(Picasso and Socs were recently brought to our farm for tricks and liberty work by their owner.)

This afternoon should be interesting. We’ll have three people (me, Ciara and Bill) to work with three horses: Zelador, Picasso and Socs. Zelador’s job is to do all of his tricks with the “beginners” watching. Picasso and Socs were introduced to the pedestals, bunny, big ball, etc. on Tuesday. They’ve had two days to think about all of our shenanigans (horses do enjoy mulling things over) and with Zelador teaching them today, well, like I said, it should be interesting.

On Tuesday Ciara and I started with Picasso. I was the “horse” and presented each new thing to him. For example: with the big ball I pushed it and said, “PUSH” just before each push. I had chosen a specific route to follow which was a rectangle encompassing about one-third of the arena.

Picasso (handled by Ciara) approached the ball. Each time he put his nose on the ball he was congratulated and received a small treat. They walked the prescribed route with Ciara doing most of the pushing. After one circuit Ciara took Picasso on a slow walk in a large circle. This gave the horse a chance to think.

Back to the ball. Once again Ciara did most of the pushing with Picasso occasionally touching the ball. This was followed by the thought-provoking/relaxing circle.

I brought out the box containing the bunny, frog and a new penguin. Picasso isn’t mouthy so Ciara put her finger between the side of his lips while holding the bunny at Picasso’s nose. When he opened his lips (brushing the bunny) she said, “Good!” and rewarded him. And, you guessed it, they went on that mesmerizing, predictable walk in a circle.

The two low platforms (yes, Bill made a second one!!!) were no problem for the horse. He stepped up on each one and stepped off on command.

The grand finale was the carrots/cones. Ciara placed Picasso on a low platform while I set out five cones with five carrots. The first four carrots were protruding from beneath the cones. The fifth cone totally covered the carrot.

Ciara led Picasso to the first cone, lowered his head and said, “Find the carrot!” Picasso nosed the orange cone, found the carrot and ate it. Onto cone number two. Ciara said, “Find the carrot!” Picasso did not need any help lowering his head. He nosed the cone, found the carrot and ate it. Onto cone number three. Picasso needed no help whatsoever. As he was standing at cone two he spotted cone three. Off he went, straight to the third cone. He made short order of it and finished off numbers four and five. He definitely thinks this game is GREAT!

Onto the second horse, Socs. This critter is about five years old and the previous owner said, “He can’t be trained on this property.” The new owner found out AFTER Socs was on our farm that he walks through fences… even with a rider on his back. Hmmm… Once we learned that, an electric fence was put around his paddock. Turns out his previous home also had an electric fence.

Ciara has been working with both horses, teaching them from the ground to yield the quarters, yield the front, longe, back up, etc. Socs quickly taught all of us that when he’s trotting on a longe line he is the one who decides where he wants to go. (He’s very agreeable at the walk.) This Clydesdale/Quarter Horse cross is built low to the ground and has lots of bone. Ciara has out-maneuvered him in our roundish shaped pen attached to our bank barn. This pen is about ten metres in diameter. However, when Socs is longed in the arena (about 20 metres by 40 meters) it’s virtually impossible to stop him from “leaving”. BUT Ciara did…once or twice. The GOOD news is: nowadays when he leaves, he stops, faces Ciara and comes to her when she calls him. Whew!

The bottom line is: this horse knows how strong he is and his “trick” of turning to the right and leaving will be with him for the rest of his life. AND if we want the horse to change what it is doing, we need to change what we are doing. Thus explaining why Ciara and I removed the line from the horse’s halter and asked him to walk around the arena. I was in charge of keeping Socs walking along the wall when he was at the far end of the arena and Ciara maintained the walk at the near end.

This exercise was done with both Zelador and Zeloso several years ago. It was presented to us by a Classical French trainer, Richard. He pointed out that the horse learned how to walk, trot, canter and go across the diagonal at liberty. This was very helpful when it was time to ride the horse because he was already comfortable with going around the arena.

Even though the intention is for the horse to walk, it rarely happens initially. I’m guessing that the horse realizes he’s free and feels like moving. Socs was exactly like Z and Z. When he was turned loose he trotted along the wall. He wasn’t worried and certainly paid attention to us. As he trotted around the entire arena we remained calm, occasionally asking for a walk. If Socs came off the wall, one of us would quietly help him back to the wall. There was no driving or making him run. Just directing.

