As we settled in, ShyAnne, a Colonial Spanish who lives at the Center, roamed around the arena. After we were finished introducing ourselves Stephanie talked about ShyAnne’s horsenality (Pat and Linda Parelli call the horse’s personality their horsenality) and showed us how to get the horse to catch the human.
With halter in hand, Stephanie kept ShyAnne’s feet moving until ShyAnne stopped and faced her. Once ShyAnne was facing Stephanie, she stopped asking ShyAnne to move her feet. When ShyAnne started walking toward Stephanie, she would back away from ShyAnne, increasing the draw (drawing the horse to you).
When ShyAnne was close enough to halter, Stephanie rubbed her with the halter on the neck and around her face and walked away. The point was to keep the horse’s interest and to keep your actions variable; this way when you enter the pasture with halter in hand the horse doesn’t always think that you are coming to catch them. The other tip was not to hide the halter behind your back. Horses aren’t dumb and can sense our intentions sooner than we think.
After Stephanie played this game with ShyAnne for awhile, Brandon and I each had a chance to do the same thing. We kept ShyAnne moving until she faced us; then drew her to us; then rubbed with the halter and walked away before repeating the steps and, eventually, when she was calm and ready to be caught, we would catch her.
From the haltering game we moved on to catching our horses from the pasture. I caught the new horse (who still does not have a name—you can enter your name into the draw via The Center’s Facebook Page) and Brandon caught Pete, a Colonial Spanish horse that is getting a lot of attention from Brandon every day. Brandon really likes Pete.
We played with the horses using different obstacles, my favorite being the tarp. I played all Seven Games with my horse using the tarp until he could actually step on the tarp, and then even walk over the tarp. It’s so interesting and rewarding to watch the horse progress from being afraid or unsure of the tarp to being totally accepting and confident. To play the Seven games with the tarp you could do the following:
1) Friendly Game. Walk your horse past the tarp with your body in between your horse and the tarp. When your horse is calm with this you could then tap the tarp with your carrot stick as you walk back.
2) Porcupine Game. Ask your horse to yield from steady pressure moving toward or away from the obstacle.
3) Driving Game. Drive your horse toward or away from the tarp or next to the obstacle.
4) Yo-Yo Game. Yo-Yo your horse away from the tarp and then draw him toward you while you stand near or on the tarp.
5) Circling Game. Circle your horse around the tarp or pass him by the tarp using this game.
6) Sideways Game. Move your horse toward the tarp using the Sideways Game.
7) Squeeze Game. Squeeze your horse between you and the tarp.
Playing these games with any obstacle in a variety of interesting ways helps them gain confidence with the obstacle rather than being afraid of it, and it makes things interesting and fun for the human too! It was so rewarding when my horse felt confident enough to put one foot on the tarp. When he did that we walked away and played the circling game using the barrels or simply walked around the arena for a couple of minutes before returning to the tarp. Eventually, he stood with all four feet on the tarp. Stood. He didn’t skirt past the tarp or walk quickly over it (he did all those things in preparation for standing on the tarp), he stood on it and waited.
We used a variety of obstacles such as the pedestal, hoola hoops (that made noise), a ball, the tarp, barrels, and our Carrot Sticks to ask our horse to approach the obstacle calmly and confidently. It’s amazing how engrossing spending the day with a horse can be.
What I learned from this clinic was that the better we can get at the Seven Games, the more effective we can be with our horse. The more effective we can be with our horse, the more he will understand our request and be confident in us as leaders. It’s also important to learn horse behavior and to know why he may be responding in a certain way. Is he not standing on the tarp because he is afraid or has he moved past his fear and is now testing you to find out if he really has to stand on the tarp? If he is testing you with the tarp, you wouldn’t “force” him to stand on the tarp but instead would make not standing on the tarp less appealing (by moving his feet) than standing on the tarp. Pretty soon your horse will think, I want to stand on the tarp so I don’t have to keep moving my feet.
Another thing that I learned was that we should take the time it takes so that it takes no time at all (remind you of the Parelli-ism? Pat has all kinds of little saying and this is similar to one of his sayings). If we invest in our horses and do things properly and calmly without reacting or using violence, and if we take the time it takes, our horses will be much more willing to particpate with us. I noticed that once my horse understood what I asked and was confident, he was willing to do the task immediately. He even offered to do it without me asking. An offering from a horse is pretty neat.
At the end of the day I walked up to the barn to greet Mas. I couldn’t leave without saying “Hi” to him. One thing I noticed immediately was how much more dominant he was than the gelding I had spent the day with. Mas is more challenging for me because he has his own agenda and is more interested in the herd than in me. It seems like Mas goes a bit extrovert (runs on adrenaline) until I can get him thinking. I need to learn to get Mas more interested in spending time with me than with the herd. This could be tricky, but I know it can be done!