So it was time to implement one of my crazier(looking) training techniques. The tools for today's lesson were carefully chosen. I loaded my MP3 play list with carefully selected songs, I picked songs with a variety of tempos and beats. Most importantly I made sure that none of the songs aroused any aggressive emotions whatsoever! Next I selected my rope. Customarily I use a 22' line for this sort of thing, but Crystal is such a calm girl I knew she could handle a closer range and I used my 16' rope. Armed with these things I went forth to impress her with my mad dancing skills.
When I went to catch Her Ladyship, she gave me what was becoming her habitual brush off. I negotiated a little and was able to halter after only a minute or so. If she knew what humiliations I had in mind for her I'm sure she would have held out longer. Keeping the principles of retreat and approach clearly in mind I began to dance at the end of her lead rope. She stood skeptical and bewildered at the opposite end of the rope until I began dancing toward her. Then she looked at me like "Oh No! There is no way your getting me to be a part of that!" and she tried to leave. I used her departure as an opportunity to reinforce her hind quarters yield, and when she turned to face me I simply danced away. She tried several more times to get out of this situation, but I had more moves than she did. After a little while she followed me as I danced around a few feet in front of her, she also stood quietly as I danced up to her waving my arms around her face and neck, occasionally stroking her, before dancing away again. Her expression was clearly embarrassed, but what can a horse do if they are stuck with a dope on a rope?
Now this all my sound like a bunch of mad silliness, but there is a good reason for this type of a lesson, and I highly recommend it for any spooky horse. Moving to music does several things to a human being that is beneficial to a training situation. First, music keeps you moving in a steady rhythm, which is predictable therefore easier for a horse to anticipate and becomes relaxing for them. Using a variety of tempos and beats will cause you to move in different patterns and speeds, which gets a spooky horse accustomed to different ways of being approached, because not every one walks up to a horse in the same manner. The right choice of music helps keep you relaxed and loose. Horses feed on our emotions and the body language emotion causes far more than we realize. Music that keeps me relaxed and happy would be my one big "secret" to getting in the right frame of mind for training.
There are a few things to keep in mind if you are insane enough to want to try this method. For safety your horse must be able to consistently yield its hip and face you every time you ask for it. You should also be fairly familiar with proper approach and retreat methods before trying this. Finally your attitude is the most important thing when building a horse's confidence, that is why I put so much emphasis on the music. Remember you are not there dancing with the horse. You are dancing and the horse just happens to be there. Like Gene Kelly in that famous part of Singing In The Rain, he wasn't dancing with the puddles and the street lamp, they just happened to be where he was dancing and he included them in his movements. That may seem a bit mystical, but your horse will know the difference. A horse will be a lot more worried if you are directing your energy at them. The hardest part is having the attitude that the dance is not about the horse, you are just doing your thing and if you happen to brush into a horse on the way, it wasn't intentional, it is nothing for the horse to worry about.
6/18 Today I continued the "dance lesson" in a different manner to prepare Crystal eventually for riding. I bounced and jumped at her side rhythmically until she stood quietly with me jumping all over either side of her. Monday's lesson must have really sunk in because I have not had any trouble catching Her Ladyship since then, and when I started bouncing around beside her this evening she only was startled for a few seconds. She took only a couple steps away from me before sighing deeply and looking at me with her expression saying "Is this another one of your odd habits?" By the end of the lesson I could jump up and half lay on either side of her without her reacting at all.
6/19 This morning when I looked out my window to check on Her Ladyship, I was pleasantly surprised to count 8 legs instead of only 4! I had to run for my glasses to see anything more. Crystal finally gave birth to her beautiful baby boy. She is an excellent mother and very protective of her new little one. I will have to give her a few days off of her lessons to give her hormones a chance to calm down and get settled into her role as a working mother.