October 29th Ron and Bill figured out a way to hang the basketball backboard on a post in the arena. Zeloso promptly scared us to death by bending over to grab something on the ground UNDER the hoop, then raising his head and bopping it on the rim. Hmmm….can’t have that happening again! We came up with three plans and used them all. Plan number one: pad the rim. Ron and Bill did that immediately. Plan number two: hang something soft from the hoop so that the horse would feel it as he raised his head. We settled on yellow duct tape. They loop around the hoop and hang down about ten inches. Plan number three: place a large plastic garbage can (the one we put stuffed toys in) under the basket so that there’s NO WAY a horse can get his head beneath the hoop. Bill added our small, (about twelve inches high) blue, rubberish bucket on top of the garbage can so that the horse has the whole picture: drop something through the hoop and it is collected in a bucket.

Since that first episode with Zeloso no horse has bopped himself on the noggin or nose or forehead or…

Ron and Bill did a great job creating the attachment eye bolts and snaps. I can put the backboard up and take it down by myself.

Well, the boys have had three or four outings learning how to drop something through the hoop. Initially I presented the ridged ball. It’s about eight inches in diameter and I quickly realized that the horse had to lift the ball quite high to get it over the rim. I set out a variety of stuffed toys, cotton handkerchiefs and the ridged ball. Both boys sought out the handkerchiefs again and again AND lifted them over the rim. Click! TREAT!

The last time we played basketball both Z and Z instantly dropped something through the hoop.

Yesterday I brought Zeloso into the arena and turned him loose. The basketball backboard was not set up. No problem. Zeloso cruised along the east wall of the arena where tons of toys and games reside. He sniffed different objects and settled on the blue rubber bucket. He picked it up, then strolled to the half door where we enter the arena. I was at least twenty metres away and had an inkling of what Zeloso was thinking. I called out, “Zeloso, the bucket stays in the arena.” If a horse is capable of smiling while holding a good-sized object, then that’s what he did AS he raised the bucket over the top of the door and dropped it onto the driveway outside.

Moving right along…

We’re working on playing soccer. We bought a basketball for this exercise (go figure…). Both boys know how to push a ball to a person so I needed a totally different ball than the ones we already have to teach the horse to pass the ball with his nose and not follow it, pushing it to the person. I chose the “nose” because I can picture the horse using his hoof, getting excited, trotting or cantering to the ball and miss-stepping when he gets his foot near it. Don’t need horses hurting their lovely legs!

To teach the horse to pass it I decided to have a human helper. I put a halter and leadline on the horse and the helper is ten feet away (to one side of us). We started with the helper to the inside of the pedestal and teeter-totter to the south of the centreline. The horse and I were inside the pedestal, bridge and tall pedestal to the north of the centreline. The helper has a BIG job: he/she needs to roll the ball so that it gets in front of the walking horse and doesn’t cross the horse’s bodyline. If the ball rolls too far, the horse will probably roll it more to the north instead of towards the helper who is south of us. I went through two helpers (muttering obscenities) as each one failed to position the ball ideally. It seemed like such an easy concept to me!

During our first session with Zeloso our main goal was to help him learn that this particular ball was for his nose, not his hoof. He loved slamming the ball with his hoof and sending it flying (usually backwards under his body). Zeloso did sort out what we wanted and has been able to use only his nose since the first outing.

Zelador’s lesson was: push the ball with your nose and do NOT follow the ball. He is pretty good at remembering this, but he LOVES pushing it a foot or so towards the person, then following the ball and pushing it again and again until it’s at the person’s feet.

We learned that Zelador is quite happy to push the ball to the right and to the left. Zeloso pushes the ball to the right. “Left” is not in his vocabulary.

When we practice we start at one end of the arena, pass the ball back and forth, get to the far end, turn around and pass it back. With Zeloso we change positions with the helper so that Zeloso can push to someone on his right side.

The last time I had a helper (word is obviously getting out about how abusive I am) we had me and Zelador along the wall with the helper parallel to us (with the pedestals not between the helper and us). The helper’s job this time was to either pass the ball softly so it stopped BEFORE the wall and with enough room between the ball and the wall for Zelador to get his nose on the ball and pass it back to the helper. OR the helper was to pass it hard enough to bounce the ball about twelve inches off the wall. The bouncing technique worked best. We haven’t tried this wall thing with Zeloso.

When the boys were two years old we taught them to travel around the entire arena at liberty, saying “along the wall”. Zelador certainly remembers this and is able to walk “along the wall” when I ask him to. So, alone, with no helper, I had him walk along the wall and I passed the ball to him. He was GREAT! I’m only asking for a short pass at this point in the game and he’s very happy to play. Someday the pass will go from one side of the arena to the other and we’ll have a goal set up at the far end.

The good news is: the horses are not attempting to pick up the basketball in their mouths. However, when we play this game at an upcoming fundraiser with a crowd cheering the boys will most likely wax creative! I have a very clear image of Zeloso sending the ball FLYING with his front hoof and Zelador dribbling it all by himself to the goal…completely IGNORING the person he’s supposed to pass it to.