Carolyn Resnick Horsemanship: Liberty Horse Training

The Foundation for All Equestrian Pursuits Through the Horse-Human Connection.

MaryGaye and Cowboy

Carolyn encourages her students to have a child-like imagination when working with their horses. So, when Easter rolled around this year, I tried to imagine how that most child-like activity, Easter egg hunting, might improve my relationship and leadership with my big, lead horse, Cowboy. Here’s what happened…

Cowboy and MaryGayeOver the past two years, the Waterhole Rituals have helped me bring out Cowboy’s best qualities. Cowboy went from being dominant and stubborn to being cooperative and compliant. With the Waterhole Rituals, Cowboy and I have had many beautiful dances together at Liberty. However, there are times when I ask Cowboy to come with me and he says “no”. It may be because he is busy with something else (like waiting to be fed, grazing or napping), or it may be that I have asked him to go to a place he’s not sure he wants to go (like on trails through the woods). When this happens, it’s my job to figure out how to get him to pay attention to me and willingly go where I ask.

This is what I imagined Easter egg hunting could do to help me with this dilemma:

1) Easter egg hunting will persuade Cowboy to go with me at a time, or to a place, when he would rather not go. Why? Because Cowboy loves games and carrots. If he thinks that we are playing a game and the reward is finding carrots, he will be willing to leave what he is doing and come with me. Eventually, this will evolve into Cowboy going with me wherever and whenever I ask.

2) It will teach Cowboy to keep his attention on me and ignore other distractions.Why? Several reasons: Because I’m better at finding the eggs then he is. Also, because I can get the carrots out of the eggs and he cannot. Plus, Cowboy enjoys the game, he knows that I am in charge of the game and he doesn’t want to risk stopping the game before all the eggs (a/k/a carrot containers) are found.

3) Side benefits: Easter egg hunting gives us a chance to work on the draw, companion walking, changing direction, transitions from walk to halt and lots of head up and head down. This is also an exercise that builds respect around food and makes it possible to ride your horse over a grassy field and your horse will not try to graze when you don’t want him to.

Clutch of Eggs

Clutch of EggsTo test my hypotheses I arrived at the barn one beautiful Sunday afternoon, an hour before feeding time, carrying a clutch of 8 shiny, colored plastic Easter eggs, each containing a piece of carrot. It seemed a good time of day for this game, since Cowboy, thinking about lunch, would be willing to come with me towards the barn where we would “discover” the hidden Easter eggs.

When I arrived, Cowboy and the herd were about a quarter-mile out in the pasture, so I loaded up my Easter basket and headed out to hide the eggs along the path between Cowboy and the pasture gate to the barn. I hid the first two eggs by trees located close to the gate. Then, since it was our first egg hunt and needed to be easy, I placed the remaining eggs in relatively plain sight along the meandering trail leading out towards Cowboy.

Cowboy and the herd

Cowboy was splashing in a large muddy puddle when he noticed me bobbing around in the pasture. Curious boy that he is, he ambled over to see what I was up to. When he arrived, I had just hidden the last egg. I pointed it out to him, picked it up, let him sniff it, then opened it and gave him the carrot. Suspecting that there was more to this situation than first met the eye, Cowboy came along happily when I invited him to go and look for more eggs. When we came upon the next shiny egg, we halted while I bent down and pointed to the egg for Cowboy to see. Then I picked the egg up, opened it and handed him the carrot. That second carrot did it, the “light bulb” went on in Cowboy’s head and he knew a game had begun. When we started walking again, Cowboy had his nose to the ground scanning for more eggs. We soon spotted the next shiny egg and went right to it. Cowboy considered picking the egg up by himself, but I asked for head up while I retrieved the egg and gave him the carrot.

Cowboy Egg hidden by treeFrom there we moved on to the next two Easter eggs. When we reached the eggs, I asked for a halt, Cowboy would touch the egg with his nose, I would ask for head up, and then picked up the egg and gave him the carrot. A win/win situation.

