17 April 2011

B is B and G is G

Brown is bad and green is good.

An interesting phenomenon occurs when starting colts. Maybe you've experienced this with more mature horses, too...

The phenomenon I speak of is "I WANT TO GO OVER THERE!" Usually that means to a place of greater comfort for the horse, like the gate, or under a tree for shade, or over to the barn, or to another horse. Who can blame them? In their mind, comfort is good, getting it quickly is even better!

While I understand this thought process in a colt, I don't appreciate it too much in a saddle horse. My goal is for their feet to become my feet.

So my place is set up like this:

There are two gates facing the barn. One fence line runs down the driveway, across the front is the road, the last fence line faces the pond. There's one tree in the pasture (fairly easy to avoid), there are many trees in the paddock area (uh oh). The goal with a colt that doesn't steer too well is to avoid the low hanging branches on the multitude of trees in the paddock area.

The pasture is grassy and green. The paddock is brown dirt. There is a clear line separating the paddock and the pasture. Horses can easily tell the difference between the two spaces.

When a colt says "I WANT TO GO OVER THERE!" when we're working on steering out in the pasture, I give them every opportunity to stay with me and continue working quietly. They always receive a rest reward when they are learning something new, so working with me is quite a bit easier than fighting about "I WANT TO GO OVER THERE!" When they resist, I don't build a brace in, forcing them to go where I want, instead I make their idea uncomfortable. I teach them that brown is bad and green is good.

When they refuse to steer and head for the delineation line, I say OK. I don't get involved until the front feet step over that line. When green goes to brown, I turn on the discomfort. As long as the colt in is the brown, they are uncomfortable. The moment the front feet find the green, I get still. I release. I wait.

If the colt circles back into the brown, the moment those front feet hit the dirt, I'm back at the discomfort again. If the colt circles back onto the green, quiet ensues.

It doesn't take long before the colt realizes that it is a whole lot easier to stay out in the green, learning how to steer.

Pretty soon, my ideas become their ideas. Pretty soon after that, their feet become my feet.

I like it that way...

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