2016 Paint gelding
Suitability: In Training
Color: dark bay & white pinto
Height: 14.3 hh
Weight: 980 lbs
Adoption Fee: TBD
A horse’s progress is not always linear — in fact, it is often not. There are hills and valleys in horsemanship, and as living creatures with their own autonomy, it is only fair that we meet the horse where they are at each time we interact with them.
Montana is a special guy. He has always been sensitive, and while he has let down a tremendous amount, this by no way means he is not still incredibly touchy. We started Montana under saddle (technically a restart, as someone had done some work with him as a youngster), and put a number of rides on him. By all accounts, he was doing very well. Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, he bucked his rider off. Something shifted in Montana after that, a level of uncertainty entered back into him. Or, more likely, it was always there, but he was doing a good job of glossing over it, pretending like all was well until he reached a point where he was unable to keep pretending. At that point, it was back to the drawing board for Montana, to keep him from hurting himself or anyone else.
Lexee N has been working with Montana over the past months, helping him to build and rebuild his confidence and find more balance in his feet. This in turn helps him find relaxation. Recently, he has been spending more time exploring the ground with his nose, a move that is difficult for an uptight horse to achieve. Montana is still very sensitive about changing eyes, so Lexee has also spent a great deal of time working through this spot with him, helping him get more okay with things in his blind spots as they leave his one eye and move into his other. He also has a very difficult time with things above him, which is also related to changing eyes. Lexee spends time bumping Montana up to the fence so she can work on petting him from a high position, working on using the flag and the rope to pet him, and eventually working up to sitting in the saddle from the fence. In the latter exercise, staying committed to the fence is key — if Montana were to shy away, the person is able to quickly dismount without risk of getting taken off with.
While it is true that Montana has come a long way from the petrified horse he was when we met him, he still has a long way to go, particularly as a riding horse. As a companion however, Montana really has blossomed. He is a kind leader in his herd with other horses, and he has made leaps and bounds when it comes to his trust of people. He can still play hard to catch, but he knows the routine well these days, and at turn-in or grass time, makes it easy for nearly anyone to halter him. He is a gentleman for the farrier, and stands well to be groomed. He is also, perhaps surprisingly, amazing at being hauled. Recently, Declan (who is notably anxious when it comes to trailering) had to take a trip. In order to make things a bit easier for him, we popped Montana on the trailer alongside him to be a supportive friend for the ride. Montana was content as a kitten, and Declan was much less anxious for his company.
It is in ways such as this that Montana is perhaps surprising, but it ties back into my original point which is that Montana’s progress is not linear, and that is okay. Montana will be given all the time and support he needs to continue to blossom into the horse he is under all that anxiety, and we will be there every step of the way to help him on his journey.
There lives a permanent resident here at SAFE, one who is not kept within the boundaries of a fence. She stands with her head down all day, grazing a spot on the lawn that stays perpetually green beneath her feet. She doesn’t move at all, so well behaved is she. You could go as far as to call her statuesque — actually, you could go as far as to call her a statue, and you’d be correct, for that’s exactly what she is.
Many horses parade beside this lawn ornament daily on their way to grass or when they get a rinse from the hose, but it is located in such a way that rarely do they sniff noses with it. But when they do, it is often greeted with snorts of uncertainty and trepidation. What is that thing, and why does it look like me?
Montana is not one who is easily fooled by trickster horses, so this new friend was greeted more like foe by our smart pinto guy upon first sight. But he is also quite smart, and with someone he trusts at the end of his line, he’s more likely to brave the unknown and take a few risks, like grazing right alongside this metal mare. The grass is always greener, as they say, and that is indeed the case when the only horse in the field can’t actually eat.
It’s pretty cool that such a nervous guy like Montana can trust people enough these days to face some of his fears, to venture bravely into the unknown, and to make new friends.
From the moment he arrived at SAFE, Montana garnered a lot of attention. He is a flashy-looking horse, and with his medicine hat markings and pretty blue eyes, it’s no wonder he had people immediately smitten. But Montana was — is — troubled. He had a rough start in life that left him with some pretty significant baggage. When he arrived at SAFE, despite having ‘been started’ in his youth, he was, for all intents and purposes, wild.
But alas! Were he truly wild he would not have negative experiences to draw on. The wild Montana was was the kind that has been reinforced or created by poor handling. A horse who has never been caught is very different than a horse who has learned how to get away. Montana, like so many others before him, would need a total reset of his building blocks.
We knew from the very beginning we would be in it for the long haul with Montana. This video shows a little bit of the work that went in to help Montana break some of his old bad habits and find new ways to deal with his troubles. It shows a little bit of his transformation from a scared and anxious gelding into a more relaxed, confident version of himself. You’d be hard pressed to believe he ever knew how to touch the ground with his nose until fairly recently, that’s how tightly he held himself. Hours upon hours were spent with Montana, helping him re-learn the basics, and learn for the first time some things he would need going forward – like how to wear a saddle, and how to have a rider.
