HOW TO WIN AT MUSICAL FEEDSACKS (musical chairs like contest for horses!)
A favorite game for a FUN horse show EVENT is musical sacks. There are some horses that stomp on the sack when they get close. They’ve probably been trained to do that. I thought I would offer a natural horsemanship training strategy to prepare for musical sacks. Musical sacks is played just like musical chairs, except the horses must step on the feed sack. There will be one less feed sack than horses. The music plays and we circle the sacks. The music stops and we rush for a sack...just like musical chairs.
The main principle of natural horsemanship is to know that horses crave comfort. They will seek the answer to many a puzzle in their quest for comfort. The secret is to think how to train a horse to step on a feed sack to gain comfort. Ah...it gets easier now!
On the ground: Feed sacks can be scary. You need to show the horse that the feed sack is friendly. Fold the feed sack up into as small a package as you can and rub the horse all over with it...belly, rear, neck, between legs, and face. Do this and all the following steps until the horse is just standing there practically asleep while you are rubbing the feed sack all over their body. When this is successful, unfold the feed sack one more fold and proceed to rub the horse all over. Keep unfolding the feed sack and continue to rub.
What if the feed sack spooks the horse? You have to realize that spooking is uncomfortable. You have to continue to do whatever is spooking the horse until the horse stops. Then you stop also. Let’s say, the crackling is spooking the horse. I would be playing with the feed sack in the round pen or with a 12 foot rope attached to the horse. If the horse wants to run around in a circle while the feed sack crackles, that’s just fine. But the horse needs to gain comfort and that takes being brave. As soon as the horse stops and faces the fearful object, you stop whatever is making the object be fearful. I might stand facing away from the horse and just crackle the heck out of the feed bag. The horse might take off and that is fine. I would just keep crackling the bag until the horse realizes that the bag isn’t going to eat him. When the horse stops, I stop crackling the bag. I probably would pet the horse. Then I would turn around again and crackle the bag.
When the horse is no longer afraid of the bag in your hand, put it on the ground and try to get the horse to step on it. In the beginning, if the horse bends down to smell the bag, I would instantly stop any pressure I am doing to get the horse to step on the bag. I would pet the horse. Then I would resume trying to convince the horse step on the bag. When any part of the horse’s feet touches the bag, I would instantly stop my pressure. I would completely relax my body and pet the horse. Treats would be a good thing here too!
It doesn’t take long after the 1st touch for the horse to figure out that comfort is touching the bag. After we have petted and rubbed while standing on the bag, I would make the horse lunge for a couple of circles and then ask the horse come in and step on the bag. In the beginning, I would try for a long time to get the horse to step on the bag. Then would come comfort...petting and rubbing and resting. After 4 or 5 times of touching the bag, I would give the horse less time to put a foot on the bag or away we go in the lunge. It doesn’t take long for that horse to figure out the big secret...step on that bag. I’ve found out that the horse’s own feed sack is best. It smells really good to the horse. Treats are OK too, when the horse steps on the bag. I would put the treat on the bag. Then the horse knows that this is really a good thing!
Next step is riding. The same principle applies. Ride the horse around the arena or pen at a trot or canter and then come into the middle and step on the bag. When the foot touches the bag, immediately drain your body of all animation and rub the horse. Stand on the bag for a while and then do the same exercise. If the horse takes his foot off the bag, you immediately go to the wall and trot or canter for a while. Soon the horse learns again that the bag is the key to comfort and the horse will search out that bag and skid to a halt and STOMP it.
You’ll be a contender in musical feedsacks!