12 April 2011


Compa has never been out in the open. He went from being stalled at the breeders, to being purchased and placed in a stall at the vet's where he was gelded, to a stall at my farm, where he was slowly integrated into my herd and finally turned out in my pasture 24/7.  So he's always been confined in some sort of enclosure. Yesterday changed all that.

I saddled up and worked a bit in the round pen. I used that piece of equipment because I wanted to teach Compa about the gate. I wanted him bored to tears in the pen and excited about leaving. The gate provided that excitement. That's incentive. I use incentive all the time. Incentive trains a horse faster and better. They receive a clear picture of what we can provide and they motivate to get what they want.

I hopped on and rode briefly around the pen. When Compa followed my suggestions to steer toward the gate and stop there, I opened it. He saw the gate swing open and put two and two together. He got very excited. I provided an opportunity, he provided the motivation = incentive.

Incentive almost always presents new challenges. In this case, as excited as Compa was to barge through the gate, he still needed to listen and obey. While I wanted him to go out, I also wanted to keep my kneecaps. Hence, Compa learned the beginning of straightness. He learned a bit more about steering. He discovered that he had to move off of leg pressure - all new, but with incentive, he motivated to get these things done. Lastly, he had to be patient about leaving - wait for me!

We left at a quiet walk. Where we went after we left was another priority. Compa knew enough from our first three rides to know that he had to listen to my direction. I know to keep the incentive working for me, so I headed in a direction that would motivate him. Then I rode the horse that I had. Meaning I didn't get in his way when he was doing what I wanted. He marched right out and even picked up a trot. I left him alone because he was headed in my chosen direction.

Out in the open there are lots of distractions - things to consider; things to avoid - trees, ditches, overhanging branches, goats, dogs, a big pond, my horses galloping around. We hadn't gone 100 feet before poor Compa experienced information overload. I rubbed him to let him know that I was there, he was not alone, I was his leader and I was happy with his performance. This gave him confidence to pass the burn pile, the tractor and manure spreader and the truck and trailer. I sat quietly and gently directed when necessary. As we passed the barn, rather than allowing Compa to head toward the pasture gate, I focused on the path that went along the fence and headed over to the pond. My horses saw Compa and they followed the fence line to keep him company. Their presence beside him and Cruiser's presence behind him, helped Compa feel more secure.

Little by little, I used these incentives to move Compa around the property. Sometimes he needed to stop and process. I stopped along with him and waited. Sometimes he needed to get up and really go, I went along with him, correcting only if I needed to for safety reasons.

We traversed the entire property many times, before Compa overcame his information overload. His little energizer bunny butt found comfort and relaxation in a quiet walk, winding through the trees.

With that incentive, I got off and put him away...


  1. This is such a wonderful story. I am getting teary eyed with joy at this great accomplishment. It is just awesome what you are doing for this horse.

  2. Each and every one of them is worth it!