For our second get-together the boys were very good. That includes Bill. He watched the DVD of the first get-together and refined his work in-hand with Zeloso. For example, in the first get-together he asked Zeloso to back up and it didn’t happen. Bill went on to something else. We talked about this the next day and I said, “No one is going to be annoyed if you calmly work with Zeloso to help him back up.” In the second get-together when they got to the part where the horse steps backwards, Bill slowed down (both his mind and his feet) and Zeloso backed up beautifully.

During the week between the get-togethers Zelador learned a new trick with the ridged ball. Lindsey came over to help and suggested that we set up a “net” for him to score a goal. We used the blok by blok blocks and some large pylons to create the net along the north side of the arena. To teach him I kicked the ridged ball a few metres at a time and finally it was in the net. I congratulated myself and repeated this demonstration three times. Then it was Zelador’s turn. I tossed the ball about three metres from him and asked him to get it. He went to it, put his head down and touched the ball with his lips. I called out, “Good!”

This encouraged him. He picked up the ball. I said, “Good!!!” He turned to me. I backed up into the goal area and he walked towards me. When he was in the net I threw my hands in the air and congratulated him on making a goal. Of course he received many carrot pieces.

I marveled over the fact that I could stand quite far away from him and give him the encouragement he needed to put together a new trick. Zelador totally understands that when I say “Good” he is doing exactly what I want. “Good!” is the bridge word. The first time Zelador heard a bridge word was several years ago while I taught him the “big smile”. When he did what I asked, I said “Good”. I could speak the word the instant he did something I wanted. I couldn’t give him a treat that precisely. “Good” served as a bridge between the wanted behavior and the desired treat.

Back to the present! We practiced scoring a goal two more times, then went on to other things. A few days later I set up the net and tossed the ball. He retrieved it and just as he got near the net he stepped outside of it and dropped the ball. (You could almost hear him saying…”just checking to see what it is that you REALLY want me to do.) I picked up the ball and placed it inside the net. That’s when I said, “Good!” and made a big fuss over the ball.

I figured that we’d better try this trick again. I tossed the ball. He retrieved it and just as he was heading to the right in a second attempt to drop the ball outside of the net, I stepped to the left. That drew him into the net. He received tons of praise and treats.

During the second get-together he performed the new trick flawlessly and with great enthusiasm. As I tossed the ball he was trotting to fetch it.

Someone asked, “How long did it take you to teach him that?” That’s got to be my least favorite question! People are so into how LONG things take. The important question is: how did you teach that? My answer? I didn’t. (I’m working on the assumption that the trick the person was referring to was Zelador learning how to fetch things.)

Several months ago (maybe as many as six) I thought about teaching him to carry things, but I didn’t know how to do it! Allen Pogue says he presents tricks on the pedestal because the horse associates it with learning. I placed Zelador on the low pedestal. I decided to show Zelador the ball and see if he would sniff at it. He did. I rewarded him. Two principles of training are at work here. Number one: break down what you want to teach into the smallest elements. Number two: reward the tiniest try.

I held the ball in front of him and he tried to get his teeth around one of the ridges. I said, “Good!” After a few more presentations he actually held the ball. At that point I acknowledged that he was doing GREAT, but I had run out of ideas! So we left the ball and went on to other things.

Weeks passed and I occasionally placed him on the pedestal and showed him the ball. More often than not, he held it, but I didn’t have any control over how long he held it. I was stymied, then I thought, “He understands that when he’s loose in the arena and I say, ‘Are You READY?’ that he is rewarded when he walks to the low platform and steps up on it. Perhaps if he’s loose and I give him the ball I can say ‘are you ready?’ and he’ll go to the platform.” I tried this. He dropped the ball. I pointed to it and he picked it up. He walked towards the platform and the ball was dropped. I pointed to it. He picked it up. Finally he and the ball BOTH were on the platform. Whew! Major treats!!!

More weeks passed. Zelador developed a keen interest in carrying the bunny AND when I placed my guider whip on the ground he often picked it up. When we stand at the east end of the arena (where all my stuff/toys/leadlines/etc. are located) he is very busy picking up things. He loves this game. I ALWAYS remember to tell him he’s very clever, even when I wish he’d just stand there politely and leave things alone.

Before the first get-together I decided to see if Zelador would carry the bunny and the new delight of his life, Kermit, from one side of our arena to the other. Up to that point he’d carried things a metre or two. Now I was upping the ante and asking for a carry of at least fifteen metres. No problem! On the rare occasion that he dropped one of his treasures all I had to do was point to the object and he picked it up and continued his journey.

With all this carrying-on the bottom line is: I never taught him to “hold” an object. I’m thinking that he watched me carry things and decided that was what I wanted him to do. Makes sense to me. People learn by imitation. Most certainly foals learn from adult horses and on several occasions my guys have imitated me…inter-species imitation…