Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Remembering Back & What I'd Do Different

Back when she was still wild.

Beautiful and I after I could pet her.

Getting ready for the farrier--picking up her "weapons"

Mike, getting her ready for a male farrier to pick up the feet.

Introducing her to others--she's not sure about it.

"It's not the touch, it's the anticipation of the touch that they most fear."

I've learned so much about wild horses with Beautiful. It's hard for me to believe, but true, that there was a time I used to wonder if she'd ever trust me fully.

I thought I'd repost my earlier reflections about what I'd do different, just in case someone who is thinking about adopting a wild horse comes across the blog. If anyone else can add to this list, please comment. Happy Trails!

1. Plan ahead: Study the herds, the BLM in your area (their practices, etc), track adoptions, watch their site.

2. Rent, borrow or buy Kitty Lauman's DVD "From Wild to Willing". Watch it over and over and over and practice on your domestic horses.

3. Take a friend or knowledgeable horseperson with you to the adoption and get there the first day to observe and hang out all weekend. Relax and enjoy--see which one your heart attaches to.

4. After watching Kitty's video--decide if you want them to halter your horse or not. If so, a nylon halter with long lead is best.

5. Make sure your pen at home is really 24x24 and tall and sturdy. There will be a lot of banging into the walls, so if you have a big boy or girl they'll demolish it or pull it apart. (Again, refer to Lauman's video of the mustang jumping into the side of the corral.) I went with a bigger corral thinking I was doing my mustang a favor. Wrong. You can't reach them with the bamboo pole. Which brings me to number 6.

6. Find a 12' long bamboo pole. Good luck! I never found one and had to improvise with PVC. Oh, and buy more than one because there's a good chance it will break!

7. Buy a 25' or 30' long piece of cotton or yacht rope--soft and heavy. Either tie leather tassels to the end or tie the rope in a knot at each end--no buckles. You'll use this rope to go around the bamboo pole and then their neck. (Refer to video)

8. After an initial welcome home period--get going on the training--like the next day. The sooner they know they're going to be okay the better, and it will prepare them for farrier and vet care.

9. Get your farrier there the first day to assess those feet and tell you what to do to get them ready for a trim. Then do it.

10. Don't underestimate the importance of getting your mustang to look at you with both eyes--acknowledge you. One eye isn't good enough--it's okay at best. (Refer to video). Until they have looked at you with both eyes and allowed you to touch or pet between their eyes--you shouldn't try to get their feet.

11. Expect Respect. If your mustang likes to give you its hind end, like mine did, work on getting them to face up. If you don't know how to do this, hire a professional or get someone who knows how. Basically, make it uncomfortable for them to present their hind. My little girl loved to flip it around--it was her best defense even though it was a BIG bluff. If she does it now, I swat her with the end of the carrot stick (Parelli) and she either throws a little fit or turns around nicely and faces me. The latter is the only answer I accept.

12. Work with your mustang as much as you can each day. I would do an hour or so long sessions--multiple times per day. Set realistic goals and meet them ending on a positive note.

13. Don't underestimate the power of curiosity and then, take the time to let it work for you. If your mustang doesn't look at you, sniff you, look at the tools, sniff them--he/she hasn't acknowledged and accepted them. Give them time to do this and develop their curiosity and willing partnership.

14. My farrier recommended that 1.) If you don't have their head, don't go to their feet (as I stated above), and 2.) Spend a lot of time grooming them--especially around their legs and feet, and don't worry so much about picking those feet up as much as preparing them for being touched there and everwhere the tools might touch (under the belly, shoulder, etc.) 3.) Oh, and when petting the legs, go with the fur rather than against it.

Any Other Suggestions?


  1. That's a good list! If I were to put them in order of importance I'd put #11 and 5 first, 12, then 10.

    I'd also add to number 3 - don't choose a horse according to its looks only. If I'd done that when I adopted Tonka (and I tried, but was outbid) I might have really regretted it. At 3 of the adoptions I've been to, the most gorgeous horse was the nastiest tempered. Maybe some people want a horse like that, but definitely not a first time adopter.

    I would also say don't be dead set on one method of training, just in case it doesn't work for you or for the horse. It's not totally necessary to use the bamboo pole method. Not that I have anything against it. I like it much better than "round penning." I'd love to try the pole method someday. But you can get things done in other ways.

    Cat from the Mustang Mentors sells the 12 foot bamboo poles for $15 each. I think the profits go to the club.

  2. Thanks, Andrea. That's true about the training methods--you got Tonka gentled quickly and didn't use the bamboo pole technique.

