The phrase ‘running the gauntlet’ has come to mind recently where my ponies are concerned. It means to pass between two lines of soldiers for punishment or to be attacked on all sides. Fortunately my experience has been much more pleasant than this definition: I’ve been ‘forced’ between two ponies to accomplish my objectives.
My first objective has been working Lily daily. She is housed with Torrin and Mya. I have also been giving Mya regular attention, so Torrin has been feeling left out. When I show up to fetch Lily, he comes to greet me and since he’s dominant, Lily is pushed out of the way. Torrin then follows me, wanting to stick his head in the halter intended for his female friend. Getting to Lily has required that I run the ‘Torrin Gauntlet.’ He’s been very persistent, so I’ve had to invent little games to play with him so that he feels acknowledged before I take Lily to our date.
My second objective involves feeding Shelley and Apollo. We recently changed the hay storage for their paddock so that now I have to enter their paddock to feed rather than throw the hay through the fence. It’s clear they much prefer this arrangement. They meet me at the fence, expecting some sort of greeting, then they follow me to the hay shed, expecting some sort of game. I’m afraid I’ve set their expectations about this, since I usually try to teach them something on our journey, like respectfully picking up their feet for me or moving sideways or backwards with a touch or disengaging their forequarters or hindquarters. I’ve focused mainly on Shelley since she’s had less of this sort of work than Apollo has had. Which means that not only do I have to run the Shelley & Apollo gauntlet at the fence, I also have to run the Apollo gauntlet to get to Shelley. It can be quite comical to distract a stallion with one hand while rewarding a mare with the other.
Yesterday my gauntlet ponies had a connection. I finally felt sorry enough for Torrin that I took him to the round pen for a short session. It was incredible. Halter and lead rope, bareback, and he was nearly perfect doing figure 8s at the trot. I’d forgotten how much he ‘got’ the training I gave him years ago. After I put him away, I went to feed Apollo and Shelley. Their paddock is adjacent to the round pen, and they watched my work with Torrin. When I greeted them, I told them to pay attention to Torrin and be like him in absorbing training. I then walked to the section of fence where I go through to feed and Shelley presented herself in line with the fence to be mounted. It was incredible, like she had understood what I said and was doing what she could to demonstrate her desire to be like Torrin. I couldn’t resist, so I did hop on her back and sit there for a moment, telling her how good a girl she is. No halter, no saddle, and with Apollo being his normal teasing self. I was grinning from ear to ear as I threw Shelley and Apollo their hay. I’ll run gauntlets like this any time!
(c) Jenifer Morrissey, 2012