So, last time in my installment to update my blog on the training of the mustangs, we left with the end of their yearling year where we could lead and tie them, but not easily catch them, and they definitely didn't want to be messed with. They were quite reactive when handled. I remember once trimming Chico's mane, and he was okay with it, but then got worried/annoyed about my arms up around his head and pulled back against the post he was tied to. He didn't panic and quit fighting when he realized I'd backed away and he couldn't break free from being tied anyway. Then we started over and he was fine.
Going into his 2 year old year (we had gotten them in April of 2005 when they were yearlings), Chico just wanted to be a horse. He didn't really see any benefit or enjoyment in working with me. I couldn't approach him in the pasture to catch him; he knew what I was up to and would leave as soon as he saw me approach. I'd follow him to not give up on the catching and he'd circle around the round bale feeder, keeping it or other horses in between him and I. He wasn't afraid of me, he just didn't want anything to do with me. To catch him, we'd have to herd him into the barn with the other horses, then herd him into the round pen, or a smaller area where he would know he was caught and allow the lead rope to be clipped to his halter (he wore his halter all the time because of the difficulties with had with catching him). When I caught him, I'd do things like brush him and we'd also do other horse maintenance things like worming.
Here is Chico following Cody and keeping a wary eye on me. Yes, I know his halter is too small and I removed it after this day that I took pictures because that was the first time I'd noticed it.
Catlow was a little different in her 2 year old year than Chico was and how she ended up a little later. Catlow would approach you in the field to be scratched, but her approach was very hesitant and cautious. She'd approach, then stop and watch us, and if we were nonchalant about it, we could walk up and pet her, but only on her body. She wasn't okay with her head. If you tried to clip the leadrope on her (at this point she was wearing a halter all the time again because of difficulties with catching her), she would act surprised and get defensive, almost striky with her front feet. She never really fully struck out, but she would get very light on the front, and startle with the look that said she was about to strike out or really thought about it.
That whole year, I did not work with the two mustangs much. Cody turned 3 this year, so that spring I worked with getting her to accept a saddle and bridle (which was very easy, almost as though she was born waiting for me to put the saddle on). I still didn't know much about training. I was very ignorant about all the things that one should teach a horse to do and how to do it. I just played it by ear and Cody was cooperative so things went well (I thought). I got Cody saddled and bridled and did a little lunge work with her and took her on walks. On walks, she would get quite nervous when we got out of sight of the barn, but she wasn't too bad. I even sat on her and Todd would lead me around on her. She was fine with it, until we'd get too far away from the barn, then she'd get nervous. I had someone suggest that I tie the reins to the saddle so that she had a very slight bend in her neck to learn how to give to rein pressure, and to do it on both sides (not something I'd do anymore for this purpose). I ran into problems when I got her all tacked up and climbed on in the round pen (enclosed space) and tried to ask her to walk around the pen with me on her back. She wouldn't move, not even budge an inch. I was squeezing and then kicking with my legs and there was no response. This was the extent of what I could think of to do with her at this point, so in April, I sent her to a trainer for 30 days.
This is Cody and her faithful sidekick, Chico, before we sent her for training. Notice how dark she is....
