Smile9.jpg“The horse pays exactly as much attention to you as you pay to the horse.” Daniel Nummer has this saying as one of his Principles of Horse Training.

Zelador personifies this principle. Bill was leading him from the paddock to the barn yesterday (a distance over 100 metres) and he made it to the stall without an incident. He announced that he never let his attention be distracted from Zelador because, the split second that something other than leading Zelador enters Bill’s mind, the horse knows it. More than once Bill’s been left standing where he and the horse used to be. Zelador has deftly left Bill. The horse’s “best” maneuver is to turn to the right and walk away. It sounds simple and Oh, so easy to correct. However, Zelador’s has outsmarted many an excellent horse person. The only one who did NOT become a notch on his gun belt was Etienne Leroy.

That first February morning Etienne was here (he’s just arrived from France) he came to the barn to see the horses. I led Zelador to the arena and asked Etienne if he’d like to work with him. He did. Within a few minutes of work in-hand the horse was circling to the right around Etienne. And, Zelador tried his move. I sat there, stunned. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone move as quickly as Etienne did. Before Zelador could figure out why he wasn’t free he was moving politely, to the right, once again.

A few years ago Zelador did his favorite move when I was leading him. I hadn’t met Etienne, yet, and I’m pretty sure that even if I were thirty years younger, I wouldn’t be able to out-maneuver the horse.

Here’s a bit of background information, before I continue with the story: We weren’t riding the Z and Z yet so I busied myself teaching each Lusitano different things. One of them was the Big Smile. There are several ways to do this and the method I used came from Allen Pogue.

1. He starts by holding a treat in his hand. He’s made a fist, with the palm upwards. He places his hand near the horse and the animal sniffs it, then moves his nose side to side the same way he picks something out of the grass.

Allen says, “Good boy” and gives the treat. The words, “Good boy” are bridge words. Allen uses bridge words in his training because he wants the horse to know exactly when it did the correct thing. Allen says he can’t give the treat as quickly as he can speak the bridge words.

2. He places his hand “palm up with the treat covered by his fingers. The horse sniffs and moves his lips. “Good boy!”

3. He places the treat in his hand and has the palm down. The back of the hand is on the top, near the horse’s nose.

4. His hand is in the same position and he raises his index finger and wiggles it at the horse’s nose. When he moves his forefinger he says, “Big Smile”. When the horse moves his nose, he gives the treat.

5. Finally he waits to give the treat until the horse moves his lips, opens them and shows its teeth.

All four of our horses know the Big Smile. Ciara, a friend of mine, helped me with the two Zs when they were a year old. One day she was in the barn, moving from one horse to the other. I was distracted by barn work until she said, “They’re all smiling!”

Now, back to Zelador and me walking from the paddock to the barn that fateful afternoon.

For some reason Zelador got frightened. I think he noticed that the arena windows were opened behind him and he’d never seen that before. The bottom line is: he bolted. I was left standing alone and he ended up on the bridge of the bank barn over fifty metres away. He turned around and looked for me, pretty much saying, “Usually Winnie’s right here. Wonder what became of her. Ah, there she is.”

When I noticed him looking in my direction I raised my right arm, wiggled my index finger at him and yelled, “Big Smile!”

Zelador raised his nose and gave me an excellent smile, then walked down the hill, onto the driveway and met me. We continued our walk to the barn.