Dec23collage.jpgDuring the past two weeks I’ve spent a few minutes each day with Zelador and the rotating top pedestal. The bolt is still inside the thing, keeping it from rotating. The top is sixteen inches in diameter and there’s not a lot of room for two front hooves.

I remember when we first tried to get the horses up on the thing. Invariably the right hoof would land on the left edge, or the right edge, or the far end, or the near end. Never did the hoof land near the centre or in the ideal spot: to the right of centre. In the old days I’d sort of stand there and worry, then get him to step off. Nowadays I pick up his hoof and place it where I want it.

Recently Zelador has been quite busy during my hoof placement. Since we’re DEEP into winter (and it’s only December!!!) I have a warm toque on my head, resplendent with a tassel. And, you guessed it, Zelador LOVES the tassel. His goal is to grab it and remove the hat from my head. Knowing Zelador, it won’t be long before I’m hatless.

Now that I have both of his front feet on this pedestal the next step is to have him move his hind legs sideways. I tried this and he stepped down. I led him over to the low rectangular pedestal. He placed his front feet on it, whoaed, and I asked him to move his hind legs to the right. He did it. I asked him to move them to the left. No problem. Back to the rotater. Up he went. I gave him a treat while he stayed there, getting him used to being in that position for more than a few seconds. With the long guider whip’s tip placed beneath the hock (near, but not touching it), I asked him to step sideways. He did, then he stepped off. As each day passed he was able to step to one side and then to the other. But, he stepped off when he felt things were a bit wobbly. He didn’t wait for my cue.

Today Bill joined us in the arena. He pointed out that Zelador always stepped to the left, then to the right and then came off the pedestal. He said that I needed to change the sequence and be the one to end the exercise. I had the impression that Bill thought I’d have trouble changing Zelador’s routine. I took Zelador for a calming walk and led him to the pedestal. Up he went. We whoaed. I asked him to step to the right, step to the left, step to the right, whoa, then come down. Zelador was perfection.

We’re oh, so close to taking that bolt out so that the top can rotate. Allen Pogue told me he sprinkles sand under the top towards the ball bearings to slow the rotation. I’ve tried this with our arena sand, but the top still moves quickly. I’ll have to search around for some real sand and see if it helps. I want the top barely moveable the first time I send Zelador up there.

The Big Ball:

Several years ago my farrier, Bob Scott, told me about a horseman he’d seen dozens of years earlier at Quarterama. Apparently there was a set routine for all of the competitors, then some free time to do what they wanted. A huge portion of the judging was the audience’s response on the applause meter. Every year this horseman won. His free time included: taking off the saddle and bridle, lying the horse down, getting him up and sending the horse along one side of the arena while the horseman went along the other side. They passed a soccer ball back and forth from one side to the other. Bob said the horse was incredibly accurate in passing to the man.

Ever since I heard this, I’ve wanted to do it. We started with the three feet in diameter horse ball. Zelador pushes it nicely. The next step was to pass it back and forth. I tried to accomplish this every once in a while, but things got muddled. I needed to think this out BEFORE I attempted it with the horse.

Ten days ago I addressed the passing issue, once again. I whoaed Zelador and walked in front of him with the ball until I was ten feet away. I rolled it to him and simultaneously called out, “Push”. This has been the cue word since day one. He pushed it to me and began to walk behind it. I said, “Whoa”. He hesitated, then followed the ball, the same movement he’d been doing for over a year. If I wanted him to stand still I needed something more impressive than the “whoa”.

I set us up again and this time I had another plan. Allen Pogue says, “The horse will always yield his head.” With the long guider whip in hand I rolled the ball to Zelador and said, “Push”. I was over fifteen feet away and he gave the ball a mighty push. Just as it looked like he was about to follow the ball I said, “Whoa” and raised the guider whip so that the soft green ball at the far end was pointed towards his head. He stopped abruptly. I told him he was a good boy and made a note to use the whip more softly next time.

We passed the ball back and forth several times. The first two times I said, “Whoa” and used the whip. The next time I said “Whoa” and didn’t raise the whip. The fourth time I didn’t have to say anything. Zelador had figured out this new game and was very happy to play it.