Friday, March 09, 2012

new adventures in living with ponies

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*?


Anonymous said...

Ponies are ON it - especially when there's food involved! Our Norman knew how to drive when he came to us, and it was a lot of fun driving him with our little pony cart.

I agree that children who love horses care just as much about caring for them and their things as about riding - my kids were certainly that way. There are too many barns where kids ride ponies that are groomed and tacked and brought to the mounting block - that's no way to learn about or build a relationship with a pony or horse and can lead to the older youngsters and adults who treat horses like disposable sports equipment.

Victoria Cummings said...

I can just see you riding around in your pony cart - what a great idea! Siete loved the clicker training too, which is what led me to "the Waterhole Rituals" and Carolyn Resnick. I think dancing with horses looks like its as much fun as riding them. And apparently, it makes for much better communication in the saddle. I have no doubt that however old we are, we'll always be able to come up with ways to enjoy our horses.

billie said...

Kate, Norman sounds like such a fun pony!

When I started the pony lessons I made sure everyone interested knew my views on riding - that riding is just one small part of life with horses and ponies - and everyone agreed and seemed to be on board. However, as time passed it became clear that the level of interest was very much hooked into the actual riding and not so much in learning about the other pieces of horsemanship. And I admit - some of this stuff came from the parents more than the child riders - but I can't overcome that very strong message if they're getting it from mom and dad - that riding is the only valuable piece.

billie said...

V, I've always figured we would get to the driving but of course didn't figure in how many demands would be on my time at this point so have been slower than I wanted in getting around to this. The pony loves to dance and play at liberty and eventually I'll get my music out there in the arena too! So many plans, so little time! May we be doing all these horsey things when we're 90!

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Kids these days...

I wouldn't leave the barn voluntarily when I was little - though I do remember getting dragged out for the hour long ride home.

We will definitely be crazy blue haired old ladies who still mess with their horses! :)

billie said...

C, I was really moved to see how many older riders there were among the foxhunting set last weekend. It was fairly incredible to see these folks not only riding, but jumping. If I lived down there and didn't have to haul, I'd be joining in the foxhunting fun for sure.

Blue hair! Now, listen - we have to do the more subtle silvery gray. :)

Grey Horse Matters said...

As you know I had/have one of those horsey kids who is grown up now. There was no getting her out of the barns whether she rode or not. I could have left her there and she would have lived in the stalls with the horses and ponies. I think it's sad that some parents don't "get it" and encourage their kids to learn and connect with the ponies they come into contact with. It's not all about riding.

Clicker training is fun and they do catch on very quickly. Donnie and Blue are superstars with the cones, I can place them anywhere in the arena and they will find and target them. I'm convinced they think the treats come out of the cones!

Máire said...

You will have some fun with the clicker. I do like the sound of the driving.

I remember at my daughter's first riding school (we changed her as it was a factory type of place) a girl coming up to take the pony from daughter for the next lesson. This girl did not make eye contact with the pony, but rather dragged the pony away and mounted, treating that pony like a bicycle, as I pointed out to my daughter.

You are great to take on lessons, which do require patience.

Greta said...

I was already familiar with clicker training with parrots but hadn't, until now, thought about its potential with horses and donkeys. Interesting!

billie said...

A, I can imagine j never leaving the barn! And Donnie and Blue being superstars. :)

billie said...

Maire, I had a couple of children who did not make eye contact and seemed very disconnected from the animal they were getting ready to ride. I tried all kinds of things to foster the relationship but ultimately I'm not sure that's possible if there isn't some inner desire to be "with" horses.

billie said...

Greta - wow - with parrots! I had no idea. I knew they use it with dolphins, whales, dogs... and horses/donkeys. But not parrots!

I keep the work short and sweet with the pony - I want it to be something special that he looks forward to and that I don't overdo. Today we did backing in hand. He knows how to do this already but boy does the clicker add some oomph to his attitude. :)

The thing so far that I'm noticing is that he learns almost instantly - literally - so the "lesson" goes really fast and we're done. But I love how interested he is before, during, and even after. I definitely have his attention.