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24.3.14: Grelo growing up and taming Tocara PDF Print E-mail

24.3.14: Grelo growing up and taming Tocara


"In the spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns

 to thoughts of love

Alfred, Lord Tennyson


Our young stallion joins the mares, and there's a new candidate for wild riding horse!


Well, spring is in the air, and Grelo, our young stallion, is now out with the mares and is getting something of a reality check on what being a group stallion is all about. The integration process was remarkably painless, and within a few days he was accepted by the mares, as long as he behaves himself! It didn't take him long to work out that when a mare says "no" - she means "NO! And if you keep sniffing and nipping, you're going to be counting your teeth!"


Run fast, Grelo! The young stallion soon gets some lessons in manners around the ladies!

Now that he's learning the rules, he's clearly enjoying living the "wild life"!


Success on the foot-front - so let's saddle-up! 


The last visit from the Hescho, the hoof trimmer, was much better, which was a relief. As mentioned in the last update, I did a lot of work over the winter on teaching them all to stand and relax while their feet are rasped and trimmed - and it was very gratifying to see a big improvement. As I mentioned last time, it's one thing for them to do it for me, but quite another when a less familiar person shows up. 


Overall, they behaved very well, although a couple of them insisted that I hold their feet for Hescho to trim, rather than letting her do it all herself. Even Alegria was more cooperative than usual, but still managed to land a sneaky nip on Hescho's hand. However, we have now bought her a grazing mask for use when she's handled by the vet or Hescho, and that works like a charm. I was a bit worried at first that she might try kicking if she couldn't bite - but in fact she quietened down completely. Obviously, I'll keep working on her feeling settled enough not to feel the need to bite, but it's good we have a way to handle her safely in emergencies. 


Although it's not planned that the Sorraia Mustangs will be riding horses in the usual sense, we have chosen two which will have basic training to be ridden, and they are Grelo, the stallion, and Tocara, a now 4 year old mare. Claudia has already done a lot of work with Grelo before he went out with the mares. She has ridden him a few times, but he is still rather tense - especially about the saddling process, so I'll be doing some extra work with him on that in the coming weeks, but this weekend, it was Tocara's turn.


Grelo and Tocara's half-sister, Levada - making friends, and comparing notes?


We chose Tocara because she is the most confident, and also the largest and sturdiest of the younger mares. While Claudia is very petite, and fits just fine on Grelo, at my 176 cm (5 foot 9 inches) my feet would almost touch the ground on the smaller ones! I haven't measured Tocara, but I guess she is around 148 or 150 cm (about 14.2 or 14.3hh.)


Unrestrained acceptance


As I mentioned last time, I like to start things off without a halter on the horse so that they can move off without inhibition if they feel at all uncomfortable with what I am doing, so I first moved Tocara around the round-pen, encouraging her to follow my energy and approach me quietly and calmly on both the right and the left.


Firstly, she must be comfortable just standing with me, unrestrained, while I stroke her all over. We've already done this as preparation for her picking up her feet, but it needs going over again each time, and for each new situation.


The next stage is desensitising the blind spots - if you're not already familiar with this procedure - there's an explanation here. I did this without the halter, then put the halter on to run through it again, and finish off with preparation for the "one rein stop"


The "one rein stop" is an addition to the work we have done before, but it will be a cornerstone of the preparation for riding. It's normal for this to be easier on one side than the other, but I think it's important to work on this until it's pretty much the same on each side before going any further.


Introducing the saddle-pad


The saddle-pad, and eventually the saddle and the rider, will present a challenge to both sides of the horse at the same time, so now it is more important than ever to make sure both sides accept anything new that I introduce.


Like most horses, Tocara prefers me on the left - so that is the side I start with anything new.


When I first approached her with the pad, she moved off and was a little suspicious, but soon came back, had a sniff at the saddle and let me stroke her with it, and then slide it onto her back.


Tocara only reacted minimally to the saddle-pad going on...


...but taking it off was another matter, and she had to leave!


This is where I find it so important to use a light pad, and not to have the horse haltered. While putting the pad on was fine, as soon as it started moving, Tocara became uncomfortable. If I had tried to restrain her at this point, she would have been confronted with suppressing that anxiety rather than expressing it. It took a few goes, but it wasn't long before I could throw the pad on pretty energetically, and she just ignored it. Much better she shake her head and walk off at this stage, than "grit her teeth" now, and set off bucking if it gets too much for her at a later stage! Of course, there's no guarantee that she won't buck at some point later on, but by taking time at this stage, I think the chances are greatly reduced.


She's a little uncertain also when I introduce the pad on the right, and again she steps away.


Then over to the right side, and the process all over again. Note, I still haven't done up the girth. If she needs to get rid of it, she can - it will just slide off and nothing will happen. It's also really important to do this with an old saddle pad, or one kept for this purpose, so no one will get upset if it gets dropped, dirty, trodden on or anything else! A horse can detect changed in your heart rate, so if you're getting flustered about the pad getting dirty or damaged, you're heading for disaster!


Putting it into motion


Our first "ride"!


Once she's happy with the saddle pad-going on from both sides, we can go for a walk around with it. My hand is steadying the saddle pad, but also giving her a sense of a connection to me through the saddle-pad. In the wider scale, this is the first step towards getting on.

Next it's time to do up the girth - not tightly, just enough that the pad won't slip around as she trots and canters. After all the preparation, it's no deal at all and she brings up the energy in trot and canter just as she did before we started, as though there was nothing on her back at all.

Sometimes horses spook and buck when the thing on their back goes with them, especially on the canter transition. In this case, all the preparation has paid off, and Tocara is completely relaxed.


Finally, I put the halter back on and went through the basic exercises including "the waltz" and the "one rein stop".


Tocara has done a great job on her first step towards being a "wild" riding horse!


How long does it take?


People often ask how long a process like this takes and, as you might expect, there is no rule. It depends entirely on the horse. Sometimes there is one part they have difficulty with, and you just have to take as long as it takes. In the long run, however, it is almost certainly quicker, and most definitely safer, than rushing through or even ignoring this stage. Those who go straight to getting the saddle on somehow, lunging for a few sessions, then putting a rider on, shouldn't be (and they usually aren't) surprised when the horse takes off bucking.

I didn't time this session - I guess it was about an hour. It was long enough for Elfriede, who was taking the photos, to dry her socks on the round pen after getting rather sweaty doing the mucking out!


Levada says "Yup - they're dry and they smell much better, now. You can put them back on, Elfriede!


It's also worth mentioning that we took these photos on Friday, March 21st. I repeated the process on Sunday 23rd, and on the second occasion it too about 10 minutes to get to the same point. However, it won't be a smooth curve. Next time it might be half an hour. When working on these details, let the horse tell you how long it needs, and never try to rush it. It's so tempting to think "Oh, come on horse - this was fine last week, why are you making a fuss now?" - but try to remember that the horse always has its reasons, and each time you take account of its point of view and work through it gradually to build its confidence, you're strengthening the bond. Every time you lose your temper or get frustrated, you're weakening it.


Many thanks to Elfriede and Claudia for the photos!


As always, please feel free to post any comments or questions on the Thinking Horse Facebook page!




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