Saturday, July 13, 2013

Blog Bites and My Next Experiment

My mind has been jumping like a jumping bean for days, weeks, whatever.
You don't even want to know how many 1/2 to 3/4 finished posts I have nestled away.
It occurred to me, I need to share these flashing, jumping thoughts with you, because they are almost posts.

Like this one:

I woke up out of a very sound sleep tonight, almost shouting EUREKA!

Instead, I settled for a YIP!

It's because of the new Netflix goody, Wild Horse, Wild Ride.

I started watching and fell asleep. Nothing personal, this is going to be fun, but I'm old.

I was dreaming, dozing, processing about starting wild horses.

First off, they are not wild, they are feral. Which makes them much easier to start than, say, an antelope. They, are wild.

I was thinking about the way we humans like to kid ourselves so we can play cowboy.

First, we call mustangs wild horses. Second, we call round, square, corral work natural. I would put air quotes around the word natural, while rolling my eyes, but I only have one hand and it takes too long to make a set of air quotes. Third we put on a hat which makes a dramatic statement, so non-horse people know we're the real deal.

The premise is, getting the horse to join up, hook on, stick like glue, follow us like a two-year-old screaming for candy.

We do this by trapping the horse in a small pen and working a pressure/release game with the terror stricken beast until it begins to give in and work with us. We call this communication and tell ourselves we talk to the horses spiritually.

Eventually the horse figures out we aren't going to eat it, then realizes we come with a steady supply of food and BINGO! we have bonded.

Don't get me wrong, I start horses this way, even if the horse isn't a mustang, because it's efficient, safe for everybody and not as stressful for the horse as roping it, throwing it, saddling it and bucking it out. Plus, it's really easy.

But I will never, ever kid myself and claim the horse is choosing to be my friend. He became my friend because he couldn't climb out of my arena.

So could I get a horse to voluntarily make friends with me? Where he wasn't trapped with me behind corral rails?

I woke up with a shout and a plan.

It comes from a game we used to play on the prairie (Mort story alert!), flagging antelope.

On a windy day, in antelope country, you can hook a white pillow case in a bush and let it flap in the wind. It works best if it partially hidden, two or three feet off the ground.

If a herd of antelope pass by and see it, they will do this:

"Whoa, did you see that? What is it?"

Then, they will spook and run, but just for a little bit. The they will turn and look again. Sometimes a couple of bold souls will leave the herd and come closer, closer, closer....their curiosity is bigger than their flight reaction.

Young horses playing in a field will do the same thing. The bravest, most curious colts will move closer and closer to a plastic grocery bag stuck on the fence, spooking, jumping and snorting, until one adventurous soul sniffs the bag and figures out what it is.

Then, he'll usually grab it and chase all his buddies around the field with it.

Plus, has anybody ever watched Clinton Anderson demonstrate desensitizing a spooky horse with a bag on the end of a longe whip? He leads the horse while snapping the whip and bag in front of him. The horse is so interested in the elusive bag they're chasing it forgets to be afraid.

Same theory made into an arena circus act. Which is why he makes the big bucks and I write alone in the middle of the night.  Dang that Clinton Anderson.

Anyway, if I sat in a field in the middle of mustang country, or with a herd of range horses on a giant ranch in Montana, I think I could teach a young horse to follow me -- by attracting him with a flag.

I would be drawing in the most curious, boldest and confident of the youngsters, the one I'd want in the first place. If I started small, showing my flag and immediately withdrawing it when my future victim, er, future life partner pricked his ears and looked, then built on that, I think it would work. It would probably take months to do this, because the horse would be able to leave at any time, but he could eventually choose to hang out with me, if I played my flag right.

This sounds like an incredibly fun experiment, especially for a retired old woman with lots of time on her hands. Well, to me it does. I just have to find the right hat.


Becky said...

Two things:

#1: It has now become a life goal to irritate you enough that you have to resort to sarcasm and air quotes in response to me. I want to see this.

#2: Wouldn't the boldest/most curious of the youngsters be very intelligent and only be a good match for a horse trainer like you? I prefer a slightly dumb, middle of the pack horse.

summersmom said...

Oh man Becky, its kind of scary that one of my first thoughts while reading this was so close to your #1. We could be a dangerous pair.
Also, I think I need to go watch this show on Netflix!

GreyDrakkon said...

Hey Mugwump, if you ended up documenting the whole process then you could end up making the big bucks! ;D

Clancy said...

