Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Its been a hell of a week. Yesterday, i finally had all wild stallions home and out of the stockyards, it was a huge relief, the hard part and the stressfull part is over.

I think, unless you been ivolved with the process people cant really understand, how much time and patience, it takes to work with these horses. I know there are quick ways. You could, put a horse in a crush, so it cant move, rope its head, buck it out, all on the first day, but thats not the nicest way, or i think going to be the happiest horse in the end. In the other extreme you can take months to get a halter on it, trying to form some magical bond, and at the end of the day, the horse takes a lot longer and doesnt get anywhere fast, but never gets upset. I think there is a healthy bealance somewhere in the middle.

Im not going to exaggerate. It was a lot of work getting five wild colts handled and home within a week. Literally as soon as it was light i was driving down to the the stockyards to feed them. Then working with them all day, and not getting back in the house until dark. I also couldnt have done it without people helping me. Its definetly a team effort. It takes time and patience, but i think in the end pays off.

I know someone, somewhere will read this, and think, i worked all day , everyday, with one or all of the horses. But its not quite like that. It might be a couple of minutes with one, then do something else with another horse. Sometimes you had to work with a horse for an hour or two, until you could get to a point where you could back off and give them a break. Within that hour you might only be asking things for a few seconds at a time, and giving mini breaks to the horse all the way through.

Some of the work was just getting the horses used to people, and us climbing over the stockyards. I think some of the best work you can do is just be around the horses, letting them eat out of your hands or, drink out of buckets your holding, you get to observe their behavior, and think about the best way to handle each individual horse.

Some are bold, when they approach but them grab the food and retreat to their corner. Another one was curious, and came up slowly, but then was happy to be around you and would stay, untill all the food was gone. There was one who was terrfied, he was also the most aggressive towards his other four friends, and also bonded the most strongly to my old arab gelding, who was down there keeping the boys company. This little horse, we named the Drifter, it took him the longest to come near people, and at the smallest sound or movement, he would be trying to climb out of the yards, for me he was the biggest challenge, to find a way to handle and halter him, that was not going to terrify him and cause him to panic, we want each horse to trust people and see us as a safe thing to be around.

There is nothing special to what i do, but i do have lots and lots of patience. I have learned with other horses in he past, that being to quick once, can undo all of the good work up to that point. So i always take my time, I always start with seeing if i can rub them all over with a stick, if they'll let me touch them with my hands, i slip a rope around there neck, then get them moving off pressure from the rope. These steps, are quick to write down, but in reality take a long time, you have to start with accepting so little and rewarding immediately. I never just walk up and start rubbing them with a stick. Its always the same pressure then release type work, if they can handle the stick being near them, without moving, i take it away, if they move i keep it near them untill they stop moving then remove it immediately. When it touches them and they accept i take it away again, and work up to longer periods of accceptance. Same when you introduce the rope, first you reward just a look in the right direction, then a step, and work up to where you can position them to put a halter on. then you start all over again with the halter on, and accepting one step at a time....patience. For me it works, to never work them for more than a few minutes at a time, then backing right off, even to go sit on a fence for a minute or two, give them a break and timeout to think, then continue on with another few minutes of work...patience

Little Oscar was amazing, he accepted everything so quickly, im going to do a full post about him soon, im just waiting to get a few very graphic photos of the massive hole in his head, from when the vet was last here. Luckily now hes well on the mend, and has adjusted incredibly well to domestic life, you would never know he was wild. But just because this little boy, found the change of fortunes easy, doesnt mean all the boys found the process a walk in the park.

There is a big bay, nicknamed Bear, who found everything hard, not because he was stupid, or wasnt trying, he just could not find the right answer. The other four, naturally gave into pressure from the rope, but like people not all horses have exactly the same response to the same situation. Bear's response was to fight, and try and escape the rope tugging at him, it took a long time, of me releasing the pressure whenever he stopped fighting it, before he understood, and could actually move his feet when he felt pressure on the rope. Horses like this, i have found, you have to reward them quicker, back off sooner and ask less, giving them plenty of time to think things through. But when he understood, he was the best by far, the most responsive to lead, and followed me around beautifully,responded to my body language a lot quicker than the others. Now it takes only the tiniest touch on the rope to get him to move where you want. His whole demeanor has changed to, he know whats expected, he appears much more relaxed and happy.

My situation is defintly not ideal for training wild horses. I dont have an arena or round pen, and the sotckysrds are a long way down the road from the house. Which means once the horses are haltered they face a long walk home, and it really is a test of there trust, and your training. They have to follow me home along the road, through the neighbors property, filled with peacocks, ducks, chickens and dogs, cross a creek, and along our driveway to the barn. But every wild horse ive had, has made the journery, with no problems, though every time im awestruck by how well they cope, and that they never try to pull away from me. They just take it all in there stride, and once they leave the security of the stockyards, nothing seems to bother them to much. Working with them is by far one of the most rewarding experiances of my equestrain career thus far.

But there's more than one way to skin a cat. Some people will be a lot quicker than me, some a lot longer, some will take a completly different approach. I think if the result is happy, well behaved horses, do what works for you. differant situations call for differant actions. If i had bigger yards, that didnt flood often in winter, or if i had a round pen to use, my techniques would be slightly differant to. What ever way you do it though, there is never any substituite for time and patience...


  1. I very much like your approach - time and patience do work but as you say you've got to do it to make progress. The frequent breaks you give also probably really accelerate the learning. I've never worked with feral horses, but it must be fascinating and very rewarding.

  2. I love your approach and I think it's good that you have so many obstacles around for them to navigate and get used to. The more they are exposed to different things, the more trusting of you they become. Doing it right takes time and you are certainly doing it right.

  3. Hi Chloe,
    What a lovely life you have! I imagine the horses you work with are happy to have such a thoughtful trainer.
    I train mustangs here in the states, although mine are dropped off at my house into a pen;) I've really enjoyed reading your blog so far - I have a horse who sounds just like Bear. He had been through 6 homes before I got him and is just very quiet about his stress. He is doing so much better now that he has been with me 18 months, but there will still be more years to undo the misunderstanding he's had at the hands of humans. I think you are right to be careful with his home.
    If you are interested you should check out my blog sometime and see my wild ones:
    Wishing you well!
    Jen Digate