The Easter Egg Hunt with My Horse by MaryGaye LeBoeuf

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 [email protected]

 

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27 Comments on "The Easter Egg Hunt with My Horse by MaryGaye LeBoeuf"

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karin kozlowski
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2 years 1 month ago

Dear MaryGaye,

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

Karin

MaryGaye
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MaryGaye
2 years 1 month ago

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

Stephanie Morse
Guest
2 years 1 month ago

have a happy Easter, Carolyn

JoyNichols
Guest
JoyNichols
2 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
MaryGaye
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MaryGaye
2 years 1 month ago
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
JoyNichols
Guest
JoyNichols
2 years 1 month ago

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.

Kay Tomlinson/St. Louis, MO, USA/IC/Nevada, Galahad, MIdnight
Guest

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

MaryGaye
Guest
MaryGaye
2 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
MaryGaye
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MaryGaye
2 years 1 month ago

Kay,

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

MaryGaye

linda j salinas
Guest
2 years 1 month ago

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

MaryGaye
Guest
MaryGaye
2 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
MaryGaye
Guest
MaryGaye
2 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
Kristin
Guest
2 years 1 month ago

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

MaryGaye
Guest
MaryGaye
2 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
Kristin
Guest
2 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
MaryGaye
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MaryGaye
2 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
Kay Tomlinson/St. Louis, MO, USA/IC/Nevada, Galahad, MIdnight
Guest

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

MaryGaye
Guest
MaryGaye
2 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
Niki Taylor
Guest
Niki Taylor
2 years 1 month ago

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!

MaryGaye
Guest
MaryGaye
2 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
Viviane Laramée-Berthelette and Lever, IC, Québec, Canada
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Viviane Laramée-Berthelette and Lever, IC, Québec, Canada
2 years 1 month ago

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

MaryGaye
Guest
MaryGaye
2 years 1 month ago
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.… Read more »
Viviane and Lever, insider, Canada
Guest
Viviane and Lever, insider, Canada
2 years 1 month ago

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

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