When we first brought Zelador and Zeloso home as weanlings I made a mental note to contact Christi McQuaker when the boys were ready to learn flying changes. She did a GREAT job with Sherlock over eleven years ago. I figured since Christi was able to help that incredibly tense ex-racehorse (Sherlock’s dam’s name is: Twice as Tyte) that the boys would be a piece of cake.
During her first visit with Zelador I started the session with his liberty work and tricks. After that I rode him, then Christi got on. I was standing on the right side of the horse and she was up on Zelador’s back, shortening the left stirrup. Although the right rein was loose, the left one had a slight amount of contact. Zelador hasn’t been ridden by very many people and he was trying to figure out WHAT WAS GOING ON!? In his effort to be “perfect” he interpreted the left rein as a signal to do a bow. I saw it coming and called out, “LEAN BACK!” Christi’s eyes got very big as Zelador placed the plain of his head FLAT on the arena floor. I’ve been on his back when he’s done one of these bows, but I’ve never been on the ground to see what it looks like. Believe me, it’s impressive! Christi leaned back and stayed up there. I made a clucking sound and Zelador raised his head and stood up. Whew!
Christi said, “What did I do? I obviously found the ‘bow’ button.” I explained that the tight rein at the halt was an excellent excuse for Zelador to dream up something “spectacular” to impress this person on his back.
The second session (this past Wednesday) Christi asked if she could bring her oldest daughter, Kieley, to see Zelador do his tricks. We set up the meeting for Saturday. She mentioned that after leaving our farm she picked up six-year-old Kieley at school. During their drive home Christi told her all about the tricks and the sensational bow. Christi said her daughter laughed for half an hour and made her retell the story again and again.
Saturday rolled around and fifteen minutes before Christi was due to arrive I took Zelador up to the arena. Although he’s seen young children from a distance, he’s never interacted with them. I wasn’t quite sure how to prepare him for this session. I opted to do what we’ve always done. Bill put on Zelador’s music and we warmed-up with “Waterloo” (liberty work), “Stand by Me” (tricks) and finished with “Like a Rubber Ball I’ll Come Bouncing Back to You” (three different balls are used). We’d just started the music when Christi and Kieley entered the arena. You should have seen the look on Zelador’s face. He realized that these were the people we were “performing” for and he was fascinated by the child. I knew that if my attention wandered, so would Zelador’s. I focused on our work and he happily stayed with me, BUT he kept track of that youngster!
When we were done I asked Kieley if she had any questions or wanted to learn how to teach some of the tricks. The answer was, “Yes.” She wanted to know how I taught him to get up on the rotating top pedestal, how to teach the smile and the ball pushing and the carrots/cones and…
We started with the “big smile”. I explained that for every trick I try to teach one tiny thing at a time. For the smile I showed her three steps. At each one, Zelador received a treat. When Kieley offered one, he took it gently and snuck in sniffs of her hair whenever he could.
Kieley thoroughly enjoyed rolling the big ball back and forth with Zelador. She was also interested in how Zelador learned to carry the ridged ball. Once again, I told her how I broke the trick into small learning steps:
1. I showed him the ball and he sniffed it
2. he mouthed it
3. he put his teeth around a ridge
4. he took it from my hand
5. he held it for a few seconds
6. I tossed it a few feet away and he went to it
7. I tossed it, he went to it and picked it up
8. but I had to admit that I never did figure out how to teach him to carry it. He did that all by himself.
Before I knew it, we’d been playing with Zelador for over thirty minutes. He’d consumed a great number of carrots and a pocketful of horse treats. It was time for him to go back to being a horse. Christi and Kieley helped me lead him out to his paddock.
Christi told me Kieley has a pony. I immediately volunteered to come over and help with tricks. It’ll be interesting to work with a pony. I’ve heard that they’re very smart!