I think I’ve mentioned my interest in horse agility on here before; Marty and I have played with “wild agility” in the past, back when we were still going out for walks, and once it became apparent that he was probably not going to become a riding mule I started looking for things that I could do with him instead.
Agility appealed to me because it seems that, in order to do it well, you need to have an excellent foundation in groundwork. All the things about the way my mules handle that I consider important are required here: it can’t be done if you’re pushing and pulling on each other!
Agility not only helps you work on and improve those basic leading skills, but it prepares your horse or mule for many other situations that they might encounter during their life – for example, going under arches or through narrow gaps is great preparation for loading.
It’s also an excellent bonding exercise and can help improve confidence.
Through a comment on a Facebook thread I discovered Online Horse Agility, which sounded like a lot of fun, but I had no idea where to start when it came to creating my own course. Fortunately, I’d been following Horse Agility Sussex & Kent and I messaged Sue to see if she would be able to come to Surrey for a lesson. Much to my delight, it turns out that she has another client nearby and so we were able to arrange a date.
Ben took Xato, I had Marty, and my mum came along to have a go with little Cash pony – he was an honourary mule for the day!
Although we all did the course individually, so I could have taken both mules myself, I’d asked Ben to take Xato because I was having a silly confidence wobble and I didn’t want to screw things up for Xato by passing my anxiety on to him! I was soon able to see that he was taking it all in his stride, and I did have a little go with him myself afterwards – unfortunately there aren’t any pictures of that, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
Next up was Mum and Cash. I was super proud of these two: Mum hasn’t done anything like this before, and Cash pony has come a hell of a long way from when Ben first got him. For him to be able to tackle these obstacles as well as he did, with a brand new handler, was really good. Mum did all the right things and he clearly had a lot of confidence in her. It can be pretty intimidating to step up and do something like this when you’ve never handled the horse before, you don’t know where all the “buttons” are, and people are throwing around horsemanship lingo like they expect everyone to understand it – so huge props to Mum for stepping up to the challenge!
Marty had been watching all this from his pen, as we expected him to find this quite a challenge and were hoping that he would gain confidence by seeing his fieldmates complete the tasks first.
I have to say, I am immensely proud of the little guy. You can see from the photos that he certainly had concerns, and was doing a lot of thinking – remember that with mules, ear and tail signals are a little different and so ears facing backwards and a busy tail often means they’re contemplating what’s been asked of them – but you can also see that I wasn’t forcing him to do any of it, and there were no explosions or Marty Meltdowns. He really has matured so much.
The tarp was a huge thing for us. On the very first day we met Marty, we asked him to cross a tarp. He did so easily, but on the way back a gust of wind caught it and caused it to rustle as he was halfway across. We spent a long time trying to persuade him to go near it again, but that was it: he had made up his mind! So I feel that this is a real milestone in our journey together.
My Dad took a couple of videos of Marty and I, which was greatly appreciated – I wish I’d thought to video more of the day! Here are some moments from our tarp crossing; the calm walk across was not captured, but you can see some of the process that led us to that point.