Earlier this year, before I had ridden Chico yet, Catlow had a very bad training experience. Prior to this event, I had not worked with her very much at all. I think that it definitely did not help what I was trying to accomplish with her, and may have made it take longer to get her trust, although it was her nature to be suspicious and closed off before this. This event probably made her worse, but I hadn’t worked with her much before this. Ultimately it did not ruin her (thankfully). I’ve really debated posting this on the internet for the world to see, but I really doubt that the people involved will ever read my blog so I don’t think posting this is going to cause any conflicts, so here goes.
Like I’d mentioned previously, I was sometimes working with getting Catlow to lead better, and also halter easily, but not very often (I was busy with Chico). I had gotten Chico to the point where I was ponying him from Cody all tacked up. On this particular day, I was going riding with 3 other people (won’t mention names). I was on Cody, leading Chico. As we left the barn and were headed down the driveway, Catlow was standing with her head over the gate watching us. Jokingly, I said “Oh look, Catlow wants to come with us!” Person 1 said, “That’s a great idea!” And proceeded to jump off her horse, run in the barn and get a leadrope on Catlow. I sat watching, not really knowing what to do, but I didn’t think it was a very good idea because Catlow did not lead very well, so why would it be a good idea to “lead” her off the property, which she’d never done before? But Person 1 is very opinionated and does things her way, and I didn’t feel comfortable telling her so. Person 1 got back on her horse and started down the driveway “leading” Catlow. Catlow set back, so Person 1 wrapped the leadrope around her saddle horn to pull Catlow. So Catlow led up, but still didn’t know what was expected of her, so she sped up and now was “leading” Person 1 on her horse. Person 1 tried to pull Catlow back to a following position, but Catlow just had her head up and kept pulling through her. Person 1 kept circling her horse around trying to get Catlow back behind her, but as soon as she did, Catlow would speed up and be pulling her again. Person 1 was jerking and pulling as hard and she could, and was losing her temper. We were still in front of the barn having not been able to make it anywhere. I said (in my timid voice), “I don’t think she’s ready to take out with us”. Person 1 said, “Well, we can’t let her win now! We have to finish what we started!” Person 1 ran into the barn and grabbed a chain and put it on Catlow’s halter. Now, Person 1 was on her horse, trying to get Catlow to back up, WHILE they were IN the barn standing in front of the panels. Person 1 JERKED as hard as she could on the chain across Catlow’s nose. Catlow reared up striking and hit the panels with her front feet. Person 1 JERKED again, Catlow reared striking again. And again. Meanwhile, I’m kind of dumbstruck, and very upset. There wasn’t much I could do, since I was holding 2 horses (Cody and Chico), but I ran down to the house, leading them and pounded on the door until Todd came out. I said, “Todd, you have to come get your horse!” I knew he would not agree with what was happening. He came running out to get her. By this time Person 1 had gotten Catlow out of the barn and was “leading” her down the driveway past the house…looked the same as before, except that with the chain across Catlow’s nose, she had more leverage to pull her back. As soon as Person 1 saw Todd, she lost her temper, yelling at him…I can’t remember what she said exactly, something about cursing the mustang and blaming her on Todd, but Todd was upset, so turned away and stormed back into the house, leaving his horse still in the hands of Person 1. By this point, Catlow was kind of leading up, but hesitantly and still pulling and getting jerked back every time she pulled. Person 1, along with the others we were riding with headed out the driveway with Catlow. I followed on Cody, leading Chico. We got to the middle of the CRP field across the road from the property, when suddenly, Catlow caught Person 1 off guard and pulled away from her. Now we had a mustang, who didn’t readily let people approach her even in the pasture, loose in the CRP field next to the canyon. I got off Cody and stood holding her and Chico, while Person 1 and 2 tried to chase Catlow down. Person 2 was going to try to rope her. Catlow was avoiding them and at one point ran to Cody and Chico and stood next to them. I tried to slowly approach her and get a hold on her lead rope, but she sidled away. Then Person 1 and 2 came and Catlow was off again galloping across the field. Meanwhile, Person 3 was having trouble with his ill-behaved horse with all these other horses racing around the field. I stayed where I was holding Chico and Cody hoping that she’d come back to them. After about 20 minutes of chasing her, they finally roped Catlow. Then we headed back to the barn. Amazingly, Catlow led pretty well with the rope around her neck. They got her back in the pasture without further incident. It still makes me very upset to think about this (I’m currently shivering and sweating at the same time). I was so mad, but I couldn’t say anything to Person 1; she’d already made her opinion perfectly clear. I thought that as soon as she discovered that Catlow wasn’t going to lead up easily, we needed to step back and readjust our goals. Catlow didn’t lead well anyway, so simply getting her to lead around, then putting her back in the pasture would have been sufficient. Why did that big goal of taking her out ponying off other horses on a trail ride have to be accomplished in order to “win” the battle with her? We didn’t end up “winning” anything. Catlow wasn’t being stubborn and fighting with them; she didn’t understand what was happening, and when Person 1 jerked her face with a chain, she just defended herself the best she knew how, by rearing and striking. Person 1 is very lucky that Catlow didn’t accidentally knock her off her horse when she was jerking on the leadrope. So, this was Catlow’s big negative training event.
A few weeks after that, I decided that I should start working with getting her to lead better. I started in the round pen, then I started taking her out for walks. This was in Spring 2007, Chico had already been out on many walks and was very comfortable with me. The first time I took Catlow out, Todd and I just took Catlow and Chico for a walk across the nearby CRP field. As soon as we got out the driveway, Catlow was on edge. She was no longer on familiar turf, and was NOT comfortable, even though she was with Chico. She was stiff and would not bend, and was walking VERY fast and getting ahead of first Todd, then me when I took over (kind of like what she did to Person 1 when she was trying to pony her). When she’d get in front, I just turned and made her walk a circle until she was behind me again, then we’d continue straight again. She was very stiff, so her turns were more like pivots and she almost stepped on me a few times as I tried to circle her. We got to a pond, and some ducks flew up and she came unglued. She spooked and jumped back, and after that, she was even more nervous. We headed home after that and as soon as we got back on the property, she was calm and relaxed.
The next time I took her out, I led her alone. She was nervous through the field, but once we got to the woods, she was much better. She wasn’t calm, but I think that she wasn’t overwhelmed with trying to look EVERYWHERE, because she could only see around her immediate self and so was better. I was pleased with how she did in the woods. We went down some very steep hills and cut across country off trails and she was very surefooted.
I took her out several more times with friends leading either Cody, or Chico or both Cody and Chico. When Cody was around, Catlow was much more relaxed. When I took all three out as a herd, Catlow was the best behaved horse of the three. She did not try to snatch grass as much as Cody and Chico did, and if you pulled on her halter, she’d immediately respond to the pressure. Whereas Cody and Chico knew they could push it and if they had their face buried in grass, when you pulled, they pulled back to try to snatch those last few mouthfuls. I actually had my least experienced (with horses) friend lead Catlow because she had become frustrated with Cody eating constantly. When I took over Cody, I got after her firmly and neither Chico nor Cody would eat while I led them.
In these leading lessons, Catlow did become somewhat familiar with the canyon. I could lead her down this way and she was quite relaxed, but if I led her down the road through open fields that went by the neighbor’s horses, she would become high-headed, alert, and forget I was there leading her. Once again though, after we passed that stretch and got into the woods on a single track trail, she’d follow behind me with her head down rather relaxed. That’s about as far as I got with Catlow that summer.