Arrow is still living in the Picadero. That is boring for him, because there really isn’t all that much to do. He has already eaten all the grass and weeds that had invaded. Once his hay-net is empty he trundles around despondently, like a child who wants to play outside, but discovers all his friends have gone for the day. Except of course that Arrow never had friends, because he has lived alone since he was weaned. I can’t help feeling sorry for him and I would like nothing better than to put him in with Minnie and Cassie, but I need a bit more time to teach him some basic skills, so I’ve decided to keep him in the picadero for another day or two. After that, I’m sure the mares will be delighted to take up his education.
Having Arrow in the picadero has given me the opportunity to begin getting to know him. I go in a couple of times a day to spend time with him. He needs to be comfortable with being touched and he has to be confident enough so that I don’t need to tip-toe around him. I also take him out for short walks and for hand-grazing. And I go in twice a day to skip out. I don’t interact with him while I do that, I just go around with the fork. While I take care of house-keeping, I quietly observe him and that has been very interesting. Now that he is settled, his character is beginning to show. Initially, he was watching me apprehensively; then he decided he wanted to know what I was doing, so he started to follow me. In the meantime, clicker training and practising with the head collar had given him confidence, and he lost his wariness. Soon, he slipped in behind me while I was skipping out, and, with his neck and head lowered and ears back, he started to attempt to drive me. On the whole it was rather amateurish, and I know several horses who would have died with laughter if he had tried this technique on them, but the intention was there. And he certainly made up for shoddy technique with persistence.
Hierarchy in a herd is determined by who drives who. That even works in my “herd” of two: Cassie is the driver. Cassie can take Minnie’s bucket any time she feels like it, she can push Minnie away from the water if she wants to drink or take the biggest pile of hay. When Cassie wants something that Minnie has, she’ll go and get it. That doesn’t mean that Cassie is the leader; if there is something new to investigate, like a goat suddenly turning up in the yard, it is Minnie who will go first and Cassie is happy to follow.
Young horses learn this by play. The more self-confident a young horse is, the easier they’ll find it to drive others, while the shy ones learn to give way. What happens then if a horse grows up without the company of other horses to practise with? They don’t learn the language; they will lack social skills. This is the case with Arrow. Never having lived with other horses since he was weaned at 4 months old, he is clueless when it comes to personal space. I noticed that in his attempts to drive me, he would come right into my space and it was hard to get him to back off. I could turn and step into him with energy and he wouldn’t budge. Slap his chest and he still wouldn’t budge. In horse terms, I had to shout at him before he took me serious.
Skipping out was not a good place to start teaching him that it would be a good idea to pay attention to me, because I have to move around and that made it far too tempting for Arrow to be at my back again with his antics. I decided to do it with his food. When I bring in his hay or his bucket, I stake a claim to it. I go and stand in front of it. Mine. And when he approaches me with his ears back, I chase him off.
The first few times that cost quite a bit of energy, and he put in a lot of energy himself; cantering around, trying to find an opening so he could get at the food. Then he tried a different approach: standing in front of me pulling faces. I moved him off again. Eventually, he backed off with smaller and smaller signals, until he decided I obviously wasn’t moving and he started to lose interest, turning to sniff at pine cones on the ground instead.
I have done this twice today. I wait until he stands still, then I walk over to him and stroke him and then I leave the picadero so he can eat. It’s so easy with small ponies to laugh at their behaviour and call it cheeky and tolerate things you would never accept from a full size horse because it would be dangerous, and that’s how they become little monsters. I’m hoping to put Arrow in with Minnie and Cassie on Sunday, but before that, he has to learn to pay attention to me and he has to learn the basic manners he needs to live in the human world. After that, Minnie and Cassie can teach him how to be a horse.