Photos by Ann Clifford

Romeo (a miniature horse) came to visit Winsong Farm for the first time to practice for the October 28th Fundraiser for ASK.

A few days before the visit I moved our bridge to the farm with the Gang On the Hill where Romeo lives. The bridge is in an empty stall opposite Romeo’s. I was stunned when I brought him into the stall with the bridge. He never hesitated. He walked up one side of the bridge and down the other side. I’ve never had a horse do that. Every horse has stood still and looked at it. Some horses are a foot away, others quite far away. A few horses sniff it. Some horses back up. Some won’t go near it…no sniffing for them. And, here’s this little horse Bold as Brass walking all over the bridge. I presented the side of the bridge to him and he stepped up onto it. The side is not slanted so I figured the pedestals weren’t going to be a problem.

As you can see from the photos, Romeo tried lots of things during his first visit. When I presented the Easy Button he touched it, but no sound happened. I placed the button on the ground and Romeo happily pawed it. Only problem: the arena floor muffled the “That was Easy!” We’ll have to work on that.

When Romeo entered our arena, I detached the lead line and let him explore. That little sweetie can move and buck and canter (very straight in the body, lovely canter). I was wondering if he’d keep going like the energizer bunny. I called to him and he came to me. Then off he went to play again. After a few minutes he slowed down when he was near me. I called him to the low pedestal and up he went.

He’ll ship in to our arena next week, meanwhile I’ll be playing with him at his barn. My first playtime following his triumphant tour at Winsong Farm was this evening.

I brought the carpet, the basketball and the toy for Romeo. He’d never seen the carpet or the basketball. I placed treats (little brown ones) in the carpet and set it up in the aisle. I put Romeo on his lead line and brought him to the carpet. His immediate response to almost anything is to paw with a front hoof. I showed him the carpet, he pawed it and walked over it. Hmmm….

I led him in a small circle back to the carpet. I placed a treat in my hand, got his attention on the treat and lowered the treat to the carpet. I dropped the treat onto the carpet and he ate it. He noticed the treat tucked just in front of the rolled up section. He ate it and walked over the carpet. I’ve had some horses take quite a while to actually put their hooves on the carpet. This was not a problem for Romeo. When I lined him up with the end of the carpet, his first step was on it. Whew!

I repeated the circle and treat bating. He didn’t get the idea to push the carpet with his nose to reveal treats, so I did the tiny pushes and he found the treats. We finally rolled out the entire carpet and adjourned to the stall with the basketball, toy and bridge.

I kept him on his lead line and asked him to touch the ball. I helped move him near the ball and he did touch it! Click/treat!!! I asked him to touch the toy. It was several feet away. I helped him find the toy. He touched it, click/treat. We played the “Touch” (toy or ball) game a few times. During our brief breaks he walked over the bridge. I removed his lead line and played “touch” again.

I left him in the bridge stall and bated the carpet. This time I placed the treats very close together. Initially the treats were about ten inches apart, requiring a good push with the nose to reveal the next one.

I attached his lead line and out of the stall we went. I hope I never forget the value of “Gap Time”. That little sweetie had been mulling over this carpet thing while in the bridge stall. He actually pushed the carpet with his nose and found the treats. End of session! I’ll play with him every day and introduce new things. It’ll be very interesting to see how he acts during his next visit to Winsong Farm. Wonder if he’ll need to tour the arena again.

Part II

Last week when Romeo shipped here to practice for the fundraiser he got loose in the trailer (big open space) and was quite excited when he was being unloaded. He preferred being on his hind legs. He was fine in the arena. Just before he was about to be shipped home I mentioned that our horses haven’t been tied to anything in a trailer for many, many years. Romeo went home untied.
Today when Romeo arrived his owners told me, “We found a hornet nest in the trailer.” I asked which part. They said it was the front left and THAT’S where Romeo is tied! No wonder the little sweetie was on his hind legs. Wow! It’s amazing that he didn’t get seriously injured.

On a lighter note: today he walked through our large blue hula hoop which is two hoops put together. He then walked through our red hula hoop which is two hoops overlapping resulting in a circle one and a half times bigger than a hula hoop. THEN he walked through a normal size hula hoop. For this one we raised it off the ground to allow his head and neck to pass through, then lowered it to the ground for him to walk through. What a star!

At home his owners were playing with him in the “play room” (the stall with the bridge and several toys). Some children were watching and Romeo did some things he’d never done before. He went to the ringed toy, picked it up, flipped his head around and finally tossed the toy. Can’t wait till he does that with me!

Our dress rehearsal is Sunday and the Fundraiser is two weeks after that. The owners were wondering what Romeo’s routine will be. I said, “We’ll decide a few days before the event. He’s learning so many things I don’t know what we’ll pick for the show.”

We had a ribbons/balls practice Sunday. During part of this act we have six rhythmic gymnastics ribbons radiating out from one person. Two horses and four people are in a circle around this person creating a carousel. Two practices ago Zelador started the Spanish Walk in the Carousel. We added that movement. This past Sunday he allowed Zeloso to do the Spanish Walk and Zelador offered up his piaffe. That horse is always thinking!