Molly and Zelador getting to know each other.

Friday Molly (who’s helping me for a few weeks with gardening and chores on the farm) and I took Zeloso to the arena. Molly’s in her late teens and expressed an interest in learning more about horses. She loves them!

I read that for the movie “War Horse” the actors who were going to be riding had a boot camp. First they learned how to work with horses on the ground with some of this done at liberty. So, I figured, this makes sense. In the arena I demonstrated helping Zeloso walk, trot, canter, change direction and halt at liberty in a circle around me. Molly had a turn at this. I demonstrated again, followed by Molly. She was doing well, but I thought there was a step missing in this learning process.

We left Zeloso in the middle of the arena and went to the northeast corner. I said, “I’m the imaginary horse and you direct me.” Then I directed Molly (she became the imaginary horse). We practiced this for a few minutes and turned to Zeloso. He was still standing where we’d left him! You should have seen the look on his face. He was transfixed. You could almost hear him say, “By golly, they do this with people, too!!!”

On another note: Sue Parker’s been coming to our farm once a week to work with Zelador and me. She’ll be here in an hour. Currently it’s 8:30 in the morning and the humidex is already over 30!

Moving right along…

Our homework this week: CALM. Last week Sue placed a pylon in the middle of the centreline and we attempted a canter circle east of the pylon, trot line past the pylon, then canter on the other lead west of the pylon. Although we can do this calmly and with impeccable cadence at the walk and trot, the canter was another story. Zelador anticipated the change of direction to the left and tried to rush through it.

The first two days of practice I walked the pattern, then trotted. We didn’t canter. We relaxed and I was able to do the drill with different rein lengths. The third day I cantered a circle and stopped in the centre. Zelador thought about this, anticipating the change of direction. We stayed at the halt. He decided to place his nose close to the arena floor. I could feel him relax. After another minute or two we walked forward, changed direction and trotted. A few years ago I taught Zelador the head-to-the-ground exercise when I read about it in one of Alexandra Kurland’s books. Talk about a huge release in Zelador’s body and mind.

Over the next five minutes we circled left and right always with a halt in the middle and he placed his head low to the ground each time. It was as if he decided, “This pattern is obviously very important to Winnie. I need to find a way that I’m totally relaxed. Ah, yes. Head to the ground. That ALWAYS feels wonderful. Whew!”

Yesterday we performed the pattern with changes of lead through a calm trot four times (two right canter circles and two to the left). So…off to the barn to tack up the sweetie, then to the arena with Sue!

Molly and Zeloso, continued…

After playing with Zeloso at liberty Molly got in the saddle. I walked beside them for a few minutes, then left to set up some markers for Molly to ride to. I was surprised at how quickly Molly was able to ride Zeloso from one point to another. Usually I stay close to the beginner for a long time! So, I thought about this remarkable progression and realized that this was the first time I’d ever started a duo at liberty. Molly learned that she can direct Zeloso without touching him and from quite a distance. Zeloso learned that Molly could direct HIM. The result? A rider sitting quietly on the horse getting the response she wanted with minimal aids.

Five days later (after barely surviving Monday with the 40 degree humidex) I took Zeloso to the arena to play with him. He showed an interest in lying down and rolling. I walked towards him and asked him to lie down. He did. Now that was a shock. With Zeloso if you don’t want him to lie down the best approach is to ask him to lie down! Hmmm…interesting change in his behaviour. A few minutes later I brought out the ball we use to learn soccer. It’s a basketball…

Zeloso automatically pushes objects to the right with his nose. I positioned him along the wall and kept in front and to the right and about six feet from him. Much to my surprise he was very happy to push the ball the ten feet to the southwest corner of the arena, continue along the west side (short end of the arena) and at least 80% of the distance of the north wall. This was amazing. Zeloso’s my “class clown” who usually finds something else to do, something much more interesting than playing with me. Hmmm…is he maturing? Am I getting better at keeping his attention? Is the timing of my click/treat a smidgeon better to help keep his attention?

The session ended, as always, on a happy note. I put the boys in their paddocks and went shopping. And, yes, we now have a shiny new SOCCER ball to play with!