About the time that Zenyatta was headed to the gate for today’s Breeder’s Cup, I was doing gate work with one of my mares. Lunesdale Silver Belle and I have been, for the last several days, working on backing through a four foot gate.
I missed Zenyatta’s historic race and had to watch the photo finish on tape. It was worth missing, though, because Ellie and I had a success with our gate. Backing through a gate is a good test of trust and leadership. The first day we worked on this exercise, Ellie made it very clear that she knew there was a fence back there and there was no way she could back up. She didn’t trust that I knew what I was doing. She would get her hind end to where she knew the fence should be and then she would skirt her butt one way or the other to avoid backing into the fence. She doubted my leadership. We eventually made it through the gate backward, but it took a lot of pressure on the noseband of her halter. I sensed a look of amazement in Ellie’s eyes when we were out the other side and she saw the open gate in front of her.
Since my youngest ponies will do this exercise, I knew it was possible; it just was going to take an improvement in our relationship. We tried this exercise again a few days ago. Ellie willingly backed toward the gate with just some shakes of the lead rope. When we got close, she again skirted her butt one way or the other. With less pressure on the noseband this time, she backed on through.
Today was a totally different experience. It still took a few times to get her lined up correctly, with her butt in the right place. But then it was as if she knew and trusted; a few shakes of the lead rope, and one foot went back. Another few shakes, and another went back. And then a few more shakes and step after step we backed through. No hard work on the noseband at all. Just shakes of the lead rope. When we got all the way through, Ellie licked and chewed several times indicating her own understanding of her accomplishment. She’s generally stingy with that behavior, but this time she was generous and I could tell she felt as victorious as I did.
I have a special place in my heart for mares and fillies, and I admit to shedding a few tears when I heard that Zenyatta had come in second. During the re-run of Zenyatta’s race, there was an ad that asked the question: “Why invest in horses?” It mentioned heart and stamina and courage. The punch line got a laugh out of me: “Nobody ever lost their voice… investing in mutual funds.” My tears over Zenyatta were quickly forgotten when I remembered my success with Ellie. Investing in my ponies through training, like doing gate work with Ellie, definitely gives me the sort of satisfaction I never got investing in mutual funds!