Being able to stand next to my horse as he goes from unconfident and fearful to confident and brave is so supremely satisfying. I’m not sure that words can even describe how it makes me feel. And yet I feel compelled to try…
Last weekend I had the chance to take Billy to a Trail Challenge Play Day. The obstacles were very challenging and so creative. Many of the things there had never even crossed my mind as a horse related obstacle.
When we first entered the indoor arena Billy’s eyes nearly popped right out of his head. He lowered his head and then seemed to shrink right before my eyes. He lowered himself to the ground so that he seemed to be at least 2 feet smaller than when he unloaded from the trailer! It was interesting to watch. I had him on the 22 foot line to give him some room to move if things got to be too much, several times I was glad to have that drift.
People and horses were milling around, playing with the different obstacles. I first just led Billy around and let him acclimate to the new environment. He would stand up straighter as we walked and then sink and shrink again when he felt unconfident. I thought it was so interesting to see him actually look small when he was feeling small. Unfortunately I did not get any photos of him at the beginning because I felt it was going to be enough to juggle Billy and my stick and the new environment without wearing my camera too.
After making the rounds in the indoor a few times Billy started to really blink and breath again. He began walking around at his normal height of 15 hands and seemed ready to interact with the different obstacles.
They had animal hides, umbrellas, a small mattress, a HUGE tarp, a jump, three different sizes of equine balls (two very very colorful), a big purple sheet hanging up like a wall, a bubble machine, a small pink swimming pool with a moving, laughing pink pig in it, talking animatronic animals set up all around the arena and a “pit” set up between 4 barrels and filled with plastic packing material and little plastic balls. When the horses walked on this material it popped under the feet. When the big warmblood walked on it it sounded like a gun shot!
I chose the pink pig and the swimming pool as our first obstacle and Billy’s eyes widened as he went back to the end of the 22 foot line. Ooops! With a little bit of approach and retreat he finally made it to the edge of the little pool and I called that a good try.
We moved around the arena, playing approach and retreat with everything. I would send him to an obstacle or pull the obstacle away from him and have him follow it. I stuck with each thing until he could lower his head, lick and chew, softly blow out, was blinking and his ears were moving, then we would either take a break in the middle of the arena or we would move on to the next thing.
When an obstacle was especially stressful I would allow Billy a nice long roll in the sand after accomplishing it…What was so amazing to me was watching the transformation that occurred as Billy became more and more confident. Obstacles that I would have thought we could never try were a breeze once he felt confident in this new environment. With each break through it took less time at the next obstacle. To actually be able to see how having a confident horse makes for a responsible partner was amazing and eye opening.
Watching some of the non Parelli people struggle with the different obstacles and end the day with a less confident horse that was feeling very stressed and fearful was also interesting. Seeing how it affects the horse’s mind to just push obstacles at them and throw stuff on them without thinking about how they were handling it made me all the more grateful for Parelli. Being able to effectively read my horse and know when he was shutting down or when he was engaging with the obstacle was so important to helping him become confident and able to tackle the next obstacle feeling good about himself.
We were able to end our time on the ground with a lovely trail ride. Billy was so forward and confident out on the trail, in a new place, being the leader for the other horse. What a feeling of accomplishment we both had. We left tired and happy. Just the way you would want to feel after a day of learning and trying new things.