Nov10collage.jpgSince March when Zeloso was diagnosed with an upper suspensory tear in his right foreleg I’ve allowed him to go off the longe line twice. Both times he started quietly, politely paying attention to me, then WHOOSH!!! He was off and running…and leaping…and spinning. I stood in the arena cursing myself for being suckered into letting him free. We were under vet’s orders to limit his exercise to walk/trot. Each giant leap he took had me cringing…fearing for that ligament.

However, Monday I got up the courage to let Zeloso go FREE for his warm-up. There was something in his demeanor which said, “For two weekends I’ve watched Zelador warm-up at liberty while I’ve been on a longe line with Bill. It’s my turn to work free.”

We started at the low platform, then walked to the far end of the arena. I didn’t have my hand on his halter, but I was ready to grab it if Zeloso showed any sign of leaping about. Of course, he’s incredibly quick and the chance of me being faster than him is slim.

We progressed to a small circle which grew into a bigger one (no chance of latching onto him at that point!) and then Zeloso moved to the wall. I figured, “I’m done for. He’s going to leap about and all I’ll be able to do is watch and wait for him to settle.” BUT, the little sweetie continued to walk. In fact he walked around the entire arena (almost 20m x 40m) three times. He just kept walking.

The last time I’d seen this was in March of 2006. We had three people standing on the centerline (one near each end and one in the middle). Our job was to keep him walking beside the wall around the entire arena. For some reason Zeloso got it into his head to show me that he remembered his first liberty training. Since those early days we’ve always done our liberty work in just half of the arena.

During Zeloso’s three trips around the arena I knew that if I asked him to change direction, he’d bolt. I’d learned over two years ago that directing him to turn was dicey. More times than not, he’d get excited and canter. It was very difficult to send him across the diagonal and have him maintain the walk. I had to ask him very quietly with minimal body language

On his fourth trip around me his walk changed from a purposeful stride into a more relaxed one. (Ah, with any luck THIS was my opportunity to turn him.) I asked him to change direction and he did, never altering the rhythm of his walk. However, he continued to stay at the wall and go around the entire arena. I noticed that he looked at me several times. I wished I could hear what he was thinking. He really wanted to tell me something.

Time passed. He relaxed even more in his walk. I called him to me and he came.

Each day this week we continued the free work. Friday I got up the nerve to ask him to do a waltz turn. (I’ve never asked him to do this.) I used the guider whip to turn him in a small circle in front of me. He didn’t get confused and he didn’t run away. He must have been watching Zelador and learned from him. There’s no other explanation that I can think of. When I taught the waltz turn to Zelador it took at least a dozen different training sessions for him to get close to doing the small circle and here was Zeloso doing a nice one for his first attempt.

Allen Pogue says that horses learn from watching other horses. He always tries to get several horses observing training sessions. Zeloso demonstrated that he learns by observation.

Today Bill brought the camera into the arena. Zeloso did some lovely, high-lifting Spanish Walk steps, but the digital camera never quite caught up with him. Bill also tried to photograph Zeloso turning around on the low platform. That didn’t work either. It wasn’t because the horse was too fast. The sequence of photos show a horse just standing there.

Bill had no problem photographing Zeloso adding his own trick to walking over the bridge. The young Lusitano had walked by those orange pylons again and again, but this time he couldn’t help himself. He picked one up and played with it. Bill had plenty of time to get a good photo.

The final picture was taken at the rotating top pedestal. Zeloso consistently places one foot on it. To encourage him to lift the second foot and place it on the pedestal Bill said, “Raise your hand higher.” I stretched as tall as possible. Zeloso understood what I wanted and stepped the second foot up even though my hand wasn’t very high in relationship to his height. We attempted to measure him at the withers Friday. Zeloso is somewhere between 16.25 hands high and 16.3. When you add the 16 inches of the rotating top pedestal to his height, you’ve got one tall horse!