Saturday, October 1, 2011

Learning the Spanish Walk

Did you bring the carrots?

The winter of 2010-2011 was a real bummer for riding.  We did not have as much snow as the previous year, for which I was VERY thankful, but the ground was frozen and completely inadequate for riding for many, many weeks.  I had limited access to an indoor arena, but this cost money to rent and since I already spend a considerable amount each month to keep my enormous pet, it is not easy to justify also paying a fee to ride him.  Besides, his winter coat is so thick and wonderful, that I cannot do too much with him or he will sweat profusely and risk a chill.  I guess that the winter is officially our off-season, although it makes for some lovely, insect and arachnid-free trail riding.  This is, of course, assuming that there is not ice on the ground!

This winter, it became clear that Harley and I still needed some activity, even if riding was on hiatus until the tundra thawed.  I have never been much of a trick trainer.  In elementary school, my best friend and I attempted to train her standard poodle to jump through a hula hoop.  We did have some success, although standard poodles do not fit through child-sized hula hoops very well.  I have attempted to teach my budgies to speak, but I just do not have the stamina to repeat phrases over and over again.  By the time our cockatiel, Avery, was whistling the beginning of the "Imperial March" from Star Wars, I was so tired of the song that I did not want to here it anymore!

If I am going to put time into training, I need practical motivation, like my horse walking onto a trailer or waiting patiently as I remove his halter before dinner.  When I was owned by two cats, I could trim their nails, brush them, and give them a bath on occasion, although they did not like the last one at all.  I even worked out an understanding with my large, asthmatic cat.  He allowed me to administer medication daily via an inhaler and a special muzzle designed for cats.  He was a very special (expensive) cat.  Now a bird owner, my budgies may not speak, but they are finger-trained and easy to return to their cage after "free time".  Well, half of them are easy (Rapa, you are the best budgie).  The yearlings are still learning (You know who you are, Fabio!  No pressure, little Velvet.).  Avery, learned to say a few things, but we did not actively try to teach him to say, "You're a good boy!"  I guess, he just likes compliments.

Our flock from the left: precocious Avery, shy Velvet, Rapa-The-Wonder-Budgie, and Fabio, the brat.  We love them all!

My husband did teach Rapa, the green budgie, to "shake", like a dog shaking your hand with his paw, and he has taught Avery several little songs and games, with Rapa often joining the fun.  I cannot take any credit for their cute tricks, though.  The birds are my husband's "horses".  ;)

So teaching Harley tricks has not been high on my list when there are so many practical things worth our precious time together.  Now, I know that many people love trick training and do connect some practicality with it, but this is just my personal preference.  And I suppose one could argue that riding is one big trick.  In that case, I am sold!

My preferences aside, Harley seems to be a trick-learning fool, especially if carrots are involved.  I once walked him into the indoor ring before a clinic and we found ourselves in front of a group of auditors.  Harley raised his upper lip in the flehmen response and received an immediate laugh from the group.  He repeated the stunt, received a second laugh, and then went for a third.  Some onlookers asked how I taught him the trick and I just shook my head and gave him a pat.  That was all Harley.

We also used to have access to a pedestal.  A pony was learning to stand on the pedestal, so I decided to walk Harley up to the step and see what he would do.  After lots of sniffing and smelling, I placed my foot on the step and clucked to him.  Both front feet went on the step just like that.  I did not even have carrots on me.  Maybe Harley dreams of joining the circus.

He will also jump for carrots or turn and walk over the jump back and forth with barely a word from me, if he thinks that there is a carrot to be earned.  Definitely entertaining and adorable!  I wrote about his free jumping escapades earlier this year. 

So when I finally decided to genuinely attempt to teach Harley a trick this winter, I was curious to see what would happen.  I approached it like a scientist, carefully observing his response and adjusting my role as the "carrot vending machine" accordingly.  I hope you enjoy this video demonstrating our current interpretation of the Spanish Walk (August 2011).  In a future post, I will write about the learning process for horse and human.


  1. Val,

    It is so obvious that Harley is a real "tryer." I love horses that will try. A willing and enthusiastic partner is worth his weight in gold. I guess you have to weigh the budgies differently though since they're so small! :0)

  2. *laughing*
    Yeah, it is tough to compare them by the same yardstick. IMO Harley definitely has them beat, though. Avery has some serious attitude at times! Good thing he is cute. :)

  3. Sheesh! I've been having commenting problems for a while now, I think I may have figured it out.
    Anyway, Harley is so darn cute! I am unclear what the "spanish walk" is. I will "google" it. I have a feeling that he is going to get it pretty quick. He's a smart one! I gotta see the big smile though. I just grin and giggle every time I read about Harley being silly. Love it!

  4. Hi Mary! I hope the commenting situation improves. It is very frustrating when something is broken, especially when that something is technology.

    Oops. I should have explained the Spanish walk in this post. I will talk about it more in the follow-up. My apologies!

    Wikipedia has a nice little video of a Baroque-type horse performing the Spanish walk under saddle. The horse raises his front legs in an exaggerated motion as he walks forward. Harley is not raising his legs nearly as much as the demonstrating horse, who has an incredible range of motion and lift in his shoulders. Harley is not round or collected as we practice on the ground, but I am still calling it our interpretation of the Spanish walk since he is lifting his front legs higher than he would when walking normally. Hope that helps. :)

  5. First I have to say I think Harley is GORGEOUS! What a beautiful horse. I love his coloring and conformation.
    Nice work with the Spanish walk. Winter is a good time to work on non-riding things isn't it?

  6. Carol- Yes, it is! I was surprised that working with my horse in the barn aisle could be (almost) as much fun as riding. Harley was happy as soon as he saw me armed with carrots. ;)

    Thank you for complimenting my horse! One can never go wrong there.

  7. I'll be in the same boat this winter, Coriander will get the winter off from riding so I've been thinking of what I can teach him while I'm grounded. I'm thinking leg raises and revisiting the pose that we've previously been having no luck with. I'll be interested to see how far you and Harley progress.

  8. I have to admit that this training experience was more engaging than I expected. I like observing the learning process and watching how my horse reacts. Now I am curious about the pose you are teaching Coriander.

  9. You should try clicker training! It's a little like what you're doing already only you'll have a marker signal which takes some of the guessing out of it and helps the horse understand more easily what we want. There is a lot of science behind it too so it might just appeal to you. I think with the progress you're making that you could have him doing the Spanish Walk in a day or two. He is so smart!

  10. Thanks achieve1dream! We do not practice very often, but he seems to remember what we were doing as soon as he sees the carrots. Thanks for the tip.


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