"Make the wrong thing hard and right thing easy." Ray Hunt
I had been working with Sportie on his gate addiction in the arena with little success. I get it: why wouldn’t he want to stand at the gate instead of working on his trot to canter transitions? The gate is the closest location to his friends and future lunch. I get the attraction but I also believe the satisfaction earned from a job well done is not limited to humans. I believe animals enjoy feeling useful, whether Sportie wants to admit it or not.
So I was thrilled to discover my YouTube trainer, Warwick Schiller, had a video how to deal with your horse wanting to be at point A when you want him to go to point B. In “The Scary End of the Arena,” or the place Sportie would think of as “Where Hope Goes to Die,” Schiller demonstrated how to convince your horse that whatever awaits at the far side of the arena is preferable to hanging out at the gate.
Following Schiller’s instructions, I cued Sportie to walk away from the gate but when he tried to do an 180, instead of correcting him I allowed him free rein to go wherever he wanted, which was back to the gate where we started. Then I began cueing him to walk in small circles, clucking to him and flapping my legs without kicking him, just to annoy him. After several circles I let him straighten out in my desired direction and he took a few steps out but decided to check the gate out again. We repeated this cycle three times until, just like in the video, the last place Sportie wanted to be was at that dang gate. When we ended our workout session, even when I allowed Sportie free rein to end up at the gate, he stopped ten feet away from it. That was a welcome first!
Habits don’t always have to be hard to break.