Here’s what we started working on with Zelador and Zeloso:

Today was the second day I worked with them on finding a piece of carrot under a twelve inch high orange cone. The tricky part was trying to envision what I wanted the end product to be. I decided to start the game from the low platform and my cue word would be “find”. I started with Zeloso (he was the one who came to me at the paddock gate). He had his ultra-sound in December and we’re still waiting for the last of the tear to heal near the bone. Our next appointment with the vet for this is in March. As a result, I don’t let him go free. He has a tendency to leap, jump, canter, zig and zag all of which the vet would prefer that he does NOT do. So, yesterday, with the lead line I walked with him to the first orange cone. I had four of them set up in a line about ten feet apart. I’d placed a piece of carrot partially under the cone’s rim with a bit of the carrot protruding.

As we approached the cone I said, “find” and pointed my finger towards the cone. When we were standing above it, I pointed directly at the carrot and said, “find”. When he found the carrot I made a big deal out of it and praised him. He got the picture. Zeloso has always enjoyed food and had no problem finding the carrot and eating it.

Before he could destroy the cone or toss it across the arena I encouraged him to walk on to the next one. I said, “With me” (a phase he’s heard for years) and “walk on”. Once or twice he indicated that he’d prefer to meander and at that point I made a bit of noise and caught his attention. The very first rule I learned about liberty work is that you have to have the horse’s attention. If this requires me standing on my head, or jumping up and down, then I have to do that.

We stopped at the second cone and I repeated the process. During our journey I said, “find” many times.

The trip to the third cone was quick. To the fourth he was quicker. He understood what was going on and was very happy to advance. To finish the exercise we walked to the low platform and he stood on it.

We repeated this sequence two more times. They key was to get him moving to the next cone after he ate the carrot. If I didn’t direct him he started to play with the cone.

I took Zeloso back to the barn and fetched Zelador. After some liberty exercises I took him to the low platform and we began our new trick. Zelador was at liberty and stayed with me to the first cone. He stood over it, listened to me say “find” and kept standing. He wasn’t curious about the cone, just curious about our little walk. I pointed to the carrot. He stood there. I bent down and pointed to the carrot from a distance of two inches. He stood there. I was beginning to wonder if he needed more help, but he lowered his head and caught a whiff of the carrot. He gently moved the cone to the side and ate the treat. I made a big fuss over how brilliant he was.

On to the second cone. Zelador had no problem staying with me during the walk. At the cone he stood there without lowering his head. But did lower it and find the carrot in about a third of the time he took to find the first one. For cones three and four he’d figured things out. We walked to the low platform together. As I stood there, praising him, I couldn’t help but notice the difference in the two half-brothers. Generally speaking Zelador learns things quickly and Zeloso takes an extra day. But not with this game.

We repeated this circuit two more times.

Today Zelador was first. Bill joined us in the arena and set up the four cones creating a large rectangle with the first and fourth cones about twenty feet from the low platform. The other two were another fifty feet away. We started on the platform and Bill suggested, “Walk a step or two towards the cone, then stop and see if he will go to it.” I did this, but Zelador stopped, too. I waited and after a minute with no movement from Zelador I walked very slowly with very small steps towards the cone. I said, “Find it” and he got there in front of me. On to the second cone. He led half of the way. For cones three and four, he led.

I walked to the low platform while he was eating the carrot at cone four. I repeated the phrase and actions he’d heard a thousand times. I called out, “Are You READY?” and tapped the platform with the guider whip. He raised his head, looked at me, walked forward and stepped up on the platform.

We repeated this circuit two more times. With each repetition he demonstrated that he understood this new game. He needed less and less encouragement to leave a cone and walk to the next one. Every circuit was done in the same direction.

Zelador was done, now for Zeloso. We warmed him up on the longe line trotting in both directions. I thought that he just might listen to Bill, so we took off his lead line as he stood on the platform. Bill gave the cue words, “find it” and it was immediately obvious that this youngster had been thinking about the game over night. He stepped off the pedestal, leaped into the air and landed on the cone. (Ah, well, we won’t be telling our vet about this misadventure!) It took a few minutes to capture the cavorting youngster and snap on the lead line. Bill led him back to cone one and this time Zeloso took a second to eat the carrot. Then he played. The cone was pushed to the right, to the left and then stood on. I called out from my vantage point near the door, “When he eats the carrot you need to get his attention and move him on. If you don’t he’ll be all over the place.”

Bill and Zeloso finally travelled to cone number two. This time Bill quickly addressed the “play” issue and the cone only sustained a minor bruising. The activities at cones three and four escalated to a race: who was quicker? Bill at getting the young Lusitano focused or Zeloso at playing with the cone?

The second circuit went well, except for the beginning. Bill decided to do the drill in reverse. I bellowed, “He’s only done this a few times and we’re not changing direction!!”

For the third circuit we took off the lead line. Zeloso was more sedate. He walked to cone one all by himself. Bill was at least fifteen feet away. We praised him and Zeloso took that as a signal to leap high into the air and plunge to cone four…so much for finding the cones in a specific order. Zeloso, with a little help from Bill, trotted to cone three and cone two. As he was munching the last one we quickly attached the line and headed him out the arena door, totally forgetting to finish on the low platform!

I loved watching Zeloso at liberty playing the “find” game. I’m thinking, with any luck our finished product may be: start one of the boys on the platform, stand back, watch him thoroughly enjoying trotting and cantering from cone to cone and returning to the platform for boisterous praise.