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25.3.13: Haltering progress and discoveries with Alegria


I won't beat about the bush - Alegria is the most difficult horse I have ever tried to halter. As a wild horse, I expected her to be warier than domestic horses - but Alegria is in another class!

Richard Thompson has a great deal more experience with wild horses than any of us, so when he was here in October, he did a session with her and found her unusually flighty.

I've been working on this over the winter - and have succeeded in getting her confidence in that I can hook her on quite easily, and she will follow me around, but as soon as a rope comes into it, she takes off again.


Some days I can rub her neck with the rope, and sometimes get it around her neck, but as soon as she realizes it's on both sides - off she moves away.

Alegria loves a good scratch, but as soon as the rope touches her, she's less keen and soon trots away!



Last week, I noticed a hoop lying by the arena - a simple, light, soft plastic hula-hoop of the sort that has a join where it is pushed together, and if you pull it, it opens. Perfect, I thought. If I can get her to put her head through that hoop, I can start desensitising her neck. She can't hurt herself with the hoop, because even if she runs off with it round her neck and it catches on something, it will just pop open.


In difficult cases like this, Richard has the horse in a round pen and lassos the neck so the horse can run around wearing the rope until it realizes it doesn't hurt. As a humble European and a product of the British Horse Society system, I don't have the roping skills either to get the lasso on the horse in the first place, or to control it when it's on, so - a child-safe hula-hoop seems like a good Kate-and-Alegria friendly alternative!


So - how to get her to put her head through the hoop. I'm afraid I resorted to bribery! She's very keen on carrots - but even with the prospect of a carrot, she was very cautious at first!

Nose is fine, and up to eye level.


Eventually, we got there. However, I noticed she didn't want it to go past eye level, and if the carrot was further away and she had to put her whole head through, she backed off.


I'm not going to try and put the hoop over her head until she's more comfortable with the eye level - so I tried another tack. If the hoop can go over her nose, maybe the rope can, too!






YESSS! After the hula hoop exercise, not only can I put the rope around her nose, but she will turn her head to look at me if I draw on the rope!


It took a few goes, and I started by giving her carrots through the loop in the rope, but it wasn't long before I could put the rope around her nose and she was yielding to pressure.


So, the next issue is the business with things moving behind and above her eye level, as the halter will have to go over behind her ears.


OK, as always - break it down into tiny elements. How far away is OK, and can we make that distance smaller?


At first the distance was rope at my shoulder level, and held about 2 metres away, but with some "approach and retreat" the distance went right down.


This is the point where we finished yesterday. Not exactly haltered, but there have been some very good changes! This certainly wouldn't have been possible before.



As Claudia said yesterday, so much for all  the "how to halter your foal" books and videos. They all seem to assume you can at least get near the foal with a rope. In most cases, the foal just stands there while they put a rope round its neck. There don't seem to be instruction manuals for foals with rope phobia! Ah well - we'll be guided by the Thinking Horse - in this case Alegria, and make our own way - or rather, try to find her way!


Thanks to Elfriede for the photos!


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