My Hypotheses

The real testing of my hypotheses began as we approached our last three eggs. While we had been hunting for the first five eggs, the rest of the herd had moved past us toward the gate to the barn. This placed several horses in our path to the remaining eggs. In Cowboy’s world, other horses are not allowed on his path. Thus, keeping Cowboy with me, rather than him rushing off to move other horses, was the ultimate challenge. Luckily, he was so concerned about looking for eggs, that when I asked him to stay with me, he complied, without even laying his ears back or shaking his head at the other horses. So, instead of Cowboy moving the other horses, I used my reed to gently move them out of our way.

cowboy What are we doing nowHowever, after the first horses were moved from our path, Cowboy became agitated when he noticed the rest of the herd at the gate where he would normally be at the front of the line. While he considered rushing off to move those horses, I regained control by excitedly pointing out the big yellow egg on the side of the path. When Cowboy spied the egg, he thought it over for moment and abandoned the idea of chasing other horses, turned to me and came to retrieve his prize! I was elated!

As we moved closer to the gate, Cowboy’s tension increased — he really felt the primal need to move those horses out of his way. I asked him to stay with me while I moved the other horses. Again, because he was so fascinated with the egg hunt, he obeyed my request. Despite the fact that there were several other horses around us, his attention remained fixed on me. His attentiveness was rewarded by our discovery of the last two eggs by the trees.

cowboy connection

Our amazing connection continued as I was able to take him, at liberty, through the herd of horses, stop and open the gate and leave the pasture without Cowboy trying to move a single horse. This really was beyond any of my wildest dreams!


After leaving the pasture, we went into the barn where Cowboy entered his stall to wait for lunch. Well, it wasn’t quite lunch time so, flush with victory; I refilled the eggs with carrots and headed out to a different pasture behind Cowboy’s stall. I wanted to see if I could get Cowboy to go some place he didn’t want to go – away from the barn at feeding time. Knowing that he would need to see that we were still Easter egg hunting, I hid the first egg in plain sight about 25 feet behind his paddock gate. I then hid the other eggs in various places moving away from the barn and then back towards another entrance to the barn.

Cowboy Peeking out of his stall

When I excitedly came back into Cowboy’s stall and asked him to come with me, he looked over his shoulder at me as if to say: “I’m not moving, I’m waiting for lunch.” However, he was still intrigued by the egg hunt and I was finally able to persuade him to at least come peek out the door towards the pasture. When he did, I hurried to the first egg and showed it to him. After considering the possibilities, he sauntered out to investigate. When he discovered that we were having another egg hunt, he signed on and we moved on to the seven other eggs in rapid succession. Success!!!

With our first two egg hunts I achieved my initial goals:

1) getting Cowboy to stay focused on me, and 2) getting him go somewhere he didn’t want to go. During our first hunt, Cowboy learned to stay close and focused on me as we navigated through the herd and out the gate. During the second hunt he again focused on me, but this time he went with me to a place he did not really want to go – outside his stall at feeding time. Huge victories!Cowboy finds an egg

Since that Sunday, Cowboy and I have been on several Easter egg hunts. Each time, once he discovered it was an egg hunt, he was happy to go with me, paying close attention to my requests. While there were a couple of occasions when he considered hunting eggs on his own, I foiled his intentions by hiding the eggs in deeper grass where they were quite difficult to find (Note: always count your eggs before you hide them, so you know if you have found them all). Thus, Cowboy has no choice but to rely on my superior egg hunting skills. He has also discovered that he needs me to liberate the carrots from the eggs.

So as Carolyn always says, getting horses to cooperate does not need to be complicated, difficult or forceful. It just takes imagination and using the resources available to a child.

Thank you MaryGaye for this lovely story about a creative and playful game that you and Cowboy created together.

Have a great weekend! Happy Easter!!  Be on the lookout for more horse and human sightings and may the horse be with you.

Warmly, Carolyn

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Upcoming Events: 

Carolyn Resnick’s Clinics:

Beyond the Waterhole Rituals Clinic  – Starts  May 29th – June 1st and is held in Escondido, California at Carolyn’s Ranch

Beyond the Waterhole Rituals Clinic – Starts June 19th – June 22nd and is held in Escondido, California at Carolyn’s Ranch

Online Bit-Less Dressage Course – Starts June 30th – September 8th and online every other week

Carolyn and Liberty

For more information on any of the above clinics click on the above links or contact teddie@carolynresnick.com.

