• VOLUME 41 • © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine
Milagro Update: Learning A Soft Presentation.
Six months have brought about many changes: we see a stallion that is not only slowly filling out, showing us glimpses of the mature stallion he will be one day. The changes in personality, in his emotional maturity, are even more remarkable. He still has a long way to go, but you can see the stallion he is going to be - one day. Vigilant, very bright, kind - there is no meanness in this stallion, although there is no doubt that he is a stallion.
Some observing him might think he has ADD, he is so all over the place. He is never still, always getting into something, one moment grabbing the lunge whip and gleefully chasing his owner with it, the next, trying to get ready to literally climb up the bleachers just to be with her and maybe to see if he can, next grabbing someone’s jacket and mouthing it and waving it around just for fun. His mouth is just as active or more so than his mind. His mouth is constantly busy, picking up, chewing everything and anything in sight that one really wonders why they don’t create chew toys for horses!
Even though he is 3 going on 4, it is astounding to see how immature he still really is. Both mentally and physically. There can be no doubt that from a training perspective, the first goal has to be to help develop his focusing ability. To stay on task for longer than two seconds. While it makes sense for a superior stallion to be constantly scanning the horizon, this young boy, like a young child, needs to be gently guided towards paying attention for longer and longer periods of time.
The first exercise is an insistence on attention [Editors Note: The article in our Volume 39 Leaders of Leaders]. It is difficult to believe that such a hyper-vigilant being would not constantly be paying attention. But just like a young intelligent physically active child, he does seem as though he can be ultra focussed one moment and then off to something else the next, at times. A truly good trainer sees the challenge for what it is: a challenge to slowly increase the focus length, a skill that can be developed over time. It is also an opportunity to establish that all-important aspect: that the horse pay attention at all times.
The owner is asked to go out and work on her soft presentation, which we had introduced earlier: looking only with her peripheral vision at her horse. Only to surprise her horse, by sound, the swish of the whip, a jump, anything to let him know that something unexpected was about to happen. Within a relatively short time, it was surprising to the rider to see the stallion’s body soften, with movement actually improving as he began to realize that no matter where he was in relation to his rider in the arena, a focus was required at all times. Not that he wouldn’t challenge this the next morning when they went out to work with him before he had even had breakfast, and as he listened to the other horses begin to be led out of the barn while he was still in the arena - his focus was obviously more on the arena door at times than on his rider. As he was allowed to choose where he was in the arena, attention could still be kept with gentle play, using the lunge whip to tap him all over his body, lay the lunge whip on his back and from behind through his ears. His quietness and gentle demeanor showed this was not a spooky horse. As reactive as he constantly was, so quick in his reactions that it could be difficult to catch moments, as busy as he always was, one might presuppose that this would be a spooky horse. But rather, this constant interaction with his environment made for a curious and aware horse, a horse that would always be slow to spook.
But with his quickness, with his stallion-like activity, with his brightness, with his new learned outspokenness - as he has just recently learned he is allowed to have a voice - this can create a horse that may make us jump! Action and reaction creating reinforcement for yet more activity and an even louder and more active voice on the part of the horse. Which can begin to create problems.