Fell Pony mare Bowthorne Matty and I assessed at Level 1 On-line of Parelli Natural Horsemanship last week, so this week we started on the Level 2 tasks. Crossing a tarp in-hand is one of those tasks, and I was looking forward to seeing how Matty would react to the blue piece of plastic. The reactions I’ve gotten from my ponies in the past have varied. My Fell Pony stallion Guards Apollo provided me with loads of entertainment (if you’d like to read his story, make sure you’re signed up for Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm, as the story will be included in the next issue.)
Matty’s interaction with the tarp was uniquely her own. She’s always been a relatively mellow pony, as well as curious about her surroundings, so I wasn’t surprised when she pricked her ears towards me when I approached the round pen with the tarp. I let her sniff it and even stroked her with it a few times. Then I left her at liberty as I proceeded to lay the tarp out on the ground. She immediately came to ‘help.’ There was a slight breeze, so I tried to set cones on each corner as I unfolded it to minimize the chances of it being abruptly thrown up into the air. Matty quickly showed me I needn’t have bothered, as the wind pushed the tarp up over her pasterns with her barely caring.
I stepped back after I had the cones in place on each corner to watch what Matty would do. She began lipping the edge, then lifting it into the air, disturbing my carefully smoothed surface. I re-secured the corners and stepped back again, across the tarp from Matty. I watched her put one foot on the tarp and then another, and within thirty seconds she’d walked across it to me as though it were just another piece of snow-covered ground.
The next day we worked with the tarp again, and this time I was armed with the camera. Of course it’s never as good the second time around, but Matty once again crossed the tarp, with a little encouragement from a lead rope. It was a different experience than the day before because there was four inches of fresh snow acting as a cushion beneath the tarp. You can see in the picture how her feet are indenting the tarp.
We’ll keep working on walking across the tarp, and I’ll also keep stroking her with it, eventually even draping it over her body. We’ll see how she does with some of the other Level 2 Friendly Game tasks, like flapping raincoats and umbrellas. I know she’ll respond in her own unique way and I look forward to finding out what that is.