There was an interesting Facebook post on one of the pages I follow this morning. The question asked was do you have an example of a time when a horse learned by watching another?
There were several answers and unfortunately many of them were about negative things their horses had learned by watching others:
fear of the horse trailer
fear of having their feet handled
fear of the saddle
pretty much fear!
But it got me thinking about the things Zorro has learned while watching the other ponies.
One story, that I'm sure many of you have heard me tell over and over, is how Zorro learned about being sprayed with the fly spray by watching Sky be sprayed.
One day when Zorro was about a yearling I had all the ponies out and was doing a spa day. Everyone had a bath and was getting brushed and brushed. Then I was going to finish up with fly spray. I forgot that I had NEVER sprayed Zorro with anything in a bottle. And unfortunately I didn't have a bottle of water handy to help him with this. So I had to stop spraying while he was very afraid and reactive. NOT my favorite way to handle something like that. I felt terrible.
So the next day I had a spray bottle with water, so I could spray him until he relaxed and then stop spraying while honoring his reluctance in a healthy way. But before I sprayed him I thought I would just spray Sky really quick. She is so good about being sprayed. I never have to halter her and can spray every single spot on her body. (except her face because I would NEVER spray fly spray on my pony's face!) I noticed that Zorro was watching me intently, both ears hard forward, never looking away until I was done spraying Sky. I went to him, haltered him and showed him the spray bottle with water. He sniffed it and then seemed relaxed so I sprayed him. He didn't move a muscle but not because he was frozen in fear, he was completely relaxed! So I grabbed the fly spray and he stood calmly while I sprayed him all over his entire body. And for ever after that day I have never needed to halter him to fly spray him! LOL! He saw his mom handle it and decided it wasn't something to fear after all.
I truly feel him being ponied off the back of the cart and watching me drive both Sky and Mikey, eased his way into being a driving pony. From the very beginning he seemed to expect each step as I started them. He never seemed surprised or anxious or worried, not about the harness, the travois, the sled or the cart! This brings me to the idea that they really do learn by watching. I have believed this for a long long time and used it to my advantage for years. But also realize they quickly learn the negative things from watching as well. So try to make the things they are watching as positive and beautiful as you can! If you think something isn't going to go well with a pony you are working with DO NOT attempt whatever it is in front of another pony you are hoping to train next. Monkey see monkey do. I do feel this makes me a better trainer. The idea that someone is always watching certainly makes me re-think certain things that I was going to do and to search out another way.
Do you have a story of a horse or pony learning by watching? Please share below!