Saturday, February 1, 2020

Just One Time

My time as a horse trainer was drawing to a close. I was selling off investment stock, finishing up contracts and promises and gearing up to leave the last place I'd landed, foundation buckskin breeders that also rode cow horse. It was interesting and a little pitiful to end my career riding almost the same not-quite-good-enough type horses that I began with.

Drawing boundaries with people was a brand new activity for me. My first effort was quitting this job, I was determined to be kind, polite and direct. It didn't work out as I expected, and I was under quite a bit of pressure my last few weeks as a horse trainer. I had one more colt to start and he belonged to me. Loki's foal was a cute, runty, aloof little thing. He didn't want to be pet, caught, fed by hand, or talked to even after weaning. He was too short to sell and I hadn't messed with him enough to get much for him and I liked him.

I had a niggle of an idea with him, it came from no need to hurry but no time to really concentrate on him either. I decided it was time to test consequence and sequence, the cornerstone of my training program. I was going to teach my colt no more than one behavior or response per session, and if I did it correctly, the next day we'd add the next step, built from our last session. If I knew what I was doing, and seriously thought things through, I had a feeling it would work. Didn't have a clue what my little Scrub end up like, but it was nice to think about and a private challenge.

The yearling colts were raised on pasture, then kept in a large corral until they were gelded, taught some manners and halter broke. I could handle every single one of those little shits - except my own. He's scramble the fence to avoid looking at me.

Our first lesson was about contact. I walked into the corral and started watching him, which was enough to get him trotting out, tail flagged and looking over the top rail away from me. I kept a steady gaze on his ears and would stay even with his shoulder from the middle of the corral while he  moved. I stopped, relaxed, and looked away any time he paused. Nothing else. He could hide between his brothers and I would still stop. He could bolt and fart and stomp and I would still walk along just behind the point of his shoulder and stare at his ears.

A bunch of horses can always figure out who I'm hunting, and while it might be fun at first, eventually playing wild mustang got old and they'd stop moving, close ranks and kick out the one I'm after. It took about forty-five minutes with these knuckleheads, but seriously, with six bored yearling stud colts in that pen and I couldn't expect less.

Scrub got pretty white-eyed when he realized his siblings had sacrificed him to the enemy, and didn't seem to give a hoot whether he lived or died. He took off running again in little spurts, with a lot of stops and turns, but didn't last long, he was tired. His head still looked over the top rail and away from me, and he whinnied to the broodmares on pasture across the road. Loki answered him and he bawled to her again.

Then, I got what I'd been waiting for. Scrub flicked a fuzzy little ear toward me to reestablish my whereabouts. He'd lost track of me while he tattled on me to his mama. Our first session ended when he flicked that ear. I turned around and left.


  1. Great to hear from you again, Mugs. I was just thinking of you recently, hoping things were going okay.

    Interesting entry, by the way. I remember earlier posts about this particular training strategy, and always wanted to hear more details. The descriptions are vivid, humorous, and informative, as always.

  2. Thank you. My writing is rough, I am out of practice, and I've hauled out all the books...especially those involving sentence structure.

  3. I love your writing, I could read you all day long, every day. You have so much knowledge to impart and you do it in a wonderful, fasinating, and tongue in check way.

    Glad that you are posting again. You take care.

  4. Yay! I love a good Mugs story!

  5. I love this so, so much. Thank you for writing.

  6. I remember your earlier posting about this strategy. I found it very informative. I used it on a "Free" horse. I don't know what they did to her but it took several weeks to have her eat a bite or two out of a bucket with me holding it. I would walk out to the paddock and follow and keep pressure on her till she stopped and let me touch her. Would do one scratch on her shoulder and walk off. Caught her looking at me after one session like "is that it?" and she was much better after that. It was her ah ha moment. I wasnt going to eat her.

  7. Just so happy to read your writing. Thank you for sharing with all of us!

  8. Happy to read your writing again too! Is that the little buckskin in the header photo of your blog?

  9. Hey mugs. Hope you are staying well- especially right now. Prayers

  10. Middle of April, really been a messed up spring. Hoping you and yours are ok