Just saw a DVD of the film “Temple Grandin”. It was amazing. In the Bonus Features she, the screenplay writer and the director comment on each scene as it’s played. Because of Temple I went to the Nobleton library. She’s written several books, two caught my eye, “Animals in Translation” and “Animals Make Us Human”. The librarian found the “Translation” book in a nearby library and ordered it for me. “Animals…Human” was available and I brought it home. So far I’ve read several chapters: dogs, cats, wildlife and horses. It was interesting to read reference after reference to clicker training. Temple points out something humans have learned over the years: individuals (people, animals) learn with positive reinforcement as opposed to fear-based approaches.

Two other books I’ve read this past week are “Faraway Horses” and “I Believe” which deal with Buck Brannaman. One of his students went into detail explaining her approach to helping her mare accept being girthed up. Turns out the mare has always been touchy and has made many attempts to eject her rider…being successful.

Zelador also objects to the girth so I decided to use the lady’s “advance/retreat” technique on him. Here’s what I did. I went into Zelador’s stall with the saddle, saddle pad, gel pad and girth. I placed them on the floor and stood beside the horse. I brought my hand towards his girth. When he showed concern I backed away. I advanced and retreated several times until I was able to put pressure with my hand on the girth area without any reaction from him. I repeated this process with the saddle pad. I approached/retreated with it in my hand. I placed it on him and took it off at least a dozen times. At one point I stepped away (saddle pad in my hand) and counted slowly. At twenty-two Zelador sighed and lowered his head.

I continued the advance/retreat until he was able to stand relaxed and occasionally munch on his hay.

The lady’s mare was much more reactive than Zelador. When the lady did the “hand near the girth” thing the mare had to move her feet. Zelador turned his head to me.

Now for the saddle. I had the advantage of an English saddle. The lady rode with a Western one. Mine is considerably lighter and easier on the human who is lifting it up, taking it away. After a half-dozen advances and retreats I kept the saddle on his back. Once again I stepped away and counted. At thirty-five he relaxed. I went to him and removed everything from his back.

I went back to the beginning (hand on girth) and slowly proceeded to placing the saddle on his back. I removed it again. Then I tacked him up. For the first time EVER (he’ll be eight-years-old March 16) he did not “blow up” his belly while I was buckling the girth to the saddle. His head remained in front of him. Hmmm….

The lady said something along the lines of: my mare had been telling me for years that she was not comfortable with the saddling procedure and when I repeatedly ignored or disciplined her she figured if she couldn’t trust me on the ground to listen to her, then she most certainly didn’t want me on her back with that attitude.

Don’t know the workings of Zelador’s mind, but I do know that after this careful advance/retreat he’s happier when I tack him up and more cooperative under saddle.

Two days after the advance/retreat I decided to do it again. Fifteen minutes into the process I realized I’d forgotten to call someone. I removed the saddle pad, picked up the rest of the tack and placed everything outside the stall. If horses could talk Zelador would have said, “Wow, this IS unusual.” I went to the house and made the phone call. When I returned to the barn I watched Zelador for the tiniest change in his demeanour as I tacked him up. I had a lovely ride on a cooperative horse.

His canter work is coming along nicely. We had nine warmish days (rode the canter each day), one bitter cold day (did liberty work) and the past two days we’ve been cantering again. Yesterday on his easy side (cantering to the right) I was able to direct him in circles all over the arena, not just circling at the east end. For the left lead (his express-train canter) the circles were calmer (with a few rushing steps). That day and the day before when I felt the RUSH I got off and sent him around the arena until he settled and relaxed. Two days ago I got off three times. Yesterday I got off once. He figured out what the deal was and controlled his RUSH and listened to my speed cues.

This afternoon Christi comes to ride. It’ll be interesting to hear her thoughts on this horse.