 

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27 Responses to “The Easter Egg Hunt with My Horse by MaryGaye LeBoeuf”

  1. 10

    Dear MaryGaye,

    Loved your story. This will work great with Roscoe, who is much like your Cowboy.

    Karin

    • 10.1
      MaryGaye says:

      Karin

      Thank you so much for your reply! Any you’re right, if Roscoe is like Cowboy he will love the game. I bet that once you start playing it with him, you will notice him asking your to play on a regular basis. It is so much fun! I would love to hear how it goes with Roscoe and the Easter Egg hunt.

      Best Wishes

      MaryGaye

  2. 9

    have a happy Easter, Carolyn

  3. 8
    JoyNichols says:

    Oh what fun! We are going to try it. Many of my horses hesitate to trail ride alone, so this is the perfect game lesson! My 4 year old filly, Birdy, just had her first short ride yesterday. She did great. Didn’t mind carrying a person at all. We only rode 5 minutes so she has a chance to build strength. Most all the horses wanted to be next to go out. Sure makes me happy to see 5 horses all wanting to put on a halter and get out of the pasture to go someplace. Even the 20 year old jaded mare thought about going out! Thank you Carolyn. You opened my eyes wide to what is possible with my horses. All my horses are on their way to being great trail horses who will be treasured forever. I’m so happy that they will have good homes because of their abilities and willingness. In case any of them have to go to new homes ever. It is all because I joined this list. Carolyn you are awesome and I can’t wait to attend a class in person or online. Thanks for your help. I feel great about your advice—it pays off! Happy horses and my trainer says they will be worth $3000 when they learn to trailride alone. I’m so happy! Not planning on selling them, but you never know what life will bring.

    • 8.1
      JoyNichols says:

      I was wondering about my 4 year old filly, Birdy. She loves to do loopty-loo and I don’t want to make her sore or hurt her. She is very willing and I want to keep her so. How many x is it ok to do loopty-loo per session? We limit to 6 jumps per session jumping over a barrel. She gets baby carrots from an outside bucket as treats and is polite.

    • 8.2
      MaryGaye says:

      Joy — Thank you for your reply! Sounds like you have a great relationship with your horses! Helping them to become great trail horses is a gift to them and all who eventually ride them! Everyone loves a great trail horse! And you’re right, this is the perfect game for working on trail riding alone! It tickles me no end at how willingly a horse goes forward after spotting an Easter Egg in the distance or when he suspects one may be just around that terrifying corner! The shiny ones work really well!

      Happy Easter and Best Wishes

      MaryGaye

  4. 7

    Dear MaryGaye,

    I got a chance to try the Easter Egg Hunt with Galahad today! It was a blast! He caught on to the fact that the eggs contained treats INSTANTLY, and it didn’t take him long to figure out that he could hunt them himself.

    Midnight was watching and nickering from his paddock across the lane–we’ll try it with him tomorrow.

    Here’s a short video from this afternoon:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dCqihNZ3RE

    So much fun! Thank you!

    — Kay

    • 7.1
      MaryGaye says:

      Dear Kay

      You made my day! Thank you so much for sharing your video (it is now on my YouTube Favorites list)! It was so much fun to see you and your beautiful Galahad hunting for Easter Eggs! The look on Galahad’s face and the way he started looking at the ground showed that he pegged the game right off the bat! I am so glad that you had fun and thought that it was beneficial. I have to say, that it was a little intimidating to tell the world I was hunting Easter Eggs with my horse. Some people might have shaken their heads and thought that I was “a few Easter Eggs short of a full carton” for doing such a thing. So it is wonderful to hear that you and others are discovering the fun and purpose in the Hunt!!

