Jan and Salsa were having trouble when they played with the Figure 8. Salsa would stop at the barrel instead of going around it, and he would drop into a walk during the change of direction between the barrels.
I worked with Jan to help her learn how to manage her focus and her body language. When Jan’s body language was too busy or loud or, in her word, “spastic,” Salsa became more reactive instead of responsive. When Jan focused on the barrel, so did Salsa. That caused him to stop at the barrel and touch it, thinking that’s what she wanted him to do.
I asked Jan to change her focus from the barrel to a spot about 12 feet beyond the barrel, and to picture Salsa making a wide circle. If he stopped (at the barrel or anywhere else on the pattern), she was to calmly send him again.
Salsa is an extroverted horse who likes to play games and to move his feet — a lot like Jan. Salsa gets frustrated or fearful when he can’t figure out what is being asked of him. His fear worries Jan, and Jan had developed a habit of stopping everything she was doing when he got nervous. This meant she inadvertently gave him release at the wrong time, such as when he was stopped at the barrel.
In our lesson, Jan practiced following through with her directions and timing her release appropriately. Salsa likes to please Jan and he puts effort into their games, so it wasn’t long before he was trotting around like a circus pony as Jan’s body language became more and more clear.
They ended on a good note, after a full figure 8 at the trot, with slack in the line and without breaking gait.