Friday, March 26, 2010

Mustangs and Barn Babies

Melissa said -Do you do anything different when starting a mustang who just saw people for the first time two weeks ago than with a horse who grew up in a barn?

Actually I do the exact same thing, only it takes less effort on my part, because every tiny nuance is caught by a mustang and a barn raised colt might need to have my nuances pointed out to him.

When I first walk in the pen with a mustang she usually will take off and get as far from me as possible.
So the first understanding between us is when I move toward her she will leave.

Just for discussions sake, we'll make our barn-raised colt a bit of a pet. He was halter broke at a young age, is used to getting his back scratched and will pick up his feet, lead around and that sort of thing.

He will push at people a little for attention and is used to getting pushed away, he usually will kind of lean in with his shoulder and then finally wander off after he's gotten a smack on the neck.

Sound familiar? He's not rude, just friendly and nobody has ever really had to raise a hand to him.

So the first thing I have to do when I walk in the pen is teach him to move away from me when I send him out.

He'll be properly horrified when he gets a smooch and a crack with the longe whip (or rope and halter). He'll trot off a few steps and stop, sure it was a mistake and what I really meant was he needed a pet.

So I'll smooch and send him out again. This time he'll trot a bit and buck.

Crack! He gets smacked for the buck and takes off. He'll show me!

He runs around the pen, My gaze and my whip are pointed at his hip. He slows to a trot. I smooch and raise the whip and he spins around and takes off the other way.

I jump in front of him and crack my whip.

He runs faster, he figures it's time to make a point here.

I yell like a lunatic, smack him HARD with the whip in the chest and he stops, roll-backs and takes off the way he's supposed to.

I back away with the whip relaxed in my hand and he slows. I step forward and raise the whip and he takes off.

I back up and he slows. I step toward his head and raise my whip and he turns and heads off the other direction.

I step back until he stops and looks at me and we both stand there and wheeze awhile.

Now back to the mustang.

I walk into her pen. I almost always work this kind of horse with a rope halter and long soft cotton lead because I tend to trip over longe whips.

She trots to the other end of the pen and snorts at me.

I turn my back and lean on the gate, watching outside the pen until she relaxes and moves a little. Then I turn and look at her again. If she's really reactive I'll do the look, look away thing until she doesn't jump out of her skin.
Then I look at her hipbone and take a step towards it.

She'll move off, I'll relax and go back to the gate.

We'll do this a few times and then I'll head to the middle.

She'll watch me very closely or trot the perimeter because she doesn't know what I'm up to.

I'll move to her hip let her go forward a few rounds, then step to her head and turn her. If I have to I'll raise my arm and swing my rope a little, but usually it's just stepping to and away.

When she gets this I'll back away. If she can't relax I'll just step to the gate and look out so she can stop.

Now both horses know to move away when I go to the hip they know to turn when I step to the head and they know they can stop when I back away.

Same exact approach, but the tame colt needed some muscle.

I will talk to a tame colt and smooch or kiss to tell him to trot and lope, but I'm quiet with a mustang. My words mean nothing to her. They would only be a distraction from my body language, which is what she's interested in.


gtyyup said...

Spot on with that description. The only thing the mustang understands is body language...just like in her former band. You've established lead presence with the mustang...very well said.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Your descriptive writing is so good that I can easily picture your sessions with each of these horses.

It seems that the Mustang might be easier because the barn baby is going to assume he can walk all over you. The Mustang is just looking for honest body language and signals.

Becky said...

What do you do about a horse in the round pen that does everything you ask it to, but spends the whole time with its head cranked to the outside?

Anonymous said...

Great training post as always, Janet. And I wanted to let all you fans of mugwump know that Janet's artwork is currently appearing in my new book, "Going, Gone". I'm sure you'll enjoy seeing that her drawings of horses are every bit as interesting and accurate as her writing. Info on where to get the book can be found on my website and on the equestrianink blog. Thanks for the nice illustrations, Janet, they are a real addition to the book.

mugwump said...

Thanks gtyyup! You do enough work with mustangs to make me feel good when I get it.
Fantastyk- You know, I'm not even talking about the colts that walk all over me. As soon as they get that little lean into people they quit being quite as reactive.
It goes back to the sensitize desensitize thing.
Hang on Becky - I'll be back.

anon #2 said...

My gelding used to buck under saddle until he got his but kicked around the round pen a couple of times. His reaction was just about exactly that of the barn raised colt. After one session of hard work he quit being so goofy and rarely bucks now.

Mugs you've mentioned half passes in a few of your posts so i was wondering what are your cues are and how prepare your horse to do it.

mugwump said...

Becky - I'm big on letting th head go as long as the feet are right. BUT - I have found that a horse who has it's head to the outside of a round pen or a circle I'm in control of (like loping a circle or on the longe line) also has his ribs poked at me. So the arc is the reverse of what I want.

