Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Roundpenning the mustangs

Sometime in the summer of 2005 (I think it was probably in late June), we began working with the mustangs. It was time they learned to be touched, and led; time to become integrated into the herd. At this point, I really still felt like I wasn't the right person to work with them because I didn't know anything about training horses. So Todd's mom stepped in to show us how to "round pen" the babies as a training tool so that they'd get over their fear of us and allow themselves to be handled. I'm not really sure how much she had actually done with this. I remember her saying that they had an older mustang when the kids were young, and they ended up not being able to do anything with him (I won't mention what they did to get rid of the horse). I think she had watched some round-penning demos, but I don't think she had done all that much actual "round penning" with her horses, and I know she had never worked a mustang in one. Nonetheless, she has a lot of horse experience and has trained many horses.

They have a round pen built into the corner of their large arena/barn. We worked with Chico first. I video taped the session. By this time, Chico has caught his leadrope in something and ripped it off, but he still had his halter on. Todd's mom stood in the center of the round pen with a long lunge whip and drove him around the pen at a trot/canter. She waited for signs that he was paying attention to her (cocked ear), and then watched for submissive behavior (dropping the head, licking and chewing). When he did that, she'd step out in front of him so that he'd stop, then she would stand with her side to him (not head on), and sidle up to his shoulder. If he took off, she'd drive him around again, then stop him and start over. She did get closer and closer to him, until eventually she had her arm extended out (with her fist closed) toward his shoulder. He took off a couple times, she drove him around more, then eventually was able to scratch his shoulder and his neck, and pull on his halter. For Chico, this method seemed to work pretty well, although if I could go back and do it myself, after learning all I know now, I would not have been nearly so aggressive as Todd's mom was. She was very agressive, and smacking him with the whip (which I've decided I think is the last thing you should do with a fearful horse) to get him moving around the pen. At one point, he was trying to avoid her so intently that he got his leg caught in the round pen panel for a second (thankfully he wasn't hurt at all). So that ended our several hours session with Chico (who was dripping wet by the time we were done). It was too late that night to work with Catlow, so we did her the next morning.

Todd wanted to try to work with Catlow (he thought his mom was a bit agressive too). Todd stood in the center with a shorter lunge whip that you could crack and make a loud "pop". Todd was very passive and stood with his huge frame hunched and rounded. He made certain not to look directly at Catlow, and he tried to drive her around the pen with the pop of the whip. Catlow has a very different personality than Chico (very evident now that I know her so well and I can easily see where we went wrong in the round penning exercise). She also still had her leadrope attached to her halter. Catlow didn't show the same submissive signs that Chico showed, and she also was having difficulty maintaining direction around the pen. She tried to get out of the pen at the gate and repeatedly changed directions while Todd was trying to drive her forward. She also kept stepping on her leadrope and jerking her head down, to which her response was to jerk it back up. Todd was very passive about drving her around and trying to keep her maintaining the circle at one direction. His mom got irritated with him for being so passive about it, so she jumped into the pen and took over. She stepped right up to her aggressive posture with swinging the whip to smack her when she changed directions. Nothing that either Todd nor his mom did seemed to cause Catlow to want to figure out a way to work with us (which is supposedly what the purpose of the round penning is...mimic the herd boss, drive the horse out until they search for a way to want to come back in, or "join up"). Well, Catlow was having none of this join up thing, although when Todd's mom would stop driving her forward, she would spin and face up with her (head high, eyes wide, very stiff posture). If Todd's mom tried to approach her, she'd take off again. After a while, we decided her stepping on her leadrope repeatedly was causing a problem, but we couldn't get close to her, so chased her into a small pen and made a "squeeze chute" with panels to be able to reach her and take her rope off. Even after than, she still did not show any obvious signs of submission when begin driven around the pen. We decided that maybe her ducking her head was the way she showed that submission, but we did not have nearly as successful a session as with Chico.

Looking back, I know we were pushing Catlow too fast. She is a horse that is extremely fearful of people and if you push her too much, she shuts off and retreats inside herself. When she is there, you can do nothing that will get through to her and pull her back out of herself. She is in survival mode. While the round penning did eventually allow us to touch her, she was only barely tolerating it. She had shut off and wasn't going to learn that she had nothing to fear that way.

