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And Here I Thought I'd Seen It All Before

I have an intense confidence with horses. I have discovered that by mimicking the actions of a herd leader I can get a horse to accept me as a herd leader in a very short time without saying a word to it. Once I have the horse accepting me as a herd leader I can use that acceptance to get quickly past fear, trust, respect and attention issues.

Shannon Milner, director of Brave Meadows Therapeutic Riding & Horsemanship Center in Gray, GA., where I did some volunteer work, challenged me to work with Faith, one of the Brave Meadows' horses who had been left to her own devices for a number of years. She had had a number of physical issues as a foal requiring a significant stay at the vet school which, according to Shannon, had resulted in her getting a lot of shots making her touchy about her hind quarters and had had some "cowboy" training before being brought back to Brave Meadows to be mostly left alone.

Faith is an Appaloosa Arab cross, more Appaloosa looking with little Arab features and stands about 15 hands. I first saw her when she was at another farm and I was sent to go get her. The person who owned the place where she was staying tried to catch her for a couple of hours while I sat back and twiddled my thumbs trying to figure out out how to get out of there. He had set out several piles of hay and feed for all the animals and figured he could just walk up to her and catch her. As soon as he got close to her she would just walk to another feed pile in kind of a musical buffet dance. I got tired of waiting for him to catch her and I sent him down to the other end of the field to open a gate into a small area where there may be a chance to get them in there and at least have them in a smaller area. When he was down there I caught her and had her loaded before he got back. I have not met the horse I couldn't catch.

Back at Brave Meadows she became one of my project horses. I have worked a lot of horses and I have never met one more aloof than Faith. She just ignored your presence and acted like you didn't exist. She was like a goose who woke up in her own little world every morning. When you would approach her head she would casually just turn away and leave you facing her butt. Since I'd already been warned she might kick I didn't want to approach her from the rear so I'd go around to her head and she'd then turn her butt to me again.

I had quickly caught her at the place I picked her up at before by trickery. I walked up to her and offered her grain from a bucket that just happened to have a halter in it. She reached in for the grain and I moved the bucket down and she went after it and I just slid the halter strap up and over her ears and she was caught. I prefer not to use trickery or treats if I can avoid it so at Brave Meadows I just set out to walk her down while not allowing her to just dismiss me.

If I were to ask you to shut your eyes and tell me when 10 minutes are up you would more than likely be telling me time is up in less than 5. Time is relative. When things aren't going the way we expect, time drags on. When everything is going the way we expect or want, time flies. In about 10 minutes I had her caught. I was prepared to take hours. When you have hours to do something you'll do it in minutes. When you have minutes to do something it'll take hours.

Invariably, people give up the first time something doesn't go the way they expect. I have watched many people try to catch a horse who doesn't want to be caught. They pretty much all give up in no time.

Each attempt to catch her took less time and by the fourth time catching her she would let herself be caught very quickly but she still turned her butt to me, she just did it slower while I moved faster to get to her head.

Just in case you haven't noticed, I'm a one trick pony. Everything I do with a horse boils down to that one trick, "Pay attention to me." Sometimes I switch the trick around a little and change it to, "Focus on me." Once that is locked in, and it doesn't take all that much time, I use it to do whatever I want with the horse as long as I don't harm the horse or ask it to do something it is not physically able to do. Concerned? "Look to me." Confused? "Focus on me." Scared? "Pay attention to me."

Everything I do with horses is rooted in one insistence - pay attention to me, no matter what. That is exactly what a herd leader insists on in the herd. That is the core ingredient of herd dynamics.

Since she was so aloof with an intensely strong "I don't see you, therefore you don't exist" attitude I would walk after her all the while continually aiming for her head and in essence repeatedly replying, "I'm here, I insist you look at me," until she would stop and say by her attitude, "What do you want??" At which time I would put the halter on her.

After a few times, about an hour total, she was easily catchable. In fact, she would sometimes even approach me. Most of the time when I'd go to get her she would be way out in the 12 acre plus pasture with the other horses. I've begun to notice her spending more and more time around the gate as if she is waiting for me and when I go in her nose goes toward the halter.

One day I went into the big pasture to check on another horse and Faith walked up to me and put her face against my chest and just held it there. Another horse came up and Faith's ears snapped back and she snaked her head toward the other horse as if to say, "Get away! Mine!" Then she put her head back against me.

Now I've had horses do that before when I was carrying a bucket or giving out treats in my former horse life but I haven't used any treats with Faith.

I've said on numerous occasions that horses have a radioactive quality. You can learn half of all there is to know about horses in about a year. You can learn half of what is left to know about horses in about a another year. You can learn half of what is left to know about horses in about a another year. And so on. It gets to the point where it takes you longer and longer to learn something new and the things you do learn become less and less but more and more profound.

It goes the same way with things you experience. Just when you think you've seen it all...

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