I've been working Ande about every other day and working on his Happy Faces and focus on me. All our work has been right around his shed or paddock or in the round pen. I wanted to be more confident in our connection before we ventured off further this Spring. The other day I decided I would take him a little further away and let him graze some of the wonderful new grass. My thought was to do something totally new that he would really enjoy, while still being with me. I had recently re-read Alexandra Kurland's "First Rides" chapter in her Riding With the Clicker book in which she describes taking walks with her Robin when he was three. I wanted to use some of the same ideas with Ande- to take him out and have him enjoy our time together so that he wanted to go out an spend time with me. He loves it when I show up with his halter, but as I have said in other posts, he sometimes gets a little wound up or cranky about things.
I took him about 30 feet from his paddock, using the clicker to reward his attention on me and his happy faces as we went. Then I let him drop his head to graze. I probably spent about 15 minutes there, letting him choose to move at will to find the best grass, but I also asked him occasionally to lift his head out of the grass. When he did, I was ready with a click and a peppermint to reinforce him for leaving the grass and paying attention to me. I was glad I had a lot of mints with me as it had to be something really good to be worth leaving grass for!
Then I decided to take the leadrope off and just stay with him as if the rope were on....hoping to show him that we could stay connected without a concrete rope. That worked OK for about 5 minutes but then he decided to go around the apple tree and further away. He decided to trot off a little ways and I couldn't stay with him and remain casual, so I let him go and then casually walked near to him, but not as if I wanted to catch him. I was a bit surprised because his little trot had taken him further from the other horses and I thought if he did anything, he would head back to the others. He was close to the barway entering the hayfield at this point so I looped around behind him, thinking to block him from going further just with my presence. But he decided he'd go a little further and before I could get around him, he trotted off down into the field. He was now quite a ways from the other horses and though he picked his head up to look for them a couple times, he didn't whinny or worry. I was a little stumped as to how I was going to catch this hungry fiend in 15 acres of spring grass! There was a fence just beyond him that had gotten knocked down in the winter snow so I started well away from him and just began picking up posts and pushing them down into the ground as I went, slowly working my way closer to him. Once I got about 15 feet from him, I stopped and just stood there, enjoying the spring sun and letting him feel my presence without making him think I was going to do anything to him. As he grazed his way along, I followed along, just being there with him. I did get a little closer to him and at one point noticed a large muddy patch on his withers. Without thinking much about it, I walked up to him and started rubbing the mud off his coat with my hand. He allowed me to do this with no concern, and so I felt he was OK with my closeness.
I continued to follow along for a while, right next to him as if I did have a rope attached. Then I made the kiss noise to him that I use when I want his attention and he picked his head up toward me. I clicked and gave him a peppermint, and re-attached the lead. Then I let him go back to grazing. I didn't want him to eat too much more of that rich spring grass but I also didn't want him to connect me or the lead with the end of a good thing! So I just stayed a foot or 2 in front of him and let him graze his way toward me, then I would move ahead again. In this way, we slowly made our way back up the hill. When we reached the barway, he tried going a different way but I just stood so that he took the slack out of the rope and then decided to continue on where I was going. By the time we made it back up to the farm drive, he was looking pretty mellow from sun and grass and his eyes and ears were very relaxed as I took him back to his paddock.
So we had a nice time out together, no pressure on him and certainly the best eating he's had in months...all provided courtesy of me!