Tandri's First Circus Trick

Hey, look what I can do!

Growing pains

Tandri had been with me for a few weeks, just long enough for me to figure out that, no, I was not a good enough rider to train him without the help of an experienced instructor. Riding him in the arena ended in frustration – for both of us – more often than not.


Fortunately, he wasn’t one to hold a grudge. He always greeted me cheerfully when he saw me, and happily pushed his nose into the halter when I offered it.  


We’d started doing groundwork, and were doing okay there. After a less than auspicious start, trail rides became a relaxing pastime for both of us. Tolt was out of the question there, though.

Icelandic horse Tandri wasn't always easy to ride

Long story short, we were muddling along more or less alright, all things considered. But we did not have the instant connection I’d been hoping for when I bought him.


And then one day, after yet another not-quite-satisfactory ride, this happened:

Tandri loved doing circus tricks

Food helps

Hey, I can hear you in the feed storeroom. Hurry up! I’m hungry.

Ah, there you are. With my feed bucket. Yay!


Munch, munch, munch. Munch, MUNCH munch, munch, munch.


Oh, the bucket is empty already? But I’m still hungry!

Let me pick it up and bump it against the wall.

Oh no, it’s still empty! Maybe if I try picking it up again?


Hey, why are you taking the bucket away from me? I wasn’t done with it!


Oh, I get a treat for that?

Munch, munch, munch.


You’ve put the bucket back on the ground, yay! Let me pick it up again. Here you are, take it already! Now where’s my treat?

Munch, munch, munch. Thank you.

And you can play with the bucket!

Let’s do this again. And again!

Munch, munch, munch.


Why are you holding on to that bucket now? It needs to be on the ground so I can pick it up! Here, let me show you.

Let go already, I’ve got the bucket secure. Thank you.


See, I’ve put it down. No, don’t you pick it up. That’s my job.

Here you go. Now give me my treat!

Munch, munch, munch. Thank you.


There, you see? That’s how this game is played.

Fetching his feed bucket was my horse's favorite trick


A story about Icelandic horse Tandri's daily live

Holding the bucket? Sure. Walking with it? No way!

So this is how we learned our first circus trick.

Who taught that one to whom? The jury’s still out. Of course, Tandri’s predecessor Morgunn had done a good job of preparing me for this particular lesson.


Once clued in on Tandri’s enthusiasm for silly little tasks, I went and bought a book on circus tricks. Over the years that followed, we would have a lot of fun with the various things we tried from that book.


But first, I wanted Tandri to not only pick up the feed bucket and hand it to me where he stood, but to have him carry it to me like a dog fetching a stick.

You’d think that once he knew that picking the bucket up and handing it to me would earn him a treat, the next step would be easy – but, no such thing. Though he’d instantly understood that first step, the next one took us weeks to accomplish.


I’ll let Tandri give a fast-forward account of those weeks.


Mission impossible

Munch, munch, munch.


Oh, is the bucket empty already? What a pity, that was so delicious.


Let me pick the bucket up and bounce it off the wall a few times. Oh, yay, that shook loose a few crumbs that had gotten stuck in the corner! Let me try that again. And again.

No crumbs now. How disappointing!


Oh, hello human. Let me hand you the bucket. Come on, give me my treat already!

Munch, munch, munch. Thank you.

A leisure rider's account of her life with her horses

Who'd have thought that an ordinary horse could learn circus tricks?

Let me pick the bucket up again … hey where are you going with it? Good thing you took off my lead rope so I can follow.


Here we go, I’ve picked the bucket up. See how I can shake it up and down? But, but ... where are you going? You’re supposed to take the bucket and give me a treat for it!


What do you mean, I can give you the bucket over there? But the bucket is here!


I can walk over with the bucket and hand it to you there, you say?

No. Way. It takes concentration to hold on to that bucket. You can’t mean me to walk on top of that?


See? My feet are rooted to the ground. I can not walk like this!


With a little ingenuity ...

But you have a carrot in your hand. I want that carrot!

But I cannot walk like this. But I want that carrot!


Let me drop the bucket and walk over to you then. Do I get that carrot now? No?

Okay, you’re walking towards the bucket. That’s good. I’ll just follow and pick it up for you.


Here you go … wait, why are you walking away again?

You’re supposed to take the bucket and give me a treat for it!


I'm angry now. I’m tossing my head!

Tandri was quite and ordinary, extaordinary horse

Read more on the Icelandic Horse Diary

Oops, I lost my hold on the bucket, and it flew away. Let me walk after it and pick it up again.

Hmmm… Now I’m a lot closer to you than I was before.

Still not close enough to give you the bucket, though.

See, I’m tossing my head again. Still angry!


So if I let the bucket go in mid toss like I did before, will it fly towards you again?


Yessss! It did!


And now it’s lying by your feet. Let me just walk over real quick and pick it up before you walk off again. There you go, take it from me already! Now where’s my treat?

Munch, munch, munch.


That was fun. Let’s do it again, shall we?


... it all works out

And so we did do that again. And again. And again, and again.

Once he figured out the first step in a trick, Tandri was nothing if not persistent in solving the rest of the puzzle.


Eventually, he forgot that he couldn’t walk with the bucket between his teeth, and the middle step of tossing the bucket to me so he could walk over and pick it up again became unnecessary.


Years later, when he had to spend many weeks locked up in a box stall, injured, that game became both a nice distraction for him, and a convenience for me and other people who fed him his medicine mixed in his grain ration. No need to open the stall and retrieve the bucket. Just ask Tandri to hand you the bucket, and he would.

An ordinary leasure rider and her extaordinary horses

Win – win!

Tandri had fun fetching the bucket, and the friendly helpers who were good enough to occasionally look after him were suitably impressed.

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