You may have seen me use the ball or have seen it on my website. It is about 36 inches in diameter and made of colorful and very durable heavy-duty rubber. I was first introduced to the ball ten years ago at a de-spooking clinic in Michigan. It was obviously an object of concern for a horse and made an excellent de-spooking tool.
One of the most important parts of a horse that we work with is the flight instinct or the emotional level. Many of us are trail riders and we do not want accidents on the trail. However, we can never guarantee that we won’t encounter something entirely new and frightening for our horses. Here at the ranch we use objects that are uncommon, such as bicycles, flags, tarps and the ball, to get the horses accustomed to strange objects. We show the horse that the ball will roll and then ask the horse to start moving it around. The ball has become one of the many tools we use in our basic foundation training. We work toward getting each horse to accept it.
There is a difference between a horse accepting the ball and tolerating it. When horses accept the ball, they start learning to play with it. They will push it with their feet and butt it with their noses. This has led a group at the barn to start playing horse soccer. We started at a walk or jog but have learned that we can do it at a canter. The game is a good distraction for horses. It is good for them to have a nice distraction and some fun after they have been schooled. About 95% of the horses we work with really enjoy moving the ball around. About 5% will accept it but are just not into playing with it.
We do Ranch Versatility and cow work here and have found it beneficial to teach the horses to accept objects bumping around their sides. When we go into a herd to cut out an individual cow, the horses feel comfortable with the cows around them. We use an electric cow from the Ultimate Mechanical Cow, to teach horses how to position and track a cow. Working with the ball first gets the horses used to tracking. It is a major plus in teaching them to track the flag on the electric cow.
Another benefit I have discovered is getting riders to relax. We spend a lot of time teaching riders how to use their hands, legs and seats. At times they get so intense that they begin interfering with themselves. In some lessons I have people push the ball from point A to point B, to point C across the arena. The concept is that the rider must look ahead and see where the ball is going. The horse has to stay behind the ball and track it to each point. Using a combination of seat, leg and rein aids, the rider must get the horse in position to maneuver the ball to the next point. This has turned out to be a fun way to get riders relaxed and using the aids without thinking about them.
In summary, the ball has evolved into a very effective tool. We use it for de-spooking, as a distraction, to begin teaching horses to track a cow and get used to objects bumping around their sides. I also use the ball in riding classes to help riders relax and use the aids without over thinking what they are doing. It is a fun and easy tool to use with the horses. They enjoy it and so do the riders.