:) That would be a very interesting experiment. There is a training method that is based on letting the horse freely choose to associate with us or not, it is called Friendship Training, and it is helped me with my gelding enormously. No corrals, no round pens, no whips or ropes, just making friends like we do with humans (spending time together and do the equivalent of inviting out for a cup of coffee) and teaching a series of cues with positive reinforcement (treats, scratches, praise); uses very little pressure/release. :) It was developed by an old fellow in Texas who I've only ever seen in a baseball cap. The website is at for anyone who wants to check it out.

mugwump said...

Clancy -- have to disagree. I've never heard of the guy and would never do anything called Friendship training. I was a really bad girlscout and refused to sing "It's a Small World After All," with the choir at my high school, Benet Hill Academy, school for girls.
If I thought of it in my sleep then so have many others, they just didn't cash in on it, claim the process, or label it.

mugwump said...

My biggest issue, right off the bat, is the idea of " just making friends like we do with humans (spending time together and do the equivalent of inviting out for a cup of coffee) and teaching a series of cues with positive reinforcement (treats, scratches, praise).
If you know my writing and thought process at all, you would know I don't humanize my horses,because, gee whiz, they're horses, and I train with pressure and release, not praise, scratches or treats. I'm almost nonverbal with my horses, don't hand feed ever, and save the scritches for when we're hanging out in the barnyard. I'm talking about combining a horse's flight response with their natural curiosity, the things I learned from the other horsemen, both good and bad, that I've ridden with and the 40 odd years I spent training horses myself.
I am glad this approach worked for you, it's yet another reason to keep your mind open.

Clancy said...

Hi Mugs, I've been reading your blog for a while and I know you use a non-verbal pressure-release approach, I was just thinking that, given what you were saying about feral horses in the open, you or some of the other readers might be interested in knowing about this approach. I stumbled across it by accident, had heard of nothing like it, and I don't know where I'd have been without it, my relationship with my horse has completely turned around.

I suspect you are right and that a lot of people have come up with this idea or variants of it, but without it being broken into steps a novice can follow, and the information promoted somehow, people like me couldn't find it. To me, charging money for the process is no different than me paying my riding instructor to train my horse and myself. He has a great relationship with his horses and students, and uses the usual pressure-release approach, and so I had him training my gelding for me. Over 18 months he got more and more difficult, both for my instructor and for me. After about 18 months we got to where my instructor told me my horse was dangerous, not to be trusted, would end up killing or injuring me, etc and that we needed to much firmer with him. I bought him to get him away from that, not do it to him, so went searching the net for explanations of his behaviour and other approaches, and found this one. I was very dubious initially because it was so different to anything I knew about, and my instructor was extremely sceptical. I talked with a couple of other people who had done it, and decided it was worth taking the risk - the price was less than what I'd already paid my instructor for training. I'm so glad I did, it has made a huge difference. I haven't found it to be a quick fix, but a very thorough one.

Positive reward training is used successfully with a range of species, and I'm finding lots of people on the net who are exploring it's use with horses. Where FT seems to be different is putting so much emphasis on fulfilling horse's natural needs (herd living, 24/7 turnout, etc) and doing all the training in as open a space as we can provide.

Clancy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clancy said...

:) PS, now my instructor thinks I have a good relationship with my gelding, and several people who knew him a few years ago say they can't believe how much he has changed, a completely different horse, way calmer and more confident. I am using the same approach with my other horses and our relationship is improving, but they did well with the pressure-release approach too. If it wasn't for this one particular horse, I'd probably have never gone exploring and discovered this approach.

mugwump said...

Again, Clancy, I don't feel like you understand what goes on around here at all.
I am happy you found a way to get on with your horse, totally OK with you telling people about it, and have to thank you, very much, for explaining positive reward training to me.
I had never heard of it before, and am heart-broken to think I've been wasting my time all these years teaching my horses through terror and abuse.I have truly seen the light.

For What It's Worth said...

I never want to be the recipient of Mug's sarcasm and air quotes. :) Becky and summersmom, you are way braver then I.

mugwump said...

For What It's Worth - I am in a mood, aren't I?
Becky, Clare, Kathy and Tim are completely unafraid of me.Somehow they have discovered I am completely full of piss and vinegar, oh yeah, and bullshit.

mugwump said...

P.S. - In my defense, I usually am direct, but polite, when I first am lectured by the breathless, wide-eyed, evangelists of the "love my horse, my horse loves me, we'll skip hand n' hoof through the fields" movement.
My sarcasm doesn't raise it's irritable head until they come back yet again to share with me the word of the carrot stick.

Mary said...

I really like the Bog Bites, but I think I am enjoying the comment banter more...I like your style Mugs!

Anonymous said...


