After Monday's incident of basically telling the horse, "I don't want to lead any more, it's your turn.", we have been practicing with me as the leader and him as the follower. And in order to do it well I had to think about what defines a leader in a horse's eyes.
As herd animals, the leader keeps them away from harm (predators) and guides them to sources of food and water without falling into horse eating holes or entering a cave where a monster could reside. It means my horse has to think I am bigger, badder and better than any scary thing that he may encounter on the trail. My horse has to view me as a teacher and protector. No big deal you say? Consider this, we don't speak the same language so how do we communicate that we are bigger, badder, better than the trail monster blowing balloons bobbing up and down in the wind or flying tumbleweed at 40 mph? That all goes back to two things, desensitizing the fear and controlling the horse's feet.
This week has been spent reviewing just that. Desensitizing which for Brass is a continual process, and moving the feet through exercises that take him forward, backward, left and right. Control the hindquarters where the engine is and you can do anything. Brass is very quick and athletic and when he yields those hindquarters he wastes no time! But he is very responsive and knows what he is supposed to do, and that is listen to the leader who will keep him safe. Listening to the leader saves my bacon when he becomes reactive over something as it lessens that flight instinct that lies within him.
And of course the question arises as to why it's an issue now when it wasn't a couple months ago? I think because over the frozen winter a lot of training came unraveled. And he needed me to step up to the plate and do my job, and I just wanted to pick it up where we had left off in December. Only it doesn't work that way, we know that. Brain farts get in the way sometimes. The basics have to be reviewed and the correct responses need to be encouraged in order for respect and trust to be renewed or strengthened. Especially in a horse with trust issues in the first place.
Today we put it all back out on the trail again. In the mighty and cold wind. Up the hill we went nice and calm and on a loose rein, as it should be. I led him over a really rough spot in the trail and he did not hesitate to follow me as the front feet slid down into the hole and his nose sniffed the dirt. He got lots of rubs and good boys over that one. Later he jumped once and came right back to me, no problem and we rounded off the incident with forward and backward. At another point where he became anxious it was circles, zig zag and half circles. Left rein, right rein, backward and forward. Pat and Zazu just sat there and watched as we maneuvered around. He figured it out and then as Pat and I talked he became more relaxed and so did I, and all was well. No trailer confusion, no issues. Hooray! Will we have problems again? Probably. But by working on the issues we should be able to overcome any obstacles that get in our way.