Horses never cease to surprise and amaze me, both in their adaptability and intelligence. For the past 10 years, Sierra lived at the same farm with the same people and the same horse friend. So bringing her back into the rescue was undoubtedly going to be a bit of a shock to her world. However everything I thought she might have trouble with, she has been able to cope with and carry on.
She first shocked me when we went to pick her up and she jumped right in the trailer, really by accident. I was getting the dividers ready and talking to Lori who had come along to help load her. While we were chatting, Sierra jumped in the trailer! It’s like she said, hey I think I should go check this thing out. She traveled well and when we got home she took just a little while to settle in and hook up with Nala, her soon to be turnout buddy.
The move to the new facility was easy enough, but we had two mare groups that became herd bound and began calling and panicking when they couldn’t see their friends. Sierra was one of these mares. For the first few weeks, we had to work on ways to help ease these bonds and replace them with more independence, self confidence, and looking to humans for guidance.
Here is where the biggest transformation happened for Sierra. Helping her overcome her herd-bound issues might be the single most important thing that happened in her training. The foundation laid in the last few weeks has changed so much about her. She is happy to be working with me, not panicking when alone, and likes to be joined up with humans now and not just horses.
A few things made this happen. One was the help that Joel gave us at the March clinic. When Sierra would begin to call out to the other horses, he had me simply ask her to do a little work. The key here was not to come at it with any aggression or reprimand but rather just a request to pay attention to me. If she didn’t want to stand with me quietly then we would just do a little work. Nothing over the top or big, just a little hind quarter, front quarter yielding, then back to quietly standing. It was even better if I could ready her energy and if I could catch it right before she called out. This improved greatly in just that one session.
The second thing that helped was preparing her to be tied and working her while being tied. This might be easier to see than explain but I will try to do my best. After I knew that she would give to pressure and come forward off the lead, I tied her. Then I asked her to yield her hindquarters and immediately release my pressure by turning away from her. This helps her know that she is not trapped and that she can move her feet and turn to look out of either eye. I then could work with another horse while she relaxed and found patience standing. If she would call out or start to paw, I would just ask her to move her feet and yield her hind. After just a little time, she was quiet and relaxed. I then untied her and we did just a little groundwork. She was a completely different horse! She was not pushy, not calling out, and very attentive and soft to work. I immediately gave her lots of low energy praise to keep her relaxed and put her away. Bringing her out the next day, and every time since, I know that we did this right and got a lasting change. I don’t do too much, I end at the right time and put her away in a calm and relaxed state. This is the hardest thing to learn as a horseman, not to go through the good to get to the bad. Ending on a good note can mean the world of difference in seeing changes that carry through to the next session and became the foundation of future work.
Sierra has made some amazing progress since she returned to SAFE. I am excited to get her ready to go to Joel’s to be started next month and look forward to seeing her blossom into a riding horse. I think she is going to make someone an amazing friend and partner!