      Happy Easter with Hugs

      MaryGaye

      • 7.1.1
        MaryGaye says:

        Kay,

        I forgot to say that I would love to hear how Midnight liked hunting Easter Eggs! :)

        MaryGaye

    • 7.2

      Dear Kay,
      You made my day too. I hope other readers would send in their videos on their version of Easter egg hunting too. Again thank you MaryGaye for sharing your creative Easter egg game with Cowboy!!!
      What I like is that Cowboy needs your help to open the egg. This causes him to see your purpose in the game. It offers more interaction to deepen the bond between horse and human. Everyone can do this game all year long for it has so much value.

      Warmly,
      Carolyn

  5. 6

    Greetings MaryGaye,

    Thank you so much for sharing your adventure of the Easter Egg hunt with Cowboy. The statement you made referring to Carolyn saying, “getting horses to cooperate does not need to be complicated, difficult or forceful. It just takes imagination and using the resources available to a child”. Sounds like you have mastered exactly that. I felt like I child just reading about your fun together. I like the tip you mentioned to count your eggs before you start!!!!

    Thank you for sharing. Have a wonderful EAster.

    Linda

    • 6.1
      MaryGaye says:

      Hello Linda

      So wonderful to hear from you! Until I met Carolyn, I had forgotten about being a child with my horses. Thank all that is good in this World, that she has brought be back to that state of being! And, you’re right, counting your eggs is so important. Just last week I discovered the remains of a forgotten plastic egg, with the top in one pasture and the bottom in another. Apparently one of the horses discovered it and liberated the carrots inside. They are quite deft at opening them with their upper lip. I’m sure that others kept investigating the parts of the egg just in case it might dispense another carrot. :)

      Have a Wonderful Easter!!

      MaryGaye

  6. 5
    MaryGaye says:

    A Footnote on the Possibilities of the Easter Egg Hunt – Spring Trail Riding.

    With Spring in the air, I was anxious to get Cowboy back out on the trails around our barn, starting with the beautiful woods. I was also anxious about the possibility that after the winter layoff from trail riding, Cowboy would be certain that new and horrifying creatures had populated the woods and trails. When Cowboy gets scared, he spooks or bucks. Neither is a good option. So I decided to start out the Spring riding season, on the ground with some Easter egg hunts in the woods and along the trails. It worked splendidly! I could tell Cowboy was anxious as we approached the woods. Then, at the trail head, he spotted one of his favorite, large, yellow eggs with a little chicken face on it. Its a favorite because it is large enough to hold four little carrots. So with that, we got to the edge of the woods with no problem. Cowboy was still a little doubtful about going into the woods — much better to graze out between the barn and the woods. But I was able to persuade him that hunting eggs would be more fun. While I could not take him into this large, unfenced area, without a halter and lead, I just draped the lead rope over his back, and touched it only when necessary, and he walked willingly at my side. Anyway, I placed some of the eggs in easy places just out in the middle of the trail. Then I placed others in locations I knew he would hesitate about going. I put them down in the dried creek bed (a very suspicious looking location). Others, on top of logs that resembled crouching panthers. I also placed them just before and just after corners on the trial that looked very claustrophobic and hazardous to Cowboy (a perfect location for an ambush). Then one or two down at the bottom of a hill just off the main trail. Cowboy was hesitant and a little nervous as we proceeded on our first hunts. I was glad I was not on him!! Anyway, we went on 3 of these hunts before our first trail ride this Spring — and I have to say it was a total success!! On our trail rides this year, both Cowboy and I have been calm and confident. I rode with only a light sidepull and no saddle. My next Easter Egg goal is to work on tiny stream crossing that’s always been troublesome. Cowboy always wants to jump this narrow stream with uneven banks on each side. I’m going to put Easter Eggs down along the stream, on both sides and then put three rocks with eggs on top, in the middle of the stream, one right at the crossing and one upstream and one downstream, so he will need to walk in the stream to the right and left to get all three eggs. I’m pretty certain Cowboy will be more concerned about getting to the eggs than he will be about the possibility of being eaten by the alligators he imagines live in the stream. I’ll let you know how it goes. Carolyn, I will never, ever be able to thank you enough for teaching me how to make Cowboy trust me, by me being a better leader and teaching him things in ways that are fun and uplifting and never with force! Love MaryGaye

    • 5.1

      Dear MaryGaye,
      Happy Easter!! Thank you for sharing your Easter games with Cowboy.
      Everyone here at the ranch loved it. We are going to play your game with our horses this Easter.

