As many of you know, Rojo is my newly adopted 4 year-old Mustang from the Prisoner Trained Mustang program out of Carson City, Nevada. He was wild as of 6 months ago.
Since I am not a trainer but now own a Mustang, I thought I would catalog my travails for all of you out there who are considering Mustang adoption. (If you’d like to read about the Prisoner training program or any of my previous Red Horse Diaries, click here.)
I figure my layman training endeavor will be a little messy, a little surprising/enlightening and probably full of ups and downs. But, the end will make it all worth it, I’m fairly certain. (If nothing else, my tomfoolery will be entertaining…)
My last entry had Rojo and I finally riding together, albeit mostly backwards or at a snails pace. You can read that entry #3 here.
Anyway, several small sessions have ensued since… and today I will tell you about them. (At least we aren’t going backwards anymore…)
I tried both my English saddle on him (which seemed to fit well) and my endurance saddle (which didn’t fit as well – but was OK with corrective padding). Truth to tell, I think my Advantage Saddle will fit him the best, but it is in the shop having additional work done to it so I don’t have it on hand.
Anyway after a ride in each, I let Rojo decide which one he wanted… To my surprise, he practically ran into the next county when I brought out the English saddle again today. Hmmmmm.
But, he was fine with the endurance saddle.
Hmmmm. So, I put both of the saddles back into the trailer and decided to do a little one-horse focus group. I brought out the English saddle again and asked Rojo to give his opinion. He ran around the trailer and glared at me:
Rojo: Woman, are you deaf? I TOLD YOU I didn’t like that one! Sheesh. What’s a ‘stang have to do around here to be understood?!
Me (taking the English saddle away): Sorr-ryy, Sire. I was just making sure. Touchy, Touchy.
Rojo: You humans are so difficult to train.
Me (bringing out the endurance saddle): OK, Fussyone, how about this?
Rojo: Yes! Good girrrrrl, Human! I knew I could get through to you! OK, why don’t we stop there and end this lesson on a good note.
Rojo: Sigh. I have stuff to do in my pasture… if you don’t mind.
Me: I do mind. Now put your head into the bridle.
Rojo: Sighhhhhhhhh. Oh alright.
And so it went… my one-stang horsey focus group determined that the English saddle would stay in the trailer.
NEW TRAINING TECHNIQUES
Let me digress.
Previous to today’s session… in an attempt to better myself through higher learning, I purchased this book: “WHAT SHAMU TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIFE, LOVE, MARRIAGE” by Amy Sutherland.
Amy Sutherland is a writer who went to the famous Moorpark College Exotic Animal Training and Management Program for the obvious great writing material. She came away with not only invaluable information on training just about every kind of animal – but also information that totally translated to the human animal…
Anyway, in that book were many very helpful hints on how to train animals who are way bigger and much more dangerous than the family dog…
One of her main topics was Least Reinforcing Scenario (LRS). Basically, the idea is that as long as the incorrect behavior isn’t hurting anyone, ignore it. – OK, I can do that, I think. I think I can show absolutely no emotion at all if the animal (horse) responds incorrectly, then wait a few beats, and then make the request again… I think.
The other huge topic was to ‘go back to kindergarten’ if the animal isn’t getting it. OK, I can do that, for sure. Used to it…
I also gleaned onto ‘change it up’ if the animal isn’t understanding… teach the behavior in a new way. You see, every animal learns differently, even within species, so change your request if it isn’t getting through.
Alright. I was armed with my new schoolin’.
THE OTHER THING I READ…
Oh yeah… and another thing…
I knew that attempting to have Rojo understand me as perfectly as he did his Prisoner trainer (Jesus) would be a tall order. After all, it would be like asking me to understand my Mandarin Chinese teacher instead of my Cantonese Chinese teacher. Jesus and I are both humans and we both are teachers speaking horseglish, but I KNOW we have very different methods of leg yielding and hand carriage.
Also, I’m using very different tack than they used in the prison – an endurance saddle and my bitless LG bridle.
So, Rojo and I spent a few sessions just getting used to each other. He tried to fit what I was asking into his repertoire of behaviors, and I tried to understand why he didn’t understand what I was asking when I knew he knew how to do these requests since I had seen Jesus request them all very successfully.
It took a bit of practice and we’re still not perfect by a long shot…
But, as the trainer (Bobby Lovgren) of the WAR HORSE animal actors said in his interview:
Changing a trainer or people on a horse is difficult for them, because each person does something in a different way, and it’s basically changing your dance partner who you’ve been dancing with. Even though the other person might be able to dance, they don’t have the same rhythm, and that’s the way it is working with the specialty horse.
