For those of you who don’t know, the government (the Bureau of Land Management) has been removing and stockpiling wild horses (nearly 300,000) from western public lands and placing them in holding facilities to clear the land for the livestock industry since 1971, and continue to do so. The ongoing round ups have resulted in more wild horses in government holding facilities (more than 50,000) than are left free on the range (<30,000). With the massive difference between the number of horses in these holding facilities, and the adoption rate of these Mustangs, there is increasing pressure for these facilities to sell these horses to slaughter. (More detailed information can be found at http://www.wildhorsepreservation.org/problem ).
Whether this is news to you, or you have known about this problem for a while, I am sure you are just as saddened by this information as I am. When I first learned about this problem, I was devastated and confused. I thought to myself, “How could something so ridiculous be happening in America, and how can I help?” So, I found a petition, signed my name to it, and shared it to social media hoping to educate others and get more signatures petitioning for a more humane method for controlling the mustang population. I then moved on with life, disappointed that there was not more that I could do, but feeling some closure in thinking I had done all that I could. In this past week, my eyes were opened to this issue again and I realized that there is indeed more I can do to help.
In April of 2015, a documentary titled Unbranded was released. Through social media I learned last week that this documentary was now streaming on Netflix. The documentary follows four friends on a 3,000 mile journey with 16 Mustangs across the US from the Mexico Border to the Canadian border. The purpose behind their journey, and what really sold the film to me, is to prove the worth of the wild Mustangs. Before they begin their journey, the documentary films the friends going to one of these governmental holding facilities for rounded up Mustangs and adopting the 16 Mustangs they are going to bring across the country. I don’t know what kept me from realizing it before, but this was the “lightbulb” moment for me when I realized there was more I could do than just signing a petition to help these wild horses. I want to adopt, train, and rehome these Mustangs.
This new inspiration comes as no surprise to my family and close friends. In my professional work, both currently as a Behavior Analyst and previously as a Special Education teacher, I have always been drawn to the clients and students displaying more challenging behaviors. I enjoy the thought process behind the hard work attempting to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. Of course this drive can only be fueled more powerfully when combined with my passion for working with horses.
I attended a barrel racing clinic this past weekend. I’ve not barrel raced and I personally am more into the working cow horse kind of thing with my performance horses. However, I know how popular barrel racing is and want to improve my knowledge and skills so that I can better serve the horses I work with and their owner’s. Also, I’ve got two little girls who will probably want to barrel race when they get older, so I need the knowledge to teach them. With this in mind, I brought our horse Lakota to the clinic. She is the little paint mare I’m working on getting ready for my girls when they start riding on their own.
Lakota is a good horse. She has never offered to buck or rear. She learns quickly and has gone from a dull lazy horse when I first purchased her to a responsive energetic horse with the training we have accomplished thus far. Where we continue to work, and probably will be continuing to work for a while is on building her self-confidence and keeping her worry down when she is away from her herd or in a new place.
When I first started working with Lakota, we took a lot of time working at home and working at the indoor arena we use on some groundwork skills and basic riding skills to teach her how to relax and cope in stressful situations. Since those skills have become solid, she has only been out, away from her herd, away from home by herself, on 3 occasions. In each of those instances, we did have to take some time, probably at least 45 minutes, to work on our groundwork to calm her down. I assumed today would be no different, I planned on arriving early and working on groundwork before the clinic started to get her mentally prepared for the clinic. Plans changed when I had a trailer tire blow out on the highway on our way there. No longer were we set to arrive 45 minutes early, we now arrived 20 minutes late.
Our set back didn’t sway me to deviate from my plan. I try to keep my horse’s best interests as a priority over my personal interests. It would have been a lot of fun to hop right on and lope her through that barrel pattern right away with everyone else, but I knew she was not mentally prepared for that at our arrival. So we came in tacked up and got to work on our groundwork in the corner of the arena trying to stay out of the way of the other horses. I was a little disappointed figuring the clinic would be an hour underway before Lakota and I were actually ready to join the group. However, in this instance out on her own, things were much different than our previous times out on our own. It took less than 10 minutes of groundwork before she was blinking and licking a chewing, showing signs that she was relaxing. I was so proud of her as I got on to start riding a bit.
