A Tail of Two Ponies, A Case Study in Training…Days 13 through 15

This is the fifth installment of my pony training journal. For those of you just joining, you may want to go back to Day 1 for the full picture. Long story short, I’m training two different ponies with different experiences and levels of training to eventually pull a cart. We’re currently on the ground driving phase of the process. I’m keeping this journal as a way of comparing the progress between the two.

April 19, 2019…Apple Jack Day 11, Moonshine Day 13

Today was an exciting day with both ponies. Apple Jack was working so nicely ground driving I felt it was safe to turn the reins over to his owner “IHeartArabians.” This was a major step for both of them. First Apple Jack was responding well with someone else holding the reins, and secondly it is a huge confidence booster for IHeartArabians, who has very little training experience. IHeartArabians has naturally soft hands and is a great student, and AppleJack responded very well to all of her cues. Apple Jack is gaining in confidence every day, and soon it will be time to add more to his training. He is ready to progress to travois and pulling weight.

Training horses and ponies is exciting for me. Seeing the animal perform a trick or respond to a cue that I taught them gives me a feeling I can’t even describe. Simply put it’s an incredibly rewarding experience that is doubled when I have the opportunity to help another person accomplish their goals with horses as well. I have to confess watching IHeartArabians work with Apple Jack made me extremely proud of them both, and I did not expect to be this far along with just eleven actual training days. Apple Jack was a tougher nut to crack than Beau Pony or my Apple Jack at home. He reacted in big ways my other two training projects did not, but as is often the case, horses teach humans far more than we teach them. I now have a new bag of tricks for future training prospects thanks to the challenges of Apple Jack# 2 and Moonshine.

Moonshine worked in the field today. No big issues, and she is calming down. Moonshine is naturally spooky but now she freezes rather than bolts, and that is progress. I’m going to go ahead and move her forward to the travois and gate pull. The more racket (as in constant and unexpected noise) she is forced to endure the more desensitized she will become, and soon she will realized spooking is pointless when none of the scary noises kill her.

April 20, 2019…Day 14 Moonshine

Today I attached two pieces of PVC pipe to the shaft loops of Moonshine’s harness, and took her for a ground drive through the back pasture. She was wound tight at first, but did not freak or spook like I expected. She did freeze a few times, but began to relax the longer she drug the PVC pipe around. I miscalculated Moonshine’s size a bit, and the PVC pipe stuck out farther up her neck than ideal. In the end it was something else for her to be desensitized to. For her next work out, I think I’ll skip the PVC and go straight to the gate drag. It makes more noise added with the sensation of of actual weight on the collar. I may just go for gold and add the bluetooth speaker for maximum sensory overload. My theory is that the more things she has going on around her, the harder it will be to focus on any single item for a spook.

April 22, 2019…Day 12 Apple Jack, Day 15 for Moonshine

Today Apple Jack had another successful ground driving session, and IHeartArabians did the majority of the ground driving. Apple Jack is much better at the backing cue, and performed it very well for her. In addition to ground driving and backing, I began working on his spins. The idea is to perform a 360 while crossing his front legs, and taking smaller steps with his back legs. This is preparation for when he is attached to cart shafts and needs to turn the cart without pulling forward. Very useful for tight spaces. In competitions this maneuver is often demonstrated by placing a wheel of the cart inside a hula hoop on the ground, and drivers must not allow the wheel to leave the hoop.

Tonight was Moonshine’s first night pulling the gate drag. Hooking up was a challenge because Tater Tot felt the need to stand on the gate and generally make a nuisance of herself while I attempted to get Moonshine ready. Moonshine’s first steps freaked her out. She took two steps forward, felt the weight on the collar, and backed right up over the gate. So I unhooked the traces, lead her back in front of the gate, wrestled with Tater a little bit, and reattached the traces. This time I was prepared to encourage her forward movement once she felt the weight in the collar.

Our second attempt went better. Moonshine stepped forward, began to hesitate, I clicked and asked for a “walk on,” and we kept moving forward. Initially she would take about ten steps and then hesitate. I praised her and encouraged her to keep moving. That’s about the point that the blue tooth between the speaker laying on the gate, and the phone connected. Thankfully I had prepared the song line up to start with something soothing, “Dixieland Delight” by Alabama because Dixieland Delight is Moonshine’s show name, fitting for her maiden voyage with a load. Also it wasn’t something hard core to freak her out. Not that it really matters for training purposes, but I’m pretty proud of my ground driving remix that took about 30 seconds to assemble. We progressed on through “9 to 5” (Dolly Parton), “Cheap Thrills” (Sia) “Sweet but Psycho” (Ava Max) and “Bad” (David Guetta). I saved “Old Town Road” (Lil Nas X) for last.

So for the most part Moonshine settled and walked with the beat of whatever song was playing. Although, something about “Bad” tended to make her squirrelly. Not sure if the high pitched voice or some techno sound irritated her, but it wasn’t a favorite song. Between the music blaring from the speaker, and the rattling/clanging of the gate behind her, Moonshine held it together pretty well. Occasionally when it caught on a rock or clump of horse poo and bounced she would startle. No huge unsafe behaviors, it is just obvious that she isn’t comfortable. So now she will continue to drag the gate, until nothing about the gate bumping on the ground or the music phases her. Once we reach calm gate work Dixieland Delight’s onto the cart. I just need to get some of the spook and instant freeze worked out of her, or she’s in for a rude awakening the first time the breeching catches the cart during a quick stop!

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