      Much love,
      Carolyn

      • 5.1.1
        MaryGaye says:

        Happy Easter to you my Dearest Carolyn! I am so glad you all enjoyed it. Wait until you play, it brings out all the little child excitement and delight arising from our memories of hunting Easter Eggs as children. I am sure our horses feel that happy innocent energy and respond to it accordingly.

        Have a Very Happy Easter and Give My Love to Teddie, and hugs to the horses and Apollo!

        Much Love

        MaryGaye

        P.S. This winter saw a lot of changes in the herd and, as a result, in Cowboy, I will write to you about it soon.

  7. 4
    Kristin says:

    Marygaye,

    I love your writing and thank you for sharing this. I just went out and bought some plastic eggs! I am curious. How do you end the game? Would you share territory afterwards if it weren’t at feeding time?

    Best,

    Kristin

    • 4.1
      MaryGaye says:

      Kristin

      I am so glad you liked my story and thank you for your response! When we’ve found the last egg, it takes Cowboy a little while to stop hunting for them. He continues looking around just in case we’ve missed one. Usually, we just walk on to someplace where he can graze and we share territory. He really enjoys the game and often invites me to play — I will go out to the pasture and Cowboy will put his head down and move his head side to side, gently nudging the grass like he is looking for hidden eggs. He gets so excited when I “understand” his request and go get the eggs and hide them for him. It is so much fun, and I always have to chuckle when we play and Cowboy is so focused and having fun. Who would have ever thought. . .

      I would love to hear how Easter Egg hunting goes for you and your horse!

      Have fun and Happy Easter!

      MaryGaye

      • 4.1.1
        Kristin says:

        I did a “hunt” yesterday with harry my senior horse. I made it easy so he would be very successful! They were all in a line a few feet apart and he figured out that this was a win win situation 12xs with 12 eggs. The cute part was afterwaRDS WHEN HE WENT DOWN TO THE END OF THE PASTURE TO GRAZE. I REFILLED THE EGGS AND HID THEM IN A DIFFERENT PLACE FOR nIKKI MY OTHER HORSE. However I was working with her in her corral for 30 min. or so before taking her on “the hunt”! During that time Harry decided to come back to the corral for some water. He saw I had placed a card board box on top of the black PVP pipe sticking out of the ground. I was meant to collect empty plastic eggs in and was put on the pipe to keep the wind from blowing it away. This new object lured him over to the “nesting area”! He immediately recognized the eggs and was thrilled at what he had found! So Harry had two egg hunts!
        Nikki on the other hand was not cooperative at all with head up & head down etc. to make the egg hunt “directional” with WHR tactics. She instead put one half of the plastic in her mouth and wouldn’t let me get it out. Finally she gave it up and spit it out. She knows how to halt, walk, do head up and head down but this was too much fun for her and she was all over the place so I just grabbed the eggs before she could get to the rest of them. I will just hide the carrots next time without the plastic shells!
        Yes I agree on the horse having fun. This really clicked for Harry and me above and beyond the WHRs. Nether of us were really thinking about the rituals even though we were both doing them. It was great!
        Happy Easter to you & Cowboy!

        • 4.1.1.1
          MaryGaye says:

          Kristin,

          Thank you so much for sharing your delightful story about hunting Easter Eggs with Harry and Nikki!! Your description made the whole scene so clear and funny. I could just see Harry happily playing the game with you and then joyfully discovering the whole new nest of eggs! Lol! And then Nikki. . . I was slightly alarmed when she got the plastic in her mouth!! But it is so great to hear that she was excited about the game! She reminds me of my Arabian, Prince. He’s a little grabby with the eggs, I too have had to dart out and grab them before he gobbles them up. So now, I take a reed or a short rope with me to move him off the egg just in case he tries to grab it. And I’m working on getting a better “whoa and stay” on him. I also use the larger plastic eggs with him — they are harder for him to grab! But I am sure you will have just as much success with just hiding the carrots without the eggs. No use taking risks, takes all the fun out of the game! Also, I am thrilled to hear that you had so much fun and that you could see the WHR in the game even though you thinking about the game and not just the Rituals!!

