Caroline’s introduction to Exmoor Agility

Caroline is back to help me work with the ponies. She has been absent several weeks due to extreme weather and a family holiday. I was keen to introduce her to our starter agility course. She was so excited at seeing Finch and the other ponies that she and her mind were all over the place. What better way to concentrate the mind and calm her down than to explain how we were going to approach the course! First of all we both walked it on foot.

I then got her to hold the clip end of the lead rope and be the horse. I gave one click and a light touch of the rope and as soon as she moved forward I released any pressure. A few more experiments and explanations on horse behaviour and then I led her around the course on a lead rope! She thought this was hysterical! When we got to the bridge I told her it was enough for the pony just to sniff or paw it the first time. So what did she do – yes exactly that! We had such a laugh.

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She did brilliantly with Finch, and even got him to walk across the bridge which was a first! I praised her and she praised Finch! I told her that for me he had only put one foot on it, but because we were building up his confidence slowly, he was prepared to go a bit further for her. I was pleased that she had taken on board what I had said and didn’t try to force him into anything. Well we all know who wins that game – and it is not us!

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She couldn’t believe how he went under the arc as if it wasn’t there. He had only done it twice before. The course was complete, so we went to the shelter to reward him with a few chopped carrots. She then did the course one more time with him, so that I could take some photos!

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Caroline was keen to see if she could still walk him in and out of the trailer, stopping at the point where, if travelling, he would be tied up. It went very smoothly so lots of cuddles and praise for Finch – and of course back to the shelter for more carrots!! That was enough for him for the day, so she led him into the field, turned him around towards the gate, ( I explained the safety reasons for this) then quietly took of his head collar and released him.

Finch may have been tired, but she wasn’t!  I suggested that we introduced “Galaxie” the weanling to the obstacles on the course. She was definitely up for that.

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Caroline was so sweet with Galaxie and is really beginning to understand the methods and what we are trying to achieve by doing agility. Here she allows her to sniff the carpet as she talks quietly and encourages her to move forward. She did the same with all the obstacles and Galaxie remained calm at all times. The bridge she just pawed, so we left it at that for the first time.

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Her patience came off and Galaxie stood beautifully on the carpet. I praised Caroline, who then totally relaxed and resorted back to her “normal” behaviour around horses. Back on automatic, she just chucked the lead rope over Galaxies neck!!!! Such a sudden gesture made Galaxie jump back and Galaxies movement made Caroline jump! No harm done, but hopefully a lesson learnt! This photo was taken after the event, so we didn’t push for all four feet on the carpet!

Cuddles and praise for Galaxie and then back to the shelter for chopped carrots! She then put her back in the field, remembering to turn her around towards the gate before removing the head collar and letting her go.

I told Caroline, we would try and add or change a few obstacles each week, and she came up with some great ideas. We are all learning together, using the guidelines in the Horse Agility Handbook. Safety is of the utmost importance where Caroline is concerned, because she is fearless around horses and needs to learn respect for them. What better way than with Exmoor ponies and agility!? I couldn’t have discovered agility at a better time, because none of mine are backed and I was struggling with  what to focus on next in order to keep the ponies and Caroline’s interest.

Next week I plan to get Caroline to lead me (as the pony) around the course, putting the brakes on and seeing how she handles me! She will love that. Children are so receptive to role playing and games.

“The extraordinary capacity of the horse is to elevate the human spirit” Unknown

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