Fun and Games with Winnie
A Pre-Flight Check
This article explores both Hombre and Spring Song's pre-flight checks, what exactly this means, and the process of getting Hombre to walk onto a tarp.
I have a funny story. Bill was getting Spring Song ready to ride. I noticed that every once in a while Bill left Spring’s stall and walked outside the barn. He did this several times. I finally asked, “What are you doing?” He replied, “I’m checking for possible rain. Spring doesn’t like the noise of rain on the arena roof. I’m also checking to see where the cows across the road are grazing. If they’re moving around Spring loses focus…”
I said, “Ah, you’re doing a pre-flight check, with a heavy emphasis on ‘flight’!”
I told this story to Amanda and she laughed. She said, “When I’m thinking about tacking up Hombre who is EXTREMELY sound sensitive I’m checking the clouds to see if there’s any hint of rain approaching, looking for the cows, scanning the trees to see if they’re swaying in the wind or if seeds are flying off and landing on the roof. Pre-flight is RIGHT!”
My most recent project with Hombre has been introducing him to the tarp on the arena floor. I approached each session with the attitude, “I’m not forcing him to deal with the tarp. I’m setting it up so that is interesting by putting little treats on it. If he has trouble with the treats because of where they’re placed on the tarp I will move the treats to help him. I want Hombre to decide to walk on the tarp. If he is in control and thinks things through then he’ll learn over a period of time that everything NEW is not the end of the world.
Several times I brought in another horse and let Hombre see it walk onto the tarp and eat treats. Each day that I brought Hombre into the arena with the tarp on the floor I walked across it. Stood on it. Shuffled my feet. He didn’t react to the sounds I made on the tarp.
It took three weeks of placing treats on one tarp for Hombre to come into the arena and NOT snort at the spectacle. A few weeks later he accidentally placed the toe of a hoof on the tarp. He responded quickly and dramatically to the sound his hoof made on the plastic tarp. He shot backwards. A few weeks went by and he no longer reacted to the sound of his hoof touching the plastic. Time passed and one day he put both front feet on the tarp. He ate the treats, then quietly backed off the tarp.
A week ago Hombre placed all four feet on the tarp. I almost fainted. He calmly walked forward off the tarp. The next day I placed two tarps, overlapping, and he was able to walk across both of them while eating treats. I added a third tarp. It was a different colour and had not been stored in the arena. It had to have a different smell. No problem for Hombre. He walked over all three tarps eating the treats. I then put on his halter and lead line. I led him. He hesitated, then decided he could be led over tarps that did not have any treats on them. The next day we videotaped his first ride over the tarps. Here it is. Wendy filmed, Alex rode Zeloso (the helper-horse) and Amanda rode Hombre. It was raining on and off, but Hombre wasn’t bothered by it. In the past he has freaked out, bucked like a madman, etc. Amanda’s said more than once that she is amazed that she stays on during these bucking sessions.
Check it out: