continued from yesterday…

I’ve been “going to the gym” with my young warmblood, right in his stall, while we do the exercises in Hilary Clayton and and Narelle Stubbs’ book and DVD, “Activate Your Horse’s Core.”  Our routine includes carrot stretches, back lifts and leg stretches.  Yesterday while we were at the gym, out of the blue and without my asking, my horse lifted his left knee, as he might in passage, so I could give him his stretch.

While I held his knee and stretched it towards me for the 20 seconds that makes it work, his head was right over mine.  Out of the blue and without my asking, he decided to move his head to the left, right over mine, and stretch his neck as far as he could to one side.  Then he lifted his head over mine again and stretched his neck as far as he could to the other side.  He repeated it, for two reps per side.

I certainly didn’t ask for this behavior.  He simply offered to improve the exercise. And I think he did.  I may be biased, but I think we should suggest this improvement to Hilary and Narelle, for the next edition of their book.  My horse’s inventiveness delighted me.  I was happy he offered me something that neither I nor, in all likelihood, Hilary or Narelle had considered.

It wasn’t the first time he offered me something that day.  Earlier, while I was marching him in hand, he offered me shoulder-in.  I’ve seen horses do this when I worked with Alex Kurland…but never before without a click and a treat. Because of my prejudice — I think that horses should produce a behavior when I ask, rather than offering behaviors I don’t ask for — I declined his offer.  But I did pay attention to it, because I took him up on his offer the following day.

And it didn’t stop there.  Yesterday, I also gave a jumping lesson, with a line of four cavaletti set up for one of my students and her pony, who trotted perfectly over the grid.  When I removed the third cavaletti in the line and used it to form a low oxer at the end of the line (with a ground rail angled over the top) he went through the new grid just as beautifully.  I asked them to repeat it, and this time, the pony decided the grid was a bounce.  He jumped over the first two cavaletti as if they were a single oxer, landed, and then jumped over the oxer at the end.

His young rider has a lovely seat and stayed with her pony, even though he surprised her.  She was delighted with his creativity and comedic flair, both of which she would never have discovered had he not offered them.  I was delighted, too, with his athleticism and creativity.

So maybe it’s time for me to reassess my position on the kind of offers horses make.  Here I am feeding carrots by hand to strengthen my horse’s core, and I’m deadset against hand feeding.  Or I think I am.  Or I used to think I am.

I’m sure the horses will help me figure out the answer.