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  • Writer's pictureKathy Troxler

Water...and other scary things!

Cluck Means Go.Whoa Means Stop.

Originally published July 2017

It's really pretty easy to work on "water issues". You don't need a creek. You don't need a pond. You don't need an ocean. You need a hose! And while the main theme of this lesson appears to be "go through water", it really isn't that at all. The BIG lesson is "cluck means always go forward CALMLY when told to do so. Even if you don't think it's a good idea". In this case "you" means, the horse. To even begin to attempt this lesson the horse has to have passed several "tests" in the round pen or arena. In short, successfully stopping and turning in the long lines, before ever venturing outside the pen.

On this day, Jet had been very brave before starting the work on the water. He had "aced" all the easy questions, long lining with skill and confidence around shrubs, mailboxes and other "stuff" around the property before we started with "what you do about water" part of the lesson.

For this session with Jet we used a black trailer mat, which he walks over all the time, and a hose. Mike did make it a little extra challenging by deciding to have the water actually spraying! It speaks to the faith we have in Jet's attitude that we were sure he could handle it. It would make the lesson a bit longer with that extra challenge, but we were sure he'd long line over in the end. Make no mistake, driving over versus leading over is significant! I'm certain he would have followed me over this obstacle just fine! However, this session was about going straight forward when told by a handler that you can't see. Think about the horse's perception when you are riding. They can't see you! Jet did a great job! Many thanks to Nicole Krauss and Lily Shepardson for setting this session up for me! Now I think Jet wants a water park to play in!

Below, Jet is really enjoying the water, but definitely not ready to commit those feet to stepping on the scary blackness. Remember, horses have terrible depth perception, which is one of the reasons that they are very leery about water hazards in the first place.

This lesson took a LONG time! I don't mind. It takes as long as it takes. In my experience the "feeling" the horse experiences about his first encounter with a "hazard", is what he'll remember the longest. Time invested at this point will pay huge dividends very quickly! If he becomes excited at this moment, he's going to tend to associate "water" with "excitement". If I push him too quickly he can end up associating "water" with "hurry". This is especially true with Arabians.They remember everything! These darn Arabians are ALWAYS thinking and the key thing is to figure out what they are thinking.

About now, Jet is thinking that the spray is pretty fun stuff!

However, while I'm willing to be very supportive and patient, there are certain "rules" that Jet must obey. And ultimately there is a lesson to be learned. If I "cluck", he must move forward. He does NOT have to move forward fast or far. This sort of "go slow" has already been established in his lessons in the round pen and around the easy obstacles. Forward, at this stage means one calm, straight step forward. If that happens it's BIG, BIG deal! After that, the rest is easy. The great big NO WAY, the move that will get him a slap on the fanny, is any hint of going backwards. That's where "rearing and spinning" are born. You don't EVER want your horse to think that going in reverse is the answer to "cluck means go"!

After a long time spent just getting relaxed and "contemplating" the water question, Jet initially tried a "duck to the right" followed by a "duck to the left" move to avoid stepping on the wet mat. Both times, he responded perfectly to my correction in the lines and straightened himself out. Eventually, he (twice!) tried an actual "run around the outside edge" move, which was useful as it proved to be a "test of his brakes". And while I did succeed in stopping him, he was strong enough to make me really dig in to hold him. Since he failed to "whoa" on light pressure (which he knows how to do when in a different situation) I definitely used enough pressure on those lines to make him stop, which he found a bit uncomfortable. I'm fine with that. I did not want him to find running away with me very fun at all. Keep in mind, that bit pressure was never a jerk! But I definitely did not let him drag me...I resisted and stood my ground until he was stopped. This is a lesson that I could not have done nearly as well if I had been mounted.

By the end of the session, Jet took proper walk steps forward through the water. And his overall knowledge of what "cluck" and "whoa" mean were reinforced. And yes, it means "go because I said so" and "stop and be still" even when you don't want to!

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