Over the last couple of months our neighbour has been building a house. The boundary between his land and ours is close to the picadero and that is also where the new house is. Building is a noisy business and although the house itself is up, there is still quite a bit of activity going on around it. It has made the picadero a spooky place to be for my horses, exacerbated by the fact that they can’t really see what’s going on as the view is blocked by a stand of mature pine trees. After they freaked out a couple of times I decided not to use the picadero for a while, because I didn’t want them skidding around on legs that were not fully healed. I did a bit of in-hand work with them in my yard, which worked very well, because the yard has a pea gravel surface so there is good footing and Minnie and Cassie are very relaxed there, but now that I have started to do a bit more with them I want to be able to use the picadero.
I thought about how I could make the picadero a place where they would feel at ease and how I could avoid a building up of negative associations with the picadero. I want to be able to focus and keep their attention on me, and that wasn’t going to happen if the horses were constantly distracted or spooked by the activities next-door. I also don’t want the horses to see the picadero as a place of work, but rather as a place of fun, somewhere to play in. So last week, I opened the gate to the picadero and left it open and then I just waited to see what would happen. And gradually, Minnie and Cassie have incorporated the picadero into their routine.
They started by going in to roll every now and then. The surface of the picadero is a mixture of sand and pea-gravel, and they love it. Cassie usually digs a massive hole and then rolls only once, although she might dig a few more holes afterwards, but given the chance Minnie will go down in several spots for a thorough rolling session. An added benefit is that it is great for their hooves, they look as if they have been polished when they come out.
When I let Minnie and Cassie out of the yard in the morning, they can go up a little track to the back fields, or they can go down to the front. They much prefer the front fields. It’s more sociable because the house is there and they always seem to enjoy grazing close to the house. On their way, they pass the picadero and going in for a roll is part of their morning routine now. Cassie doesn’t always let Minnie roll as long as she likes, and after a few days I noticed that Minnie had started coming back on her own during the day for more rolling. Soon Cassie started doing the same.
Except Cassie doesn’t just go in to roll, she actually goes in to play. She’ll knock a few cones around, walk over a few poles, canter a bit or do a few bucks and rears. Cassie has a high play-drive and when she’s in the mood she can entertain herself very well. I’ve always thought she’d be a great horse to teach a few tricks to; I’m sure she’d enjoy it.
The other day she made me laugh out loud: Cassie noticed that Minnie had gone in. She followed her and while Minnie was still luxuriously rolling around, Cassie trotted up and drove her from her spot. Then she proceeded to longe her. She drove Minnie to the perimeter of the picadero and pushed her into a trot and she walked a smaller circle on the inside herself. It was a perfect example on how to longe a horse: Minnie trotted steadily in a relaxed manner and although the gate was open she made no attempt to escape.
It was funny and I just had to laugh, but it made me happy too. From where I was standing outside the picadero Minnie appeared to be completely sound, and although she was not fully tracking up, it is a huge improvement to see her trotting at ease on a circle! I’ll have to longe her myself now and see how she goes, but it looked good. I just hope she will longe as well for me as she did for Cassie, I’ve never tried longeing either of them at liberty with the gate open!