Apache Moon, our 13h painted pony, has been living the life of Riley for the past year or so. His girl's legs are really long on him now, and although she still rides him bareback or with his bareback pad, and he carries her well, what they can do together is fairly limited. They can't jump with her long legs. They can't do dressage shows any more because the size saddle she needs is too long for his short pony back. Not to mention the flaps!
For most of the past year he's had several young beginner riders coming once or twice a week to learn with him. He astounded me with his stellar behavior with the younger set, and his riders have had a great time on him. However, what I've discovered is that not all young beginner riders are horse crazy like my children were (and like I was), and the scheduling and managing of rainy riding days ended up being a nightmare.
When I was young I would have gone to the barn no matter what and been as happy as could be. If riding was not an option, I groomed horses in stalls, cleaned tack, learned parts of bridles and saddles and horses, and just soaked in the smell of the barn itself. I was happy just being in the same place as the horses.
My children were the same when they were in pony school. They always volunteered to stay late and help with untacking and turn-out. Anything they got to do was something to get excited about and to discuss on the way home.
This hasn't been the case with the children we've worked with. They enjoy the riding part but are much less interested in barn lessons. Since we don't have an indoor arena, there are going to be barn lessons. I actually tried just cancelling rainy day lessons and doing make-ups, but what happened then was the pony stopped feeling connected to the little riders. When we missed weeks we had to go way back to early lessons to catch things up again.
The other piece to this is that I had hoped having the little riders would help keep the pony fairly fit. But even with two lessons in a row he never really gets the exercise he needs to balance out his calorie intake. My daughter still has to hop on him and give him some trotting and cantering.
So I decided to go back to my original plan, which was this: lessons happen no matter what. We either ride or we do barn lessons. I'm pretty creative and can find ways to make things fun. But if being around horses isn't exciting, then we're not the right place for that particular child.
The pony's limited lesson schedule is still full. He actually has a waiting list. And I've shifted my expectations of the lessons. Instead of thinking he'll keep fit, I'm viewing them as preparation for grandchildren to come.
Meanwhile, he needed something else to do. This week I started clicker training with him. Which is mostly geared toward shaping some very specific behaviors and also toward something even more exciting. Ground driving.
I bought a pair of ground driving reins and as soon as I work through the clicker training we're going to move on to ground driving. At some point I'll add in blinders, and we'll work our way step by step toward driving a cart. If it takes years, that's fine. Apache Moon will be 12 in April and I have a lot of years to keep him busy.
I knew he would take to the clicker training. I did the initial introduction of the clicker on Tuesday, and yesterday I went into the arena with a small cone, a pocket full of alfalfa pellets, and the clicker. I opened the back arena gate and invited him to come in. He marched in with ears pricked and neck arched. He was ready.
I think it took him about 5 seconds to touch the cone and get a click and a pellet. He did a marathon of cone touches - probably 15 in almost as many seconds. Then he decided to use his hoof to target the cone and see if that worked. No. Back to nose. Click. Pellet.
I moved the cone all over the arena. He came to the cone and touched.
Well, that was easy! I said to him.
In the book the horses and ponies all went through a phase of going for the pocket full of treats. I had to laugh at the Little Man. He went for the clicker! The image of him walking all over November Hill clicking for pellets made me laugh out loud. He wants the control. He wants to clicker train ME.
Cody was at the arena gate begging to come join in the fun. Both donkeys wanted to play too. I did a brief session with Redford and Rafer after finishing with the pony. They learned instantly as well.
I'm eager to see how things go with this new fun. I suspect the pony will be asking for more every time I go out to the barn. The real question here is this: can *I* keep up with *him*?