Unfortunately, this will have to be a pic-less post. :-( Yesterday, I did bring my camera out to the barn, fully charged...but sans memory card. Um, yeah, that's kind of an important part of the equation. So, you will all have to just use your imaginations and paint some mental pictures for yourselves.
Yesterday, I realized that Mr. Salem has not had a day off in weeks -- he's either ridden or longed every day, poor lad. And he has dropped some weight, so I decided that his body needed a rest. However, I wanted to still challenge his brain and make him think. So, I marched out to the shed and dug out a lovely Blue Tarp, or Horse-Devouring Blue Abyss Which Leads Directly To The Gates Of Hell, as they are commonly referred to by our equine friends.
I set up the tarp in the arena, grabbed my trusty dressage whip and Monty Roberts Dually halter, and stuffed every pocket I had with sugar cubes. As soon as Salem saw the tarp, he got a bit snorty and put on his Worried Eyes. I reassured him that everything was okay, patted him, and stepped on to the tarp.
While he did not want to walk on it, Salem would halt about a foot away from it and then stand there and stretch his head out to get a sugar cube. I kept patting him, telling him that the tarp would not, in fact, swallow him whole, and walking back and forth across it to get him used to the crinkly noise.
In order to get Salem really focused on me, I decided to take him off to another corner of the arena. We did a short session of basic commands -- halt, back up, turn on the forehand -- in both directions. While he still kept an ear cocked towards That Scary Blue Thing, he listened well and did everything that I asked. Satisfied that he was focused, I led him back to the tarp and spent some more time walking around on it while Salem watched, waiting for me to fall through...
After a few minutes of this, I picked it up (Ohmygod, SCARY, what the heck are you doing lady?!) and gently shook it in Salem's direction. *Spook, spook, prance, snort* After he settled, I gave him a sugar cube. Then I remembered something Amber from ES teaches her horses -- she teaches them the command "Touch" and then has them touch their noses to whatever is scaring them. I held the tarp in front of Salem's nose, asked him to touch it...and after a few snorts, Salem touched his nose to it. He got lots of praise and two sugar cubes.
Another ten minutes of gently shaking the tarp and having Salem touch it, I laid it back on the ground and smoothed it out. At first, Salem would just side-step-side-step-side-step*snort* around it, but eventually he settled. He lowered his head and touched his nose to the tarp...and then very gingerly set one foot on it for a few seconds. I lavished him with praise and gave him four sugar cubes.
As soon as he discovered that he could actually set a foot on it without being sucked into an alternate Horse-Torturing Parallel Universe, Salem let out a big sigh and completely relaxed. I turned him around, walked off a few steps, turned him back towards the tarp, and had him walk on to it. There was no hesitation; I stopped him in the center, patted him, and stuffed a whole handful of sugar cubes in his mouth. We walked all around, walking over it from every direction. Salem was perfectly willing and not at all nervous.
Now, I know some of you might be thinking, "Why would you do this? It's not as if you'll ever need to walk him over a tarp." True. However, it does teach him that I'm the leader and he can trust me, even in a scary situation. It also teaches him that he needs to put his feet where I ask him to, again, even if that place is scary. You're saying, "OK, Horse, I know that this is frightening, but I will not ask you to do anything that's harmful or dangerous. You can trust my leadership."
Another part of the reason I'm doing this is because Ruby's last horse was taught to be terrified of water. He was never previously afraid of water and would happily splash through every puddle in the arena. However, the lady who half-leased him always steered him around all of the puddles and he eventually decided that it must be because those puddles were full of Piranha Who Could Strip A Horse's Leg To The Bone In Seconds. To make sure Ruby doesn't have to deal with this again, I make Salem walk through the muddiest, wettest parts of The Lagoon so I know he'll go where I ask and is not afraid of water. Hhhhhmmmm, what shall I make him walk on next?