Today I placed a big muck bucket in the northwest corner of Zelador’s stall. His stall is 22’ x 11’ which gives us plenty of room to play games. Along the south wall I put a halter on the ground and at the southeast corner I put a lead line. I had three cards about twelve inches long in my hand, saying “bucket”, “halter” and “rope”. I placed the appropriate card at each object. I walked to the bucket, showed Zelador the card and asked him to touch the bucket. No problem. We went to the other objects and repeated the game. For our second go-around I chose a different order.

Version number two: I picked up one of the three cards and read it to him. I then asked him to go to the appropriate object and touch it. We did this game twice.

Then for the biggie! I showed Zelador the card with “bucket” printed on it and did not read it to him. I said, “Read the card and touch the object.” He did. We played this game several times with me randomly presenting a card to him.

I put away the card game and presented him with a Canadian flag measuring 10” x 12”. I pointed to the various sections of the flag, identifying each colour and the maple leaf symbol. I had removed the dowel from the flag’s edge so that his teeth had only soft material to touch. I held the flag and waved it up and down saying, “I’m waving the flag. Now it’s your turn. Take the flag and wave it.” He instantly picked up the flag and joyously waved it. He LOVES this new game!

I’ve never gotten a good “yes” out of him (cueing him to move his head up and down), however the enthusiasm with which he waved the flag certainly gives me hope that someday his “yes” will be spectacular.

Zelador’s brother was being ridden by our coach, Alex. I checked my watch. Zeloso wasn’t due back to the barn for another fifteen minutes. I gave Zelador some hay and continued with my chores. When Alex and Zeloso arrived I mentioned our games. Alex had a few minutes till his next lesson so I fetched the toys. I said, “Zelador’s eating…” knowing that he might prefer to continue that activity instead of playing with me. But, I entered the stall with a positive attitude and Alex stood at the stall door, peering in. There were a few HUGE distractions besides the hay. Number one: Zelador likes Alex and he just might decide being sociable would be tons more fun than “performing”. Number two: although Alex was not in the stall he was inches away from the big bucket. Zelador just might go to the bucket even if I held another card for him to read.

I positioned Zelador in the middle of the stall and made a conscious effort to NOT influence him with my body language. I presented the “bucket” card. He read it, walked to the bucket and touched the card. Click/treat. He returned to me and got his treat. I presented the other two cards and he was letter perfect. Then, in a flourish of pride I fetched the Canadian flag. Zelador took it and waved it. Yippee!!!!!

I told Alex that when I do these games in the arena I’ll have more room to get out of the way and be certain that I’m not accidentally directing Zelador with my body position.

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