Thursday, June 05, 2008

How to Gentle a Mustang
(Well, one way to do it anyway.)

There have been a lot of new mustang owners around on the 'net lately. Congratulations to you all! I've seen a couple people asking for advice, and I'm sure there are others out there who might be looking but not asking. I'm not claiming to be a guru or know THE WAY. This isn't even the way I always work. Or the way I always worked with one horse. It progresses and changes according to what the horse is ready for. And different people do it differently and most end up with good results, so long as they're consistent. I just thought I'd share some info I shared on another forum recently. This is more based on how I worked with Bella, who was afraid and not ready for big pressure or any pulling on the halter.

I couldn't put pressure on her rope. She was in a small square pen, and would stick herself in the corners. Tonka was the same way, corners were their safe zone. It was a good thing, I used it to my advantage since they liked to stand there. If she turned her butt to me I would put pressure on her with clucks or noises or even slapping my leg. She learned she couldn't do that. When she stopped and looked at me I'd stop the pressure. But I had to watch her closely, I could only push so hard or she'd have gone through the fence again. If she looked like she was going to freak out I'd back up and give her plenty of room to leave, but still not let her point her butt at me. Always make sure they have an escape route. I did almost everything at the shoulder/neck, leaving the way in front and behind clear for them to run away. You don't want to encourage them to back up a lot, so if they start doing that, pressure them to go forward instead.

For touch, I used approach and retreat. Hopefully you have a good feel for when to stop or step back. Watch for a shifting of weight, a turning of attention toward escape. Maybe just a hardening of the eye. Timing is everything. If they start to look scared you stop, and maybe step back. If they shift weight like they're going to leave you step back several steps, let them breathe. Look for the lips to relax, or the eye to blink, or if you're lucky a "lick and chew." If they leave you just let them, stand very quietly, you don't run them off. No "round penning." That way it's clear that it was THEIR idea to run, not yours, and eventually they realize that your idea (standing still) is maybe worth trying out. When they stop, if the butt is toward you you put pressure until they turn around. Then praise them big time. Then start the approach again. Even just standing with them quietly is a big accomplishment sometimes, and you call it quits on a good note.

I like the idea of the Bamboo Pole Method. I haven't really used that method, but I did get to watch the Kitty Lauman video on it. She started by just setting it on their withers and leaving it there until they stopped running. Obviously the pole has to be long enough that it can reach them anywhere in the pen. One tried to jump out and rearranged her pen, she just fixed it and went on, and did not take the pressure (the pole) off until they stopped, no matter what they did. Well, when the horse tried to jump out, she had to take the pole off... Once they were comfortable with the pole resting on the wither, she'd run it across their wither like a bow on a violin. That's where the nubs on the bamboo come in handy, they "groom" the horse like a buddy would. When they were comfortable with that she could work toward other areas of the body... If you want to watch the video try Googling "Lauman Training."

Another thing I did, I tried to work with them 2-3 times a day. I didn't have a time limit, but I don't think I was ever out there more than an hour, sometimes maybe only 10 minutes.

Remember that it just takes the time it takes. I know people who've had their horses a year or more and are still having trouble. I often wonder though, how much of that is due to the handler. Too timid and you don't get anywhere, too aggressive and you freak them out. Then some people just give up and leave them out in a big pasture and wonder how they're going to knock them down to get their feet trimmed 2 years later...

Keep at it. As long as you're still trying and you're being consistent and fair, you're doing well. Just don't give up and let them become "canner horses." It's now your responsibility to turn them into productive members of horse society.

Maybe I'll make this a two part series and talk about how it was done with Tonka, who was more ready to be trained right away. Or go back in this blog to May '06 and check out the progression as it happened. That might make more sense than me typing it out again. Also, look up "mustang makeover" or "mustang challenge" blogs, there are quite a few of them and all are starting from scratch. Just remember, those people were on a schedule. The only schedule you have is your horse's. Try to get them handleable and trimmable, etc, as soon as you can, but with no rush. And if you're blogging your experience, I'd love it if you leave me a comment with the link. I love to keep up with other mustang people, get new ideas, share the joy of a new breakthrough, etc...

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