It’s funny how sometimes the littlest things can make a big difference, like having a plastic bag in my back pocket.
Training time is all the time, and in the summer when it’s the busiest season for our business, feeding time is the most consistent time that I have for interacting with my ponies. My stallions especially get attention because they are at home rather than at pasture. I have found that feeding time is a very valuable time indeed for improving the skills and manners of my boys. I’ve been especially focusing on my young stallion Willowtrail Black Robin this summer.
A few months ago I wrote about mouthiness and how I could use a plastic bag on the end of a stick to enforce good behavior at a distance. Sometimes working with smart ponies has its challenging sides. Despite lots of hair over his eyes, Robin was still perceptive enough to know when I had a stick in my hand and when I didn’t. He was a model of good behavior when I had my tool, and he resorted to his old games when I showed up without it.
I recently watched my friend Doc Hammill’s video Gentle Training: Daily Opportunities, and on it Doc says he always keeps a plastic bag in his back pocket in case he needs to add a little emphasis to his requests for good manners at feeding time. He often begins training with a bag on the end of a stick, but keeps a bag concealed but handy in case he needs it.
What great advice Doc gave! I started carrying a bag in my back pocket, and it has been very useful. Robin is now a model of good behavior all the time, after only a few times testing me. He quickly learned that while I didn’t have the stick, I had another way to emphasize the importance of my request. I’ve also pulled the bag out on occasion when Robin’s son Prince is keeping his mom and sister waiting in the horse trailer while he nibbles grass instead of loading. After gently and politely asking Prince to go get in the trailer with his female companions, if he still puts his head down to graze, I shake the bag. If he runs off instead of getting in the trailer, I wait until he puts his head down to graze again, and I shake the bag. It only takes twice for him to decide that it’s easier to get in the trailer than to try to grab another bite and be interrupted.
I am very thankful for Doc’s advice about keeping a bag in my pocket. Such a little thing has had such great payoffs!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012