Below is a video of nineteen year old Blue, a Thoroughbred who started his life racing on the track, then learned about jumping, moved on to eventing and now it training in dressage. His owner left for a week at the cottage and I said I’d play with Blue while he was gone. Blue’s been at Winsong Farm for years and this is the first time I’ve done any liberty with him. On day one I led him into the arena and as Blue struggled to get away from me the owner’s words came to mind, “When you enter the area with Blue on a lead line all he can think about is ROLLING!” I was able to hold on to him until I got the lead line unhooked. He bolted, kicking and bucking to the far end and rolled. The second day I figured, “If you want the horse to change what it’s doing, you need to change what you’re doing.” I started the change as we walked up the driveway from the lower barn to the arena. I stopped several times. Blue stopped with me. Click/treat. When we got into the arena he stood and waited for a click/treat then flew to the far end of the arena to roll. The third day he stayed with me until I asked him to walk and explore.
For a day or two I walked around the arena with Blue loose doing whatever he wanted. Every once in a while I’d stop and call him. He came and was rewarded with click/treat. For our next outing I decided to add stepping up on the pedestals and walking over the bridge. No problem. Blue did these with me and I figured he’d been doing them for years.
Blue has learned how to roll out the carpet. Often he opens our fundraisers doing this trick. However, I never taught him how to push the big ball. I stared with pushing the ball when I was quite far away. Blue was free, walking here and there. I pushed some more and finally brought it close to him. He looked at me. Click/treat. He looked at the ball, click/treat. He came to the ball, click/treat. He pushed it. Hmmm…I wondered…had he been taught how to push the big ball by his owner? I didn’t know, but I was going to find out! I was amazed at how good he was at directing to me. I began to wonder is THIS is the horse that would play soccer. Now that would be incredible…highly reactive Blue starring as a soccer player.
I decided to try walking and trotting with him beside me. He loved this game. I added placing my hand on his neck while we walked/trotted/walked/etc. No problem. I decided to send him away and see if he could keep in touch with me and walk/trot/canter/halt when asked. Once again, no problem. Much to my surprise Blue was becoming a really fun horse to play with!
When his owner returned from the cottage I asked if Blue had ever played with the big ball. The answer? No. Talk about amazing. I’ve taught many horses to play with the ball. Some are afraid to look at it. Others can’t touch it. Often it takes a few outings to get the horse comfortable with being near this rolling thing. But Blue, the same horse that explodes at the slightest provocation (even imaginary ones) instantly walked to the ball and pushed it. AND, when I carefully, cautiously, artfully pushed it towards him he was not worried and pushed it back to me. I think this is further proof that horses communicate with each other back in the barn. Sometimes bragging about how well they did something. Sometimes giving the other horses a “heads up” because there’s something new in the arena.
So, after this delightful week of playing with Blue I’m looking forward to more outings in the arena, more games. The education of Blue and of ME continues.