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 eight years ago at a de-spooking clinic in Michigan. It was obviously an object of concern for horses 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 emotion. 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.
The ball has become one of the tools we use in our basic foundation training. We show the horse that the ball will roll and then ask the horse to start moving it around. We work toward getting each horse to accept it. There is a difference between horses 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. About 95 percent of the horses we work with really enjoy moving the ball around. About 5 percent will accept it but are just not into playing with it.
The ball has a number of benefits for horses as well as riders.
It acts as a distraction. A group at our barn has begun playing horse soccer. We started at a walk or jog but have learned that we can also do it at a canter. The game is a good distraction for horses and provides them with some fun after they have been schooled.
It gets horses used to being bumped into. We do Ranch Versatility and cow work here and have found it beneficial to teach the horses to accept objects like the ball bumping around their sides. When we go into a herd to cut out an individual cow, our horses feel comfortable with the cows around them.
It prepares horses for tracking cows. We also 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 when we go to teach them to track the flag on the electric cow.
It helps riders 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. I’ll sometimes have mounted riders 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 get a horse used to objects bumping around their sides, and to begin teaching a horse to track a cow. I also use it in riding classes to help riders relax and use the aids without over-thinking. It is a fun and easy tool to use with the horses. They enjoy it and so do the riders.