Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The not-so-glamorous mustang challenge!

I'm guessing most of my readers know at least one well-intentioned person who has horses in need of training growing progressively older in their backyard. While they're not abusing the horses, and the horses are well-fed, no training is being accomplished - or poor training has resulted in the horses training the people. I recently agreed to help out someone like this. Yes, money was involved, and I've only agreed to do ground work.

The horses are mustangs and while I think that some are quite nice looking and good-moving, they have just been pets for their entire lives. They kinda sorta lead. They are mostly friendly and like sugar cubes. That's about it. So about two weeks ago, I started working with two of them.

The Good Mustang apparently had some ground work way back when, and he is not stupid. He seeks out human interaction and is interested in what you are doing. His past training consisted of being ponied on a trail ride without and then with a rider (he was good for that) and then one ride in the arena (he blew and hurt someone). So of course we are going back to square one and filling in the blanks.

He is the personality type that tests you, but he's quick to learn. The first time I had him out of his pen, he got tired of standing still and shoved me in the stomach with his nose. He got bopped in the nose once and there has not been one single repeat of that behavior so I've decided he's pretty smart. He already ties without incident, longes both directions, knows "ho" although he's a little lazy about it (drops to a walk rather than a halt - so we are working on a sharper response) and is generally doing very well. He started out extremely distractable - he would look at everything but me and had a most annoying habit of craning his neck to look at spooky things and barging his shoulder into me as though I was not there. He has been poked in the shoulder a lot with my elbow, and does seem to be improving steadily with work. He's actually a very good mover. Overall, I really like him. I think another week and he'll be ready to start wearing a bit and long-lining. I'm not really anticipating any major problems with this guy - I think his previous explosion was merely due to a lack of consistent ground work before riding was introduced. He was scared and he reacted as you'd expect.

Then there's the Spooky Sorrel Paint. Not quite as sharp and has no interest in humans. Every vibe I get from him says "throw me hay and leave me the F alone." Clearly much more unhandled than the other, this guy took a week of work in his pen before I felt comfortable bringing him out. He started out deathly terrified of having me stand on his off side. He would turn himself into a pretzel to try to keep me on the "safe" side but I persisted, doing annoying things like standing in his stall while he ate and brushing the "scary" side until he pretty much got over it. He is still very spooky of the ear on that side - wondering if someone has eared him in the past, though earing on the off side sounds odd. Usually if people do that, they do it on the near side and as a result the horse is spooky about the left ear.

SSP leads but doesn't back. Backing is completely new, so we're working on that. He also doesn't move away from pressure at all - he's not panicky but he's like a tree stump. "Over" means nothing in his world, so we have a lot of work to do.

I brought him into the arena yesterday and let him loose to play in a much bigger area than he normally has. He was fine about letting me catch him, which was a nice surprise. You longtime readers know that we have a converted barn with a solid fence in the middle of the arena so we usually tie horses to that for grooming and tacking. I knew he might not tie, so I just threw the lead over the fence and walked around to the other side. I held the rope wrapped around the side of one of the big beams so that if he moved out of the range of the lead, he'd feel resistance against the beam but he wasn't really tied. I just wanted to see what he'd do when faced with a little pressure on his head but I was holding him the whole time.

Well, I was glad I was on the other side of the fence as we got a performance worthy of the Royal Lippizan Stallions. It was interesting. He'd stand quietly and not even act scared, then all of a sudden - walking on his hind legs. And I mean, straight up, Hi-Ho Silver rear. I was holding him so I would give and take but not let go. He would settle and stand - again, not acting scared or shaky or white-eyed - just like he was contemplating his next move. And then suddenly - a rear with a huge leap through the air.

As I say, I was glad I was on the other side of the fence. I could give and take but there was a lot of solid wood keeping me out of hoof range. I wasn't bracing the lead against anything anymore - just moving with him but not letting go. He threw his fit, then settled, then another fit, then more settling. Finally he stood for a little longer than he had before and I pet him, unsnapped the lead and let him go. Amusingly, he stood right where he was "tied" until I left the arena.

I've dealt with these kind of theatrics before in a spoiled older horse (and worse - at least this guy isn't aggressive or charging me), but this is a little different as I know SSP simply never learned his A-B-C's in the first place. I'd like to rig something up to tie him from above as I think that's the least traumatic introduction to tying. I've been around long enough to remember the days when we tied them to a tree with one of those one-piece poly cow halters and let them fight, but I'd like to think we can teach tying a little less violently these days! So my new challenge is how to rig something up that works - something that won't break but has some give. Your suggestions are welcomed.

