We always celebrate after the end of the shoot at our “wrap party.” This time there was lots of laughter and reminiscing and we always use this time to brainstorm on the titles of the shows and what show we think will turn out to be the best episode of the shoot. We had so much fun decompressing (while having dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant in town) that a lady actually came over to our table on her way out of the restaurant to tell us how much she enjoyed listening to our laughter.
We unanimously agreed that the best episode, which we titled, “You Can’t Make Me”, was a mare who adamantly refused to cross a tarp. Not because she was afraid of it (clearly), but because she had been to a week-long trail obstacle clinic where they fought with her all week long and never successfully got her over the tarp. That’s a lot of success on her part that was hard to overcome. She had clearly learned that all she had to do was sull-up and fight and she would never have to step foot on that stinking tarp. So there. You can’t make me do that.
Using the most classic principles of natural horsemanship, I set about to convince the mare that the right thing would be easy and the wrong thing would be hard—her choice. Every time she refused to step up to the tarp (by backing up in a tantrum) I would pull her to the side and work the patooti out of her—hard trot, constantly changing direction until she was huffing and puffing a blue streak. Then I would present her to the tarp and as long as she had forward interest in the tarp, I would let her stand and rest. The instant she was defiant and refused, back to work we went.
This seemed like a good plan, but an hour into it, with the sunlight fading, I was beginning to wonder if I could out last her. Meanwhile, my film crew were saying silent prayers as they stood and watched. But staying the course almost always pays with horses, unless the course is flawed to begin with. At an hour and 22 minutes, the mare finally relented and walked calmly over the tarp. Then she did it 6-8 more times without hesitation. As is typical, once she made up her mind, she was perfectly willing to walk over the tarp. I put the owner back on her and she marched obediently over the tarp several more times.
The next morning during practice (we always give the riders time off-camera to practice what they have learned before we wrap the show), the mare put up a fight again, but only for about 10 minutes. When it was time to film the wrap-up, she refused the tarp once, did a few minutes of hard stuff, then marched over it like a trooper.
She was a tough nut to crack, but in the end, she agreed that the fight was not worth it. We had five other great episodes in this shoot, including two shot with Dale Myler—one of the world’s foremost experts on bits. A young dressage prospect and a very frustrated western horse made dramatic progress by making them more comfortable in their mouths so that they could think and learn. It’s amazing the turn-around you can make in horses with small but meaningful changes.
Enjoy the ride,