Student of the month

Unbroke(n) but cool!

Time for a horse training update.

“Student of the month” for March goes to… Windflower Dancer!

Actually it’s Bluebell Star that’s in line to get worked under saddle, but she is a proud lady and hard to persuade. We think that’s a winning trait so we must be careful not to take that away from her. (A good horse is a partner not a servant.) We’ve been working her with blankets and covers for a few winter months and she likes the work, but always wants full control. Some horses hold on to their supply of trust and don’t waste it for nothing.

Saturday we chopped up two fallen trees in the summer pasture and piled it up next to the winter corral. Bluebell discovered it later in the afternoon and treated it like a potential enemy. She trotted up to it with high knee action, head high, looking brave, then lowering her head and scratching the ground with her front hooves like a Miura bull, making it perfectly clear for the log pile that she would not give up any ground without a fight, Bluebell Star – Leadmare-in-chief. The other horses looked at her, nodding their heads and rolling their eyes.

As a simple layman I have given that some thought and if I may speculate; In a herd of wild horses there is obviously room for horses with more than one type of mindset. Herds of wild horses roam vast areas and wander thru different types of terrain during a year, in search for good grass, water and shelter. The predator pressure varies from one place to another. A cautious but brave horse, like Bluebell, will be on her guard and warn the herd if a predator is near or if the terrain is risky. A calm and brave horse, like Windflower, will stay and graze the good grass and drink the good water, in spite of the risks, her calm will rub off to her mates. So both types of characters will help each other to benefit from the different environments they roam.

When Alexandra walks with Bluebell in a lead rope with a saddle pad on her back she is still somewhat jumpy, does not like fluttering things hanging on her back without an acceptable explanation. A jumpy horse is a dangerous horse, but a careful horse is a horse to trust, so if we can turn “jumpy” into “careful” she will be fine.

We don’t have a round pen yet (it’s on the list) but Bluebell responds well to a small-version-join-up-procedure in the small area in front of the stable. As soon as pressure is released and Alexandra turns her back to Bluebell and walks away, Bluebell follows. So it’s not that she doesn’t understand the work, it’s just that she needs to know the difference between a mountain lion and a saddle pad. Yeah you go on and laugh, but for a careful but brave horse nothing is taken for granted, better safe than sorry, a trait proven by natural selection during millions of years. The same natural selection that made horses like Windflower cool enough to graze among lurking predators, because what’s the deal if you are safe but always hungry, at some point you must take a chance.

Yesterday Alexandra got frustrated, so I said why don’t you try to saddle Windflower, what if we make Bluebell a little jealous. Windflower is a little too young to carry a rider, she’s just two years old this spring, but she can perfectly well carry a treeless saddle without a rider.

So Alexandra frankly saddled her up and even put some weight in the stirrups without a trace of dislike from Windflower’s point of view, I really had no doubt but my lower jaw dropped to the ground anyhow. Bluebell was impressed too, she walked up to sniff on the saddle and Rosie looked curious. We repeated the procedure later the same afternoon and Alexandra walked Windflower around the stable front yard, Windflower looking cool like a cavalry veteran.

 

Afterwards there was an apple party, all horses invited. Windflower got very popular among her friends, We’ll see how Bluebell responds to that, perhaps there are advantages about carrying human things on your horseback anyway?

Today after school Alexandra brought up Windflower from the pasture, put on the saddle again and together they took a walk around the winter corral, easy like a piece of cake. If every horse was as cool as Windflower cars would never have been invented in the first place.

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13 thoughts on “Student of the month

  1. Sounds and by the looks of it, your horses are coming along just fine. You hit the nail on the head with your thoughts on the herd. I can bet my pants and boots that while grazing, Windflower’s personality would calm and relax the herd, but if Bluebell snorted and let out a warning nikker or whinny, the herd would abandon Windflower and change their allegiance to Bluebell. You have two types of leaders. both are needed in a herd.