    I guess I should add to my own list, too--what Arlene has learned--every Mustang is different, just like people or domestic horses--so you may have to adjust your training to fit the horse's personality.

  3. I agree. Being able to adjust to different personalities is very important. I also wish that I'd seen the Kitty Lauman DVD before we began working with our two yearlings. Even so, we did alright in the end because I never rushed them. So I guess that might be another one that goes along the line of personality: work on their schedule and don't force them to progress to where they are not ready to go.

  4. If I hadn't had her hoof issues--I probably would've taken my time and not done the bamboo pole training. It was the short amount of time I had--and the unsoundness of her hooves and legs, that brought me to it. But it did work surprisingly well. yahoo!

  5. She is so pretty! Love the way she looks and you are doing a great job!

  6. We have used the pole and and other ways too. We always start by going in and sitting in a chair with hay in our lap and reading outloud to them for a day or two before we try anything else. It has worked for us. The other things certainly depends on their personality's. The end result is the most important. Oh, and we use a bamboo pole to touch them the first time but you have to do with what works for you and the horse. What worked with Sierra certainly did not work with Rusty.

  7. Hi Linda, it just occurred to me that Chico and Beautiful have similar hoof shapes (although Beautiful's was most likely exaggerated by poor trimming at the BLM). They are from the same HMA. Chico has really nice hooves that are not nearly as thick-walled as Catlow's, so they do chip some, but he has very concave soles and he generally is very insensitive on gravel and rocks. He also has a very upright hoof shape and tends to grow higher heels if I don't trim for a while, but it has never affected his soundness. He's a tough little horse, aside from being accident prone.

  8. This is what I do if I adopted another mustang. I'd put them in a tiny pen for a few days with a well fitting halter and long drag rope. I'd make sure the pen had nothing sticking out that the horse could catch the halter on to pull it off. The pen would be away from other horses and small enough that I could use a pole to lift the rope to grab it. Then I'd get them used to being pulled towards me and touched (with a pole or hand) as soon as possible. I'd use the gate for protection because Wildairo was very aggressive at first.

    My horses are very different, but the one thing they had in common was during those first few days they were very willing to be touched. The pictures of Wildairo during the first week, letting Brad touch him and lift his lead rope, blow me away now. Brad wanted to lead him right away but I told him to wait because I thought the longer we waited the better he'd be with us. Echo let me, after a very mild struggle, pull him right up to me with the lead rope. He got his halter off in about 3 days, so that ended that. He also let me touch his face for as long as I wanted in those first days. It seems soon as I let the days slip by with out pushing the training issue and he got into a bigger pen, he reverted into a untouchable wild horse again. Wildairo not so much because he discovered he loved human food and beer too much to go ferral again. But Echo still considers himself wild. He was willing to submit in those early days and I blew it. I regret that.

  9. Arlene--I agree with you. I think the first few days are vital because 1.) They need a friend, and 2.) They need to know they're going to be okay.

    Maybe--they get more independent the longer they're there and realize they're not going to get hurt--if you're not pushing the training. Or, they get stuck in a bad way of looking at the horse/human relationship. Or maybe, those two statements mean the same thing.

    I have talked to other Mustang gentlers and so far they've all agreed that the sooner you get to gentling, the better.

    I found that to not get hurt--since Beautiful was a put your head in the corner and present your hind--I had to have something long to touch her with--the pole was good for that. However, Wildairo allowed you to touch him and hold his lead rope right away. Which I think is amazing--and goes to show they are all so different.

  10. Bella was one who couldn't be worked with the first few days. When John picked up her lead rope she broke 3 rails of the fence and got out.

    Once we had her contained again I still spent a lot of time with her, so I was still working on gentling her, but without too much pressure, and definitely without touching the lead rope.

    Each horse is sure a learning experience. I wish I could start a training center for mustangs. Imagine all you'd learn!

    Mark Rashid talks about training a lot of mustangs, I think he had a training school, and the mustangs were the projects of the students. He didn't mess with them for a couple weeks, just let them settle in and made sure the routine was the same every day, which is very reassuring for a horse. They could expect a person in their pen feeding or cleaning at a specific time of day, 3-4 times a day. People came to mean food and reliability. Then they'd start working with them. Funny, one mustang learned to give to pressure so well that when a rider got on, he laid down!

    I'm not saying wait two weeks, I don't think I could do it, I'm always so eager to get to working with them. But it really is amazing how adaptable horses are. So many different methods can and do work.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.