The mustangs did eventually lose their dire fear of us (they were still fearful, but not necessarily of us...only if we moved to fast!). We did not round pen them very much. Primarily we just slowly approached them in an enclosed area. Chico lost his fear much faster than Catlow did. Once he lost that fear though, he decided that people were not fun, and really wanted nothing to do with us. He just wanted to be a horse. Catlow more slowly lost her fear and really enjoyed being scratched, so we could approach her in the pasture and scratch her body, but never her face.
Here I am showing off my gentled mustang, Chico.

Here are the mustangs integrated into the herd of quarter horses (numbered about 25 - 30 head at that time I think).
Even though they were integrated into the herd, the two mustangs and Cody hung out together quite a bit. Here, Chico peaks over Cody's back.
I have to include this picture of Cody (the not-mustang) because she is a very important member of my herd. So far, none of the Cody pictures have shown her head (she's kind of a piggy about eating), so here is a nice side-view of her.
Pretty Catlow...
They are so cute. I think Chico must have scraped his face on the round bale feeder.
The end of 2005 saw somewhat gentled mustangs that we could handle and lead a bit, but they were nowhere near easily handled. Both wore their halters all the time. To catch them, we'd approach them, scratch on their body, then sneak the leadrope clip onto the halter. They'd startle and kind of freak when they heard that, but at that point, you had them caught and they would lead and tie (I know, you aren't supposed to sneak, but I didn't know any better!). I think the startling when we tried to clip the leadrope on was a combination of truly being startled at the noise, but also disliking getting caught.

Todd did remove Catlow's halter at the end of summer that year. At this point, he could take her halter on and off, although she wouldn't let you touch behind her ears.
Look how much she's grown in just a summer! By the way, Todd and I built the rail pen you can see behind them in this picture. This was to give the mustangs a pen to stay in where they could go outside, but by the time we had it finished, they already knew what fences were and were running around with the herd.


Andrea said...

Catlow sounds kind of similar to Bella. She was very afraid at first.

I was hoping we could go for a ride sometime soon, but I may not be riding Tonka again until next week. Hopefully we'll get a chance before your horses leave. And if not, I do have a couple horses you can ride if you get horse-sick before you go to join your horses.

spottedmules said...

Okay, I'm flexible. I'd definitely love to get a chance to see your horses. How long before you can start riding Bella more seriously (according to doctor's orders?)

arlene said...

It's so nice to read how other people have trained their mustangs. Your horses are beautiful.
Catlow is like Echo. I believe Echo is capable of being messed up for the rest of his life if he gets too traumatized. And I don't think it would take much because he is so incredibly sensitive and unforgiving. I'm just going to enjoy him and let a pro take over his training when and if I can afford it. Right now he likes me and thinks I'm really cool because I have carrots and I smile a lot. He's just gentle soul.
How did your mustangs treat the fences when you turned them out? This is a BIG worry of mine.

spottedmules said...

Hi Arlene, I agree that you have to be more careful with the fearful ones, but even if they have a VERY traumatic experience (I will explain Catlow's traumatic training experience in a later post...it wasn't the round penning, and I didn't do it, but I was there to see it and it was awful) they can get over it. When I took over and started working with her later, she did respond quite well, you just have to do it differently than you would with a horse more like Wildairo or Chico. I think you'll like when I get to the point where I post the journal I kept when I was training her.

Regarding fences, because these guys were turned out with horses that weren't trying to leave the property, they hung around. They checked everything out cautiously, including the fence. They of course were zapped by the electric fence pretty early on, so they respected it and stayed away from it. I think it is a very good idea to turn yours out one at a time with Foxsun who will "show them the ropes". They'll look to him as leader because he is confident about his place in the world at your house, and so they will learn to stay away from the fence!

I have also really enjoyed reading how other people work with their mustangs. That is the biggest benefit about this blogging thing! Thanks to everyone for sharing your experiences!