In the 2014 October course, obstacle number 9 was "put on a cape or cloak". That's just a sap to Halloween, I thought to myself, a daft bit of fun for the big kids amongst us.....
So, of course, I did not practice the putting on of the cape or cloak before starting filming. Only to discover that, once I was wearing the cloak, obstacle number 10 (send horse through the scary corner at trot whilst the handler stays outside) went completely to pot. Fat Pony did not seem to understand that he was to go through the Scary Corner (at any pace, let alone trot!), whilst I went around the outside. Fat Pony would only follow me through the corner, or follow me round the outside, although both with some hesitation and a slightly unhappy look on his face. Since we have the "handler goes round the outside" version of the scary corner pretty much nailed, at both walk and trot, this was - surprising!
So we stopped filming and I set out to understand what was going on. In fact, it was quite simple. The cloak was hiding my body language from Fat Pony. In particular, it was masking my shoulders and completely obscuring my arms and hands! As soon as I pushed the cape back and freed up my arms such that Fat Pony could see them clearly, he did the obstacle perfectly! Quite a revelation!
I know that we've been building up body language communication, but I didn't appreciate quite how subtle it really is, how significant the putting on of the cape was to hinder Fat Pony's reading of my shoulder position. I also didn't realise just quite how much Fat Pony is reading my hands! He is clearly reading them to a very great degree in determining which direction to go in, even more remarkable given that ponies don't possess these digits themselves!