All of the horses from the Back 40 were in the two arenas today while Eddie used the tractor to move the Back 40 manure pile down to the main manure pile. Rocky is nervous about the tractor when the bucket goes up, although he doesn’t mind it when the shovel is lower than the driver’s head. I thought “what a great opportunity to play with the Touch It pattern in the Back 40, on-line at first and maybe from the saddle!”
Touch It – This is a way to play the You’re Getting Warmer game with your horse. The more you do it, the more you realize just how deep this game can go, and how powerful it is for building your horse’s confidence and your own communication skills. The keys that make it a game are:
- send, don’t lead or drag or force, the horse to the spot
- allow the horse to figure out the puzzle
- match the pressure to the moment (“colder, colder, you’re getting warmer!”)
- as your horse masters the game, make it more interesting by making it more challenging
Not that long ago, I would have thought, “sigh, guess I can’t ride today, the horses are galloping in the front arena and the tractor is zipping up and down the south side of the ranch.”
I took Rocky into the Back 40 to play Touch-It and “get him used to the tractor.” As it turned out, Rocky didn’t worry about the tractor. He was much more interested in sniffing every load of manure that had not yet been scooped. So we played Touch It with manure first, and then graduated to various trees, stumps, cones, and sticks. As we played, I noted where the hazards were for riders: low branches, high roots, electric fencing.
Half an hour later Rocky had vacuumed up the wisps of hay that were left over from the morning, still without reacting to the tractor even though we got pretty close to it. I decided that was good enough and brought him back down to the main ranch for riding.
We did great. I finally realized that the reason Rocky always heads to the north side of the main drive is that the slope there is less steep than the south side. Duh! I listened to him and helped him find a gentler route down, and on every circuit we made the same switchbacks. By the fourth or fifth circuit, he was no longer hesitating at the top of the slope, but walking willingly along our switchbacks. I apologized for not figuring that out ages ago.
Our conditioning plan called for mostly walking with a few trot transitions, so we did those at the west edge of the loop, where the slope is flattest and the footing is the most even. He only stumbled twice: once at the walk when he got distracted by the galloping in the front arena, and once at the trot when he didn’t pay attention to a dip in the road. In fact, that was our best trot of the whole session, a nice relaxed easy trot (more than a jog, less than a pogo stick) that I sat instead of posted.
It was so good and I’d been in the saddle for 40 minutes at that point, so I ended the riding portion of our session. He got a snack and a hosedown and then we walked around while the Back 40 horses were put back. We ended with a lovely roll in the deepest sand in the covered arena and a couple of carrots in Rocky’s pen.