Saturday, August 7, 2010

Catching Mustangs in WY

I just got back from a great week in WY giving lessons and training horses. The ranch where I stay is very remote. Many miles of dirt road, but it is gorgeous rugged country. The people came to the ranch for private and small group lessons as far as 100 miles away. The Carter Ranch has a nice indoor arena, however I had to use a real old fashion outhouse for a week, and drive a few miles just to take a shower at the neighbors. I stayed in a cute little old fashion bunkhouse.The Carters are wonderful people and greats hosts. They took good care of me and fed me well. I enjoyed riding and training their nice Arabians while I was there. We rode in the arena on the mountain trials, high plains and badlands. There was a real variety of terrain. It was soft in places and rocky in others. Their horses do just fine without shoes and an natural trim.

The most exciting part of the week was going to another ranch on Monday, about an hour and a half drive away to catch, halter and work with three mustangs for their first handling in this manner. I had a blast working with each of them in the round pen until they gently and calmly accepted their first haltering. It was sort of a spiritual experience for me as these horses trusted me in a very special way. It is hard to explain.

These horses were 5 and 6 years old. They had been captured as 1 and 2 year olds. But for the last 4 years have not been handled much other than to throw some grain in a feed bunk for them and touch them once in a while. Even though they were in captivity they have been in a big pasture eating to their hearts content 24/7 so they were fat. They were used to people being around, providing food and care for them. Other than that they didn't see any need to have people around.

It took me less than 5 minutes to halter each one and they stood perfectly calm and relaxed as I put it on them. However, it took me on average about 2 hours to prepare each horse for this kind of acceptance of the halter. I could have maybe
got the job done a lot quicker if I were a better roper. I could have roped them around the neck like a good cowboy would have. But I knew I would miss several times before I succeeded, and I also knew that it would be a lot more stressful for them. So I did a lot of bucket sitting and join up with them until each of these horses was willing to follow me. I wanted each one curious about me and wanting to be with me before proceeding.

Up to this point I had not tried to touch them. Next I started with a lot of approach and retreat in order help them accept my touch. I spent a lot of time petting the air and eventually the horse from his withers forward with my hand, the stick, rope and halter. I kept this up until I was really winning the friendly game. When it was time to put the halter on it was no big deal. I know I was as happy as the horse was that there was never a fight involved. There was never a need for either of us to get stressed. However, I will admit that we got a little hot as it was well above 90 that day, which more than likely played in my favor.

I started with the most difficult horse first. The gal who owned him said that she had never gotten close to him even with grain. He remained out of reach from human touch the last four years. As I was working with him she asked me if I wanted a bucket of grain to help catch him. Of course I refused the kind offer, because I wanted the horses to catch me and not try to trap or trick the horses into being haltered.

After haltering the first horse, I turned him out into a bigger corral by himself wearing his new halter while I started on the next horse. So he stood around for a couple of hours getting used to his new tack. Before I even approached the corral to take off his halter, I wondered if I would have to run him back in the round pen in order to get the job done. However, I decided to just pretend that he had been haltered a 100 times before and act as if it was no big deal. I walked casually up to him, gave him a pet on the forehead, stepped to his side and took it off without any trouble. I gave him another rub on the forehead and walked away. He was still standing there calmly as I walked away. He was probably wondering what just happened to him. I think I was as shocked as he was. Right after I left the corral I was jumping for joy because it went so well. To me it was a sign that he truly accepted me and the halter. I am so happy that the experience was so good for both of us.

The other two horses went in a very similar manner. I could not have been happier at how well it went. I only have a couple of regrets for the day. One is that they wanted me to catch four mustangs and I only had time for three. The second disappointment is that the whole process did NOT get video taped. I am really sorry that I didn't get even one picture.
DANG IT! But I have the memory in my mind and experience under my belt that I am very honored to have and will always treasure.

I look forward to going back next year to see how these horses are doing, plus all the students who came and took lessons from me. In fact this is the third year in a row that I have done lessons for these horselovers in WY. I had several new people
this year. And they are expecting me to come again next year. I will be excited to see what kind of challenges they have for me next year, and see the progress that each horse and person has made.

Happy Trails,