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Wizard Session #20: At the Car Wash… Playtime!

December 10, 2008

Parelli Night at Handy Acres in Jackson, NJ

Pictured: Miss Tuesday navigates the car wash during the Parelli Support Group in Jackson, NJ.

12/10/08: On Wednesday night, I photographed a bimonthly Parelli group at the barn. It was so nice to see a group of dedicated horse people getting together with their horses. While I’m not fully on board with the Parelli program, I do like how it gives people a plan for working with their horses.

So many times, horse people head to the barn with no particular plan in mind and start riding. It’s the beginning of a really good ride and the horse is doing everything right. The rider keeps pushing since the horse is being so good. Then the horse is pushed out of his comfort zone and the session goes in a bad direction. With a plan, that sort of mishap happens far less frequently. Keeping on track with a plan is one of the reasons that I keep this journal. And putting the journal online keeps me honest ;^)

The Parelli group had a series of obstacles including: the car wash (a tarp cut into strips and suspended from the ceiling), a platform (wooden and about 4 inches off the ground), a tarp on the ground, hula hoops, traffic cones, a mattress, and a little black culvert. It was fun to see the horses navigate the obstacles and work with their owners.

When the session was over, I asked the group to leave a few obstacles out so I could try them with Wizard. When he walked into the arena, he immediately let out a snort of apprehension. I think he was trying to warn me about the big scary tarp on the ground. I let him know that the tarp was part of our plan. He pranced past it a few times when I led him in. We kept circling, closer and closer to the tarp, never stopping to look at it. I clicked when he walked within a step of the tarp, reinforcing bold and calm behavior. He became more relaxed and focused. Then we walked over the tarp. Wizard did not balk or stop- he walked right over it. I clicked and gave him a treat. Good boy!

On to the hula hoops. He looked at them, mostly out of curiosity. We walked through them. When his foot was in the circle, I clicked. After a few passes, he was intentionally putting his feet in the hoops. Good boy!

On to the platform! This was the biggest challenge of the night. I tried my best to keep the lead rope slack and never pulled him. Every step was forward on his own accord. I clicked for any forward movement toward the platform. Eventually, he tapped it with his hoof, then put his two feet on it like a circus pony. Good boy! Lots of carrots. I then asked him to walk over it in a straight line. He was a little awkward about navigating it and bumped it a few times with his hooves, but we got three good passes over it. On the last pass, he felt more reluctant and I felt badly because I probably pushed him to do the platform too many times. We moved to the next obstacle.

On to the car wash. This is harder than you think. It seems like it is visually confusing for horses. I had to part a few strips for Wizard to get the idea that he could walk through it. He would slink down to half his height as he crept under it, but he listened to my cues and walked through. I was just looking for forwardness and he responded at every obstacle. We can get more technical next time the obstacles are in the arena.

I then went back to the platform. I wanted to get it right since his head was clear again. I kept my eyes up, walked briskly, and we walked right over! I was so glad that I moved on when he felt reluctant the first time. Giving him a little while to try a different obstacle and rest his brain really helped. I must keep that in mind in the future.

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