be what he's thinking. 

I set a row of four barrels out, with a gap between the middle two, and a small pile of poles to make a T at the far end, then a tarp about 40' away, so that I could hopefully do some circling, a bit like Pat does with Midas in the latest version of Level 2. Midas could hardly stop moving his feet, so it was just a case of see where he wanted to go. I figured Bruce and I had better warm up a little first, or he probably wouldn't go at all. We played with a little Zone 5 Driving with one rein. He only seemed to know how to go backwards, so when I finally got him to go forward I rewarded him by changing the subject. I played with just mixing up lots of sends and draws and drives of different zones. That woke him up a little. I needed to work on the draw, so we did, and when he was more enthusiastic I gave him a treat.

We headed for the obstacles. It was windy, so I had weighted the tarp down with hunks of wood and put a few cones against the barrels to stop them blowing around. The tarp drew Bruce like a magnet and he was pretty sure that he was supposed to either stand on the tarp or the hunks of wood. I wasn't surprised. I sent him on his way and he managed to get one of the barrels of it's mooring of cones and push it with his nose for almost a half circle. (These are oil drums, by the way, not plastic barrels.) I did my best to have no opinion and just laughed, and encouraged him to push it some more. 

He got the idea that I really did want him to circle. He crossed the tarp pretty well, but the barrels just needed rearranging. He pushed them into log jams and ran toward them enthusiastically only to stop and refuse to jump. Then tried the old "one leg over and stumble around" routine. I told him I really didn't care as long as he tried. I rearranged the remaining three barrels in a line again. He really didn't try, but he discovered the poles at the end and jumped them a couple of times. Fine. If he stopped at the barrels we now changed direction. He was using a bit more energy now, and wasn't he surprised when he jumped a barrel and we stopped for a rest! He went off with a better attitude the next time and put his little heart into a jump and actually kept going. Game over!

I thought we'd touch on the Zone 5 Driving again, so I aimed him at that barrel he'd been pushing earlier. He still wanted to back up at first, but I just kept focusing on that barrel, and he got it. Off we went pushing the barrel around with me directing from Zone 5. Fun! How many people can get their pony to do that!

I also wanted to do some circles, with the plan to try some simple lead changes. I could see that we might be struggling, so I decided that if all we did was practice changing direction at walk, that would be okay. We worked on that, and the draw part was awful. So was his attitude. He had his shoulder and ribs pushed toward me and his nose poked out as he dragged himself slowly around. It was the same right or left, so I knew it was attitude! At first I just ignored it and kept changing direction anyway. If he wouldn't draw I just disengaged him and sent him the other way. That got to him after awhile and he got quicker, offered trot. Now I felt I had some hope of shaping his body a bit. What I tried was giving him little rhythmic tugs on his nose and at the same time driving his ribs and shoulder out. When he got it, I would either leave him alone or bring him in for a rest. Before long he was offering canter and I was able to ask for some changes. He did four really nice simple changes in a row. Once he tried very hard to make it a flying change, which was good enough for me. Cookie! And he really enjoyed that particular cookie, I noticed.

We finished up trying some S bends, which I thought would help me with my draw. However, it was very hard to get him sent right and left, and I had so much draw that we were both tripping over the slack in the rope. Hmmm.

Just time for a couple of "tricks". I've been revisiting getting Bruce to hand me his halter, so I took it off and laid it over his favorite barrel. This was some distance away. I made sure he saw me put it there, came back to where he was standing and sent him for it. He was doing a lot of thinking on the way, I could tell, and really asking questions. He made it to the barrel, but I had to come a bit closer before he would pick the halter up. Then I learned something. If I put out my hand to ask him to hand me the halter, he will drop it!  Why? Because he changes his focus to the possibility of getting a cookie. So I really must wait and ask him to offer it to me. Then I can take it from him, pause, and offer a treat. Big aha!

I thought we were done, and we did some nice Stick to Me on the way to the arena gate. But Bruce reminded me of one last thing. His roll. There's a nice soft spot near the gate. He loves to roll there, I am trying to establish this as something he does on command (and not spontaneously while wearing tack!). Bless him, he hesitated and looked at me meaningfully.  "????" So I pawed the ground with my foot and said "Lie down!" and he finished with a nice roll. Next step it to get him to stay down so I can get on, I suppose!


  1. Love it! "If I do what you ask, how is that a game?" Exactly! I've often wondered but Bruce was smart enough to ask the question.

    I also often feel it is odd the the only games we are supposed to play are the ones we win. However, shaping what the horse offers you makes it far more mutual. I guess PNH is trying to make sure people understand it isn't enough to play, you have to be able to win (or change the game before the horse does!)!

  2. We're in danger of getting deeply philosophical here, but I guess the goal is to make having a strong leader actually be fun! (Not to mention knowing how to have fun being that leader.)

  3. Hey, what a successful session! Very cool....

    Petra Christensen
    Parelli 2Star Junior Instructor
    Parelli Central