The Honeymoon is Over
I knew that MerryLegs and I would have our “moments” as we got to know each other, but I was surprised about what the first moment would be. I took him out of the barn to go for a walk on the driveway—heading for the back of the property. After just a few steps, he decided he wasn’t going.
He has had some other incidents of refusing, and I was able to get him started back up by shifting his weight. That wasn’t working, this time. I did have my long dressage whip with me, and tapping him with it didn’t help, either. In fact, he started backing up. I decided that if he wanted to back up, I would keep him going back to make it an unpleasant experience. So, there we were—1 step forward—10 steps back. Sometimes it was even more than 10 steps. This kept going on and on. I added circles, too. When he would take a few steps forward, I praised and clicked him. Surely, he would like clicks better than backing up?
Some of the new boarders saw us, and they asked how he was doing. Duh…did he look like he was doing well? I just replied “Not right now.”
It took 10 minutes to go 50 feet from the barn. I got a few steps, clicked and treated. I let him stand for a few moments. I remembered how Ellen linked head down to walking forward with Dante. I asked him for head down by lowering my hand in front of his nose. It is something we have worked on, but not in large amounts. At least that was something I could reward him for to reverse the spiral of misbehavior we were involved in. Head down, click, treat and repeat. After a few times, I asked for head down and step forward. I worked once, but not the second time I asked. I tried it again, and this time, it worked.
Somehow, I found myself in front of him—facing him. I took a step backwards—and he took a step forward—click/treat. I tried this early on in our session, and he only backed up more. Most horses will back up if you face them and urge them forward. It is a good idea to spend the time to teach a horse to approach you when you ask him to while you are facing him. I think someone may have done this already with him (Mrs. Shoes?) He has done this with me in when he is loose very readily.
Anyway, the spiral was broken and a good spiral was forming. We made it another 50 feet this way with ease. When we got to the outdoor arena, I put him in there and breathed a sigh of relief. It was time for a timeout.
I don’t know what brought this on, but I suspect he didn’t want to leave his buddies in the barn. It didn’t help that Ranger was calling to him. Still, when I turned him to go away from the barn in the other direction—towards the street—he proudly passed the barn and tried trotting down the driveway.
After I cleaned a few stalls, I went back to get him. Instead of bringing him back to the barn, we passed it up, again and walked down the driveway. He was very enthusiastic. We didn’t get far when a couple of cars decided to leave. I brought him over to the side to watch the cars, and he was fine. We then went further down the driveway—and 2 more cars left. There was no longer any reason to play bus stop, so I brought him back to the indoor arena and had a lounging session.
He was super for lounging. I have started to click for a pretty, balanced trot—and in just few minutes I could see that he was trying to do just that so he could get clicked. He began stepping further underneath him. I made sure he was not looking away from me when I clicked, too. Anything you click for, you are more likely to get it in the future. So if you click for trotting well, but he is looking away—he will think that is just what you want him to do—trot pretty and look away. You have to be careful, but at the same time, you end up teaching him that looking away doesn’t pay. By getting more specific about you want as you progress, you end up getting just what you want.