A farm fence builder came to give us quotes on one of the paddocks and, of course, we dragged him up to the arena to show him “the boys”. He loved it! A few days later he emailed and said, “It’s pretty amazing what you are able to do with them. Do you generally stick with the same routine for a while or do they respond better when you try to mix it up a bit?”
And I wrote back:
When I’m introducing something I’ll keep a routine surrounding the thing I’m teaching. That way the horse has things before and after that he is comfortable with and very proud of. For example, teaching the horse to back up: when the horse is travelling free around me and I call him in, I keep control of the speed with which the horse approaches me by asking for a big smile before the horse gets to me. He knows to halt, make a big smile and then he gets a treat. The horse is very comfortable with that series of “tricks”. He’s calm, happy and waiting to see what’s next.
I decided to teach the back up from the right side of the horse (because the bow is done with me on the left side and I didn’t want any confusion). With Zelador and Zeloso I did three things at once. 1: I said “baaaack” and 2. lightly touching the right side of the horse’s chest, hinting at a backward shift of weight, touching him softly several times. 3. I stroked the horse’s back with my left hand, starting just behind the withers and moving towards the croup.
With Pax and Kye the finger on the chest didn’t get a shift of weight backwards. Pax turned his head to me and his haunches away. Kye started pawing with his right front hoof! I experimented a bit and learned that stroking both horses on the lower part of the right side of the neck from the middle of the next to the base elicited a backwards step.
For Zeloso and Zelador I sandwiched this trick between the liberty around me and the Spanish Walk. The backing up helped engage the hind end which facilitated the Spanish Walk.
With Pax and Kye I asked for a small liberty circle around me. They are both very comfortable with this.
I did this routine for a week or two (considering I usually only do liberty work two or three times a week for about ten minutes) the horse didn’t do the routine very often, but he quickly “got it”. Nowadays I might ask for the Spanish Walk after the back up and I might not. Also, if I ask the horse to back up and he can’t focus and do it, then I know he needs more forward moving work to get the kinks out so that he can focus. When he does back up I know that I can do everything the horse knows.
I do mix things up when the trick I ask for is established.
When I stop to think about it, the horse is very good at figuring out what I want. He doesn’t get worried and wonder what I want and offer up things frantically.
Earlier this autumn I heard on the radio that environment Canada predicted a warmer than normal winter. Yesterday the announcer on the radio said a COLDER than normal winter with dryer conditions. This morning it’s minus sixteen. I’m thinking we’ll be doing quite a bit of liberty work in the next months!!!! (As opposed to freezing in the saddle.)