6 Days with a Wild Mustang
Down the chute and into the trailer she ran, bags on sticks shaking behind her and gates slamming as she went through. And fluey - into the trailer where that final door would slam leaving her shaking in the metal box. Then an eight-hour drive from the BLM to her temporary week long destination in Vernal, UT where I would have those six days.
It's heading into dusk as the trailer is backed up to the gate of the pen where she would finally jump out into yet another strange place and experience.
After putting in some water and hay, we stood around and talked about the adventure while she had a little time to chill. The enclosure was set to my preferences roughly 20x40 feet. As I entered the pen she quickly scittered to the farthest corner and hid her head.
Threshold distances and levels of fear are the first things I like to assess. She was scared, but she wsn't losing her mind. So I walked around getting in different positions to see how close I could get and whether I could get her to face me.
My plan was to show her first, that I wasn't a threat. Any time she started to move, I moved with her along her threshold line as if we were walking together. If she took off - so what? She had a "Gotta go" moment and went? So what? Pretty soon she found out that nothing happened to her either way.
When she was in the BLM shoot, they put a halter and lead on her so she was dragging that around. I just let her. No sense grabbing a hold of her head right off the bat. Let her come to the conclusion that she may live instead of causing her to think she's gonna die.
As she moved around and occasionally walked with me or turned toward me, I would step on the rope to see how she responded. The early stages of asking for her to give to pressure on the halter and exceptional leading.
I picked up the leadline but left it slack. Again, I tested for thresholds. No yanking or force, just an occasional bump to see if she would adjust her position and allow me to get closer. If she had to go... so what? After just a short time, I was touching, then petting her shoulder, then walking away. Approach and retreat. Casual, but not soft or sneaky. Soon, there was a little of her coming along with me.
She was still nervous with me around her face, so I let her just learn to stand quietly while I rubbed her body on both sides. Noticing how far I could go back or under or over. More thresholds noting when she got anxious or felt the need to move away.
It's important to realize that timing and feel also have to do with when you insist (against better judgement) the horse do as you plan. Your plan shouldn't be carved in stone because you don't know what's going to be the most productive move prior to the horse showing you how things are going. So, if you insist on THE PLAN you will miss the opportunity to work with the horse on what has shown up. Stuff, BTW, you'll need to address somewhere down the line, so you might as well take advantage of the option when it shows up. Dwight Eisenhower said, "Plans are useless. But, planning is indispensable." Okay - I suppose I digressed into teaching here but hey... it's my site . Now, where was I?
Somewhere in my first eight hours with her, I started walking around with her and the lead and my stick and string allowing her to come to realize that that wasn't a big deal. I could walk around - not looking at her - swinging it and letting it fall near her or maybe touch her. Did she scitter and run? Of course, but she quickly realized that it wasn't a threat. We changed directions and she learned thru this to follow and return and lead. And thru it all, I'd ask her to turn and face and started working on her being good with touching and rubbing her face . We started some work on the Triangle Game which is huge for Exceptional leading, following and thinking! Gotta get writing that book, too. Then eventually getting started with what I call the 'high hello". I think I'll put this 'high hello' on the blog so as not to digress so soon. I would leave her be for quite a while and work with some other horses and people and then go back with her. This gave her a chance to practice being okay with approaching people and also coming when I called her.
Time to venture outside the pen. Mostly because I was going to get right to Curbside Service and the pen panels were 6 feet high. This isn't a good size for working a 14.2 hand Mustang. So, we're in the arena learning how to move around on the line without the close fence and morphing that into leading and circling on line and sideways left and right in order to move right into Curbsiding.
I rigged a panel which was a bit dicey to operate from and she didn't particularly care for it but, as always, when done right, she got the Curbside Service in short order. Pretty much by the book. Cute, eh? Then, I'm slipping on and off her, also as in the book. I was going to go thru all that here, but it occurred to me that I've already written that, so pop over to Amazon and get you one!
Next day we were in a different pen next to a bunch of ruckus. Horses and people flying all over the place and while it was disconcerting for the other horses and depressing to watch, definitely a teaching/learning opportunity. I sat on the fence and asked her to Curbside so she could learn how to stand still while all hell is breaking loose just six feet away. She was stellar. Of course, sometimes she would get nervous and need to move her feet. I just asked her to come back and she'd be alright. Good girl.
During all this , I was slipping on her back and just sitting there. Later, we did more on line work so she would learn to follow a feel and took some walks about the property to encounter new stuff such as moving vehicles, strange equipment, charging/barking dogs and galloping horses in the fields. She also got consistent with how she looked to me for security. She would get a sweet "Hey Lor" look and want to touch me with her head or frequently tuck her head under my arm. If she was scared, I'd say "You're okay." Then she'd take a minute and try to do whatever I asked and I'd say, "Good girl!" And she'd just melt into it. She loved hearing that and that was also to come in handy on the drop to a whoa from the canter on a loose rein later.
