We’ve started a new routine of allowing Salsa, our mini/Shetland cross, an hour or so of free time on the ranch each day with the mini donkeys. And because Salsa has recently decided that any human approaching him should play Catching Game with him first, I thought I’d try something novel when it came time to bring him in yesterday. I figured, what the heck, I do in fact own a cow pony, even though she hasn’t seen a cow in the three years she has lived with us. But watch her for 30 seconds with a ball and you can see the exuberance and athleticism she brings to cow work.
Watch Salsa for 30 seconds of turnout and you’ll see why this project might be above my skill level as a rider who is temporarily without a saddle for her cuttin’ horse.
I took River right to the barn, tying her near a full hay bag. I groomed her, without rushing, but without pausing either. On went the CSI pad and then the Parelli bareback pad. Then she got to keep eating while I stretched, found my helmet, got out the reins to snap on to her halter.
After that I led her down the path to where I park my truck. I played a few games along the way to test and improve her responsiveness. After all, as Linda Parelli points out, she was already calm and connected, so I didn’t need to work on those.
Leslie was there with her ATV and offered it to me — one of my priorities with my horses is that “everything is a mounting block” — so I climbed on the running board and heaved myself up and over. I missed the first attempt, not getting my belly button over her withers, but scrambled up on the second try.
I set my mind on my purpose: to bring the pony from his grazing spot on the lawn all the way up to the barn, where someone could open the paddock gate and let him in. River felt the energy right away and only tried to eat one time between the ATV and the pony, even though usually when we walk across the lawn she’s all “yay, snack!” I thought about how Pat Parelli demonstrates his method of working with cattle, not riling up the herd or getting anyone all scared or defensive.
We accidentally didn’t capture the first awkward moments on video, where I wobbled but didn’t come off when River executed a sweet sideways cutting move when Salsa started to dart past us, or where she trotted down the slope after him and I breathed and bounced (but rhythmically!) when he did get by us (only because I was holding her back at the time). And she was curious and responsive when I asked her to walk past him and put him between us and the barn again.
After that, it went very smoothly, and we did capture that part!
When Salsa was pointed in the direction I wanted him to go, we’d all halt and graze a little. Sometimes I decided when it was time to move again, and sometimes Salsa decided, in which case River and I followed. When Salsa was not pointing in the right direction, nobody got to rest.
At the end, I allowed River to graze as Jan opened the gate and Salsa took himself in, and then I hopped off, returned her to the hay bag, stripped off the tack, curried her a little, and then led her to the back 40 where she got one cookie before I turned her loose. Of course, I wanted to keep riding, keep doing, maybe play in the arena, practice trotting — but the best thing for River was to experience the event as a job. (A really, really fun job that she looks forward to performing.) She came out, did her work, and went home with no demands for overtime or additional meetings.
I’m going to try it again today. I’d love for it to become a regular Thing, even though I know we can’t do it every day, because River isn’t the only one around here who has a job. But I’ve thought about how I could make it a regular Thing mentally, if not calendarly. Kind of like when you house train a puppy, you don’t combine going outside for potty with going outside for play, even if you only come back in for 30 seconds between the potty break and the play time.
What if any time I go get her to bring Salsa in, that’s all we do. (Heh. “All.”) What if we get to the point where I can take the bareback pad out to the back 40, meet her at the gate, strap it on her, swing up, go get salsa, and then back home just in time for dinner?
What if I get fit enough, confident enough, skilled enough, to do it bareback and bridleless?
What if eventually we can just open the gate and River goes out and brings Salsa in by herself?
I’m just sayin’.