My horse Kiko is staying at my friends place, because he is so happy there and she is so nice I had asked her if she wanted me to work with her horses. She said SURE!
She’s so busy taking care of the ranch, she has three boys and three girls that hardly ever get ridden of her own. So I’ve been working with some of them since early summer.
A few I can’t work with because there are some physical damages. She rescued a lot of these horses from the kill pens, I have worked with everyone but two for sure just aren’t going to be able to be anything more than pasture pets, one I’m still up in the air about due to a neurological issue which I plan on testing more next spring/summer….but lucky them, they are with my friend who will let them be that until the end of their days.
So the three I am working with now are really giving me some cool feedback. My mentors always say you should be watching for the change so you can reward as fast as possible to help the horse learn quicker. But I’m looking at another type of change I didn’t expect. I’m seeing huge thought process changes in these horses. Sometimes it can change the entire perspective they once had and it’s so encouraging.
When we came, the air was a little different. They were used to people, but not really too interested in coming up and meeting people. A few also used to run away from halters. Most likely because my friend was just used to doing chores around them and haltering them to pretty much either worm them or get their feet done. So they weren’t the type of horses to come running up to you in the pasture. Two of the horses Bear and Liberty would run if they saw a halter coming at them.
Watching the change in these horses and how each one changes differently in their own way on their own time, but ends up with the same result is making me very happy right now.
Bear and Liberty both came a long long way from running away from haltering to now not only letting me halter but actually helping by sticking their nose in it for me.
How did we get here? It was a lot of work and it wasn’t….it took time really….and treats…yes, I believe in treats. Horses can’t be bribed but they can be reinforced with the incentive of food, so I use that. There were times I’d work for a half hour to get one of them haltered, pet them and take it off and give em a treat. We have worked up to this and the hardest thing about it was being determined to let that little bit be good for the day.
With a lack of time in our busy schedules and most of us not having the luxury of having our horses in our yards, feeling the pressure of “I’ve got to get this done” is pretty normal and forcing ourselves to quit once we get a nice start is difficult but totally works in my opinion.
These guys are proving it to me.
Eventually I would start to lead them a little and let them go….(with a treat of course) then the next step was integrating development with the horse…starting the language. I do this with every horse I’m asked to play with regardless if it’s an untouched colt or a tired and true trail horse, I go over my steps noticing any holes we have in communication and attempting to work on that.
Buddy, is an overweight been there done that trail horse…overweight because he’s lead horse in the pasture and eats as much as he wants.
Bear is also overweight because he’s high up in the herd and loves his food as much as Buddy…in fact, you can usually find them eating together rarely lifting their heads from the slow feeder they typically share. Bear however is a 5 year old Nokota cross who hasn’t had much handling ever.
Liberty was an abuse case, a cute little QH who had blue ribbons, a career in western games and a hole in her tongue from rough handling of an individual who obviously didn’t know what they were doing all by the age of 3, who found herself in a kill lot at that age. She’s only 8 and has a tilted pelvis, arthritis and suffers from stiffness and swelling. She was the one in the pasture who would see humans and do what she could to stay away from them…the psychological damage is being fixed. The diagnosis of her physically is she may never recover fully, but I have hope. She’s a great little gal who will do anything for you once she knows you aren’t going to eat or beat her. Determination and will can sometimes bring you thou physical problems and I see so much try in this girl I think she may just do it.
Watching each of these horses change and grow has been fascinating…and it’s still happening.
Today, before we even started, when we were just hanging out with the horses, here comes Liberty, walks strait up to me and lowers her head to my chest. Hangs out with my sister and I for about 5 minutes then walks in the outdoor arena…”that’s impressive” I said. My sister agreed. That was showing a great change but the biggest change I saw in this horse is after we were done driving them all over the arena getting them limber, she was the last horse to check in…so I put some pressure on her hind end, just threw out a little energy and I saw her eye go away from me, then the head then a little lean away in her front end but then she stopped. Turned her head and her eye softened, I smiled and she walked to me.
“There!” I thought….that was it! That was a HUGE change for her…everything in her body was telling her to run away like she’s done for so long now but she stopped herself. Something changed in her and it was a great thing to witness.
I can’t trick myself into thinking that this will be the norm, I know there will be days she may chose to run away but this is a start and it’s a huge turning point for her. For just a split second today, it was like she could hear me telling her, no one will ever hurt her here and it’s okay to trust and try, we will listen. Great moment.
Buddy was the second horse I saw a change in today and the first was something I caused myself! Because he is overweight, I will sometimes halter him, bring him in the arena with a few other horses and we drive them around walk, trot, canter. Because that’s all I had been doing with him, he started to show a little resistance to the halter himself….thinking they put that F*&*% thing on me and just run me around….so I’ve had to fix that recently and since working with him, today he helped me put the halter on him very willingly….cool! I love fixing my own mistakes Thank you Buddy! Taking the time to develop a better language with him is paying off.
Although he is a rock solid trail horse, he will spook at things when he doesn’t understand what’s going on so we work a lot on desensitization and keeping a cadence because faster doesn’t mean out of your mind. He doesn’t like flapping coats which I’m sure any horse owner knows exactly what I’m talking about. So we work with that. He also thinks everything means go…so we are working with that as well…I was sending him today and he was going, going, going faster and faster and trying to hide behind Bear so I just walked around Bear too! His initial response was crap! now what do I do but I just lowered my energy to a low buzz inside me but making sure not to drop it entirely and he responded by slowing down but not stopping. Ahhhhh, thank you! If he would start to stop I’d just swish my stick up and down pointing at the back of his shoulder once and he would keep going…he took a deep breath and found his walk. He felt so good after our time today that when I took the halter off he just wanted to stand there licking my hat, being a ham. That’s another change I like, seeing the horses personality! They will not show personality to someone they don’t feel safe with or thinks will not listen. I’ve seen many horses that are goofballs in the pasture but soon as they have someone standing next to them, they will retreat and go into a this is my working mode. If you can encourage a horse to be who they are around people, the feelings of safety, trust and comfort grow….today Buddy grew and I have a feeling he’s no where near done.
The last great change I saw was in Bear. Bear can be a little reactive, his M.O. is to RUN away from anything that could scare him and think about it later. This guy has some Nokota blood in him but was raised in a domestic environment. The horse I see somedays, seems more domestic than Nokota. So we have been working on our language together because I am determined to bring more of his Nokota side out and show this great guy what he can be which is ANYTHING he wants to be. This was his great change…today I saw confidence, not a little bit but an abundance! He was like “Oh, I know that…” and he would do it just at the slightest inkling of what I was asking for…when he would get worried, we would work through it but it was way faster and easier to get past the block than before. Today there was no rearing, no backing up no running around with just the jaw turned in…today he was in the moment and just ready to try. I had not yet seen this kind of confidence in this horse. I put him thou a squeeze between myself and the fence at the closest proximity ever today maybe three feet wide and he walked right on in like he had done it a million times. He almost looked like he was showing Buddy how it’s supposed to be done that’s how confident he looked…That’s the Nokota I know is in there! I was thrilled.
We are getting there! In all three of the horses I am seeing so much hope, promise and try just because I’m trying to show them how much I want to listen and how much I think of them as individuals and I am being rewarded a million times over by them opening up and showing me not only who they are but how hard they can and will try. The change is there and it’s continual and I can’t wait to see where we can go now. The possibilities are endless because they decided it was safe to make a change. They decided it was worth a try. How cool is that? I can’t wait to see where each of these horses go. Because of their loving owner they really do have endless possibilities.