I finally watched this Saturday night. I had gotten as a Xmas gift and was never bored enough to watch until late Sat night when I couldn't sleep. Great blog timing!

I love how the lady who won it was riding her horse within three days. She was a get er done gal. I will say if I was a couple of those other horses I would have just succumbed to boredom. I have a friend who is into the "playing games" etc with her horses. Is it just me or am I the only one who wants a horse I can hop on and ride when I want to and can leave them be in the pasture when I don't? I feel no need to mess around with them for the sake of messing around with them. I have them because I like to ride, not because I like to chase them with a stick and bag.

Anonymous said...

I don't think my horse likes coffee is inviting him out for a beer okay?

mugwump said...

Anon - I not only want to ride, I want the time to take them to the highest level of training I can, without fear,force or endangering their soundness.Under saddle...I want to do stuff.
The irony is, as time goes on, my horses and I become great friends and partners. Without spending days in the pasture giving scratches and treats.
My "friend" communication happens while I am actually teaching the horse to do something useful.
Of course, luring them into submission with beer always helps.

KD said...

Your air quotes comment made me snort at work.

I own the movie Wild Horse, Wild Ride. I think it is a well made documentary about real people. (maybe handpicked, but still great characters) I got to see a premier here in my home town and met that crazy, firecracker of a woman who won.

MichelleL said...

I think it would be a great adventure and a wonderful documentary opportunity. Wasn't there some sort of Bra-cam contraption at one point along the way? that might make for some interesting boo...I mean footage.

What can we call this "New" training technique? Hippo/Hops Therapy? If we can get a Nationally recognized Brewery to back it then you have a great chance of making as much money as any of the Big Time Carrot Stickers.

Clancy said...

Mugs, on reflection I think I did misunderstand what you were suggesting about your training experiment, I was so excited to read about the possibility of training without restraint that I missed other aspects of what you were saying.

I don't think you are abusive to your horses by using pressure-release to train, any more than I thought my riding instructor was; he uses a similar approach to you and has a great relationship with his own horses, that is why I asked him to help train my boy (and because I was green as grass). It turned out this particular horse needed a very different approach, and I am much more comfortable with a different approach, so for me and him to try to use pressure-release was very problematic. Pressure-release got me a very servicable relationship with my other three, and if it had not been for that one particular horse I'd never have gone looking for anything different.

Anon, a horse equivalent of a beer is fine - the idea is to develop a relationship the way we do with humans we like, by spending time together doing something we enjoy and without making demands.

This approach may not be for everyone, but I am running across many people who find it helpful.

FlyinOnTime said...

Didn't Monty Roberts do this with a mustang? "Shy Boy"? Anyone...?

mugwump said...

Flyin - um... " Shy Boy was hobbled on all four legs, roped and choked, all out of the camera's view. Roberts may have fooled the BBC crew, but the Wranglers that were working for him, know the truth." Joyce Renebome, Monty Roberts¹ aunt.
So no. It's not what I was talking about.
I want to use a flag, like an antelope hunter, to create curiosity, then see if I build on it. Period.
I did not say I thought of it.
I did not say I was going on TV.
I said, I wanted to try to start a colt the way it had turned itself out in my mind.
I will very happily go with Clancy and have coffee with my horses before I will ever treat a horse like the mustang in Shy Boy was treated by Monte Roberts.

FlyinOnTime said...

Haha, I was wondering if I should have done my research before I posted that comment. I hope you didn't take offense. I didn't know the back story behind monty's deal, it was just what you made me think of.

mugwump said...

Flyin' - there was so much controversy about that PBS special that ol' Monty pretty much was done, at least in the main stream spotlight.

EvenSong said...

I worked on a farm right across the street from ol' Monty's place back in the 70s (he stole the name from the previous owner, who had sold off the farm to both my boss and Monty, among others). I actually ponied some race colts on that track. This was before he made his claim to being THE Horse Whisperer, but from the first time I (and my boss, as well) met Monty, I didn't much care for either him or his brand of snake oil.
Some other folks, including relatives, have contradicted lots of the "facts" he put in his autobiography, so the backstory about Shyboy doesn't surprise me at all.

Anonymous said...

I love skipping through the meadows with my horse. She loves me so much, we are soulmates.
Until she steps on my foot. Then I cry and cry cause she hates me. Or! Maybe she was abused! That must be it! Her former owner was terribly abusive to her, but I rescued her and now we love each other again cause I bring treats and don't go over the fence or ride her because she is just so mentally scarred from all that abuse.

Iris said...


Follow by Email


This content is not yet available over encrypted connections.