Socs decided our idea regarding walking was a good one. After one walk trip around the arena we asked for a change of direction across the diagonal. I was in charge of this. I was holding one of Allen Pogue’s guider whips. I extended my arm towards the arena wall when Socs was fifteen meters away (just finishing walking through the short side of the arena). He saw my “barrier” and turned. Ciara and I both had the job of creating a wide corridor for him to walk in. He had no problem understanding our corridor. He went across the diagonal and started travelling in the new direction.

We repeated the diagonal exercise two more times, then Ciara called him to her. He came happily.

(Later that evening I was thinking about this exercise. It does more than teach the horse how to go around the arena. The horse is free and he knows it. BUT much to his surprise he learns that he’s not totally free. The human is able to direct him from quite a distance. Certainly working Socs at liberty is a lot safer than longeing him and having him take off, dragging the human attached to the other end of the longe. Invariably the human has to finally let go and Socs has verified that he is strong and can do whatever he wants.)

After Ciara called him to her she snapped on a lead line and asked him to walk to a platform. He did this readily. She said, “Are you ready? UP!” He stepped up with his front feet. He was praised, then heard, “Walk up.” He walked forward and stood with all four feet on the platform. Now, here’s where the surprising thing happened. When she asked him to step off the platform he did fine with his front feet, but he sort of shuffled his back feet. I was afraid he would hurt himself against the platform’s top edge. Socs was led on a circle, then up onto the platform again. Ciara repeated the on-and-off sequence a total of three times. Each time that Socs stepped off, his back feet shuffled.

Onto the big ball. He gladly walked with Ciara, following the ball, but didn’t nose it. We placed a treat on the ball and he carefully ate it. We repeated the sequences we’d done with Picasso. Both Picasso and Socs had very similar reactions to the ball that Z and Z had. I remember placing treats on it and at the base of the ball, both approaches were to encourage the horse to brush against the ball. My main technique was to joyfully push the ball and encourage them to help me. Over time, Z and Z figured out what I wanted and began pushing the ball.

Onto the next thing. Ciara led him to the box and I left the arena to round up some carrots for the cone/carrot trick. When I came back I saw Socs twirling the pink bunny!

Onto the cones. This time I held the horse and Ciara set out the cones/carrots. Much to our surprise, this horse that walks THROUGH everything did not push the cone! I lowered his head to the ground, touched the carrot and said, “Find the carrot.” You could tell that he could smell the carrot, but he would not move the cone even a quarter of an inch so that he could pick up the carrot. Hmmm…

When his head was near the cone I picked up the carrot, held it beside the cone and he very carefully took it.

I led him to cone two. More of the same. Socs knew there was a carrot, but would not push the cone.

Cones three and four elicited the same reaction.

At cone five we had a break-through. He put his head down, softly pushed the cone and got the carrot. And, I was thinking…perhaps the orange in the colour of the cone reminds him of an electric fence or maybe he’s learned that touching something with his nose can give him a “shock”.

I’d been thinking about Soc’s exit from the platform and asked Ciara, “Are you familiar with the Tellington-Jones Equine Awareness Method (T.E.A.M.)?” She was. I told her about Sherlock. When I first got him twenty years ago he was often disunited at the left lead canter. TEAM mentioned horses with that problem and offered a suggestion: take each leg of the horse and make tiny circles (to the right and the left, in front of where the hoof would be on the ground, above where the hoof would be and behind) with each hoof. This helps the horse realize he has four feet. I did the exercise. After one session he rarely was disunited.

We decided to try this with Socs. Ciara held him and I went to his left fore. I asked him to pick it up. He did. I moved it in very small circles to the left and the right, then placed it back onto the ground. I went to the left hind and asked him to pick it up. He didn’t. I asked three more times and the foot stayed FIRMLY on the ground. I went back to the left front. No problem picking it up. I moved to the right front and the right hind. Socs happily lifted each and let me make the circles. I went to the left front. No problem. I went to the left hind. Nothing. Back to the left front. Good. To the left hind. He allowed me to lift it. I moved it in tiny circles.

Ciara led him to the platform. Up he went. She led him off. WOW!!!! He picked up his hind feet, carried each through the air (not dragging along the surface of the platform) and placed each one on the ground (several inches beyond the platform, NOT dragging them down the wooden side). I asked her to take him to the other low platform. Up he went. And, on the way off the thing he walked perfectly, once again!

Talk about ending a session on a “high”! Once we had the two back in their paddock I scurried into the house to search for my TEAM stuff. Haven’t found it yet, but I haven’t given up, either!

Yep, this afternoon we’re going to have Zelador demonstrate the tricks with Picasso and Socs watching. It’s going to be interesting!