By the way, I'm not so sure it's as much about tying as it is about being away from his herd. I will bet I could tie him in his pen and he wouldn't care, but in the arena his whole focus is on getting out of the arena and back to his friends. If he's loose, he stands at the gate trying to dig a hole to freedom unless I flag him off. Did I mention he was gelded late? Yeah, that too. And he led like a lamb going back to his friends so, again, I think the herd-boundness is the main issue here.

So after the boys, it was a real pleasure to work with Sly. She is so smart! She long lines both in a circle and on the wall now. We just started doing it with a bit, so she's adapting to that and fussing a bit but that's to be expected. She's gotten so much less reactive to things and can do the most gorgeous little jog in the long-lines. She doesn't seem to care at all about the lines anymore. (Her owner reminded me that she had a bad accident and got her hind legs caught in New Zealand Wire fence years ago, so she really might have had a good excuse to be so scared of the long lines at first). I was really impressed with her last night since one of my landlord's cows was right up by the arena and the cow spooked at her, and while she spooked, she did it in place - she didn't really go anywhere. Big improvement from when I started working with her and she'd try to bolt on the longe line.

'course, mares are just smarter. *ducks tomatoes from gelding owners*


Drillrider said...

I have one of these Tie Rings, but have to admit I never installed it:

It is supposed to be tension adjustable based on how you put the lead rope through it.

Anonymous said...

I'm hesitant to suggest this because I've never tried it myself - my daughter has had good success with it with herd-bound horses. You could try a high line - like what is used to tie a string of horses when camping. A line, above horse head height, secured tightly to two trees that are a fair ways apart (in a way not to damage bark). Your horse is then tied to the high line - so their head can be in a relaxed position and they can move however they want in circles under the high line, but not so loosely that they can get a leg over or graze. Since the high line is above them, it's hard to pull back, and they can fret and move as much as they want until they decide it's not worth it. There have been some good articles about how to set up a high line for camping. Good luck.

fuglyhorseoftheday said...

Kate, a high line is exactly what I'm thinking about. However, I've used them with well broke horses who DID tie - and we just used clothesline. I'm not sure that's the best choice for a horse who may put up a fight. I'm no engineer - I don't even know how strong something like that is. That's why I'm curious to see what others have used.

mugwump said...

I think you're doing fine. I would simply keep on going the same path.If he stood quietly and then fought, stood, fought, repeat, it seems he was thinking about things, not panicking. As long as he's thinking he's learning....

Mads said...

Mares really ARE smarter. In recent fires that engulfed our state my 7 year old TB mare saved the butts of the two geldings she was with by staying calm as they were surrounded by flames and horses around them died.
Anyway, good on you with the mustang thing. It annoys me when people get horses and just think that they're going to train themselves. Honestly, it's not fair to the owner and it certainly isn't fair to the poor horse!

Anonymous said...

I agree with fuglyhorseoftheday - maybe the real issue is that the horse doesn't understand how to give to pressure - maybe this is where to start? Then perhaps a high line would be of use, but as I said I'm uncertain on this.

Amy said...

I'm pretty sure my mare is smarter than my gelding, and that's why she's a bigger pain in my ass... ;) But they do seem more keyed in to your body language... I feel like I have to beat my gelding over the head to get his attention sometimes.

Good luck with the rearing horse...

fuglyhorseoftheday said...

>>I feel like I have to beat my gelding over the head to get his attention sometimes.<<

And I'm sure I'm not the only one who has dated a human male like that. *giggles*

RidesHorses said...

All my new to tying horses are tied to inner tubes, it has give and it won't break. I have a soft cotton lead that is left tied to the tube. I lead the horse up and clip the lead rope to the halter and remove the other one. The inner tube is attached to the post by a cotton rope. Make sure the tube is high on the post.

I should just email you a picture of the 'set up' in my barn.

RidesHorses said...

I learned the inner tube trick from a friend of mine who had handled A LOT of feral horses. They had just ran loose in a pasture for 5 yrs, NEVER HANDLED, I MEAN NEVER.

