The only goal I’ve set (so far) for this year is to introduce Speedy to something weird and new each week. I’m giving myself a couple of bye weeks to account for vacation or illness or life or whatever. But the beauty of this game is that even if Speedy is out of work for some reason, we can still play around with weird things in the down time.
Why Weird Things? Speedy is really quite good with novel objects and generally not a spooky guy. Every once in a while we come across something in a new context or something uniquely weird that catches us off guard. And since he’s so generally well-behaved and calm, neither of us has a lot of tools in our belt for handling those situations. So we’re going to practice playing with weird things at home so that when we find weird things out in the wild we have a better handle on how to get over, past, or through them.
Speedy also has his own way of handling Things. Sometimes this manifests itself in novel, adorable ways of approaching problems. I’ll film him lining himself up at the mounting block sometime. It’s ridiculously cute, and he’s pretty enthusiastic about it. But Speedy is also very, very convinced his way is The Way
of Mandalor to handle Things. Sometimes this manifests itself in him very, very carefully avoiding doing what I’m trying to ask because it is Not The Way. And that is…. frustrating.
Also, Speedy can be kinda weirdly uncreative (probably linked to his firm belief that his way is The Way). So I’m hoping that by tackling a bunch of novel things, we will unlock some more creativity and Speedy will become a little more suggestible to when I ask him to do something that is Not The Way.
One area of focus for this stuff is going to be Speedy’s hind feet. He can be kinda clueless about his hind feet, has some bad habits in down transitions that will definitely bite us in the long term (he bounces on the tendons of his stifles in down transitions sometimes; it’s incredibly uncomfortable and terrible for his stifles), and has so far been slightly resistant to my efforts to increase his proprioception behind. So that’s the theme of a lot of these ideas.
What Weird Things? In no particular order, here’s a list of the Weird Things that might work for this game, with different behaviors and approaches grouped by Thing. Different Weird Things will warrant different approaches. A lot of this stuff, I want Speedy to put his feet on or over. But there’s also stuff I want him to approach, “chase,” or ignore — so we can ignore that stuff in the show ring!
- Water bottles (the noisy, crinkly kind)
- nose target
- front foot on bottle
- back foot on bottle
- water bottle maze
- Feed bag
- nose target (we do already do this)
- front feet on bag
- back feet on bag
- feet on two different bags?
- front feet on tarp
- back feet on tarp
- all feet on tarp
- tarp on back
- tarp on head
- slide tarp over body side to side
- slide tarp over body front to back/back to front
- Ball (still not sure if I’m going big yoga-style or soccer ball here)
- nose ball
- push ball
- hind foot push ball
- Cardboard box
- push box
- hind foot push box?
front feet on (flattened) box1/15 hind feet on (flattened) box1/15
- ZIP STRING (I love this toy: https://zipstring.com/)
- nose target
- ignore — do other behavior with zip string running
- Poles (this is a big one, and we already play with poles a bunch)
step backwards over one pole
- step backwards over series of poles
- step backwards over 3 poles together (imagine a really wide pole)
- step backwards over raised pole
- sidepass over pole (front/hind feet split)
- straddle pole (L/R split)
- straddle pole and walk forward (L/R split)
yield haunches over/around pole1/9
- Black box (just a black object – not his fave color)
- nose target
- target from a distance
- jump over (under saddle)
- jump over (on the ground – a big ask!)
- nose target
- chase the tiger (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5rESt-HEPI&ab_channel=NaturalDressage)
- nose target
- Balance pads
- hind feet
- all four feet
- all four feet in different positions
We are not quite at 50 — 44, to my count — and we’ve already knocked a few off the list. So I need a few more weird ideas to add to this list, so I’m open to suggestions!
So far, this is SO FUN! One of the first nights I was home after Christmas I wasn’t up for a ride, so I just played around with Speedy yielding his haunches near and over a pole. He was so uncomfortable with the idea of moving his hind feet near a pole that he would take this big, ridiculous steps away from the pole at any opportunity. Despite being completely willing to balance both front feet on a pole at the same time (insert massive eyeroll here). So we just edged up to the idea of stepping over the pole with just his hind feet, and I accepted any try in that general direction.
I played with the cardboard box after bathing Speedy for his much-needed mid-season clip. He was pretty cranky after his bath and being harassed by my desperate attempts to dry him, and wasn’t really interested in playing with me in his stall. But once I pulled him into the arena with the cardboard box and started clicking for him doing weird things with the box, he was like “oh…. yes okay…. I like this game.” I would run across the arena with Speedy chasing me, throw the box on the ground, and then we would turn around to do both a front and then hind foot target. Such a good game.
I’m not sure what we will add next week — maybe I’ll finally get my hands on some nasty plastic water bottles??