Kye is thoroughly enjoying his liberty/trick time in the arena. In fact, if I’m a bit slow (according to him) at getting him out of his stall and up to the arena, he whinnies to me.
Kye is pushing the big ball like he’s been doing it all of his life. I’m really surprised that he enjoys this. It seemed to take forever to get him to step near it. When he finally put his nose on the ball, I was shocked! Then he spent about four days touching the ball with his nose and wiggling his nose. It was very cute. From that wiggle to a big push occurred one day and he hasn’t looked back since.
To teach him to hold things, I used the firm brim of a hat. He did what all of the other horses do when I put the brim between their teeth. He opened his mouth. He moved his tongue. He did everything BUT hold the brim. However, I quietly ignored all of the histrionics and said, “Good” whenever I thought he was actually holding it for a split second and gave a treat.
I didn’t present the hat to him every day. But over a period of two weeks I did have him try to hold it about four times. Finally he held it. Next step: the soft rings. I chose them because they offer many surfaces for the horse to hold on to. And, every horse loves picking them up. I tossed the rings, trotted to them and called Kye. He trotted happily to the rings and put his nose on them. I said, “Good” and gave him a treat. I repeated this toss/trot sequence several times. Always sounding happy and he always touched the rings. I was careful to stop this game before he became bored.
One day he actually started to mouth the rings. A few days later he picked them up…about an inch off the ground. Yesterday he held them at chest height. I called him to the pedestal and he carried the rings for half a step. Wow!
Today Bill and I introduced the bow on the left knee (more about that later). When I left with Zelador Bill practiced fetching the rings with Kye. He had the halter and lead line on. Kye fetched the rings, carried them to the pedestal and stood on the pedestal. Bill also led (with the lead line) Kye to the 18 inch high pedestal. Kye got up on it and stood there. Very proud.
This is the horse who used to dart away from all of the pedestals and the bridge. When I started working with him I was quite surprised at this and decided that every day when we first entered the arena I’d lead him onto them (with the halter and lead line), stop him and give him treats. Within three days of this activity he was leading me to the pedestals. Nowadays he goes on them happily without a halter and lead line.
I have never asked him to step up onto the tall pedestal so I was surprised when Bill reported what Kye did.
Back to the bow on the left knee. A few days ago Ron and I decided to teach Pax the bow. We did this by bringing Zelador into the arena and having Zelador demonstrate on the pile of shavings we created for the kneel and the lie down. Those shavings are a Godsend. All of the horses understand that the shavings pile is for special tricks. Lindsey pointed out that horses are very much aware of what has happened at specific places. For example, if a horse rolls in the arena the horse you’re leading will stop there, sniff and think about rolling, too.
Anyway, Pax watched Zelador bow twice. I took Zelador back to the barn, returned to the arena and Ron and I helped Pax bow. It was amazing to see how much Pax had learned by watching Zelador. He figured out that Zelador steps his hind legs back, just a bit in order to create room for his foreleg to rest on the ground. The one thing I wish I’d done better is: when Zelador did the bow I praised him, but I should have made a big fuss over him. Such a fuss and with so many treats that Pax would have been very eager to do whatever it took to reap such rewards.
Pax’s bow is improving daily by leaps and bounds.
With that experience fresh in our minds Bill and I decided we’d use Zelador to teach Kye how to bow. I brought Zelador into the arena, he bowed. I had the lead line on (something I rarely do) and was able to help Zelador hold his bow for several seconds. I took Zelador to a pedestal and stayed with him while Bill helped Kye bow. It became obvious that Kye would understand things better if both Bill and I helped him. Because Kye and Zelador occasionally share a paddock, I left Zelador on the pedestal to go help Kye and Bill, figuring that if/when he left the pedestal this wouldn’t upset Kye. And wouldn’t you know, we just had Kye’s knee bent and head down and Zelador joined us.
Back to the pedestal for him!
This time he stayed and Kye almost got his foreleg resting on the ground. This was WAY beyond what I thought he’d do in a month of practice, let alone in a few minutes. Talk about learning through imitation!!! Throw in Kye’s attitude towards all new things, “You can’t make ME do that!!!” and you understand my amazement.