Today was a fun day for me and Merlin. I was also reminded of an old lesson that was very helpful and I’d like to pass it on to you. You probably know it already but may need a reminder just like I did.
Here’s my quick story:
You already know that I purchased a 5-month-old Friesian colt about 7 months ago. And since then, we have been working on all sorts of training. Halter, walking on a lead, picking up his feet for the farrier, being tied with one tie and cross-ties, standing patiently, liberty work, trust exercises, bonding, and verbal cues for walk-trot-canter, back, wait, and halt.
Basically starting a young colt from the beginning.
He had no training when I got him. I even had to wean him from his mother which took a few months after I purchased him. We did it slowly and gently and never had any issues.
Luckily, he has been very good. He has been a bit spooky with some of the new stuff like the trailer, deep water puddles, certain things that move past him really fast (plastic bags), etc. So, we have also been working on desensitization.
The best part of the training has been our connection. Because even though he has been a bit spooky at times, he looks to me for support and trusts me enough to do scary things anyway.
The more we do, the more he trusts me.
But there is still so much we have left to do. One of these things is getting a bath. Since I got him in the fall and we went through a frigid winter with lots of snow and ice, I haven’t really had a chance to teach him about bathing until now.
However, I have taken him into the wash area a few times in the past month and each time he has become calmer. He has also learned to cross-tie in the barn breezeway and stand still for the farrier. That was our spring training adventure.
I have not put these two together, being tied and being in the wash area, to get him ready for a bath. That was the next step.
Well, today I decided it was a good time to take that next step. It was 103C degrees out with 95% humidity. The kind of heat that you just walk outside and start sweating in the shade without doing anything at all.
This was really the first day we had heat like this and really the first day of the hot summer to come. Because of these summer temperatures, all the horses were in the barn during the day. The barn manager has switched up their schedules to be out at night and in during the hot days. Perfect for my little black Friesian. Plus, I didn’t really want to be out in it either.
Since I was hot and sweaty and so was Merlin, I decided it was time for both of us to try the bath lesson. Maybe we both could cool off and get wet.
I was hoping that Merlin would enjoy the cool water and not freak out over the moving hose or the water spray. He had never seen a hose, much less water spraying out of it. Plus, we had only walked into the wash area, stopped briefly, and then left in our previous trainings. This was taking our training forward a few steps.
Well, Merlin went into the wash area, stopped, and then let me put on the cross ties. No problems there.
He was doing so well that I decided to go to the next step. I turned on the water and left the hose on the ground. Aha, this worked. Again, no major issues. He was a bit uneasy, but he looked to me for guidance and when I said it was ok, he calmed right down.
Then on to the next step. I picked up the hose and gently sprayed his feet with the water and continued to softly reassure him that everything was ok. When he was good with this, I started to move up and spray his legs, then his neck, then his back and continued until his whole body had been rinsed off. He remained calm the whole time and trusted me.
While I was rinsing him off I watched for any reactions. If he had become uneasy, I would have backed off a bit and then tried again once he calmed down. But he did great. I think he really enjoyed the cold water on such a hot day.
Then I remembered what a mentor had told me when I was younger about working with horses…
“Take advantage of your natural surroundings. Keep your training as natural as possible for the horse.”
It definitely rang true in this situation and reminded me to pay more attention to this every time I decide what to work on next with Merlin.
Training Merlin on how to accept being in a wash area, tied and standing still for a hose full of cold water worked perfectly when doing it on a really hot day. Because Merlin naturally saw the water as a cooling relief from the heat and he enjoyed it and our adventure together.
It also built more trust and companionship between us. Which will in turn just make our future training that much easier and better.
So, next time you want to accomplish something with your horse, look at what’s going on around you and see what could be done to keep it as natural as possible for your horse. Like the cold-water bath on a hot day.
I always say, “Push the Easy Button”. And that is exactly what you are doing when you take advantage of your natural surroundings.
I hope this reminded you of a similar story when working with your horse or gave you a light-bulb moment for your next training with your horse.
Do you have any stories you would like to share?, Please feel free to share in the Comments section below. I always love to hear from you.
Until next week, Happy Horses!