Lately we’ve been working on Albert Ostermaier’s method for teaching the piaffe which is done in a stall. Along with this I’ve spent a few minutes doing the first three steps of Frank Bell’s Seven Step Safety System in the stall before I turn them out each horse. Steps 4-7 require more room than a stall provides.
1. Bonding. You stroke the horse’s head and find a place or two that the horse enjoys having touched. Zelador loves having the bits of dirt removed from the inside of his nostril. Kye leans into my hand when I rub his forehead. Zeloso thanks me for lightly scratching under his chin. Pax sighs when I rub his eyes.
2. Yield to pressure. I’ve done the “place your hand on the poll and don’t allow the horse to raise its head”. Eventually with pressure and release the horse drops his head to the ground and it stays there. Frank Bell’s technique is to hold onto the leadline and squat down beside the horse. Each of the horses here instantly dropped its head down and kept it there. Although Frank Bell explains “hold-release” I didn’t need to do that. Each horse was curious as to why I was so low and happily joined me.
3. Intimacy. You stand at the horse’s girth, place one hand on his nose and lightly stroke the girth. The horse turns its head to see what you’re doing. With light pressure and release the horse’s head will come to its side. When you accomplish this you take your other hand and stroke the flank, then move that hand to the side of the horse’s tail. You stroke the rump beside the tail and the tail raises when the horse is relaxed and clamps down when the horse is worried. Ideally the tail rises. At that point you have one hand on the nose which is at the girth and one on the tail. You’ve enveloped the horse into a cocoon, sort of like the horse returning to the womb. Every time I do this with Kye and release my hands he stays in that position.
Frank Bell also mentions placing the hand he has on the horse’s head over the far eye so that he and the horse are the only things in the universe (so to speak). Kye is 15.1 hands high. Zeloso is over 16.1 and has a longer back than Kye. It’s quite a reach for me to do the third step with him, but we manage. Although Kye was the first horse to stay in the “womb” after I took my hands away, he’s not the only one. Now each horse stays! That includes Pax, Zelador, Zeloso and Blue.
Frank Bell does his Seven Step Safety System every time he works with a horse, even a horse he’s worked with for years. He quickly finds out what mood the horse is in, any concerns the horse has, etc.
Because of the Ostermaier and Bell exercises I haven’t taken Pax to the arena for two weeks to play at liberty. Ron took him there and was amazed. He threw the ridged ball at least fifteen metres and Pax exploded. He bucked, he cantered, he scampered, he leapt in his enthusiasm to get to the ridged ball. Pax picked it up and brought it back to Ron.
Apparently absence does make the heart grow fonder!
This Sunday we’re hosting an Orienteering On Horseback at Winsong Farm. We have an orienteering map of the 25 acres and I’ll place orienteering flags all over the place. The location of each flag will be designated by a circle on the map. The orienteers (people on horseback and people walking) will have 45 minutes to find all of the flags, then report to the arena when they’re finished. After that the riders can play with a dozen Working Equitation obstacles set up in the arena. We’ll wrap up with a presentation of our horses doing tricks and liberty.
Today some four feet by eight feet sheets of plywood arrive. Hopefully by Sunday we’ll have at least one of the floor pianos on the plywood. It will be VERY interesting to see what the horses think of this thing! There’s a “demo” mode on both pianos which plays a song when you touch one of the black keys. The challenge will be to convince the horse that he can relax and enjoy the entire song and NOT touch another black key. If he does, a new song is played.
One of the floor pianos has a song for each of the ten black keys. Our vizsla, Check, walked around the floor piano the first day we got it. The second day he walked all over the thing and kept switching songs every few notes.
We picked the piano up off of the floor and placed it on the dining room table!
Here’s hoping we come up with a horse-proof plan soon.