Horses, like people, have a dominant side. Most horses are left side (or near side) dominant. This is the side that they are led, saddled, bridled, and mounted from. It is important in training a horse that you do not cater to their dominant side and that you give the off side as much attention as the near side. Boomer, until now, doesn't seem to have had much work on his off side, especially while longing. So, I try to keep him going right about 75% of the time. He is already seeming more balanced and flexible. It is important while longing, especially while at liberty (no longe line) to keep in control of the horse. A horse will occasionally try to change direction on their own and you must get in front of them and force them back the other way. Boomer was really bad about this the first few times I made him go to the right but he only tried it once today. Baby steps, you know?
Up to today I have been longing him with a bridle with the reins taken off. Today I kept the reins attached and ran them under the stirrup leathers and up on the seat of the saddle. I tied them so that he could still have free range of movement with his head but if he stretched downward he would bump the reins about a foot before getting to the ground. This exercise teaches a horse to be aware of the bit in their mouth as well as teaches them to balance while keeping their head in an acceptable position. It takes a lot of neck strength for a horse to balance with their head 'set'. I am not and will not ask for a proper 'head set' for many months, but this is a good starting point.
The real reward today came when we finished working. I untacked Boomer and John got his gloves and the belly rope. We put on the belly rope and led Boomer to the hose. I turned the hose on and Boomer pranced around a little. John was soothing to him and he even tried to hide his head behind John! I moved the hose closer and closer until it was spraying his front hooves. He pulled a little, but never offered to rear. It seems as if he learned from the belly rope lesson! I sprayed his whole right side and we moved to his left side. Horses do not make associations like people do. What happens on his left does not transfer to the right side. A good example is him being OK with wearing the tarp, but refusing to walk on it. So, I started over being very slow and soothing and slowly working up to hosing his left side. He accepted it and I think it probably felt good! He was dripping with sweat and it was a HOT day! After that John turned him out and we fed him on the tarp again. This was a HUGE accomplishment and really gave me a confidence booster! I could check something off of my goal list!
Oh, my goal list... I have a few goals for Boomer. I would like to accomplish most of them before I ride him. Fears are like holes in a horses foundation. The foundation training and groundwork need to be complete before you attempt to ride.
- Get over fear of tarp (working on it)
- Get over fear of water (check!)
- Pick up feet for handling*
- Accept bit easily
- Overcome fear of trailer (this might not happen for a while, we don't have a trailer)
*John researched a method for foot handling called 'poling'. Essentially, you take a six foot length of PVC pipe and sack him out with it. Then you tap his hocks and fetlocks with it. That way, when he kicks, he gets the pole and not me! You keep tapping until he realizes that it doesn't hurt and stops kicking. Then you release pressure (stop tapping). Horses learn from the release of pressure, not the pressure its self. Eventually when you tap his fetlock, he picks up but doesn't kick. After doing that for a while you begin to stroke his leg while you tap and cup his ankle then release. You do this over and over until you can hold his foot and he doesn't struggle. THEN you can call the farrier and get this horses feet trimmed!