Captain Planet is an interesting little guy. He has had some really good days and some days that make me say, “How interesting!”
I’m determined to figure out what makes him tick. I truly believe he is innately a RBI. But he has moments of feeling left brained and then becomes a little bit dominant. Sometimes when he starts to think about being dominant he will switch to RBE because I don’t think he is very confident. In fact I would say he is very unconfident.
Between the baby– Zorro–and Captain, Zorro is mostly the boss of the pen. I love to watch how that works. When Sky is let in with the two boys in the evenings she immediately takes over the pen and they do everything she says or thinks. But during the day, Zorro is the boss. It cracks me up because Zorro is only a yearling and Captain is 9! Clearly in the horse world, age does not make one more brave or more confident.
Today I decided it was time to really start with Captain’s training. I’ve been waiting for Billy to go to his new home so he doesn’t have to watch me playing with the ponies, but Captain really needs some help with his confidence! Feed time can get interesting with him because he is so skittish. He races around and around instead of just calmly eating his feed while I play a little friendly game with him. So I calmly follow him around while he is dashing here and there acting like a wild animal. It’s so interesting because when he finally gives in, he is totally fine with me gently rubbing his face and scratching under his mane. He just doesn’t like to give in to that at first. Zorro calmly stands and eats his morning feed while Captain is running around like a mad man. Even if I have to run a little bit to keep Captain from getting to the feed while he is feeling crazy, Zorro will just stand quietly.
(side note: Billy DID stand and watch us this morning. Sigh… Then he went back to his breakfast.)
So, I started with the friendly game with the stick and string. I walked away from Captain and just gently slapped the ground back and forth in front of me. Captain bounced around at the end of the rope like a ping pong ball. He would dash in front of me and then leap behind me. It was almost like reeling in a fish. I just kept walking and calmly slapping the ground until he stopped moving his feet. Then I immediately stopped and just stood, breathing. At this time Zorro came over to help. I started slapping the ground again and Captain began bouncing around. Zorro didn’t care about the string slapping the ground at all so, Captain stopped bouncing and started to follow! I immediately stopped and stood calmly, breathing.
I started the process again and Captain thought about running, looked at Zorro and changed his mind. Zorro was chewing on the lead rope and once in a while chewing on ME but was not bothered by the stick and string. I figured I would play friendly with him as well and started to lay the string along his back and neck, letting it slip down his face and tossing it around his legs. He stayed completely left brained and didn’t mind at all. When I would scratch him with the end of the stick he enjoyed it. Captain watched all of this so when I started to lay the string on him he stood still for it. His head was high and his face was tight. He did not relax and lower his head for a long long time. I got really good at rhythm and relaxation for myself and Zorro! Finally I got a tiny bit of head lower and he licked and chewed so I immediately stopped and we just stood quietly.
I did some more friendly game with the stick and string until Captain could lick and chew a bit more. Then I decided it was time to start the “head down cue” so Captain can start feeling more left brained more of the time with a little support from me. I tapped the stick just in front of his withers, on his neck, and supported by applying a little downward pressure with the lead rope to help him lower his head. He has gotten so much better at that! When I first brought him home he would not lower his head for any reason other than carrots. So I started to feed him all the little carrot pieces down at ground level to encourage head down. Then I added the porcupine game with the halter and lead rope until he understood and lost some of his opposition reflex. He has TONS of oppositions reflex. It’s been so interesting!!
He started to really understand the head down cue so I began giving him little handfuls of alfalfa hay pellets each time he lowered his head. At the end he was able to stand quietly with his poll below his withers, breathing and licking and chewing! When I took off his halter he was super relaxed and happy. Finally!!
I took the pressure off of Captain by mixing up the play session and including Zorro. That was huge for Captain. I equate it to when Pat Parelli is playing with a reactive horse that needs a break, he will turn to the audience and spend some time just talking. He is actually still playing the friendly game with the horse at the end of the rope, it just LOOKS like he isn’t doing anything. To the horse turning the pressure off is HUGE. I included the cats in our games today too which gave Captain a break in between friendly game sessions.
I plan to do this for 7 days in a row and see how Captain improves. I’ve noticed that by session 3 many horses will regress and become reactive again. I’m interested to see if he will do this as well! Does this happen to you?
Clearly having Zorro there to be totally confident and calm really helped Captain calm down. Thank goodness Zorro, the calm one, is the dominant one here! I can see how watching Captain be reactive could make Zorro feel crazy too if he wasn’t the one in charge.