I have always wanted to try my hand at training a horse so I can see if horse training is something I want to pursue as a secondary career. So when my instructor offered to let me try my hand at training a green Spanish Mustang gelding named Joe, I jumped at the opportunity.
Joe is a seventeen year old, bay Spanish Mustang. He’s had training and has even been ridden before, but it’s been quite a few years since any of that happened. His owner has no time for him and asked my instructor to work with him and she in turn asked me to do the same. Joe had a fear of carrot sticks and ropes, the sight of them sent him running and bucking. Joe had no respect for personal space or people and he hated having his legs and feet handled, nearly hurting the farrier several times. Halters weren’t his favorite and he didn’t particularly care for anyone handling his head and face. Leading Joe was a hassle as he spooked and took off whenever he saw anything new. My job was to get him over all that, a lot of work considering I only went out to my instructor’s place once a month.
When I first met Joe he bit me. Hard. It hurt and I slapped his nose, which sent him running. I went into the paddock with him and he was all up in my space, ears pinned, snorting and pawing the ground. He shoved his head into me and pushed me out of the way as he sauntered past to his grain. My riding instructor chuckled as I went over, pushed him back, and took away his food. He didn’t get his food back until he acted with better manners. No pushing or shoving meant he got his grain. Shoving and pushing resulted his grain being taken away. With Joe being a food oriented horse it didn’t take him long to catch on. When food is being brought out, I stand and wait until it’s okay to come eat. When I’m rude my food is taken away.
While Joe stopped being obnoxious and pushy during feeding time, he continued to be pushy and rude all other times. I would walk through the paddock and Joe would walk so close he’d step on the back of my shoes. I like to have horses at least an arm’s distance away from me when walking. Joe was a finger’s distance from me. I carried the carrot stick with me when I would walk with him, and every time he walked too close he got a sharp tap on his chest. When he walked where he was supposed to walk he received a treat. He caught on quick and in the course of an hour he was walking at the perfect distance from me. When we had covered the personal space and pushing issues I moved on to his leg and feet handling issues. Joe loved to be groomed as much as he loved to get treats. I decided to kill off two birds with one stone and work on his feet issues and his head handling issues. I waved my hands all around his face and ears and nose until he stood still and relaxed. When he relaxed and would stand still I brushed him. It took roughly ten and he was perfectly fine with having his head and face handled. Next was his feet. I rubbed his legs with my hands and he kicked out at me several times when. When he finally stood still and stopped kicking I brushed him down. Picking up and cleaning his feet proved to be difficult. A horse’s feet is its line of self-defense. Unless a horse really trust you, they won’t usually willingly give you their feet. It took a while of avoiding being kicked and knocked over, but eventually I was able to clean and handle all four of Joe’s feet. I brushed him down again and called it a day.
That next month I was curious to see if anything I’d done with Joe had made any headway. My riding instructor wasn’t supervising or helping me with the “training”, I was on my own. I decided we would not use treats this time as I wanted to see if it was me or the treats that had made all the headway. When I entered the paddock I expected Joe to be pushy and obnoxious, but instead he was respectful and relaxed. He stood an arm’s distance from me and did not push or shove me once. I raised my hands up and waved them around his head and he didn’t even flinch. I even rubbed his legs and picked up all four feet without issue. Feeling good about the progress we’d made I decided to work on haltering and leading him around. I used a rope halter instead of a nylon halter as I feel rope halters work better for training. Rope halters have knots on them that are positioned on pressure points on a horse’s face. Joe didn’t protest when I put the halter on him but he refused to walk when I tried to lead him. He dug his heels into the ground and refused to budge just one inch. I gave his hip a sharp swat with the lad rope and he leapt forward into me. Irritated, I unhooked the lead rope and sent away. He ran off kicking the entire way and circled around me. Every time he tried to come to me I sent him back out. I had watched a horse move, Horse Whisperer, and in one of the scenes when Robert Redford was working with the horse, he sent off on a circle. He did not let the horse back in until it turned one ear in to him, licked its lip, chewed and dropped its head. While using a movie as a training method probably isn’t the best idea, his method made sense to me. I recalled how he had kept his eyes on the horse’s eye and how he had stood big tall and how the horse didn’t stop running until Redford looked away from his face. I tried the same with Joe and it worked. His ear turned in, he licked his lips, chewed and dropped his head. When I started to take my eyes off of him he began to slow down and eventually stopped moving and put both his eyes on me. I turned away and waited. I felt his nose on my shoulder. Success? I snapped the lead rope back on him and lead him in a few small circles. Perhaps Robert Redford was on to something. The next big challenge was leading him outside his paddock around foreign objects. He jumped a bit when he saw a big white truck, and balked at a blue tarp, but he was quite relaxed for the most part. I didn’t have a problem haltering or leading him from that point on and neither did my instructor.
In the course of two months I had covered and worked on Joe’s issues and it had gone successfully. Mustangs are smart horses and Joe was a fast learner. Once he learned or understood something he’d do it every time. I wanted to try riding Joe but my instructor was worried I’d get hurt and said no to. So instead I jumped up down on either side of him and even laid on his back. He did fine. I was curious about how much Joe trusted me and I had watched the Extreme Mustang Challenge the night before and saw that one of their trust exercises was crawling underneath the horse and between its legs. So I did just that. Joe stood quietly as I crawled beneath him and between his legs. I laid across his back and waved the carrot stick and lead rope over and around his head. He never flinched once.
I tend to second guess myself all the time. The entire time I worked with Joe I second guessed myself with everything I did. I believe every horse you encounter teaches you something. With Joe I learned to stop second guessing myself so much and have more confidence. Something everybody in my family tells me every day.
Have a Happy Ride~