Christi McQuaker came to ride with me this afternoon and the boys were very good. We popped balloons from their backs, practiced the umbrella routine and did parts of the hula-hoop tossing. Christi and I practiced with the hoops last autumn. I remember that we didn’t do all that well. The passage of time did not improve our skills. Today we were both on a pedestal and tried to throw hoops back and forth. We started with four hoops each and quickly littered the floor with them. Ann Clifford was in and out of the arena and fetched the hoops for us. The third time we called for her help she parked herself IN the arena.

Christi and I finally successfully passed hoops on the pedestals and quit that part of the routine while we were ahead. The next move is for each of us to toss a hoop as we’re walking past each other (right to right because we’re both right handed). After one of Christi’s tosses to me Zelador took off at the trot. I was focused on catching the hoop and didn’t notice what set Zelador off. Christi explained, “I was trying so hard to catch the hoop you threw to me that I accidentally bounced my hoop to you off of Zelador.” We tried that move a few more times. Christi became accurate in her throws and Zelador’s trust was restored.

During this practice we left up the curtain. It has dozens of long ribbons hanging down. Initially the curtain was only to be used for Zelador’s “going on a trip” skit. When it came time to ride the two boys the curtain would be taken down. I was hoping we could keep it up until the boys left the arena, but I didn’t know how they would react to hoops and umbrellas going under the curtain with them. The choreography for the routines did require a rider to go under the curtain several times. The boys willingly went where we asked. The only evidence that the horses noticed the ribbons was: every time Zelador went under the curtain he aimed carefully and a ribbon lay straight on his face, slowly lifting and falling behind us as we went through the curtain.

When I picked up the new carpet for the “roll out the carpet” opening of the show I found the large bubble wands. We’ve introduced the boys to them from the ground, but haven’t ridden them with the wands creating bubbles above and behind them. So, Christi took one wand and I took another. The key to success turned out to be: always move forward. If we stood still the bubbles sometimes landed on the horse’s rump and burst. Zelador felt this “burst” and wondered what caused it. Walking also kept the bubbles trailing behind us and NOT bursting in their eyes. I did buy some “no tears” shampoo, but it did not work in the wand. It does work in the gazillion bubble machine.

Ron was in the arena creating a “tower” for the video camera operator. I called out to him and Ann asking them to join Christi in watching Zelador’s piaffe attempts in-hand. I’ve practiced lately with just a halter on him and today he had a bridle. For the first attempt I rewarded him after a few steps. They weren’t piaffe steps, but he was obedient and lifted diagonal pairs. The second time I had him back up and then asked for animation just before I asked him to move forward. We repeated this two more times and with each try he got closer and closer to a real piaffe. Then I asked once more. Everyone cheered! He did some lovely steps with a nice bounce. That ended the outing. He received lots of praise and a huge handful of carrots!

Christi commented on how good Z and Z were. That’s when I told her about their outing this morning. Pierre Bouchard (the drummer) arrived before 10:00. We took Zelador to the arena. Wow! He was animated! Pierre has never seen Zelador like this. At one point Zelador was so exuberant he was ready to burst out of his skin. Up he went on those hind legs.

We did the fetch the ball over the low jump. He flew! I raised the jump. No problem. He jumped higher and ran faster. Finally, over a period of time, Zelador was a bit less zippy. He was still full of fun and life, but the edge was off. Whew!

The next horse was Zeloso. He surprised me by being very in-tune to me. He did some brilliant ball retrieves over the jump. Often he gets bored and only does one or two of anything I ask. I’ve learned to not over-do things with him. But today was different. I think the rhythm of the drum, the high winds we experienced yesterday and the zero degree temperature this morning all contributed to this new, attentive Zeloso.

Just for fun I tried to pick up the tarp that Zeloso had been trotting over. Well, he decided that picking it up was a wonderful idea. He got to it, picked it up, tried to carry it, flipped it about and had a great time. Finally I was able to distract him and get the tarp. I placed it on his back. I called him to the pedestal thinking the tarp would probably fall off, but it was perfectly balanced on Zeloso’s back and stayed there. I do think that if Zeloso was free in the arena with the tarp and another horse came in, Zeloso would pick up the tarp and chase the horse.

To finish our liberty session I sang, “When you’re happy and you know it” with Zeloso acting out the three verses. In the show both horses perform the movements. The first verse the horse is on the pedestal. It’s the salute. The second verse is “big smile”. This is done on the arena floor. The final verse is “turn around”. I decided to teach Zeloso to twirl to the right with Zelador twirling to the left. Zelador learned the twirl before I could ask him to do it, but Zeloso was an entirely different pupil. When I started to teach it to him last week I used the cue word, “twirl”. As day after non-twirling day passed I was thinking that I might need more than seven days to teach it to this horse.

Zeloso understood turning his head away from me and occasionally he’d take a step to the right. However, he would not continue traveling in a tight circle to the right. I helped him by stepping behind his rump to his right side. I called, “Here!” and he’d turn to the right and come to me, thus finishing his twirl. For several days Zeloso needed this help. Then, much to my surprise, he twirled on his own. Now he absolutely loves doing it. I’m wondering if horses (like young children) love spinning around. I have noticed that quite often both boys offer up the twirl when we’re working at liberty. They do such a lovely job they certainly receive praise even if they don’t get a treat for it when it’s not asked for.

Time to bring in the horses. I’ve got a few last minute things to round up for the show. One I’m not allowed to forget is: create a letter that Zelador will take out of the “horses only mailbox”.