Baby-Training Out of the Arena (Small-Test Moments)

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After 60 days of twice-daily handling in and around the barn and our immediate yard, Smitty has what I'd call a 'pretty good handle' on him. He leads well, ties fairly patiently, stands nicely for the vet and farrier, accepts various forms of sacking out, obeys whoa MOST of the time, is solid on his head-down cue, and so forth.

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Part of the steady learning curve comes from the application of routine, and from the learning-comfort factor a horse gets from being in a familiar, predictable, perceived-as-safe environment.

So it's always revealing to see what happens in a young horse's behavior when you extend his experience out beyond his normal environment. He will always show you where he needs more deliberate training.

In the rear-view photo, Smitty's going away from the barn and other horses, and while he's not obviously acting up, he's just reached a small-test moment. Instead of keeping right up alongside me, and matching my speed, he's started to hang back just a tad--because he's reaching the end of his confidence zone in terms of being away from his regular zone of space, and is starting to think he might really rather be back at the barn.

I needed an effective cue that would say "come on, keep up, remember that I'm right here, keep paying attention to me," but I hadn't taught him one yet--at least not one that would get him up smoothly alongside me, within a step or two, while continuing straight ahead.

The best I could do in the moment was go for more mental control, while using a cue he already knows. So I diverted our course to the right for several steps. We had a "whoa" moment, with head down--and then walked a circle back to the initial lagging point.?Since he'd shown me where he might want to lag back, I activated my walk before we got there, to help keep his energy going forward--and this time he stayed right there alongside me as we continued on out to the nearest open field.

Out in that huge unfenced space, I knew I was going to have to keep mental control if possible--not lose it and hope to get it back before the horse himself got away. So I asked for a couple of stop/back some steps/whoa episodes before Smitty could even think about getting excited. He's done that sequence lots of times around the more familiar spaces near the barn, so he did it here and kept his cool. Then we had a nice, no-issues walk to another point in the field.

Later, I'll show you a few more small-test moments with Smitty that Ed, hubby extraordinaire, caught on camera.