So, I have 2 mustangs, Rooster and Huck, in for "training". They don't really need a lot of work, just a few things. These are amazing horses, and simply wonderful to be around.
Their owner brought them on the 14th... I think that was Thursday. He had his assistant ride them, and gave me an idea of what they could do. He told me his expectations, and basically, he just wants some time put on them. As we all know, no horse learns how to be a good saddle horse through osmosis.
Well, Friday, I spent the day checking saddle fit, getting the right bit sizes for them, and then doing some basic ground work. I learned that they were trained a bit differently. As an example, Huck tends to disengage his hind quarters when on the lunge, while Rooster will go into a canter with subtle body position changes. Ok, both are pretty basic practices, and I can work with that easily. I asked them to do some things outside their norm, such as walk on the lunge for Huck (he wants to trot and canter only) and I showed Rooster some barrels, and that we could lunge around and over them.
Huck is learning to relax, and be a good boy. That is his personality though, so it's very easy to get the idea across. Rooster is a bit flighty, and what I call a sensitive horse. He flinches when he hears a strange sound, but he doesn't truly spook or bolt. Rooster loves work. Huck.... he loves cookies.
Saturday, I as supposed to work the horses, but I had completely forgotten about the parade. We have the Peanut Festival in town (2 blocks away) every year. My street is the next cross street south of the square. With the square blocked off.... and my arena is on the street.....
Well, we had loud motorcycles, we had floats, we had strange horses going down the street... and we had drunks peeling out. I had every intention to ride, but when that happened, I decided that I didn't really need the world to help me get another cracked helmet. I turned the boys loose in the arena, and let them play while being exposed to the sounds. Not a true lesson, but I planned to make it up on Monday. I'd rather swap days off, then get thrown because some punk kid decides to crash into my fence (yeah, it was that bad).
Monday I went over last week's lesson. The boys have started to settle in, and are not always being perfect. Huck decided that he could threaten to kick me when I picked his feet. He never truly kicked, but he tucked up tight, and wobbled it at me. That earned him a lesson in legs. He knows better, but he had to test me. Since Huck is likely to be the wife's horse, and I don't know how horsey the wife is... well... lets not allow any bad habits.
Rooster got a repeat of the lunge lesson. He had forgotten all about what I had showed him, and was wanting to go into the paddock with Huck (next to the arena). I had to show Rooster how to focus with out getting hot. It seems that Rooster wants to work, but he doesn't understand lazy work. I did some mounting and dismounting, making Rooster stand still for me. Our hour was over so much faster then I thought!
I wear a watch that has a timer. I set it off when I begin working with the horse. This means that they get a true hour of lesson. If the lesson isn't done, I don't just stop, but if they are going great, then I have a quick and easy way to judge the time. I can't believe how fast my time with Rooster always flies!
So, on Tuesday, I got Huck out (and I don't always work Huck first, but I can never remember which I do, so I just mention Huck's session first). Huck was a good boy for tacking up, no more leg issues. I lunged him, and he showed me a few new commands he knows, but did all I asked and more. After that, I climbed on. Huck tries to bite my stirrup. So that means a mounting session. I would flex Huck opposite of the foot he wanted to bite, and fidget with the foot he wanted to bite. When he stopped trying to put the foot or stirrup in his mouth, I'd relax him and give him praise. Then we started to walk off. Huck was a good boy, he walked off when I asked, but he always wants to turn to walk off. I assume this is how he was trained, but a horse should have a straight walk button too. Never know when you'll need it.
Huck kept acting... odd. He would mouth his girth, he acted almost like he didn't want to turn left. I got off, stripped him, and checked all over for pain. No real pain response (but a few funny scratch me faces). Interesting! I think he's a bluffer. It's pretty rare for a horse to truly learn to bluff, but Huck's just so mouthy. He wants to have EVERYTHING in his mouth, all the time. In the end, he walked off well, he stopped, backed, and wasn't sure what to make of the fact that we did not trot or faster work. I wanted to make sure he has a good foundation on him, and that his reining and understanding of the aids is good and clear. By the time we were done, fat ol' Huck was dripping! I thought it was going to be an easy lesson, but Huck thought it was a lot of excersize. He's really a joy to ride, and a nice big wide body horse.
Then I went to tack up Rooster. I pulled out the saddle, the bridle, and began grooming. Picked all 4 feet, with no issues. Every time I brought a brush by his ears, or if I tried to move his mane out of his halter, any thing near his ears, he would toss his head up, and back up.
So, Rooster changed my plans. We had a lesson on ears. First, I found something he likes. It's a pretty boring cookie that many horses aren't so fond of. Rooster LOVES IT. Now, Rooster isn't the type of horse to love cookies either, and he definitely won't take them from your hand. I started with giving him a cookiee, and telling him "Good!". Every time the cookiee entered his mouth, he heard "Good!".
For those who have studied clicker training, does this sound familiar? It's Pavlovian training. I teach the horse to associate a pleasant sensation, such as a treat, with the stimulus, my saying "Good!". Soon, his brain rewires to think of the word as feeling as nice as the treat. Easier then clicker training, because I tend to lose things.
After he knew Good, I began to reach for his ears. When he stopped fighting me, or backing up, I said good, and shoved in a cookie. Repeat. I did both sides, and I kept at it until he would simply stiffen his neck, but not move his head, or back up. What if he had a tick in his hear? Or a cut that needed to be treated? He doesn't have to LIKE having his ears touched, but he does have to learn it will happen, and he shouldn't fight it. When he started looking like he understood that my fingers in his ears meant a cookie if he didn't move, I glanced at my watch. 53 minutes. WHAT?
See, I told you time flies with Rooster. =) I didn't get to ride him like I wanted to, but he did get a vet good lesson in ground manners. I really like this horse, and I think that Pavlovian training will be very good for him. It seems to work perfectly with his personality. I'm hoping to use a similar trick to get him to stop flinching, and simple relax when he hears a scary noise. Not sure I can totally over come that reaction in him, but I'm sure going to try.
So now, I am finishing up lunch, and then I'll be out to see if the horses will let me in the saddle. I mean, they will LET me, but I am not going to ignore a hole that needs to be trained, just because I'm ready to be riding. Like Rooster and his ears.
And if you'd like to see these AMAZING horses I'm honoured to be working with.... Here are the videos of their performances at the Extreme Mustang Makeover:
A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses
I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.