Day three - We worked on better responses to come to me with my finger crook signal and then continue to follow as I walked in serendipitous tracks. We Curbsided and then... bareback and halter we started our walking and trotting. Woo-Hoo and she has a smooth trot. Pretty soon, I was laying on her with my feet off her butt while I was helping a friend with some Curbside Service info. Also, worked on improving the walk, trot and now adding cantering on line. She's learning how to maintain slack in the rope and maintain the circle. We started weaving thru the barrels and then of course, jumping them on line. She did fabulously well and would stop quietly on the other side after jumping. I don't like it when they get all excited and think it's okay to run after jumping. No more than running after doing anything else. Uh-Uh.
Day four - Of course each session is going to start with "Come here". Change the circumstances a bit to broaden her horizons. More follow at liberty work. We then went to the trailer so she could get comfortable stepping in and out and she's such a good girl it didn't take her long at all and in and out she was going.
Then, picking up all four hooves. I had rubbed and petted all four legs and she had picked them up to avoid or whatever. I wanted her to be okay with the hoof staying down while I petted, but today we wanted the response to the request. Then, on to saddling and standing still on the loose line.
This part of the deal she was pretty anxious about and wanted to shift a lot. So, a friend helped me by holding the pad up high while I asked her to step sideways under it. Kind of like Curbsiding for Saddling. Hey! another book? This writing thing is like bunnies breeding. Bridling - no sense in rushing to get a bit in their mouth when you really want the head at torso level every time you ask horse to take the bit. So, just don't fall for that. Do it right in the beginning. And she did. So, what's left?
Saddled and bridled, Curbsided and get on and go. We practiced lots of soft feel for turning so she could learn to give thru understanding not force.
Day five - Review everything then... out we go on trail. Walked up to a huge front end loader bucket, climbed on the top precariously balancing and while I was getting up there, she was already Curbsiding over to me.
Two friends went with us and we went thru water, over logs and around trees. Up and down hills. Got our first canters in and she was so well started that she did just as I had worked with her at the trot. I'd drop my reins and she just dropped to a walk or halt. Quietly. Pushed her faster and worked some on steering while traveling fast. We were NOT following or with anyone for this work as the two friends who went out with us were working on ther own stuff in the same general area. What a blast!!
I finally tied her for the first time. If possible, I don't like a horse to get into a pulling match with a pole. Panic and potential damage aren't high on my list. So, with all our other work on giving to pressure, circling, backing, Curbsiding and riding, when I tied her, she never did a thing. Left her tied for a couple of hours... nary a blip.
My last day with her. My last day in Vernal, Utah. So, I spent the time putting in as much softness and feel and understanding as I could. Foundation is called foundation for a reason. So many people want to and do, jump the gun, skip steps to get a perceived faster 'result' and think they'll put the foundation in later. This is erroneous thinking. If you build a house and then try to put the concrete foundation under it... it's not going to be how/what it should be. It's much harder to re-train or remove bad training than it is to do it right at the beginning.
Well, we popped in and out of the trailer. Worked more on her confidence standing still for saddling and then out into the beautiful woods and river and hills of Vernal. Went out with two other people and their horses again. Practiced finding some boulders and various ledges to Curbside on. Then, came back, had a little break and I took her out again just the two of us. Worked on softness and understanding going sideways down the trail and then we came upon a herd of deer. Only about thirty feet away. We all stopped and watched each other. The deer finally moved off. We never budged and the whole time with completely loose reins. Off we went loping around trees. We'd already gone thru a lot of smallish areas of water, some running, some not. But, now we headed to the river. We practiced keeping our hooves in the zillions of river rock and going in the river. I only had one pair of boots and didn't want to get them soaked, so the bottom of my boots was as far as I was going in if I had anything to say about it. Once we got in, she did great so we headed upstream at about belly high (her belly, not mine) water and it was rushing pretty fast and hard. Great job!
We came back, took a really short break and went out again with two other people. Ended up that one of the women wanted to gather watercress in a plastic grocery bag and guess who was the only horse that would carry the bag full? Yep! Let her sniff if and get used to the crackling and about two minutes later I had it in my hand, mounted, while we moseyed along and for good measure, we did a little trotting and side-passing as if I wasn't even holding anything.
WHAT A GOOD GIRL!!!
I learned so much about myself in this six days. Frankly, I had NO idea I could get this much done!