The trainer is a soft-spoken cowboy who is sensitive and really likes his horses, and I watched him work with her that first day we took her there (along with a couple of Todd's mom's other horses). He saddled her up right away, and worked her in his round pen on a leadline. He used a flag to try to get her to yeild her hindquarters because he said she was really sticky and didn't know how to move. She definitely was sticky but after a while loosened up her feet and moved away from the pressure of the flag easily. Watching him work with Cody was the first time I'd ever watched anyone train a young horse. I already knew I didn't know anything about training, and now I had some idea of what to look for in training methods. I liked what he did. I'm not really sure what exactly his methods would be called, but I think he's probably a true cowboy who trains with firmness and fairness...not the rodeo type. He understands teaching the horse to understand. He also doesn't baby them and really uses them right away...there's not much training in the "round pen" before he gets on and just goes and does something with them. When I picked her up from the trainer after her 30 rides (1 month and a week), he said that he'd cantered her a couple times just to show her what it felt like, done lots of walking and trotting and riding through the brush and around the ranch. He said she was really scared the first couple times out on rides. He'd also used her to work some other young horses from the saddle. He told me she was a little dull-sided and that if I wanted to teach her anything like sidepassing, I should probably use spurs (which I'd never used before, ever). He also told me his dad really liked her and they just called her "brown mare". This trainer unfortunately doesn't feed the horses very much while they are with him (to save money), so Cody came back quite skinny because she wasn't fat to begin with (not too skinny, but ribby). One of the fat horses she went over with came back in beautiful great shape (not skinny because she was so fat to begin with).
A skinny Cody.
As soon as Cody came back from the trainer, I was shocked by her color. She had faded and really looked almost buckskin. This was the first time that I really started to wonder what color she was and if she could carry the cream gene. I started riding her right away. In fact, I rode her that same day we trailered her back. On the second day I rode her, she bucked me off, but I think it was just a young horse error at that time. We were going up a very steep trail following Todd's mom, and there was a log across the trail which she chose to jump instead of step over and she started bucking when she landed on the other side (surprised by the feel of me and the saddle when jumping). I fell off, but surprisingly landed on my feet, got back on and continued without further incident.
Does this horse look buckskin?
I rode Cody almost every single day that summer. I learned the canyon trails well with Todd's mom. I almost always rode with Todd's mom, although I did venture out by myself a time or too. Cody wasn't really nervous by herself anymore because she was comfortable with the trails, but she definitely would have rather gone home than been out by herself.
That summer, I experimented with lots of saddles. My dad's old saddle was very comfortable, but gave Cody white spots on her withers. I got a wintec endurance saddle on ebay and that was great. Very comfy, and fit Cody very well, but I didn't like how the stirrup were set so far forward so I was in the "chair" position. I eventually sold that and got a different saddle pad that seemed to prevent the white hairs on her withers.
I didn't do any "training" on Cody. I just rode her. We walked, trotted and cantered (but only some, and I got bucked off a couple of times at the canter...I always had an excuse for her though, but now I know that some of it had progressed to her learning that when I fell off it meant she could run home...it wasn't until a year later that she was actually trying when I was distracted but by that time I had learned how to thwart her and she got over that quick). I also tried spurs once, but she bucked me off, so I didn't do that again (most of the times I've been bucked off Cody I've landed on my feet because I come off so easily...I'd rather bail than try to hang on and end up landing on my head).
If you think I sound ignorant in this post, it's because I really was ignorant at that time. I had never really read anything that explained HOW to train. It's hard to think back to my understanding then because what I understood only scratched the surface of what I understand now. I know I currently have lots more to learn, but I think I've come a long way, and hopefully you will see that too when I get to future posts about working with the 'stangs.
Catlow investigating our turkeys.
So, that summer, I really didn't do anything with the mustangs because I was busy riding Cody. We would visit them in the pasture when we were out in the garden. The garden has alfalfa growing along the edges, so I'd pick that and offer it to them (the mustangs would approach and hang back when other horses came to get alfalfa and that way they learned that we had something good). After a summer of being a horse and me not trying to catch him anymore, Chico started to come to me because he knew there was potential for a treat. I tried to always walk through the pasture to the garden with something...either alfalfa, an apple core, a horse treat. When he saw me coming, he'd start to approach me to see if I had anything interesting. So, all by himself, Chico went from wanting absolutely nothing to do with me (because I stood for unpleasant things...getting restrained, brushed, wormed) to being interested and thinking that I might have something that he could benefit from. By this time, it was fall and Chico was showing me that he was ready to progress with his training. To start, get him to accept haltering and attaching the leadrope.....
By Fall, I couldn't get rid of my wild mustang.
To be continued...