Caught ya, ya big hunk of horseflesh!

Today I made great progress on my relationship with Boulder, I think.

He decided he was going to play the “I’m only going to let you get within ten feet of me before I trot off” game in the pasture this morning. I tried “nice” a couple of times and then took a step back, took a deep breath, and said to myself, “Self, you have plenty of time. Invest some time in putting a stop to this nonsense.”

And then I consulted the Oracle at Google. And the Oracle advised me via an intermediary to commence playing the “I don’t care if you run from me every time I approach you because I can outlast you” game.

We played this game for 10-15 minutes, running, twirling, and stopping our way around the pasture and through the tracks. I wised up and closed the gate to the pasture after we went back in and then ran/twirled/stopped him back to the corner where the gate is and stopped about 30 feet away. I bladed my body away from him so that I could just see him out of the corner of my eye.

And then I waited, every so often taking a small sideways step closer to him until I was about 20 feet away. He stood watching me the entire time. I sat down in the grass briefly then got back up when I started wondering just how that looked to a prey animal. I dropped the halter and lead rope on the ground and walked away nonchalantly for 20-30 feet, then stopped with my back to him for a bit. Then I meandered back to the halter on the ground, never directly looking at him. I did this several times, and each time his head dropped a little lower.

At first, I interpreted his head and ears to mean he was annoyed, but I finally realized what he was showing was submission. So I picked up the halter and lead rope and slowly walked in an arc to his left side. He never budged, but calmly stood there with his head down as I put the lead rope around his neck and then haltered him and gave him lots of scratches and praise. This was the first time I had ever caught him outside of the stall. Wonder of wonders!

We spent the next 45 minutes or so taking the halter on and off, walking away, walking back, and doing basic groundwork. I tried to get him to follow me off-lead and unhaltered, but he just stood there. I escalated to a lead rope alone, and he didn’t want to move with that, either. I moved on to the halter with no lead rope, and he still didn’t want to move. I clipped the lead rope on and voila!

So I started working backward and got him to follow me with the lead rope clip held in my right hand while holding the bottom of the halter. Boulder, not being able to see under his chin, assumed that I had the lead rope clipped on and just had my hand right on the clip, so he obligingly followed me with just a light tug on the halter with my finger. As we were walking like that I casually brought my right hand away from the halter and over to my side, and he just kept right on following. Turns, stops—no problem.

I figured that was enough for one session, so I told him what a good boy he was, gave him more scratches, took his halter off, said goodbye, and walked away.

Quite unexpectedly, he followed me right at my elbow for ten steps or so until I stopped and praised him and told him he could stay in the pasture.

Yes, today was a good day.

About Mike

Michael Heggen is a horseman, maker, and thinker who lives in Salem, Oregon with his wife, Kim, and "three to eight cats". He stays quite busy riding, driving, and caring for their three horses, Boulder, Shasta, and Bob. Among other things, Mike has been a fencing coach, police chaplain, computer consultant, aspirant to the diaconate, computer salesman, box boy, carpenter, computer technician, typesetter, church youth leader, copy machine operator, and network administrator. His other interests include juggling, reading voraciously, and (pretty occasionally these days) cycling.
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