Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Magic Box

We have a new horse game at Kearsarge Meadows, originally designed to help our most timid horse, Piper Warrior, learn to accept new things....   quickly!   As those of you who follow the Dressage Queen Blog know, Piper is not the bravest of creatures.   And this is not helping his career as a dressage horse.   A sport where the horse has only 45 seconds to "get over" spooking at the flowers, or the judge, or the puddles and get on with the dressage test!

So, the game:   We have a medium sized cardboard box most recently used to ship lovely smelling herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs.   It's open at the top and is 12 inches deep, 18 inches wide.   Inside it, we place bits of carrot, apple, and a couple of Canada mints.   We play with the box a little, making sure it makes some noise without being terrifying.

For Piper, this is very scary.   Even in the safety and comfort of a quiet barn.   The first evening, it took Piper several minutes to even consider coming to the front of his stall to look at the box we were playing with.   Even with us retreating away and reapproaching.   He worried.   It took a few more minutes before he would look into the box.   And a couple more minutes before he smelled the Canada mints.   But, in the end, he gingerly pulled the treats out of the box, enjoying an instant reward for his bravery.

Next, we decided to try the same thing with Big Ben, our 3 year old gelding out of Marja, not sure how the youngster would cope.   However, Ben walked right up to the box, shoved his head in, and dug out the treats moving the box around while doing so.   He showed absolutely no fear at all.

The first night, this was really turning into a fascinating exercise.   So, we kept moving down the aisle.

Next was little Bea Yewtee's turn.   She is our 3 year old filly out of Jeddien.   Bea is sharp and edgy by nature.   But also brave.   At first, she was totally spooked by the box.   However, her curiousity overwhelmed her fear and within a couple minutes, she was stealing treats.

Finally, we took the box to Jeddien who must have mentored Ben.   She not only ate right of out the box, she turned it over looking for anything else that may have been hidden.

The next night, the magic box was used again.   Piper was quicker to come forward, but still worried.   Meanwhile, Ben, hearing that the box game was underway, started stomping!   Bea was quite quick to have a look into the box when it arrived at her stall.   And Jeddien nickered at the idea of treats, box or no box.

All four horses are Dutch Warmbloods.   The youngsters were born on the farm and handled from birth.   Jeddien & Piper were both purchased as 2 and a half year olds imported from Holland.   All have been handled and trained with similar techniques and methods.   And yet, each is so completely unique in their personalities.

And that, in itself, is part of the wonder of horses.   They are all such amazing individuals.

Time to go play again....   Tonight, whole apples from a local farm will be rolling around on the bottom of the box.   Great noise.   Tasty treats.

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