On this particular day, I was watching a training DVD and decided to try some of the information with a more experienced rider on Shag. To digress, I feel Shag is getting very bored with his riders because things become a tug of war when trying to steer. He also does not want to move forward at times. This particular rider has been experimenting with different approaches with Shag and has had some success. I notice that Shag is a lot happier horse when his rider becomes more interesting.
This particular day I had planned to incorporate a training stick in the work out to strengthen communication and reduce reliance on physical connection. Rider had been working very well with the project and Shag was looking very relaxed and working in a willing manner.
Suddenly, looking at the pony pen I noticed all five ponies in a stance that spoke of ‘possible predator on the perimeter’ – heads were up, ears were forward and all heads were looking the same direction. As Rider came around the end of the arena I asked him to look where the ponies were looking and tell me what he saw. He answered, “A llama.”
Since my horses have never seen one that did not instill confidence in our immediate future. As Rider came up along the north side of the arena the llama appeared further down behind him. The Rider was going up the arena and turning left while the llama meandered down the arena on the outside and turned right. Continuing on their individual paths they made the final turn so Shag saw THE PREDATOR.
Horses can go to red alert before we can even blink. Shag’s head went up, ears went forward, his entire body became tense, his way of walking changed to mincing steps that looked like he had springs in the bottom of each hoof, the tail went straight up in the air and we had the sound of ‘rollers in the nose’. I yelled at Rider to dismount - NOW.
The old school of horsemanship was to ‘stay on and ride through the incident – don’t let the horse get you off’. The idea held was that the horse would panic simply because you dismounted and the next time you rode it would not be good. The new school of thought is ‘if you think you need to get off, do it – rider be safe.’
After dismounting Rider led Shag to the opposite side of the arena all the while talking to him. Dan came out and ran the llama off. As soon as the llama left the property Shag went right back to the previous relaxed state. We used the moment for an unexpected lesson on horse reaction and body language – not one that I would have planned though.
Rider came back over, climbed back on Shag and rode for a few more minutes. Shag was at the relaxed state he was in prior to the llama. This is an important story for me because we found out Shag was subject to panic attacks when we started working with him. When we took him out he would have an episode almost every time. I finally quit taking him anywhere and just used him at home for the school where he has slotted into a comfort zone and become very dependable.
I always enjoy it when I too have a lesson. – horses and students continually teach me. This situation reinforced the benefits of working with your horse so it trusts decisions you make on its behalf. At the end of the lesson when I asked Rider about his ride he told me that Shag really softened up with the exercises today and he felt it was kind of like Shag said, “I got this, what’s next?” I love it when something we try has such a positive outcome.