          Have a Wonderful Easter! Hugs!

          MaryGaye

  8. 3

    Thanks so much for telling this story again–MaryGaye, it’s simply brilliant! Last week I bought a bunch of eggs but haven’t tried the game yet–this weekend, weather permitting. I’m especially interested in trying it with old Midnight, who’s super smart and a little bored with his life right now. Plus, he’s 28 and has a been-there-done-that kind of attitude. I know he will love this!

    Will report!

    Thanks, MaryGaye and Carolyn!

    — Kay

    • 3.1
      MaryGaye says:

      Kay,

      Thank you for your response. Midnight will love this game! It really is a challenge for smart horses, who really “get it” and find it fun. I have two other horses that have watched Cowboy and I play and they have expressed their interest in playing. It was so fun to take them out to hunt eggs the first time. The first few eggs we found, I could tell they really didn’t “get it”. But after that, they would spot another egg and their ears would perk up, and all their focus went on the egg and me. You could really see the light go on in their heads. Then there was another horse (not one of mine) out in the pasture who was watching one day, and he really figured it out. Whenever an egg was placed close to the fence, he would run over and pull it under the fence and open it to get the carrots. Then he would dance around by the fence, wanting to come in and look for others.

      Happy Hunting! I would love to hear how your Easter Egg Hunts go.

      MaryGaye

  9. 2
    Niki Taylor says:

    I love love love this!! So much! I played a similar game with my horses but I didn’t think to hide the carrots in anything, thats a brilliant idea. I love how you could keep your leadership even through the challenges of walking through other horses and going into new pastures. Thank you so much for sharing your easter fun, I look forward to playing this game one day!

    • 2.1
      MaryGaye says:

      Niki

      Thank you for your response! Carolyn told me that keeping leadership with Cowboy would take all of my resources and imagination. And, boy was she right! But it is the imagination part that sets Carolyn apart from all others in her field! She’s not talking about imagining what a horse trainer would do — she’s talking about imagining all the possible ways we can get our horses to want to do what we ask them to do. Getting Cowboy to ignore other horses and not aggressively remove them from his rather large, personal space, seemed to be an impossible task. But this did it! And now, even without Easter Eggs, Cowboy is much more focused on me and he stays with me, just in case there is an Egg to be found in the area. He’s always on the lookout. Lol.

      Happy Hunting! I would love to hear about your Easter egg hunting experiences with your horse!

      MaryGaye

  10. 1
    Viviane Laramée-Berthelette and Lever, IC, Québec, Canada says:

    Hello Carolyn and MaryGaye!!!!
    this story is so amazing and funnnnnnnn!
    thank you thank you!
    i love love love game!
    now i understand more all the games i can imagine and all them potential!!!!
    im excited to get started. So i will first find a goal, and then set up something to get to it.
    So inspiring!
    Merci merci merci merci
    Viviane

    • 1.1
      MaryGaye says:

      Viviane

      Thank you for your reply! This is one of those games that is so much fun for you and your horse! Whenever we play, I always have to giggle just thinking about a horse hunting Easter eggs! And you are right, the potential for this game seems endless. Once your horse understands the game, from the minute he spots the first egg, you will have his full attention. Then, if something distracts him, you just excitedly point out the next egg (or the possibility of the next egg around the corner) and his attention will be back on you. It’s also great for teaching head up and head down. That’s part of the reason for the egg — the horse can put his head down to the egg, but cannot get the carrot. So when we reach an egg I can say head down and Cowboy will touch it with his muzzle. Then I say head up for him to raise his head while I reach down and get the egg and open it to give Cowboy his reward!

      Happy Easter Egg Hunting! I would love to hear how it goes for you and your horse!

      MaryGaye

      • 1.1.1
        Viviane and Lever, insider, Canada says:

        Dear MaryGaye,
        Thank you a lot!
        You inspire me and motivate me.
        Im very impress by all we can do!!! Its almost overwhelming!
        Im glad you wrote back!
        Its fun too.
        Say hi yo Cowboy.
        Viviane