So many of you know of my most recent rescue, Beaugart. He is a 5 yo Arab x NSH and has been with me for about 6 months. He was skinny and scared of everything when he came to the farm. As with all my rescues, health and socialization come first. Beaugart has spent the past few months with a small herd with plenty of room to roam, play and move his body. There have been very few demands made on him from me and I have spent the time building rapport, by being a consistent presence in his daily life. Trust took a long time. He really had no interest in anything I did, nor could he stand me approaching him directly. But one day, not long ago, I found him nibbling on my elbow from behind me while I did my chores! At last, some curiousity! The next day, he allowed me to approach and scratch his itchy spots (it is black fly season), curling his lips with pleasure. That was the turning point and the day I knew I could start working with him in a more meaningful way.
I know very little about Beaugart, but have been able to piece together some info. He was born in Colorado and was quite a fancy weanling, winning an ‘in hand’ championship as a yearling. I also have in my possession a photo of him being ridden by a man….no idea where or what level of training he was at. My experience handling him has led me to believe he has had some training, though there were some big holes in his foundation, or possible evidence of some rough handling.
The first issue I encountered was that he was difficult to catch. If he saw a halter or lead rope, he was ‘out of dodge’. In the beginning he would simply leave and I had no hope of catching him outside of trapping him in a small paddock or stall which I was loathe to do. Right around the time his curiousity about me appeared, his behavior shifted somewhat about being caught. While he was still not interested in being haltered and would move away, he ran in circles around me instead of leaving the area completely…a huge shift in his behavior. Instead of panicing, he was thinking. This was a very good sign, but I knew he was still very far from thinking of me as a partner.
The second issue I noted was that he was extremely head shy. He did not like stuff over his ears, like a bridle or leather halter. I could manage with a rope halter swung over his neck, but nothing that had to go up and over the forehead and ears…well, not without him rearing straight in the air 😉
The last big issue was his left shoulder. He was in the habit of using his left shoulder to move people and block any access to his zone 3 (where the saddle goes). He is pretty unbalanced side to side in general, but that is common, as people tend to lead and mount horses from the left and do very little from the right. He was alittle extreme in this way. I get the feeling someone did alot of work teaching him to yield his hindquarters without paying much attention to this evasion. I knew I could fix this problem pretty easily once I had his confidence.
Anyway, by happenstance, I was invited to visit my friend Brenda Ladd at her farm and encouraged to bring Beaugart up for some training. Brenda is in Bridgewater, NH and has a gorgeous facility with a large indoor arena and round pens. She hosts many clinics each year with fabulous clinicians (Dave Ellis, Karen Rolph, David Lichman to name a few) and does some horsemanship coaching in between. Brenda and I have been online friends through Parelli Natural Horsemanship for several years so I was delighted when she and her husband Jonathan moved their venue to NH! She is a wonderful coach with good instincts about what is working and how to build on what the horse offers.
So Beaugart and I spent two days with Brenda. We camped out and did a little bonding. Lots of opportunity to become better partners. Brenda took some photos, which will serve as an outline of what we accomplished in just over 24 hours.
We worked in a round pen. I used the pen to create forward movement and then worked on changes of direction. Bogie had trouble at times turning towards me. Brenda suggested I approach him less directly and push his hindquarters away, allowing the front end to come towards me…brilliant! At first he could only yield a step at a time before stalling, but before too long he would follow through with forward movement toward me. We built on that the first day till he was following me consistently. Next we had to tackle the friendly game with the stick and string. I elected to put him on line for this and we played with some approach and retreat. He caught on very quickly. It was pretty clear that he is a quick minded horse and does not need alot of repetition to learn. Brenda thought, ‘why don’t we do this with a saddle on’…kill two birds so to speak. Now I know he has worn a saddle before, but what I don’t know is if he had any issues with the saddling process or with the saddle itself. So we treated him like any young horse. He checked out the saddle and pad and seemed very confident about it. I saddled him at liberty and he had no problems at all. Well, I should say, until the next day, when in anticipation of riding him, we found a girth that was small enough for him (he is still not that round). Since it was our second saddling and he was so good the first day, I didn’t expect any reaction to the girth being tight. And there wasn’t at first. I tightened the girth, then walked away and he set off crow hopping around the arena for 20 seconds or so. I was so surprised. He then stopped and walked over to me and put his head down as if to say, ‘sorry, I just had a moment there’. Just goes to show…never make assumptions about any horse and their previous training. If you didn’t see it with your own eyes, it never happened.
Day two: I knew I could get on Bogie the second day, based on what we had accomplished the day before. So I went straight to work teaching him to pick me up at the mounting block. OK for those of you, saying ‘What’s with the mounting block?’… I have a rule. Either mount from the ground or teach your horse to pick you up from a block or a tailgate or a fence…willingly. Mounting a 16 hand horse from the ground takes physical strength and flexibility. Teaching that horse to pick me up takes savvy and focus. Its ALL good, people!
Next we tackled the bridling issue. It was a big deal to him. But with some persistance and patience, along with good timing with the release, we got the job done. I had a goal of getting the bridle on 3 times (once I had done it once) with each try more successful. Mission accomplished, but we still have some work to do in this area…
So Bogie is off to a great start! There is loads of work to do, but I am confident he will be an awesome partner. His movement is wonderful and it will be fun to try to recreate that undersaddle. He would make an awesome hunter for some teenager! Many thanks to Brenda from Ladd Farm for her support and suggestions! Their website is: www.laddfarmllc.com Check out and come audit a clinic this summer!