Equi-Sense Day 3: Stepping It Up
This was my third day at Equi-Sense, and the game has changed quite a bit. Our interactions with the horses are becoming more complicated, as well as more rewarding.
We started with a review, repeating our more difficult tasks from the previous day, with the same horse, Brandy. First, we guided her through the tri-cones, which was our final task of the previous day. This, the horse and I accomplished with no difficulty at all.
Then we went on to lunging, directing the horse around the round pen without touching her or using a rope. I had a lot of trouble with this on the first day, but not I have a better understanding of what to do. Horses, as I’m told, are very reliant upon body language. I didn’t have to actually have a rope, I need only imitate the motions that I would use if I did. If I pretended that I was guiding the horse with a rope, the horse would pretend this too, or so I hoped. I pointed in the direction that I wanted the horse to move with my leading hand, and used my second hand to gesture. It worked. I was able to guide her around the pen, coax her to move faster, turn her around, and get her to stop without using a rope.
Our first new challenge was this. There were two cones placed no more than 8 ft apart in the center of the pen. Our task was to get the horse to walk between these cones. We weren’t allowed to touch her, or use a rope. As I went first, it was up to me to figure out how to accomplish this. The problem of course was that the target was in the middle of the pen, whereas the horse preferred to keep to the perimeter.
The people who ran the place later expressed surprise at my choice in tactics. They said it was weird that I wouldn’t even let the horse near the cones and said they hoped I had some kind of strategy. I did. I kept her at the perimeter. As in the review exercise, I guided her around the pen, making her speed up and turn as I wanted until I was finally satisfied by her compliance.
“Whoah,” I said until she stopped. She looked at me for a bit, then she lowered her head and approached. I momentarily forgot the no-touching rule and petted her. Then I turned around and walked through the cones and towards the gate. I knew better than to look over my shoulder, I didn’t need to anyway. I could hear the horse’s footsteps as it followed right behind me.
I never even tried to guide her near the cones, I knew it wouldn’t work. I just wanted to guide her around a bit. I wanted her to see me as a figure of authority, someone to take direction from. I wanted her to see me as a leader, someone to follow. And she did.
That was the easiest task of the day. Later we had two separate obstacle courses, both of which involved lots of jumping. The first obstacle course was relatively simple, but was the one that I had the most trouble with. I used Brandy for this one, as we seemed to be getting along much better than we had when we first met. The first task was to get her to jump over a line of tires a few times, change direction, then do it again. I had a bit of trouble with this as keeping Brandy in the center of the tire line required holding her line shorter than I normally would have, which made it harder for me to change her direction. She nearly walked right over me a few times. Next, there was an arrangement of five logs arranged in a semi-circle radiating outward from the center point like the spokes of a wheel. I had a bit of difficulty again, but I did get her to jump each in their turn as she passed through (she kept trying to go around them.) The final task of the course was to lead the horse in an “L” shaped walkway bordered by some logs. Getting her to go in, turn, and stop was easy. The hard part was backing Brandy up and back through to the beginning of the “L,” but we eventually got it.
The next course was more complicated, but Lota, the first horse I’d met here, knew what he was doing and needed little direction from me. First, there were three logs on the ground, spaced well apart, for him to jump over, which he did with ease. Next, there was a ditch that I was to guide the horse into while not entering myself. At the end of it, I was to have him walk up the slope. The only trouble with that was keeping him from stopping to eat the sparse tufts of grass. The slope turned into a hill winch, on the opposite side as the ditch, turned into a steep drop-off. I directed the horse to drop down, then, while remaining on the hilltop, got him to jump back up, then descend into the ditch again. The only problem here, which I should have anticipated, was that the horse gained a lot of momentum this way and so I had to follow quickly and then slow him down. Next, I had him jump two hurdles, two logs held about a foot or so above the ground by posts. Lota took these on beautifully. The figure 8 followed. Standing the the middle between two barrels, I guided the horse in a slow figure 8 pattern. After this came the only obstacle I really struggled with on this course. There was a barrel laying on its side on the ground, and I was supposed to make the horse jump over it one way, then turn around and jump over it from the other direction. I was able to get him over the first way just fine. But after turning him around, the rope length wasn’t correct and he keptgoing around the barrel instead. We got it eventually, it just took patience. The final task was to guide the horse over to a tire on the ground, put both of its front feet on it, and say there. Lota already knew what to do here.
I’ve really grown to like the horses I’ve been working with over the last few days, Brandy, Thunder, and Lota. It’s sad that tomorrow will be my final day with them. By this I of course mean because it’s a four-day course, not because some lunatics think it’s the day of the rapture. And no, I didn’t take the tornado that I saw while driving home to be an omen. That just made me wish that I had something other than my phone’s built-in camera.