If I had to choose just one word for my training session with Apollo today, that would be it. Also hot. But less than it could have been, since I was so wet.
We have been working on the Parelli Savvy lessons, level 1. We’ve gotten through everything I’ve watched the lessons for so far, namely the Squeeze Game. Apollo is mostly doing pretty well. He’s very smart, and once he learns it he can do the activities with the subtlest cues, or just with a voice command, when he wants to. When he doesn’t, he’s stubborn as a mule. But he is curious and learns quickly, so as long as I don’t bore him with a lot of repetition he’s usually cooperative.
Today, I was going to work on reviewing the last few lessons, and maybe comb the big knot that his tail has become. But when I got out to his pasture, I saw a great desensitization opportunity – a water sprinkler! He really hates being sprayed with any squirt bottle (like fly spray). He’s getting a lot better about it, and will mostly even stand still while I spray him down. I’ve never tried hosing him off, so I don’t know how he does with water, but I’d guess not good. Especially seeing how he was keeping an eye on the sprinkler in his pasture.
So, once we’d done some basic groundwork and he was paying attention, I took him over to the big scary sprinkler. It was the kind that oscillates around in a circle with a cht-cht-cht noise. Sounds like a giant fly spray bottle!
We started off walking in a circle closer and closer to the sprinkler head, keeping out of the spray. If he lagged behind and hesitated in following me, he got a bit of the spray from the sprinkler, which he did not like at all. After a few minutes, I got him within a couple of feet from the sprinkler, and a few minutes later he even relaxed and snuffed at it. He wouldn’t touch it, although he did lean in a bit to get a closer look – good boy!
Next we practiced getting sprayed and being okay with it. We started off at a walk with me leading him in a circle the other direction, so that we passed through the spray. He saw it coming, of course, but he did not try to run away. He bravely followed me through it, although every time he got to the water he went into a flying trot. I let him start off at the edge of the “blast zone” and gradually circled him into the middle so he was getting it full on his side. He clearly didn’t like it, and was snorting quite a bit, but he did as he was asked.
Meanwhile, his pasture buddy Santiago was anxiously running circles around the dry perimeter. I thought this would get Apollo worked up or heighten his anxiety about the water, but he didn’t seem to mind his friend’s behavior.
After a short break, I then led him up towards the sprinkler head again, but this time we’d stop and wait for the spray to hit us. No trotting to get through in a hurry! First just his legs, then full on the side or chest. I thought he’d fidget and dance around (he does that frequently enough whenever he’s asked to stand still anyway, although he’s getting better about it), or else try to back out of the spray. But, surprisingly, he stood there and took it like a hero. We actually got within a foot of the sprinkler, and he looked relatively relaxed about the ordeal (again, he clearly wasn’t’ happy about it, but he was at least not nervous anymore).
I am very pleased with how he handled the experience. Although I have previously exposed him to new and scary things and had him follow me through like a champ, none of them have been as intimidating to Apollo as this sprinkler. By the end, we were both dripping wet, but victorious!