My step-daughter and I spent a lot of time together the last few days, be it in the phone or trailering up to a cowhorse event to hustle a few horses. We are both horse trainers, I'm recently retired, and she's on the verge of doing the same.
She has a Ray Hunt background, as a matter of fact it was Jill that introduced me to him and his teaching several years ago.
I in turn brought her into the fold during the years I was with the Big K.
We both like cowhorses, and our approach to training is close enough to at least appreciate and learn from each other.
I was asking her for some input on which direction I should send the folks with the warmblood colt. He is pretty much at a place where I would be content, if he was mine. He is picking up his feet. He has learned to keep his flailing legs to his own little self, his nipping is under control. He handles well with a rope halter, and he will eventually be able to be moved into one of those leather, safety-snapped halters you dressage folks hold so dear, and he'll mind in it without a stud chain. He longes safely, without pulling. His lead rope stays slack, and he follows along like a gentleman. He stands tied. He will continue to work with his barn mates wandering through the middle of the arena while longing and stay fairly quiet when they wander up to the tie post to bug him.
None of this is perfect yet. He has lapses. But Bruce knows how to effectively correct him and they're progressing at a fast clip.
If it were me, I'd mess with him once a week or so until it was time to start him.
But Bruce is intrigued with my training methods, this colt is truly going to be a beast, size-wise anyway and when the daughter came in for a short visit from Washington she was very happy with his progress. She is a working student for a dressage barn out there and has high hopes for this colt.
Add it all up and we're going to keep going.
My concern is I worry about desensitizing this horse. I would hate to create dullness or resistance from over-handling him.
I have long had an aversion to the training programs that involve lots of sacking out with all kinds of different items, or lots of repetition in a training maneuver.
I want my horses to work with me on the concept that they need to pay attention to what I'm doing. I've talked before on my one, two, three method of cuing.
I also reward them by quitting the current activity and resting, or moving on to the next one if they have given me the appropriate response.
They quickly learn pick this up. I try to respect them enough to assume once they tolerate whatever it is I'm trying to do, it's understood, and time for us to move on.
I also strongly believe that I can rub a horse all over with a plastic bag and he will go ahead and spook at the next plastic bag he sees flapping from a tree.
All I managed to do was teach him to ignore the stimulus of one plastic bag. It has nothing to do with his wild blast into space at the sight of the next one.
What I want them to learn is to trust me to help them safely negotiate their perceived danger.
If my horse is afraid of that evil horse chomping Walmart bag and I just make him go past it, once he realizes he survived, he will trust me a little more to make a decision for him next time.
In order to get him to listen he can't tune me out. He has to listen to my cues, even over his own fears.
If he has learned to tune me out when I'm slinging a saddle blanket at him for the 100th time in a row, what do I do when I really need him to listen? What good will it do me if I've very successfully taught him to ignore stressful stimulus, and then do something he'd prefer to ignore? Like a cluck, my heels, my spurs, the bit...
I also want them to understand when I do something to them, it's for a purpose. I need them to carry my rain gear. I need them to get in the trailer. I need them to haul twenty sheets of rusty tin tied together with rotted baling twine across two miles of bumpy, rocky ground with a questionable tow rope. But that's another story for another day. I sure can't take the time to desensitize them to every wacko thing I decide we need to do, they have to feel safe because I say it is safe.
So, my point to my step-daughter was, how do I engage this colt without turning him into a 70 games playing, carrot eating, walk-all-over-you butt munch?
Jill had some good thoughts. "How about broom ball?"
Broom ball is an Alice in Wonderlandesque game I made up many years ago for six rotten little girls, stuck in a tiny, dusty indoor with me and their horses on a rainy afternoon.
Jill uses it as a teaching and training tool.
It takes a kitchen broom per kid, a $3.00 big ball from Walmart, and lots of patience.
"I teach people how to play on the ground first," she continued.
"Chicken," I replied.
"Students keep coming back," she snarked.
"The idea is to get the student to talk their horse into touching the ball first with their nose, and then with their feet,"Jill continued.
"So they start playing before you're ever on their back?"
"Eventually, but the main idea is for the horse to accept direction from their owner in a ridiculous situation. It gets them to trust."
I liked it. The horse will stay fresh. It's stimulating and creative to both horse and owner, and fun.
I love it when somebody takes an idea of mine and runs with it. Broom Ball has taken on a whole new meaning now. It is perfect for where I would like Bruce and his colt to go.
So we're grabbing a ball and going for it next week, I'll let you know how it goes.