The old saying goes that you can't teach an old dog a new trick. While I think that many would agree that old dogs really can learn new tricks, re-teaching an old dog—or an old horse, as the case may be—can be just as challenging. More than once, Dorado has very kindly reminded me that even if an "old dog" knows a trick like the back of his hand, he might need a refresher course from time to time.
When I first brought Dorado home, he had no idea how to longe. This foreign concept was incredibly confusing for him, and it took several weeks for him to feel comfortable walking, trotting, and cantering both directions on the circle. But once he grasped the concept, he continued willingly.
Dorado is a great at longeing now but recently forgot how to trot over ground poles...something he's known how to do for years.
Photo: Mallory Haigh
Eventually, with the help of my trainer, I taught Dorado to longe over ground poles. And while I know that doesn't sound like much of a feat, I promise you it took longer than it should have! Dorado is a horse who relies heavily on his rider to tell him it's okay to go over that pole or jump, and him proceeding over a grid of poles himself was a huge step forward. Going forward, he continued longeing well over ground poles.
Fast forward to a week or so ago. It was a hot day in central Kentucky, and I had limited time at the barn because I was scheduled to help with an Ask the Vet Live that night. Rather than getting tacked up—and overly hot and sweaty—I decided to longe Dorado to at least get him out and about. Without giving it two thoughts, I set up a grid of ground poles and started longeing.
Well, maybe I should have given it two thoughts. Even though I hadn't longed Dorado over polls in a few months, I didn't expect the reaction he gave me. There was snorting, tail raising, prancing, and bolting…and that was just to get by the poles. The first time I encouraged him to trot them, he showed me that he was fully capable of jumping the roughly 12-feet across all the poles, and then bolted off jumping and bucking around the circle. And I got two nice holes ripped in my hand from the longe line sliding rapidly through my grasp. (Talk about teaching an old dog new trick…I might finally go find a pair of gloves in my tack trunk after this!)
After a few wild go-rounds, Dorado finally remembered that he'd trotted over ground poles many times before and—quicker than he bolted off after the first flying leap over the poles—he settled and trotted beautifully over them. And each subsequent time I've ridden him since that day, he's happily and quietly trotted through the grid like a pro.
Has your senior horse ever tried to convince you he's never done or seen something before? How did you handle it? Please share your experiences!