Groundwork was good, and at this point she was more relaxed than I thought she would be. However, I knew she had never been to this arena before, so I knew there would be some “spooky” areas of it for her. I took some time to walk a couple laps around the arena to identify where those “spooky” spots. Once we found them, we were ready to start addressing them. Her happy comfortable place, was in the middle of the arena with the other horses and riders (she is very herd dependent). So we made this our work area. I didn’t want to miss anymore of the clinic so we joined the others and worked on our lateral flexion, disengaging, and back up while I listened to instruction and observed the others. During breaks from instruction, or when others were running the course/obstacle I took Lakota to rest in one of the “spooky” spots of the arena while I observed and listened to the feedback the instructor was giving other riders. We went last on every course/obstacle and while we waited for our turn, we rested in one of the arena “spooky” spots. It would have been enjoyable for me to wait our turn for the courses/obstacles with the other horses and riders so that I could socialize, but preparing my horse was more important than socializing.
By the end of our day, I was very proud of Lakota. By taking the time it takes to make sure my horse was mentally prepared, we accomplished so much more than just learning barrel racing basics and training techniques. My horse was a calm and willing partner as we worked through each course/obstacle. There was no tail swishing, no ear pinning, no crow hopping etc… she was the most well-mannered horse at the clinic who gained the most in life experience that day.
If you want things done right, and you want to make a lasting change in your horse, you have to be willing to take the time it takes. I have a mare who came to me as an 8 year old. When I first started working with her it was clear that she hadn’t had any quality work put into her. Recently we have started working on backing up. When we first started, it was clear that someone was hard on her mouth in her past. She was very dull and resistant to my cue to back up by picking up on both reins. We probably worked on backing up for about 30 days. By putting that time in, we now have a nice, soft, bend at the pole, rock her weight back, and step back, back up. (I have videos posted on my facebook page, www.facebook.com/forevertranch/)
When a horse comes to me for training, I want a minimum of 30 days with your horse. Sometimes 30 days isn’t enough. But in that 30 days, if it is your horse’s first time with me, I will go back to the very beginning, with basic groundwork, to determine where your horse’s starting point is. Groundwork provides what your horse needs, before we start asking for what we want. On my way, working up to the skills you want your horse to have, I will work to perfect every step along the way. If I uncover any underlying hiccups on our path, I will take the time that it takes to correct those hiccups before going forward. At the end of your horse’s first 30 days, it is likely that all of the goals you had for your horse will not be met. However, the goals that were met, or the problems that were resolved, will have been met and resolved in such a way that it will be a lasting change for your horse. Meaningful change takes time and if you allow, I will take the time to make that meaningful change.
Occasionally I see training ads advertising a week’s worth of training for a certain rate, or a certain number of rides for a certain rate. I call this superficial. These are the trainers who put a band-aid over a temporary issue or make a short term change. Often I hear of horses engaging in a problem behavior, in a certain situation, and being sent back to a “band-aid” trainer. Upon return to the same situation a couple months later, the horse repeats the same problem behavior, and is sent back to the trainer again. It is cyclical. Not only do I want to uncover and solve the issue causing the problem behavior, but I want to provide you with the knowledge of how the problem was solved. This is why within every 30 day training period I have with your horse, I offer you three lessons included. This allows me to teach you how to cue your horse and follow through with your cues so that you have the same results with your horse as I did. I want to provide you and your horse with lasting results, not just a band-aid fix. To do this, I’ll work with your horse, but more importantly, I’ll train you to understand your horse.
I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who has taken my knowledge in Applied Behavior Analysis, and the methodology of expert horse trainers, to create an Equine training program that is anything but average. Working with my own horses has led me to discover my passion for not just training horses, but practicing quality horsemanship. For the best interest of the horses, I hope to spread this interest in quality horsemanship.