Each morning when I tie the mares to the fence to give them their feed buckets, I can’t let the opportunity pass to make some small bit of progress in their training before releasing them to their morning hay. They have had the summer off from these short lessons, and I have had the summer off, too, from creating lesson plans.
As we’ve gotten back into this routine, I started with refresher lessons. Do they know to back away when I shake their lead rope? Do they know to laterally flex their heads when I apply pressure on the side of their halter nose band? All the mares remembered the backing away request. A few needed an extra session or two on lateral flexion. The others progressed to another task. Some tasks are mounted. A good one for a windy morning is to ask them to stand still after being mounted. Since I began riding the last of the mares in this herd, all of them can now do mounted work. The tasks must be kept short, though, since I’m asking them to cooperate on an empty stomach!
I heard about some human research that suggests that playing games together can lower our social anxiety level. (1) If we are introduced to someone new, commonly our anxiety goes up, but if we then are asked to play a game with them (depending on the game), our anxiety goes down. I think of my morning lessons with my ponies in similar terms; while the lessons do help progress their training, perhaps the more important outcome is a familiarity with each other that helps our relationship be more enjoyable and less stressful.
I will admit there are days when a snow storm makes all of us just want to get on with things and skip lessons entirely. Usually, though, the mares will stick around wanting their lesson if I forget to do it with them before they leave for their first meal of the day. Even my two little filly foals line up when I’m putting halters on, even though they aren’t required to stand tied at their age. Nonetheless it is a compliment to have all of the pones ask. It is a blessing to share my life with these ponies.
“Press Play,” Ted Radio Hour, 10/20/17, at http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/?showDate=2017-10-20
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017