This way when a horse sets back the inner tube has give to it. I had a SOW of a mare that didn't like to tie, she had learned how to set back and break things. I put her on the inner tube, she throw the most unbelieveable fit. (I had the HOLY SHIT look on my face!) She went at it for a few minutes. The inner tube didn't break and she gave up. She wasn't hurt in anyway.

LizB said...

I recently visited a trainer that is helping train some of our rescues, and she has a high line - with an innner tube - well, sort of. She has an innertube folded in half over an angled branch of a tree 20 feet high or higher (I have no idea how she got it up there) and a rope that is tied to and hangs down from the innertube and ends about 4' above the ground. Obviously, pick a strong branch. But she had a couple of those set up and the horses learn quickly to stand quietly - as there really isn't anything to pull against. Most ingenious setup I've seen yet.

Michelle said...

I LOVE my mares. I have only mares now, no boys on the place at all. There's something extra about mares, very smart, but challenging. Once you have them, they give you everything they have. Geldings are just a little too "ho-hum, whatever" for me.

Deer Run Stables said...

Glutton for punishment, aren't you, Fugly? You need the Blocker Tie Ring.

I'm very impressed with this piece of equipment.

fuglyhorseoftheday said...

>>I should just email you a picture of the 'set up' in my barn.<<

Please do! I like the inner tube idea but am worried about him throwing himself again/getting hung up in whatever it's connected to. That's why I was thinking high line. We do not, unfortunately, have a flat wall anywhere - we have one of those arenas with beams and fence rails all around the inside of it. Plenty to get hurt on.

Deer Run - apparently so, LOL. But it's fun when they DO learn. The Good Mustang actually got his legs hosed off tonight! He was SURE there was acid in the hose at first but he figured out that calm horses who stand still get fed hay while they are having their legs hosed and he did very well after that.

They both have that caked-on winter mud that is just not going to come off with grooming tools, so they're both going to have to learn about hoses and baths. It's not warm enough to do more than legs yet, but it will be. 50s here.

Drillrider said...

Deer Run Stables: Guess I need to get my Tie Ring installed. I have a mustang mare that has pulled back. However, I "suspected" this as she came with a brand new halter. I tied her solid to the horse trailer, she threw a major fit twice, when she couldn't get loose or break the halter, she hasn't done it since.

success in the pen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
success in the pen said...

Ok. This is totally off topic from the post, but don't you plan on showing the VLC this year? Are you only going to show open? Are you planning on showing in Amateur or Novice Amateur classes? If you are... you might want to remove that bit in your post about accepting money for helping with training. It doesn't matter if it's ground work, or riding. You can lose your amateur status or render yourself unable to get an amateur card. Just a head's up.

sheesh said...

I was thinking along the same lines as Sucess in the pen. Also, the VLC is getting worked 5 days a week consistently before you ever do anything with anyone else's horse, right? His competition is.

Deer Run Stables said...


D'Oh! Should have backread - I didn't see your link. You beat me to it by a mile! ;-)

Yeah... tying solid and letting 'em figure it out. I've done that. Recently, even. Works great for a certain personality type (the thinkers, as opposed to the instinctive OMG!! panickers)... *if* they don't break anything. I've seen one snap off a railroad tie buried three feet in the ground (I know, because I'm the chump who got stuck digging out the stump and replacing the post!), seen 'em break all manner of halters and ropes, and, one time in a thousand, they pull back and snap their neck, then collapse, instantly dead. Fortunately, I've not seen that with a horse, although my aunt's dog who wasn't used to being tied killed itself that way.

I'm impressed by the Blocker because it works on the OMG!! panickers as well as the thinkers, and no one gets hurt, on either end of the rope.

fuglyhorseoftheday said...

>>This is totally off topic from the post, but don't you plan on showing the VLC this year? <<

I'm not showing him. His trainer will be showing him. I know I can't show amateur - I've never thought I could. I've admitted very publicly to working with other peoples' horses for money - trust me, I won't be trying to lie about it now or at any time in the future - it's in print all over the Internet! I'll resume updating on him when I have something new to report but he's off to training in less than two weeks.

The mustang boys were better tonight. I told the SSP that if he wasn't going to tie, he'd better start learning to stand where he's put so we worked on that and he did well. Apparently he can handle being corrected and reminded to stand without any airs above the ground - he just needs to know his head isn't trapped. I did learn that he had a traumatic tying incident as a weanling so now his behavior makes more sense.

