You know your horse is clever when…

Today I did some liberty/tricks with Zelador in the arena. I called him over to the piece of wood Bill put up for ringing the bells. The wood is hinged at the bottom and the horse has to touch the top part. If the top part is pushed sharply it will move towards the wall then the bells hidden behind the wood will be hit and they will ring.

Zelador has seen this wood on several occasions and he does understand that I want him to touch the wood with his nose. He has put his nose against the wood. But that doesn’t ring the bells. He needs to push harder. He won’t. Come to think about it, I’ve never seen him push against any wood with his nose. I’ve seen him push the big horse ball (which has a smooth, non-splintery, surface) and I’ve seen him bite wood. I don’t recall seeing any of our horses push their noses against wood and the bottom line is: Zelador’s not interested in doing this. He would prefer to grab the upper left corner of the wood with his teeth. Yep, that does ring the bells, but they don’t ring loudly or for very long.

Yesterday Bill watched me teaching Zelador to push the wood. It was apparent that this very intelligent horse who thoroughly enjoys learning and delights in playing games was not on any type of learning curve!

Apparently Zelador’s been thinking about this bell-ringing. Today he looked at the wood, looked at me, raised his right front leg (very much like he does for the Spanish Walk) and whammed it against the kickboards. Boy, did those bells ring!!!! I mentioned that I’d like for him to use his nose. Zelador slammed his leg into the kickboards again. The bells rang loudly. I reiterated…he grabbed the wood with his teeth. The bells rang softly and the corner of the wood has that gnawed-on look.


“If you want the horse to change what he’s doing, you need to change what you’re doing.” Bill designed the wood/bell thing and none of the horses have taken to it. We know these horses love to learn new things, so something needs to be changed. Something isn’t quite right from the horse’s point of view. Bill announced last night that he has a new idea for the bells. The horses like picking up and carrying lead ropes. Bill plans to have part of a lead rope hanging over the kickboards. The rope extends behind the kickboards and it attached to the bells. He’s putting knots in the rope and attaching them to eye-bolts on the arena’s support beams behind the kickboards. The spacing between the knots will allow the horse to move the rope a few inches. Bill’s pretty sure that when the horse pulls on the rope, the bells will ring, the support beam will remain upright and the kickboards will not become floor boards.

When I wrote my book “The ABC’S of Rural Life” we almost titled it: “Not Every Plan Works”!