So how much concentration can we expect from our horses when the flies are chewing on them? After a very damp June and July, we have had a couple hot and humid days which seem to have brought out herds of green heads and horse flies like I've never seen before. Last week, I squashed fourteen of them on Stowaway during one 1/2 hour Jr Pony Club lesson.
The ponies don't usually share a hay pile as well as they are in this photo here but I think they have been huddling together to take advantage of each other's tail and so aren't as focused on personal space. Percy and Rumer rub on each other and when a particularly nasty fly takes hold, they tend to body slam each other in an effort to get it off. Along with the regular chasing and wrestling they do, it has made Rumer less sensitive to my space. I also tend to focus on Percy when I lead them out to pasture together because Rumer has become so dependable. Unfortunately, it all had a negative affect on Rumer's leading so we've been reviewing some basics just the way Sarah recommended I do for Ande: duration lessons with leading. She wasn't doing anything dangerous or naughty- just was no longer staying right at my side but would hang back or get ahead of me; or cross over in front of me if I stopped to pay attention to Percy.
The first night I took her out to work on it, I was astonished at how oblivious she had become. I reviewed the cue to step away from a touch on her shoulder. She was a pro at this earlier this year but when I asked this time, she leaned into me instead...just as I have seen her lean into Percy when they get playing or tussling for a hay pile. So I waited. I didn't increase the pressure but just waited (she increased the pressure a bit herself when she leaned into me). She tried going forward and I was able to keep my finger on her shoulder and step her back. She tried backing and I just followed her back. Then she stepped forward again but I saw the leg closer to me step a hair toward the other front foot so I clicked and treated. Oh....she seemed to say. I did it again and this time she went forward one step, I stepped her back; she stepped back and I followed her; and then she stepped right across with a front foot- C/T. "Got it!" she said. Every request after that was met with a nice neat step away. So then we started off walking and I occasionally asked for a step away while going forward and she happily obliged. She just needed a reminder lesson.
Then I proceeded to the duration lesson of "loose leash leading" with the expectation that she stay with me as I walked even though the lead was thrown over her neck. I only had to ask her back a time or two when she seemed to be experimenting with what would happen if she started to walk away. I got to a count of 15 before running out of treats and taking her back to the barn. I think I need to combine this lesson with her ground driving.
Yesterday and this morning I led both Percy and Rumer out together. I was very careful to position them both clearly when we started off and C/Td after 5 steps while they were both still in position. I took turns as to who I treated first and thankfully this kept them satisfied. I increased the steps before C/T gradually but I also C/Td for each turn through a gate or around the barn as I knew those were places that they could have crowded each other or me. What a difference it made! Back to my polite little babies.