Playing Horse Ball, leveling up

I posted last month about introducing a large beach ball to the ponies and to Dante. The goal is to get them to free play by moving, kicking and chasing the ball. Benefits:

  • Physically, the horse is determining the pace of his own movements so he can self correct with no worries about a rider’s balance;
  • The ball can be kicked away from the human, and the horse continues to play but at a distance – helpful for horses that have issues with boundaries;
  • Requires quicker changes of direction (think soccer) which in turn causes more need for horse to self correct his own balance (vs. WTC on the rail under saddle);
  • Requires a lot of athleticism, builds the horse up physically;
  • Provides  your horse with something new – a boredom buster;
  • Play and companionship outlet for horses stabled or pastured alone.

I’ve done this game before with Dancer so she remembered it, and Dante took to it readily enough because he knew the cue for leg lifts and I just rolled the ball under him to get it accidentally kicked. Those early sessions can be found here along with some video.

Today, it wasn’t too windy so I took the Beach Ball out to the pasture (this ball is too lightweight and could be blown away on windy days) and got Dante to come with me to touch and kick it. Today, I upped the game by kicking it out of reach and then running to it – and was happy to see Dante running to it too!

Dancer my pony is high energy so getting her to play is easy. OTOH, Dante is a slow moving turtle some days and it’s been a bit of a trial to get him engaged. Some days are more successful then others and I suspect this is about how he feels day to day with his stifle issues and muscle problems (PSSM).

Once the horse knows to touch or kick for a click treat (CT), start a new game with about 3-5 regular kicks with CT’s while working closer to the horse to get his attention. This reminds him of what you expect him to do.

Start moving the ball further away from him and ask the horse to move more (looking for trots) before moving the ball for a CT. To keep him happy, you can also up the amount of treats used – such as a Jackpot (more treats then usual) or by using a favorite, highly desirable treat.

If the horse disengages from the game, bring the ball back into their “zone” and get them to re-engage by entering their bubble of territory. Again, consider upping the treats with a Jackpot or a favorite treat.

Don’t kick the ball away until  you know your horse is paying attention. In this video, Miles sometimes kicks the ball away while the horse is looking elsewhere. Wait until your horse indicates that he is watching you before kicking.

Start increasing the competition (in a way you are going to start “irritating” him) by allowing him to approach the ball and right before he can touch the ball, kick it away and chase the ball yourself. This works if the horse knows he is supposed to touch-kick the ball and he is going to get competitive when he sees you are denying him the ball!

After Miles got done being my guinea pig, I played more with Dante. The difference between him and I, is I make sure that Dante is engaged and looking before kicking the ball away. When he does get to the ball and kicks it, I express a lot of verbal praise and give him Jackpots. Keep his enthusiasm!

As you can see we are in a quite a large field and without tack or any sort, Dante can leave at any time. Overall this game shows you what you have to do to keep your horse’s attention. It’s great for developing that reciprocal awareness needed between you and your horse in order to be successful.

I do think the Adequan makes him feel better – so now together with that and the ball, he’s giving chase with a little with a slow energy trot but heck I’ll take it. I’m really hoping this is going to evolve into more rambunctious movement and play for him! He’s getting jackpot rewards when he shows energy playing with the ball so let’s see where that takes us with this activity!

This entry was posted in Clicker Training, Learning w/ Play & Curiosity, videos. Bookmark the permalink.

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