Thursday 10 February 2022

Hit Your Mark!

During the winter months, it's not uncommon for me to pop the ponies into the arena to have a chance to have a bit of a play. Our weather is erratic, the ground in their paddock can be icy (especially this year), and when I can't ride somewhat consistently it's just easier to give them a day to get the sillies out without me on their back.

Phantom knows the routine and once she gets warmed up, she pretty well keeps herself going. These days I usually have to stop her well before she has used up all her energy.

Cisco has never really gotten into it. Not because he doesn't have an excess of sass though - it's because he walks into the arena, looks into the scary far end, and immediately decides that he doesn't want to risk getting eaten by the land sharks that are lurking in the corners and that he must stay as close to the entrance gate as possible (just in case a quick getaway is needed).

If he comes off the track along the short end of the ring, he only uses about 15 meters of the arena. Tiny circles, usually back to the gate, or back and forth along the short end - if left to his own devices, that's the extent of his free lunging. 

This video is from last winter. He's a bit better than normal here, but you can see his desire to get back to the gate.

I suppose that I could chase him around with a bag on a whip and maybe he'll go a whole 20 meters away from the gate. But this is a horse who needs to learn how to relax - he's quite capable of running frantically around in a llama posture. As much as I want him to work through some sillies, he isn't a horse who gets too ridiculous, so really he just needs to move around for a bit and that's enough to make him rideable the next day. I'd prefer to have the arena be a place that he enjoys and is relaxed to be in, and not a place that he associates with stress and frantic running.

So, much like being under saddle, I try to put his brain to work, and have taught him how to go to a mark. 

Not the best video as I was trying to manage my phone, a whip, and cookies all at the same time, but I love how it shows you how he makes deliberate decisions to go to the spot, and how much different his posture is versus the first video.

This has worked really well. I'm usually able to slowly move the mark further down the arena, and more often than not, Cisco will continue to seek it out. I can often get him to about 2/3's the way down the approximately 100-meter arena - much better than 15 meters by the gate!

The other thing that this work does is change his posture. Instead of going around like a llama, he is much more relaxed in his frame. I'd rather not strengthen any llama muscles!

We do not need to encourage this posture!

A tarp is the preferred option for a mark, but as I don't always have one handy, I've also used a lead shank on the ground in a circle shape (which is what I am using in this video). I think that the tarp is far more visible - when I move the lead shank down the arena he doesn't seem to find it right away (maybe if I used a clean shank it might help!).

Depending on how worried he is about the scary end he is, we have had some success with clicking for a treat when he gets a little bit braver and goes a little further than normal from the gate. Once he gets the first click he will incrementally go a little further, for which he gets a click and a treat.  But this totally depends on the perceived imminence of the land shark invasion. Today, it was quite windy, and the land shark threat was high, so my attempts to get him to be brave with just a click didn't pay off and I had to use a visual mark.

Who knows, maybe this will develop into a film career for Cisco. He takes a great headshot!

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