In the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to teach the boys to pick things up from the ground when I’m in the saddle. Today I specifically addressed that desire.

I started with Zelador. Figured he has all the components, just needed to get them together. He can pick things up. When I’m on the ground he can sort of give them to me. He certainly knows how to turn his head to the side when I’m riding him and receive a treat. Yep, this should be a piece of cake.

I dismounted and placed many toys on the arena floor. I had him in the Bitless Bridle and made sure the nose band was super loose. I got back in the saddle and rode him to a toy. He put his nose on it, then turned his head to me for a treat. I sat there. He nosed it again. Turned his head for a treat. I sat there.

This went on for a few more minutes.

“If you want a horse to change what it is doing…”

I changed my approach. I know he loves picking up the small orange cones and finding a carrot underneath. So, if I get off, lead him to a cone, he’ll pick it up, I’ll take it and give him a treat.

Sounded easy.

He did pick up the cone, then he flipped it through the air. He didn’t get a treat. He looked miffed.

We tried this approach for a few minutes. He wasn’t getting treats and I wasn’t getting toys.

I figured I’d better be clearer. I added a step. Zelador picked up the cone. I put my hand near his head and said, “Hand”. I waited for him to put the cone in my hand. He flipped it through the air. Hmmm…

I patiently redid the sequence. A few tries later he sort of put it in my hand and I gave him a treat and TONS of praise.

We practiced this “hand” thing for a while, then I led him back to the barn.

Next horse…Zeloso…the class clown.

To warm him up I rode the square dance pattern and the quadrille sequence that we’re doing for the fund-raiser in ten days. Then I got off and led him to the toys. He, too, was in his Bitless bridle with the nose band super loose. I’d learned a thing or two from Zelador and decided to start with the “hand” thing.

I asked Zeloso to pick up a cone. He did. I held out my hand and said, “hand”. He made the cone touch my hand. I said, “Out.” And simultaneously placed a piece of carrot at the edge of his mouth. He let go of the cone. I held it and he ate the treat.

I repeated this drill until all the cones and toys had been picked up many times. I used my right hand to take the toy. I then used my left hand. I placed my hand up high, down low, to the right, to the left, beside his saddle, near his neck. No problem. Finally I was down to just a few treats. I asked him to pick up a cone as I placed my hand about two feet from his nose. He picked up the cone, flipped it through the air and it landed in my hand. I had to laugh! What a boy!

As I led this budding genius back to the barn I realized he’s always been capable of doing anything I can dream up. He’s just been pushing my buttons and enjoying watching my reaction. Hmm…