A couple of weekends ago, our Friends From Down The Lane invited us over to have a go on their agility set-up. I roped Ben in as well so that I could bring both mules – agility is a fabulous thing to do with any equine no matter their discipline, and I was keen to do more of it with Xato now that we’re riding out. Although he’s a pretty unflappable guy, it doesn’t hurt to introduce new things in a controlled environment from time to time. I took Marty just because it was an excuse to take him out and do things with him.
Back in November, we had an agility play day with Sue Gardner who came along with a bunch of equipment and walked us through how to approach the various obstacles. We haven’t done any since as I am terribly unorganised / have been broke all year and haven’t bought any equipment of our own.
As we both had mules, I didn’t photograph every obstacle but here is a bit of a photo series about Xato vs. the curtain. In the previous agility day, he was introduced to the curtain but never actually went under it as we didn’t raise it until later. We were unable to change the height on this one, but the main curtain was able to be removed which left just a couple of tassles on either side of the arch.
Having a look at the curtain on the ground, first.
Alright, walking over it is fine.
Hmm, not so sure about it now it’s raised!
Once he’d had a good look, he was asked to follow it; this is a great way of getting them comfortable with a scary object. Ben demonstrated this extremely well when he fell off in a group of 30 riders at a Buck Branaman clinic and Iris bolted; Buck just told everyone to follow Iris.
Progressing to walking while Ben creates more movement with the object.
Touching him with it – note the loose rope. If Xato had wanted to move away, he would have been allowed to.
Inspired by that collar scene in War Horse, Ben demonstrates what he’d like Xato to do (seriously, don’t watch horse movies with Ben and I. We’re terrible).
Raising the curtain up above head height.
Rubbing him with it again….
Um … hi, Marty. We hadn’t forgotten you.
…And bringing the curtain up and over him.
Then, the arch. Ben asked him from the upwind side first, as that meant he wasn’t walking into the plastic strips. He is being allowed to stand and look here.
Suck that chin in and tuck that bum under – he’s through!
A lot of soaking time to think about it. Mules require a little longer to process things than horses do.
And going through from the other side. Ben had tied up the strips here so they were rustling, but not actually touching.
The thing I was most pleased about was that, after his first pass under the arch, Xato shot off but disengaged when he hit the end of the rope rather than feeling that pressure and just leaving at top speed. That was a really good change from him!
Meanwhile, our short-eared friends showed us how it SHOULD be done.
Ah, you’re just showing off now…!
Yer a Unicorn, Xato!
Marty also had a go at all the obstacles available – we walked through a square full of plastic bottles, weaved through cones, followed a giant inflatable ball around, backed up through the zig-zag, went under the arch, and crossed the tarpaulin.
He went through in much the same way that Xato did, but he didn’t take as much convincing. A mule will do a lot for someone they trust – I am fairly certain it would have taken longer if Ben had been leading him – but I sometimes think we need to be even more aware when that is the case. He’s coming through because it’s me who asked him to, but does he feel as good about it as he would if he’d taken the time to really inspect it? Or does it not matter so long as the end result is good? Is it still him making the choice, or is he just following me because that’s what he does? We had a similar issue when he went off for training, as it turned out that what I thought was him being good at leading was actually just him being good at wanting to be with me – he was, in fact, quite heavy on the line and draggy when anyone else took him. I’m not saying this to boast of some magical bond, I’m saying this as an example of a thing that I thought he understood but, in fact, he didn’t. It’s something I’ve since tried to be more aware of.
The tarp – bless him! He wasn’t sure about this until I walked onto it and stomped about a bit to show him it was safe footing. This was the same technique I used on the previous agility day, and it worked as he put one forefoot on and then the other. He then got a bit stuck and teetered on the edge of wanting to run backwards, but I put the tiniest ask down the line and he came forward. Brave mule.
The tarp was fine, but the little plastic digger at the end was surely one of Satan’s minions.
It was a good day and I really need to get myself sorted and find some fun obstacles for ourselves. Marty thoroughly enjoyed coming out and doing things, and it was useful for Xato too.