The other one, the Good Mustang, is doing fine. Longes, gives his head both directions, backs straight and willingly. Now we need to start working on picking up the feet. He starts pawing as soon as I touch either leg so desensitizing him to that is on the agenda. I hosed his front legs again. He thinks I suck but he dealt with it better than yesterday. :-)

success in the pen said...

No prob fugs. I had never read if you were showing ammy or not so I was not sure if you were aware of the rules. Just trying to keep you out of truble. You'd be surprised at the number of ammy's in my area that hold an ammy card and charge people for things. Nobody ever explained ammy status to them.

When is his first show going to be?

Drillrider said...

Deer Run Stables: My plan was to put the mustang on the tie ring if the pulling back continued. But she must be the "thinker" because now she just stands there, leans back a bit until the rope is tight and thinks about pulling back, but hasn't had anymore episodes. She came from a place where she was handled by kids and has learned to use her strength to bully. I don't think it had anything to do with actually being scared because she's not a flighty mare.

FHOTD: I don't agree that you should not try to correct the pulling back just because the horse had an incident in his past. It would be "kinder" to the horse to get him over his panic and fear of the past, don't you think? I had a horse that wouldn't tie in the past (before tie rings were invented) and it was very inconvenient at times that this horse would not tie. I went camping and he had to stay in the horse trailer overnight so he wasn't tied.

Sagebrusheq said...

Horses tied fast and low can and do break their necks. I've heard that web halters increase the likelihood of this occurring as they bear on the poll/ axis joint. I've also heard it claimed that rope halters come to bear a little further down the neck and are safer therefore. I think that the best way to tie a problem horse is with a strong rope and a web halter. Using a bowline knot (!), tie a loop around the horse's neck and run the tail end of the rope through the bottom and out the clip ring of the halter. Threading it in this way keeps the rope in place. That said, there are plenty of reasons not to tie low. Hitching posts also present the problem that some panicky horses will try to go over or under them.

I've seen the tie ring gadgets and though I've not used one I think they're a pretty handy update on an old idea. A few wraps around anything your hitching to will work as well. The number of wraps depends on the friction of the object. If I have to tie a green horse to a hitching post that is the method I use. Even on a slippery horse trailer you can weave a long lead rope back and forth through the rungs and generate sufficient friction to accomplish the effect.

My favorite teaching method is to tie fast to an overhead limb, strong but supple and green. Tie far out where there is plenty of give, and to keep the horse away from the trunk of the tree. Leave enough slack that the horse can rest with his head down (wither height) when he has the sense to do so. I like to work up to longer and longer periods of tying but I know people who get good results by leaving them tied until they learn. Like getting into a horse trailer, my horses look forward to being tied- schools out, works done.

Drillrider said...


That sounds like a reasonable approach, much like tying to the inner tube. It gives a little, but holds fast should they REALLY go to pulling and freaking out.

Also, it is a good solution to when you aren't at home and don't have the tie ring available. I think I'm going to look into installing the tie ring to my horse trailer, so it is always available where I go with my horses!

Something to add is that you would want to do your "tying" lessons after the horse has been worked and is tired. You know, setting yourself, and your horse, up for success rather than failure.

Karen V said...

The Tie Ring is great, just use a long rope. I read on mudwump chronicles once, use a round rope longe line and instead of tying it, wrap it over so it they pull, it will offer some resistance, but will still give.

Or, the inner tube. Just make sure it's above his head, tie with baling twine, and you have a knive handy.

Sounds like he's used to getting "OMG! Poor darling is going to hurt himself! Let's just put him back in the pasture."

EveryoneThinksThey'reGoodDrivers said...

I just blogged on my method of tying today.

It's a method I love because it doesn't involve thrashing about and falling down.

I've used this on over 100 horses of all ages and training levels.

I used to use an inner tube before I learned how to do this.

Nancy said...

I remember reading about a method for tying/training (it may be the same as a tie ring but I have never seen a tie ring), which involved tying the lead rope to a heavyduty innertube tied to a sturdy tree or pole, the theory being that because it gives a little, the horse doesn't hurt himself... don't know what the current wisdom is on such a method. The other thing is, what about separating SSP from the other horses for a few weeks while in training? She will look forward to your training times and companionship.