By Jay O’Jay with Bronwen Belenkie
It’s been a busy summer and fall! The most recent addition to our barn has been keeping me particularly busy. I thought you might be interested in this two-year-old sorrel filly’s story.
The journey begins: wild mustang meets helicopter
This is the chronicle of a wild mustang mare who found her way to a horse sale in central Alberta, Canada. She was rounded up by helicopter in the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada and herded into a boxed-in canyon, where all the wild mustangs were crammed in like sardines. They were then put individually into squeeze shoots to be identified with collars.
On her way up north the tips of her ears got frostbitten in the stock trailer – now they bend over. Once in Canada, some cowboys snubbed her up to a post and nobody really knows what happened during that time. My client Matthew spotted her at the horse sale and – what can I say – it was love at first sight.
Buying this wild Nevada mustang was only the start of a journey that would eventually lead Matthew to my doorstep. Simply put, Matthew has no experience when it comes to starting young horses and, as he quickly discovered, knowledgeable advice is not very easy to come by.
Wild and wary horse
All I can tell you is, I am now working with the most frightened horse I’ve ever met. Becoming the leader of this fearful mare will definitely be a priority, but just as importantly, I will need to prove to her that she can trust me. Earning her trust will take a special amount of patience and understanding; the kind of patience a person has to dig deep within to find. I have a saying and it rings dead true – slower is faster with horses – and this is exactly the approach I will take with this mustang, whose survival instincts are dialed-in and on high alert.
I have agreed to work with Matthew and his wild mustang only because of the keen desire Matthew has to learn. The three of us are sharing a journey together and it will be a long one – especially considering that both mare and Matthew have a great deal to learn.
Confidence and learning
A wild horse’s instincts are more acute than any horse raised in captivity. I caution anyone, who isn’t experienced, when buying a wild or green horse of any kind. Without professional help, people with the best intentions (and most romantic notions) often bite off more than they can chew.
Building this mare’s self-confidence is another goal of mine. I do this through encouragement and reward for the slightest try, not through disappointment and frustration. I never want any horse to become worried or fret about doing something wrong. After all, horses learn best from their mistakes. Let them make mistakes and then calmly fix them. Work under the umbrella of emotional control and let the confidence grow!
Our personalities, our movements and our actions speak very loudly, and our horses are a reflection of who we are. You see, “communication is the seed, and it’s confidence and trust that grows”.
I’ve been slowly working with the mustang for about 8 sessions now. All I ever wanted from our first few sessions was to be able to go up to this trembling and frightened horse and touch her on both sides. It sounds simple, but to a wild horse that’s hyper-sensitive to movements, especially our body movements, this was no easy task.
Survival demands that horses run for their lives when they get frightened or spooked. This “right brain” reaction is exactly like a built-in time bomb that’s ready to explode at the drop of a hat.
Moving predictably in what I call “nature’s rhythm” and working under the umbrella of emotional control is powerful medicine – it subdues fear and replaces it with trust. This is how I was able to first approach and touch this mustang on both sides. Not only that, I was also able to put the halter on and do some very basic leading exercises.
Consistent repetition forms a habit that we call training. It’s also another key ingredient to gaining trust and building confidence.
Groundwork is preparation for saddle work. We all want a safe horse, a horse that gives us confidence and a horse we can enjoy when working or playing – a partner! Earning respect and gaining control on the ground are the prerequisites for success. Groundwork allows us to build the solid foundation that we so desperately need for our saddle work.
A less wild mustang: building a connection
The following is a list of some of our accomplishments to date:
- Slowly gaining more trust
- Building more confidence
- Making a connection and bond that is still growing
- Picking up all four feet
- Starting to lead in hand
- Accepting a saddle pad/saddle – the cinch was tricky
- Side passing up to the fence with me half way on her
- Starting my exercises for respect and control
- Desensitizing her to foreign objects such as plastic bags etc.
- Lowering her head in preparation for a bridle
- I’ll be sure to let you know how the journey with this mustang unfolds in upcoming entries.
Jay O’Jay update
Our family has been busy getting the second Stoddart Creek Stables equestrian facility up and running in Calgary. Also, I’ve been shooting my latest DVD entitled Earn Respect & Gain Control, (soon available online, contact me if you’re interested in learning more), attending a successful Mane Event in Chilliwack, (thanks to all who stopped by our booth and watched my demonstrations), and now, settling in, getting our Invermere facility ready for the winter. And riding of course!
Until the next entry, Happy Holidays and remember, “Success with horses starts with us”!