Last Monday morning with Sue leading Zelador I was finally able to stand on his back with him taking a few baby steps.
Here’s a recap:
-we positioned ourselves with the arena wall to our right. I was near a support post so if I felt a HUGE need to hold onto something, I could. The plastic windows in the arena are open (they open by moving downwards), so I had another balance option.
-we had our usual lead line attached to the metal loops on the vaulting surcingle and that morning we added a neck rope for Zelador. He’s pulled a cart so the pressure of the neck rope was not new to him. We attached another rope on the neck rope. This new rope was long enough for me to hold onto for balance. At a standstill I practiced pulling on the rope while standing on his back. Holding onto the neck rope felt much more stable than holding onto the rope attached to the vaulting loops. This was due to the increased angle that those extra inches of his neck added.
-Sue has focused on Zelador in all our non-saddle work. She’s stood beside him looking mainly forward. The steps Zelador has taken from a halt have been HUGE. I’ve found these steps to be WAY too unbalancing. Sniff! Over the past several weeks we’ve tried different approaches to help Zelador understand that we wanted tiny steps. He was able to shorten his strides a wee bit, but not enough to relax me.
On Monday morning Sue changed her position. She turned to see Zelador and me. She was able to lead him from the standstill to a walk of tiny steps. These steps were not jarring or unbalancing. Yippee! Sue figured out that her new position mimicked the in-hand work I do with Zelador and he associates that with very small steps. The old position facing forward position cued the normal walk.
-Sue, Zelador and I started with two steps, then four and finally eight steps. Mother Nature threw a surprise at us when I was in position standing up there. I finally gave Sue the go-ahead and Zelador took his first baby step forward. As we were moving forward a barn swallow flew into the arena through the open window. The swallow chose an interesting flight pattern. It swooped low over Zelador’s neck, inches from the rope in my hands (it might have flown between the rope and me, but I was looking up and didn’t quite see what the bird did). Zelador didn’t flinch. Sue didn’t flinch. I didn’t flinch!