So, today we walked into the arena, me armed with my new book knowledge and Rojo was armed as himself. Disarming, really…
“What will the human want today?”
First, I boarded from the launchpad (mounting block) and we went through the start-up procedures… (all said with “please” in front) don’t move as I mount, let me get settled, listen, sniff my foot, both sides, back, no – back better than that, stand. OK, let’s rock and roll!
We go over poles and he practically yawns and falls to the ground in boredom.
We do all the turns we can do as well as tight turns and about-on-the-hinds and forehands… blah blah.
Rojo looked at me:
Rojo: You know I can do this in my sleep, don’t you?
Me: Prove it.
Rojo: You’re on!
So, he does all of his moves in spite of me. Looks at me and yawns, paws and requests a change of venue or scenery or something – ANYTHING!
OK, I tell myself, I’d better step it up because I’m boring my horse. I thought about going outside the arena but then wondered if I was ready even though he was totally ready.
You see, Rojo is always on ALERT. He must have been appointed the ‘lookout’ in his previous mustang herd because he takes his job very seriously. I swear, if he hears a deer or a cat, he will stand at complete attention (looking very handsome, I might add) and face the scary noise until he understands it. Then he will make absolutely sure before he gives his attention back to me. This rock solid concentrated behavior is a bit intimidating and disconcerting when I’m on his back… he completely forgets the gnat on his back (me) – even though I’m making myself known. In this scenario, the foreign noise in the bush is much more of a threat than the familiar noise on his back.
The other disconcerting thing about him is his extreme athleticism. You wouldn’t think it to look at him… he kinda looks like a small and quiet quarter horse.
BUT if another horse is playing buckykicky in the other field, Rojo takes it upon himself to do it bigger, better, higher, harder and longer than ANY of my other horses. I now understand why they often use wild mustangs for rodeo competitions (even though I don’t agree with it at all – I understand it). OMG. He can buck.
So, I decided to go for advanced moves in the arena instead of going outside today when no one was home to gather me up off of the ground should we have a misalignment.
Me (telling him we must stay in the boring arena): OK, then show me that you know how I can mount from a fence.
Rojo (moving perfectly over to the fence): You mean like this?
Me: OK, then show me how to open a gate.
Rojo (walking straight over to the gate, putting his nose on the bunge and then trying to push it open): Here is the gate, here is the opener thingy and if you were faster at opening it, I could push it with my nose and we’d be outta here by now…
Me: OK, smarty pants. Go get the kitty!
Rojo (chasing the kitten out of the arena): Which one? All of them? Would you like me to pen them, too?
Me (sigh): Smartyhorse.
My biggest training obstacle is myself.
I tend to be hurt, personally, when Rojo shows discontent. And he, as well as all of my horses in the arena, show discontent at some point or another. (I’m guessing part of that is because I HATE arena work – a necessary evil.)
Today’s form of discontent was Rojo’s desire to have me dismount.
Every time we came near the mounting block, he’d stop exactly precisely in the position that I could use to dismount. He’d look back at me and request that today’s journey be over. Now. If I would be so polite as to get off, he would be a happy guy.
I’d decline and he would sigh.
Then I would pout.
Rojo: Hey, chin up. This is nothing personal. I’d just rather be doing ANYTHING but this.
Me (snorfeling softly) : Don’t you like spending time with me…
Rojo: Are you crying? Wuss. Of course I like spending time with you. You are the Treatlady. I would rather we just eat together, if you don’t mind.
After slapping myself internally, I visually put on my biggirl trainerhat, donned my kevlar suit, remembered the wise words I had just read in my new SHAMU book and pulled my heart off my sleeve. Silly human, getting all emotional…
Me: Rojo, I won’t indulge you. However, we can share food later.
Rojo: Fine. What’s next? Let’s do this thing.
Me: OK, go up to the scary thing in the barrel over there.
Rojo: What scary thing?
Me: That huge floppy, painted thing blowing in the wind inside of that barrel.
Rojo: Is that the scary thing? I didn’t know.
Me: Yes. That is the scary thing.
Rojo: OK, how about I do you one better? I’ll bite it for you, since you are scared of it…
Me: I’m not scared of it, YOU are!
Rojo: I am?
Me: Oy. I guess we have to go outside the arena next time.
And so it went…
My boy trained me that he knows it all and it is time to advance to the next level… even if I don’t wanna. ;)
HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!
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