I subscribe to the philosophy that my animals should listen to me but not be fearful or upset about what I ask them to do nor how I ask it. They must, however, do what I tell them. I have been watching the Buck Brannaman’s 7 Clinics DVDs in hopes of absorbing some of his grace with horses. We’ll see how that pans out. I highly recommend these. This man knows more about how to get through to a horse than anyone I have ever seen – and totally without violence. I suspect we could use some of this philosophy to train any animal, just variations of it.
With that said, I will start at what I am calling “Day 1.” This is the first day that I really got to even see Smokey, much less put my hands on him.
Right off the bat, two things really stood out to me. The first was that he knew immediately what the gate was and fiddled with the chain that was holding it shut. I was shocked he knew exactly what to mess with to open it. Secondly, I was amazed at how curious he was. Everything seemed so new and exciting to him. It was pretty neat to watch him learn about his new surroundings.
He looks like a donkey here. I swear he doesn’t in real life.
I spent the majority of Sunday morning trying to get him to eat hay out of my hand by forcing myself between him and his pile of hay. He was uninterested in carrots, treats and sugar cubes and would hardly even come close enough to my outstretched hand to get hay. Gradually, I kept moving the hay closer to my body until he would come right up to me to eat it. Then I began to introduce my second hand near his face and neck as he grabbed hay from me. He was very hesitant about my hand on his nose and face, but was consenting to it on his neck.
By midday, he was more than willing to let me scratch all the itchy spots on his pole and would even drop his head if I put my hand up there. He never spooked, he would just get bored or mad about what I was doing and walk away; I’d follow and start right back where I left off.
I tried to grab his halter a few times (the one they had put on him at the auction) with little success. He had been shaking his head and acting very annoyed by it all morning. Between that and his neck tag that was still on, I could tell he was frustrated with them both. After a failed attempt to get a rope through his halter and get him to stand, I managed to get him to stand near me long enough to remove the necktag and then shortly thereafter, the halter. He seemed much clamer having those cranial accessories removed.
Notice the green band around his neck. That’s his necktag. You can also see his freezemark!
He was very clearly not ready to accept the halter was going to tell him what to do, so I figured I’d fight that battle at a later date and on better footing.
A note on the footing: Smokey’s pen is in the top corner of a pasture where there is a big shelter for him and his food. It had been raining SIGNIFICANTLY since Saturday morning, so the footing in his pen is miserable. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a choice but to leave him in this pen until he is halter broke. I’ve heard various things about mustangs sand colicking due to their excessive foraging in sandy environments, so I’m hesitant to move him to the arena that is available if need be. More on this later.
By early evening, if he walked away from me it was only for a short while. He would usually do a half circle and come back right in front of me asking to be scratched more. He was still sensitive about his face being touched, but would let me run my hands up his ears quickly. I think there is some kind of sore or mites in his right ear as he’s a bit more sensitive with that one, but he even let me rub the left ear all over for as long as I wanted – inside and out.
I got out a curry comb in the evening and began currying him all over, staying clear of his back end where his auction tags were still glued to his butt. I wasn’t ready to mess with the back end of a horse I didn’t know. I brushed him all down his legs and he even picked his right one up for me.
I rubbed my hands on his face a few more times and called it a night around 7. I think we’ve both earned a decent night’s sleep.