• Kathy Troxler

Lessons with Mulan: "The Bridge"


Here’s little taste of just some of the bits of training that we’ve covered with Mulan in the past couple of months. Mikalla hopped up on mama Frosty almost a month ago to pony her in the indoor arena. “Ponying” any young horse is a great way to begin to introduce a young horse to a totally different perspective—that of having a human in their field of vision from a much higher perspective. And this will definitely be a step that helps when the horse is eventually introduced to carrying a rider. This was just a little, tiny session, probably only 10 minutes. One reason we chose to do it in the indoor was because it was a safe area IF anything occurred that might have resulted in Mikalla having to drop Mulan’s lead.

Fast forward to yesterday when Oliva introduced Mulan to the idea of stepping on our little “bridge”. While we used a bridge, the lesson could be stepping up on anything “suspicious”…think trailer ramps or into wash racks. Some could argue that Mulan would have been very likely to follow her mama immediately onto the bridge. This is true. But that wouldn’t have taught the lesson she needs to learn. Fact is that there­ will be times that Mulan—as an adult horse—would need to acquiesce to her human partner in matters regarding “we’re going there”. Mama won’t always be there to lead the way.


In the course of this lesson (8 minutes) Mulan also learned a valuable lessons about yielding to pressure and that the sooner she acquiesces, the sooner she got her “atta girl”. And we observed something we already knew about Mulan—she’s not dramatic—she’s stubborn. Once she takes a stand on an issue, she sticks by it lol. What the photos from the social media posts don’t show is that the first attempt of Mulan on the bridge—heading right to left—Mulan walked right up and over. But wait! When turned around—and seeing a different view of the SAME bridge—Mulan said, nope! And having said no, Mulan stuck by that answer for another 7 minutes. As good horsemen know, “it takes as long as it takes” and Olivia presented the question, gave Mulan time to answer (and Mulan evaded left side, right side and backwards) until Mulan decided that Olivia was a worthy “alpha” and walked across that darn bridge like it was her idea in the first place.


Want to see the really super boring “7 minutes of Mulan’s first bridge”? Here it is below! And I’m not kidding when I say it's not exciting or glamorous. Most people won’t appreciate the subtlety of the timing. Won’t even see the cues and the rewards, but some will. The most important points are a) once you start something like this, you have to be all in and you STAY THE COURSE. And b) your energy has to be “we’re doing this” BUT also at no time do you escalate things to any point that you raise the adrenaline of the horse. Because if you do that, then the horse associates the task with adrenaline and that is NOT what you want. They're shown in order. Mulan and Oliva "acing" the bridge walk. Then below, literally turning around and it's a whole new world in Mulan's opinion.

About now, it looks like this is going to be a super, super short training session.


And, this is when it got real!


What am I really curious about? I can’t wait to see how Mulan “digested” this session and we won’t know that until the next “bridge session”.


It Takes As Long As It Takes.