I realize that all horses are the “same” and they’re all “different”. Brown Sugar is quite interesting. The first time I showed him the big ball he made some delightful snorting noises as he stood still. A few minutes later I walked to the door to fetch his halter and leadline. Much to my surprise he gave the ball a push. It rolled five feet. He still stood his ground and didn’t over-react to this strange “creature”. All of the other horses had quite different first responses. Kye and Pax initially walked away. Zelador and Zeloso wanted to see if it was edible. Certainly none of them gave the ball a push for days and days.
When I showed Brown Sugar the ridged ball he put his head to the floor and sniffed it. No turning away.
I found a dog toy at a pet store and bought it for the horses. It’s a large ball (bigger than a soccer ball) and has four holes in it. Each hole is about two and a half inches in diameter. Inside the ball is another ball. I figured I could place treats in the ball, the horses would roll it and the treats would randomly fall out. The Clicker Training books/DVDs talk about “intermittent rewards” and how the animal gets very keen trying to activate the article that gives the reward.
I placed the ball on the arena floor and fetched Brown Sugar. I removed his halter and he walked over to this new piece of equipment. He sniffed it, nudged it and a treat came out. He ate it. He nudged again and three treats came out. (So far the rewards weren’t “intermittent”!!!)
After two more nudges the treats were gone.
I put the ball on a shelf and walked with Brown Sugar to some other toys.
Later that day I asked Ron if he could cover some of the holes. He could and did. The next morning I repeated the “intermittent” exercise with Brown Sugar. The ball now had two holes. Once or twice a treat did not emerge after a nudge. But in a very short period of time the ball was empty. Need to cover one more hole!
That afternoon I saw Ciara and took her to the arena to see the new toy. I led Brown Sugar into the arena and turned him loose. He walked directly to the ball and quickly emptied it. Ciara giggled. I went to Brown Sugar to lead him back to the stall and this totally obedient (to this point) horse wouldn’t budge. I asked him to step to the door again. He stood his ground. “Third time’s a charm” (at least that’s what I was thinking), but “no” he stood still. Every other time he’d been in the arena we’d played with several pieces of equipment, walked up on the pedestals, etc. It was obvious that Brown Sugar enjoys his outings and expected to play with several of the toys, not just this ball.
At that point I thought, “If you want the horse to change what it’s doing, you need to change what you are doing.” So I picked up the ball, placed it in front of his nose and walked out of the arena and into his stall (left hand holding the ball, right hand on the lead line). He followed happily. Ciara laughed.