For the past couple of days my new pony has been living in the picadero. I couldn’t put him in with Minnie and Cassie yet. I wanted him to be wormed, checked by a vet and as he is absolutely crawling with lice, he would need to be treated for that too before I let him anywhere near my mares. But first, I must be able to catch him. That, as it turns out, is easier said than done. When I got the pony home, the first thing I did was take his head collar off. I didn’t even think about it. The head collar was way to small, and it has actually left marks on his face. So it was not really surprising that once it was off, the pony was disinclined to let me put anything even near his head; when he saw me approach with a (new) head collar in my hand, he took off and bounced around the picadero like a furry ball with legs. If I don’t have a head collar in my hand, I can walk up to him and stroke him. When I come in to skip out he follows me around and he can even get a bit pushy, he is not shy; but as soon as he spots a rope or head collar he takes off. I never considered that catching might be an issue, because I never have to actually catch my horses. If I want them, they usually come when I call and I can walk up to them anytime, anywhere and slip on a head collar. I just took it for granted but this pony needs convincing.
I want to do things in such a way that it will give the pony only positive experiences, so I decided to start him with clicker training straight away. Like most ponies he is incredibly motivated by food, and it didn’t take long before I had him targeting the head collar, even if it was a bit tentatively. He also let me put my arm over his neck and pat him on the other side after a few click and treats. I thought things were going really well and I expected to have the head collar on in a few more days.
This evening I was just putting on the coffee after dinner, when my husband said: “Is that your pony?” I looked up just in time to see something furry streak past the window like a cannonball. We went outside and sure enough, the pony was out celebrating the first bit of freedom and liberty in his life by racing around, bucking and kicking. He had figured out how to let himself out of the picadero. Smart pony! But I was not happy, because we hadn’t really sorted our little catching problem. And if you can’t catch a pony in a 20 meter picadero, what hope is there to catch him in 8 acres?
I decided to leave him for a while to calm down. It didn’t take long, all that grass was far to tempting after spending the last couple of days in the picadero on a diet of hay, so the pony soon settled, and when I came back outside he was grazing peacefully besides Twinkle. I walked up to him and held out my hand. He sniffed it. Click and treat. I brought my arm up and stroked his neck. He stood still. Click and treat. I showed him the head collar, he sniffed it, click and treat. But as soon as I lifted the head collar, he turned around and shot away like an arrow from a bow. Sigh and retreat…
I thought he might follow if I led Twinkle away, so I led her to the yard and put her in a stable, but the pony had other ideas. He had hopped on the bank that divides the front fields from the back fields and stood there like a goat. Of course Minnie and Cassie immediately and unhelpfully discovered him and I only managed to get the pony off the bank just in time before he hopped down and found himself trapped behind the electric fence that keeps Minnie and Cassie away from the bank. The pony whirled around and galloped off and by doing some fast running my daughter and I managed to head him in the direction of the yard. After a few panicky moments when Minnie and Cassie threatened to come over the fence, we managed to drive the pony into the yard. I decided to try if we could lure him into a stable, so I gave my daughter a bucket of food and positioned myself to the side to block the pony if he tried to whirl around. My daughter shook the bucket and every time the pony took a step in her direction I clicked, and he got to dip his head in the bucket and get a mouthful. My daughter would step back and wait until he followed and so with baby steps and lots of food, we managed to get him into the stable. Just as well, because by this time it was getting dark. Inside, we gave the pony the bucket, and while he had his head in it, I sneaked on the head collar, took it off, let him eat and put it back on again. Well, it’s a start.
The pony is spending the night in the stable. He has been wormed. I’ve treated him for lice. It wasn’t exactly the way I wanted to do it, but the opportunity was too good to miss. Tomorrow I’m getting the vet out to check him. After that, he is going back into the picadero until I can walk up to him at anytime and put the head collar on. But I’ll put a padlock on that gate!
Any more suggestions for names? He is proving himself cheeky and spirited, we have deleted all the gentle, cuddly names from our list!