The horse I’m partnered with for the American Horsewoman’s Challenge is Spring Song (Holsteiner/Thoroughbred filly) coming on three years of age. I’ve got from April 1 to October 3 (first day of the competition in Oklahoma) to take her from green broke to where ever we can get to. I’ll receive the tasks for the competition in a few weeks. Right now we’re getting acquainted. I’ve introduced her to some of the toys in the arena and I’ve ridden her at the walk four times.
Over the past ten years I’ve played with a variety of horses, from miniatures to drafts, from six-month-olds to 24-year-old. Spring Song is curious about new things. She hasn’t been afraid of anything. When I present a new item to her I remember the reactions of other horses. For example: the big ball: Zelador liked it. Zeloso attacked it. Kye needed a little help at first. He was hesitant to approach it. Spring Song watched me bring the big ball onto the arena floor and push it here and there. She didn’t stiffen. She didn’t retreat. She just looked at me and the ball. I called her to it. She came and click/treat. Within a day she was pushing it with her nose. Within three days she was tracking it around the arena.
The first day was full of interesting things. She was introduced to the carpet and quickly figured out that pushing the rolled-up thing revealed little pieces of carrots. She walked up on the bridge. She stepped up on the pedestal. She walked onto and across the blue tarp. All of this was done at liberty. I set up four of the white blocks (used to create jumps) and she walked a slalom with me. Day three Bill was in the arena and I asked him if he’d like to walk a slalom at liberty with her. To my surprise he held onto her halter and led her. Spring Song obediently went with him, but there was no life in her. She was an object, non-thinking. This was a real eye-opener for me. I’ve watched some YouTube videos of horses at liberty and they, too, seem lifeless. I’m so used to Zelador, Zeloso and Kye expressing their opinions while doing what I ask. From day one each of my horses have been at liberty when doing a slalom or any other game. They’ve been free to leave or stay with me. Seeing these YouTube videos was puzzling. Now, after watching Spring Song transform from an inquisitive team mate to a dull follower I’m guessing not every horse is “at liberty” to express itself when learning and playing.
During week two I brought out the wooden cut-out of the bull. A few years ago Ron added support legs (tripod design) so that I can place it anywhere in the arena. Up till the addition of the legs I could only stand it up against the tall pedestal. We use the bull to practice spearing a ring off its horn while riding. With Spring Song I started on the ground, tossing hula hoops over the horn, then introduced the garrocha pole and speared the rings with it. If I’d done this on the ground with Zelador or Zeloso the bull would have been pushed over, crashing to the arena floor. Spring watched politely. I also rode her while Dominique carried (on foot) the garrocha pole. Within a few minutes of Dominique carrying the pole on the right and left side of Spring Song and dropping it to the ground I took the pole at the standstill. Spring Song stood quietly and I gave the pole back to Dominique. We repeated this transfer then I held the pole in my left hand and circled Spring Song around it. The circle was fluid and soft AND accurate. Such a nicely shaped circle.
From day one in the saddle I’ve had different apparatus set out in the arena. I rode over the pedestals, teeter-totter, tarp, slalomed, etc. incorporating them into the ride. I figure if I have a purpose/destination/goal then Spring Song will, too. I remember sitting on my Thoroughbred, Sherlock, (he raced till he was seven) and Penny Zavitz saying, “Don’t be a victim!!!”