Day 19 – Phil’s Courage’s Journal

Morning feeding: I exercised Phil’s brain a little this morning. I asked him to back, turn on forehand and disengage his hindquarters. All of this was done with NO halter or lead and I had the distracting temptation of the food bucket in my hand. Phil respected the pressure from just my hand. Now, I do not want you to think that the backing or the turning was pretty. As long as Phil made the effort to lift his feet and move in the general direction I was asking him he was rewarded with a complete release of pressure. Have you ever wondered how the clinicians trained their horses to “dance” with them without halter or lead rope? This is how the training began; little by little.

I haltered Phil this morning and left him to eat. I am teaching Phil that he does not have to leave his pen and “work” or receive a shot or get de wormed every time the halter makes an appearance. Even though it doesn’t look like it I am building the foundation to be able to catch (actually he is going to catch me because I teach my horses to come to me) and halter Phil anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

Round pen: Each time I teach in the round pen I set the bar a little higher meaning I expect quicker responses, departures with a purpose, more softness, an ear on me and of course “two eyes” when I ask Phil in to my space. I don’t have to use the lead in my hand to motivate any more, but have it handy. Phil is starting to turn in to me and turn away from me to change directions at my request. This is fantastic. When Phil’s posture starts to get stiff I know he is thinking about getting frustrated. I keep his feet moving but ask him for something he is good at like circling in to me for a reassuring rub. Phil has perfected the rest request.

Out of the round pen I set up an obstacle course for fun. I have all kinds of jump standards that my husband built. One set of standards are palm trees with leaves on the top and pink flamingos that spin their wings on the bottom. I have a mailbox and tons of kid toys such as balls, hula hoops, pool noodles, etc. I had Phil on the end of the lead as I dragged and arranged the standards. Phil remained light in my hand. When all was set up I navigated Phil through, around, over, under obstacles and tried to direct him with just a suggestion of the lead rope. If Phil got stuck I directed him on the lead. This meant he had to turn on forehand, haunches, and back with the suggestion of the lead. I rewarded every effort. I started to teach side pass; this took more energy on my part. Phil at this point is “stiff as a board.”

I hosed Phil off and put him in his pen to roll.

Evening feeding: My son fed Phil. He asked Phil to move away from the dish and Phil did so without question. In fairness to our horses it is so important that all care takers follow the same rules (whatever rules you establish). In the equine world there are only one set of rules followed by all horses. In the human world we change the rules on a whim and incorporate emotions, agendas, priorities, time schedules, moods, etc. so essentially we confuse our horses.

I understand it is difficult to do this for our horses at a boarding facility. I used to board my horses and different people fed them all the time. My horses were allowed to be extremely rude during feeding. If I happened to feed them I changed the rules and sent them off if they were rude. Essentially, I was not being fair to my horses because I changed the rules. Pick your battles.

— Kara