Not only is the horse looking around for his friends instead of watching me, but he's set up to take the wrong lead or drag a lead in the back.

Which leads to a lot of bucking, going off circle, shoulder diving and so on.

So I keep it simple and short. I drive the horse hard, I ask for a lot of lope, stop, turn, lope, turn, stop, go, move, move MOVE!

When I get even an ear flick in my direction I back off and give the horse a rest.

As soon as the attention comes off me we MOVE! STOP! TURN! AHHHHHH!

My body language is huge. I jump in front of them to stop, I crack my whip or swing my rope with huge gestures. I leap towards the hip, whatever. Go looney with purpose until the horse looks at you. Then stop.
Horse looks away, AHHHHHH!
I prefer to end the session with them looking at me with mild horror.

Make it all about focus.

glenatron said...

That thing about attention is really important I think. There was an article that changed my thinking on round pens to be found on Harry Whitney's site ( caution: PDF ) and seems like it's much the same thing you're doing, but making less of a fuss and basically waiting for the horse to make their own decision to give the person in the pen their attention. It's an interesting angle on much the same topic.

rockymouse said...

Mugs, what about a horse that won't pick up a right lead? New gelding will root his head and eventually crow hop instead of pick up a right lead - both on the ground and under saddle. Of course, in the pasture he can fly on the right lead, but I'm not successful in getting him to pick it up...
Thanks, as always!

TrackandBack said...


Just a thought, but is there a chance it could be a physical issue? If you're riding in a fairly closed area like an arena (indoor or outdoor) that requires a bend as you go around turns on the short sides, having a physical issue (for instance back or hind end stiffness) would make picking up a lead difficult. I know of one horse that had a similar problem, and turns out there was something out of alignment in the hip area. He showed similar symptoms, crow hopping or giving little bucks when asked to canter in one directrion. The horse was able to pick the right lead up in the pasture no problem, but out in a field he was also able to travel in a straight line for long periods of time. I know a lot of the time people like to jump to "get the vet out!" whenever there's an issue, but if pushing him through it doesn't help than it may be something to look into. Here's a question: can he pick up the right lead when in a round pen / being lunged?

mkyamse said...

My friend just linked me to your blog. I cannot believe how perfectly you summed up what I was trying to convey in a conversation earlier today. With my mustangs, less is sometimes more.

Sydney said...

Mugs I got a question here about spooking. I tried all your suggestions but this one is different. My mare 18 years old this year is a big spook. She seems to be getting worse which makes me think she may be having trouble with her eyes. Things that she normally would just look at now has her snorting and trying to run off to the safety of the barn. Her biggest issue is bushes or trees. This horse has been ridden in the Tennessee mountains. Bears, coyotes, timberwolves, deer, you name it, shes seen it. However riding past a patch of trees down the lane, may it be 5 feet wide or 5 acres has her on her toes. A teeny snap of a twig and she wheels around in a second at a dead gallop. I don't snatch at the reins when she does this, I give her a few strides and then ask her to come back to the pace we were previously going at and she does. But shes all worked up for the rest of the ride after that and tries to speed walk everywhere. Doing serpentines when she wants to jig home gets her going even more. She woahs on voice command like nothing but the second we are walking again shes all full speed ahead, looking for that next twig snapping monster that is going to eat her. Any suggestions?
You can e-mail me if you don't want to make it into a post

Becky said...

I loved you description of your body language--- it did answer a lot of my questions.

Here's my problem with that scenario (MY problem, and not a problem with the answer)--- how do you do that without riling them up so badly that their brains shut off? I think because I was used to working with The Idiot Thoroughbred that I am a little too cautious nowadays. But it just seems to me that if you have a horse that's frantic with worry, and then I do what you suggested-- I dunno. While I do think I would be successful in getting them to focus their attention on me, wouldn't their brain be so fried they'd be unable to learn anything? Whenever I went all hard-a** on The Idiot Thoroughbred, he'd get panicky and flinchy, and I could pretty much write-off getting through to his pea-brain until I settled him down.

Or do you forgo "teaching" them anything for a couple of days and just focus on that? Hmmm. I think I may have just answered my own question.

HorseOfCourse said...

Hi Mugs, miss you.
Everything's all right?
Happy Easter!

Heila said...

Training question: Wind drives my horse crazy. It turns my normally laid back, brave boy into a tip toeing bundle of nerves. It's getting worse, and I don't know why. And we have lots of wind where I live so only riding on quiet days is not an option. How do I work him through this fear?

And in general, if your horse is scared of something and you feel he has had ample time to look at and snort at it, what do you do if you tell him to go forward and he goes backwards instead?

Minus Pride said...

Mugs come back!!! Hope everything is alright.

Becky said...

Ooooh! Please answer Heila's question about the going backwards thing. That's a great question.

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