And while he has made some serious progress, our work with Montana is far from finished. He is, like I said, troubled, and still very green. There are still spots in Montana that a three minute video cannot accurately show. He still needs a lot more time, both on the ground and under saddle, before he is ready to meet adopters. As a matter of fact, Montana will be going off to training soon for some extra miles and attention.
Montana is one special guy, and given how much he has already been through, we want to be sure that he is given the best possible chance of success going forward.
Montana is NOT a baby.
You wouldn’t think he was, looking at him, but there’s something about a sensitive guy like Montana that makes it so people’s first inclination is to handle him with kid gloves. There’s a hesitation when they go to pet him, and it’s understandable why – his nervous snorts, the taut arch of his neck, the way he slides backwards when you draw near, all signs stylizing him as a wild horse from a hallmark movie, one who needs to be approached with a slowly extended hand and the promise of a human who really understands him.
But this feeling towards him does nothing to aid Montana’s faith in us. Each time we hesitate around him we reinforce his uncertainties. So Lexee, who spends the most time with Montana as of late, helps remind us to treat him just like any old horse with the mantra, ‘he’s not a baby.’
Approaching Montana with a casual but determined air helps him learn that people aren’t always going to be tiptoeing around him, and that’s okay. That there is comfort in a pet that comes from the hand of someone with a big feel just as much as from someone more timid (also, being pet is a comfort, and will hopefully one day be felt as such). That he doesn’t always need to react, react, react — that taking a moment to respond instead will ultimately result in a much happier future for him. Each time we walk up to Montana and treat him like he’s bomb-proof, we manifest that for his future.
So next time you’re thinking of hesitating for the sake of a horse like Montana, remind yourself that they’re not a baby, and get in there to pet ’em!
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same applies to the education (or re-education) of some horses. Montana’s arrival at SAFE coincided with the end of summer last year, where we were spending lots of time picking up fallen apples from our trees and starting to think about stall assignments for when our herd started coming into the barn at night. Montana then was a nervous, snake-necked gelding who spent his days in the back corner of his paddock doing all he could to avoid the people who came to clean his pen.
It was apparent from the time we first got hands on him (honestly, even before) that his journey to being gentle would take a little longer than some. And that has proven true — nearly a year later and he still struggles with some of the more basic things like letting just anyone halter or brush him. But here SAFE, we are patient — good things take time, and that’s okay. Here for 6 months or 6 years, we will give the horse the time they need to grow in the ways they need to and find the situation that is best suited to them.
This is not to discount his forward progress. Thanks to a lot of hard work and the partnerships between himself, Terry, Joel, and Lexee, Montana has made some major strides over the past few months — he’s seen the vet for potentially his first ever dental float and vaccinations, he’s stood for the farrier and had all four feet trimmed, he’s come into a stall, been on a few trail walks, and, most recently, has begun getting saddled regularly.
The past few months Lexee has been working with him on closing the literal gap between the two of them, as well as preparing him to be saddled. Then when Joel came a few weeks ago, the pair finally cinched him up and have now continued his work with the saddle on. As Montana learns to turn loose to his handler, you can see the physical peace that washes over him as his feet get under him and he learns to move with balance. His poll area, once a spot that nearly sent him skyrocketing at the even suggestion of being touched, is now barely an issue. He even leans in on occasion to be being brushed on the face, another incredible display of his growth. Lexee says that she “loves watching his confidence grow and how he’s able to find the releases sooner in every session.”
It may be true that this special guy still has a journey ahead of him here at SAFE, but we will travel the road alongside him for as long as he needs.
It took a while to get here, but Montana had his first dental this week. Getting a sensitive horse like Montana OK with being haltered and caught is one thing, getting him to the point where he is OK with the rigamarole of a dental float is quite another. It means a stranger approaching him to sedate (it would be so nice if we could speak a common language with our horses, one where they would understand how relaxed they were about to feel after the mosquito-poke of a needle), and the sounds and sensations (even under drugs) of having a drill running in his mouth. But after a good deal of work and practice with replica situations, like having people unknown to him approach with a ‘tool,’ it was time to get Montana on the books for his doctor appointment.
And our hard work paid off! He was a little bit nervous about the needle, but once that sweet sedation hit, he didn’t fight it at all. The rest of his visit was a breeze, and, for risk of giving TMI, he was a model student for his sheath cleaning.
Another interesting discovery — when we scanned him for a microchip before implanting one of our own, we found that he already had one. Not completely unheard of, but still really interesting when it happens.*
*(Editors note: since the time of this article’s publication, we have discovered an additional microchip in Montana’s neck. Two! Neither one was registered, and we were unable to track them in any meaningful way. Nuts!)
Montana getting his teeth done was not only an important check-in for his health, but also a great step towards ensuring his fully domestic future.
I’ll admit, the title is a bit misleading. But to see new herd-mates Nyx, Montana, and Otto out together, I think it would quickly become apparent to anyone who are the men and who is the baby. A brief description of the herd has –
Nyx starring as the benevolent leader of the pack, a gentle giant not only in appearance but also in mannerisms. His signature display of dominance involves floating a hind leg up in warning, rarely if ever following through with a half-hearted kick that never lands.
