Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Do horses and ponies like to do cool stuff?

Coming up next month is our Mini and Pony Agility Clinic - a totally fun day of learning and games, all designed to develop a better bond with the little guys and their humans!
Which raises the question: do you think minis, ponies and horses like to play games with obstacles?

The operative word here is 'play' and 'games' .... like children, I find that most horses (by varying degrees) do in fact join in when presented with stuff to play with, as long as things are presented to them in a light hearted, kind, patient and sensitive way!

If the whole thing is approached as 'work' and a 'must make them do it' frame of mind, instead of a 'let's play' attitude, then a human could mistakenly think that their horse isn't playful, and doesn't want to participate!

Something we all need to remember when teaching something like standing on a log, for instance, as mini Gypsy is doing (above) is the invisible tattoo that is on every horses' forehead ... WIIFM! It simply stands for 'What's In It For Me?' and will shape your whole approach, if you pay attention to it!

So how long did it take for me to help little Gypsy to 'get it'? No more than a few minutes - but be warned, it can take the human a bit longer to figure out how to 'ask' and get a positive response and a 'try'. And then, when the horse does try, relax, give a scratch and a small treat, and maybe even lots of praise!

Tips for training fun tricks: keep it short, fun and simple. Reward lots and often. Leave 'em wanting more! Don't confuse them with voice cues at first (which may be YOUR way of learning, not theirs) instead use your ground skills to move them around gently and quietly. Use Approach and Retreat. Start with something easy and build confidence. Once they've 'got it' realise that the repetitions (after 3x) are for the human! LOL

Back to the question of whether horses do in fact 'enjoy' obstacles and the challenge of mental and physical games, well, we have only to observe them in the paddock if we leave stuff out there for them! Some like balls, others like gumboots, some prefer your ropes, your jacket, your hoof trimming tools! Horses are curious and playful (once they feel safe and comfortable) so go ahead, put on your party hat and have a go with the party games! But, um, be careful, your horse might try to pull it off your head!

For more information on the Mini & Pony Agility Day and other clinics, click here.