Because I have decided that I really must get on with Woody (he is, after all, 6 now…!!), I have made a commitment to him and to myself to have regular lessons and do my homework! To that end, today Anouk (www.dahrs.nl) came to get me started.
We know that Woody can be all over the horsenality chart and that he has a very defined comfort zone and threshold level, so the aim was to set me up with some strategies that I (and he) can work on in order to stretch both. Woody has a high sensitivity and, although they are not perfect, is pretty conversant with me in the seven games but his confidence is very low. Because his confidence is so low, it obstructs the progression in getting him saddled and ridden away. So we are going to work on his confidence and the way we do that is with the Friendly game, and plenty of it and more particularly the extreme friendly.
We started in the stable area with basic friendly with the stick without string and then with string until he visibly relaxed and was licking and chewing. We then took him outside and I stood just behind the gate and played more friendly with the stick and string. The idea (pattern) is to push his thresholds and boundaries all the time playing friendly in the soft version and the extreme version. As we moved away from the yard, we would play the soft friendly game until he relaxed and then we would go back to the original spot by the gate (and therefore his field mates) and play extreme friendly so he got to realise that going away from his friends and pushing his comfort zone was more attractive to him than being near his friends. We went to 5 different places, sometimes going straight back to the field gate, sometimes to one of the nearer places so that he got plenty of consistency and a bit of variety but all the time rewarding his softening and relaxing and yet also pushing on his comfort zone.
When I put him back in the field, after squeezing in and out of the gate a couple of times (don’t assume you are going straight back into the field!), I slipped the halter off and he stayed for a few cuddles before he went off and let off steam at Frank!
This exercise is not only excellent for Woody’s confidence as it rewards relaxation in ‘extreme’ (for him) situations ie going away from his field mates, getting closer to a busy road with fast cars and lorries (eek!) but it teaches his field mates not to scream and shout when he leaves as they can see him for most of the time and he keeps coming back. Win, win I’d say!
All in all, a very positive session and at least it gives me a plan until Anouk comes back next week with her plan to play with the bareback pad. We will get him saddled and ridden!