Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. ~ Thomas Merton

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day 2 - It Starts When Your Horse First Notices You

Any session with your horse starts the moment he first notices you. Linda Parelli advised us, during the 2005 Freestyle course, to use a unique call when getting your horse's attention from the pasture. So when Cricket is out grazing, I use a sing-song voice to call "Pretty Girl." This is the only time I use this call phrase.

After Monday's session when I had to drag her in from the field, I decided I needed to take a moment to check in with her. Where she was, not where I wanted her to be.

As I walked up to the barn I called to her. She lifted her head, looked at me and almost immediately returned to grazing. Okay, today's plan for playing and riding went out the window. I armed myself with treats and a curry comb and headed out to the field.

I found a dry place to sit and spent about 15-20 minutes watching my horse graze. She drifted closer to me but never actually approached me. One of the other horses - a more RB mare - came up to investigate. I gave her a few cookies and brushed her with the curry, hoping this might pique Cricket's interest. Nope. Nothing.

I found a new place to sit and spent five more minutes watching my horse. Okay, I thought, maybe it's turned into a friendly game. So I started wandering around, trying to avoid the marshy spots (she's grazing in the absolute lowest part of the field) but still get close enough to her so she feels my intention. Still nothing.

So I stood and talked to her, calling her "Pretty Girl" and waiting. Nothing.

And then the opportunity came. She reached back to try and scratch under her belly, a very itchy spot that she simply cannot reach. I called to her again and asked her to come to me so I could get the spot. She approached and smelled cookies and tried to nudge me for treats. I held my focus of scratching her belly. Once I found the itchy spot she was enraptured. Of course once Cricket was interested in me, the rest of the herd came up. I defended her space and gave her a cookie and proceeded to groom her, finding more itchy spots.

Just as she was at the height of enjoying it, I walked off. She followed. As Carol would say, "Shampoo, Rinse and Repeat." Cricket wasn't putting much effort into it so about the third time, just as she was about to get to me, I took off again. That was the ticket. She trotted after me with a "hey, where are you going?" attitude. We did this about three times, each time her trotting after me.

When her attention wandered, I just turned and left. I really didn't care if she followed me or not. I kind of figured she would but decided not to be emotionally vested in her decision. Without looking back, I walked up one of the runs and when I got to the gate, I turned and saw Cricket leading the entire herd up to the barn.

I prepped the feed and moved everybody around so they could eat dinner in relative peace.

I'm not really upset that Cricket won't come to me in the field. It's not that she doesn't enjoy our time together. She is a strong, self-confident independent mare. It takes an awful lot to be the alpha for that kind of horse.

Tonight's plan - more of the same. If she comes to me then we can play and ride but if she doesn't, more taking time.


Tina said...

Ooooh, like this idea...making them catch you to get the goodies. Dixie usually comes to me, but I have to be within 10 feet or so.

Lisa said...

This is something we've done in our camps. Cricket LOVES scratches and she's covered with "itchy spots." Right at the height of enjoyment, walk off and see if the horse follows. If she doesn't, it's no big deal as the alpha starts scratching sessions and ends them. Usually the horse follows with a "hey, I wasn't done" attitude. Shampoo Rinse and Repeat.

To cause Cricket to put in more effort, once we established the pattern, I left again right before she could catch me. That threw her for a loop and she started trotting to me.

It works best to start in a controlled environment - arena, round corral - where it's obvious you're the "best deal." A six acre pasture is less than ideal.