Galahad loves his games and toys!
I got him a hula hoop early in the summer but never got around to giving it to him until a few weeks ago. The plan was to ask him to stand with his front feet inside the hoop.
When I first showed the hoop to him, of course he told me it was a horse-eating monster. Oh, the snorting! But he had such fun with it. Here’s the video; you can watch almost all of our first session.
Later that day I posted the video on Facebook—I was so proud of him! But then I started second-guessing myself. Typical behavior on my part, and something I sure wish I didn’t do.
By midnight, I had convinced myself that I hadn’t done anything right. I couldn’t sleep for judging myself and imagining how others would judge me, especially my natural horsemanship friends. I “should” have been tougher on him—asked, increased the pressure, and so on, until he actually DID it. I know that stuff, inside and out.
Wow…. What a complete dodo I was, in my mind, at least.
The comments I actually got, when I read them the next morning, were mostly very positive. But of course I looked for that ONE that questioned what I had done, and therefore reinforced my self-doubts. That was NOT what the friend who posted it had in mind, I know! She was trying to be helpful:
” ‘Yeah yeah, that could be a Galahad-eating hole instead of a hula hoop!’ says Galahad. 😉 How about putting a carrot inside the Galahad-eating hole?”
I spent an hour or so thinking about that, and finally, amazingly, realized what had happened in the arena. The cool thing is that I had a goal, which was for him to accept and touch the hoop…and the bigger goal was for him to have a good time and really enjoy himself.
Finally, then, I started feeling good about the interaction again. I realized that of course, as my friend suggested, I could have made it go faster; but watching the video, I don’t think it was necessary. Galahad likes figuring things out. Notice in the middle of the video, he didn’t even take me up on my offer to leave the hoop to get a carrot.
And most important of all, the point of the exercise, in my plan, was not to make it happen quickly, but for Galahad to accept the hoop and to have fun doing it. We accomplished those things! He had a blast!
One of the things Galahad has always enjoyed is being “a little bit scared,” and then getting over it. We’ve played that game since he first came to live with me—we used to do “scary things walks” around the barn when I first had him (even though my natural horsemanship friends assured me that it would ruin him). In this video, I love the way he comes over toward me and THEN makes another approach to the scary thing.
This horse loves a challenge. He likes to play. He trusts me, and I like that he comes over to me. The natural horsemanship folks would likely say he’s invading my space, being disrespectful, and so on. It’s true—he does tend to crowd, and he’s a big horse. That’s partly why I carry a stick when working with him. In this case, if he’s crowding it’s because he’s asking for comfort and reassurance. In the video I’m constantly aware and reading his energy, and I move away in a safe manner.
What I really like about the video is that it shows our relationship so clearly. We’re having a “conversation;” it’s definitely two-way. I’m not ordering him to do anything—just encouraging him, supporting him in his curiosity, and building his confidence. I think he understands that—even though he was nervous, he never moved away from the hoop or from me.
That’s how it is pretty much all the time with us, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. If I’m calm, he calms down. Back in October, I led him around the ranch the night of the big Hoedown. Crowds of people, kids running around, kids playing UNDER the tractor (which is, of course, NOT RIGHT), and all of it happening at night. Although he spooked a couple of times, he never tried to run, or to leave my side. I was impressed, and very pleased.
I just love the state of our relationship!
Another thing about Galahad is that if you push him AT ALL, he gets sullen very quickly—a leftover, I think, from some of the treatment he received when he was a youngster, when he was punished for expressing his opinion about anything at all. When he’s sullen, he’ll do what you ask, but without energy, and certainly without any pleasure in the doing. So these days, I just let him figure it all out on his own, in his own time.
Here’s another example:
A week or so after the hula hoop encounter, I took Galahad into the arena. He wasn’t in the mood to “work” that day—he’d been fine and happy while we were out walking, but put his head down and pouted as soon as we went through the gate. No problem, fellow. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.
While he stood there and sulked, I laid out some ground poles in an “L” shape, and let him watch me as I walked through them a few times, exaggerating the turn in the middle.
I could see it, the instant his attitude shifted from sullen to curious—it was like someone turned on a switch. Suddenly, I had his attention. His ears flicked forward, and his eyes lit up. At that point, I started talking to him, and once again walked between the poles.
Then I asked him to come with me, and he did, watching closely. I stayed outside the poles. He walked halfway through, but didn’t negotiate the turn properly. I showed him again, then asked him to come around and try it. This time, he made the turn perfectly. He was happy with himself, and I made sure he knew I was happy, too! We didn’t keep at it—I wanted to end on a high note for him, and not drill him at all. This way, it’s all his idea.
I wouldn’t work with Nevada this way. She doesn’t have issues, and doesn’t mind being asked to do something that isn’t her idea. In fact, she prefers it if you just tell her clearly what to do so she can do it efficiently and get to the carrot part of things.
Here’s a video of Nevada with the hula hoop. I deliberately used the same techniques with her that I did with Galahad, to demonstrate how very different the two horses are. You can see how it doesn’t work at all well with her.
With the big guy, though, I’ve learned that unless I want an argument and a sullen horse, he needs to be in the right frame of mind, and I have to be in dialogue with him. Once he’s engaged, he’s smart and fun to work with.
My hope, and my belief, is that he’ll become more and more willing over time, as we continue to work on liberty exercises that grow our bond. The level to which he trusts me—and trusts me not to demand things of him—is growing quickly, and he’s already begun to look forward to coming out of the pasture with me—as far as he’s concerned, all the fun stuff happens out there.
I plan on keeping things that way.