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  2. You are making great progress and your horses are blessed to have your understanding and wisdom of how the horses think and react…this is so very true and often people do not understand the fear/flight instinct and how deep it goes…the fact that Windflower lays down and allows you to rub her is awesome. Melody my red roan mare has that same trust with humans…she will lay down in the pasture and I can walk up to her and she will raise her head a bit to see that it is me and then she stays down allowing me to rub her etc. I love to see the connection between horse and human….horses are incredible spiritual creatures….and I love love love them:) I will grab some shots today of Melody as she is loosing her dark bay winter coat and turning her roan color….she is built like Bluebell. My hat is off to you with your progress and how awesome your horses are!!!

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  3. And it is very, very good to use jeolousy to your advantage, for although it can at time be a dangerous characteristic, it to has its “place” in the herd and can be utilized to great advantage from time to time 🙂 Rustler was very, very shy and did not want touched at all when he first came into the training corral his coming 2 year old winter. So i simply kept ignoring him and working those who were willing, and then turning those back loose into the big bunch when they were ready for a good break. Then after about 2 weeks when there were only a few horses left in the training corral, Rustler suddenly decided it was ok to be friends, and from there he progressed very quickly and well so that by late spring i was riding him a little and practicing lots with a saddle on. i led him through town on the fourth of July and there were fireworks everywhere, but he just watched carefully and accepted my confidence in it all. Friends even tossed their kid up on his back before i could say anything (old-time horse people who are afraid of nothing) and Rustler was only amused, not concerned. So later that summer i took him to the Rocky Mountains and when everyone else was too tired to ride the first day after the long trip (and too busy setting up big campers) i headed out with just Rustler for more exploration, riding a hundred meters here and there when the terrain was kind but mostly leading, as leaders typically must if they are to gain trust. We were having lots of fun and sauntered back into camp after several hours, only to get scolded by my friends for such dangerous and reckless behavior 😉 But by the next Rustler was praised with “God-damn it, seth, he is an ugly son of a bitch but he is one good one” (exact wording has left my mind though i am certain of the swearing part, for i often joke about being a “son of a dam” instead, and these where quarter horse folks with bad expectations for Nokotas). And by the end of the week that we were up there he was still perfectly sound all the while barefoot, in contrast to many of the other shod horses, and he had travelled more miles than any and gone up over a big divide where we were riding a hundred meters above mountain goats. i only rode maybe 10% of the time in short but varied durations, but nonetheless he had very well proved himself. This is one picture of him near the bottom of one of the trails, and the rest of the album also has some shots of him, tho i didn’t have my own camera along.

    So my experiences tell me that you have a very good way of looking at and approaching things 🙂 Best from us all in the north!

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  4. When I first got Magi, he was nervous. He’d been ‘broken’ to ride, but had no manners and had been neglected and abused. He was a rocket, always wanting to rear. I had to use a saddle to have something to secure a martingale to in his early days. The lady that owned him, prior to my getting him, let him be the boss. As a result, I ended up with a 7 year old horse, that was extremely nervous,skeptical, and headstrong. After six years of working together, and a few head battles, we bonded, and it was all a matter of building on that trust from there. I definitely think treats (and persistence) are the way to go, when training a horse. My only regret with Magi, is that I didn’t get him from day one, so that I could have imprinted him. As it was, he turned out to be the best horse anyone could hope for, but it was because of love and respect, as opposed to hard training methods that molded him. I totally agree that your horse is your partner as opposed to being a ‘slave’. Too many people neglect to recognize the intelligence and the loyalty horses have when they trust their owners. Taking it slow is a big plus. I commend you on your training methods.

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      • TLC is the absolute best way to go when training horses, which it looks like you are giving. Once you gain their trust, things are so much easier. I had a vet that tell me to hobble Magi and make him take a hose because he was terrified of them. I refused, and with a friends help, and two summers of effort, we finally succeed in taking his fear away. It was worth it, overall. I think someone had beaten Magi with a hose, the way he acted the first time I ever tried to wash him down. It was an experience to say the least. Brutal tactics and force don’t work in turning out a great and gentle horse. You’ll see. You have some beautiful horses, and they look like they have naturally sweet dispositions … best of luck to you!

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