Montana cast as a (mostly) stoic member of the band who often spends his time sidled up to the fence line that adjoins the filly’s paddock. He has been known to participate in a romp or two with Otto, but is just as comfortable lounging around with Nyx.
Otto, rising star. It is hard not to look at Otto and not be reminded of your little brother or mischievous younger cousin. Most of the time, Otto would rather run and play than eat breakfast – often he can be found nipping at Nyx’s heels or tail in an attempt to draw his large friend away from the food (it has not worked yet). When Nyx won’t play, Otto tries his luck with Montana, and often is able to rouse a bit more interest from his paint companion.
These three boys were fast friends, and it’s clear that they really enjoy each other’s company. Often, all three can be spotted eating from the same hay net (Nyx and Montana usually work on the net itself, while Otto finds vacuuming up the fallen scraps to be more his speed), and they have been known to take communal naps together on occasion. It is truly a pleasure to watch the three of them, as their personalities mesh so well together despite being so different, and it’s clear that they all have something to learn from each other.
Check out this video of Montana working over trot poles — watch how he goes from rushing over them in the beginning to lengthening his stride and elongating his body towards the end.
We have made some progress with gentling Montana to the halter. He is still very shy about the first touch and had learned from his previous life that he can keep his head just out of reach from the halter by holding it far to the other side. He will allow us to walk up and pet his shoulders and at time his head. To continue to make progress and change the behavior, we easily can throw and rope over his neck (he stands and has no worry about this) then work on him giving his head to the halter.
We’ve done a lot of work getting him comfortable with things coming under his jaw and to the opposite side. We also had to work some on getting his feet free. When he feels free and not braced, he is more comfortable and willing to stand to be haltered. Otherwise he is like a ticking time bomb and if he felt stuck enough, he may out of fear bite or kick out. Luckily, we have been successful in helping him release his braces and have kept both him and those working with him safe.
During the last Horsemanship clinic with Joel Conner, we were able to quietly walk Montana with his friend Darla to the indoor arena. There we were able to spend more time on groundwork. He has carried over change with new things such as introduction of the flag or moving his hind and front quarters. However, the evasions to the first touch and haltering still persist. It is pretty cute when — once the halter is around his neck now and we are practicing taking it on and off — he will stick his nose down into the halter. He knows what we want him to do, but is just cheeky about accepting it at the beginning. On a good note, he is a bright and willing horse, everything new he experiences will be with a good foundation so it is our hope that the work to saddle will be fairly straight forward. However, we are aware that as a young horse he was ridden for a short time. Maybe 30 days of training, so we hope we don’t uncover old trouble due to any bad experiences long ago.
We have started the gentling process with Montana. He is friendly but gets very worried about hands coming near the top of his neck where we need to tie off the halter. He has obviously had interactions with people in his past that did not go well. He is very stuck in his feet so his fear is exhibited in a “bottled up” expression, ready to blow at any moment. He was good to be roped and not spooked or afraid to be caught by the rope. Surprisingly he is also easily led forward which considering hiw troubled as he is, is a little bright spot. We hope that he is going to make it and change quickly.
It’s frustrating to see the problems left behind by poor halter starting in a horse like Montana. This has caused him to be very afraid and dangerous for people to be around him. As we help him free up his feet, he may even get a bit more expressive and appear to be a bit more troubled as he goes from stuck to unstuck. But once his feet are free and he knows he is not trapped and can move, his comfort with people will increase. We’re already seeing some small changes each time we work with him.
We are appreciative of the outpouring of interest in this handsome fellow. SAFE is committed to helping Montana learn to be a good citizen and then helping him find his ideal home. It will take time but that is our responsibility. We will not send him “down the road” to be at risk of not making it. We promise that when he is ready to meet adopters, we will shout it from the roof tops, but until then, please consider adopting one of the horses that are ready now. They have a lot to offer, and we promise that the training they’ve received here at SAFE is worth far more than just a pretty face.
Montana has a long path ahead of him before he will be available for adoption. We don’t know if he has been haltered before, but given his current reluctance at being approached, we suspect he either hasn’t been haltered or had a less than optimal introduction to haltering. Right now, we’re estimating his age at 5 years but until he is gentled enough for a dental examination, we won’t be able to have his teeth examined by our vet for a better age determination. Volunteers have noticed that he keeps a respectful distance and moves away quietly as people move around cleaning or doing work in his paddock.
It’s likely to take 6 months to a year until Montana will be available for adoption.
Say hello to our two newest arrivals, Darla and Montana! Darla is about 10 years old, and Montana is a 5 year old gelding. Both were surrendered to SAFE by their owner, an elderly man who suffered a stroke and could no longer care for them. His family was able to successfully rehome his other horses, but Darla and Montana are both untrained and were at a greater risk of falling into bad situations. So SAFE agreed to take them on so they can benefit from our horsemanship program.
Montana is a striking dark bay and white pinto, who was originally purchased as a yearling to be a riding horse, but they were unsuccessful at halter starting him. Now at 5, he is still quite unhandled, and very tentative about being approached. He will need a lot of patient work to be gentled and started under saddle, but fortunately he is quite good looking so we’ll be able to enjoy his beauty as we work with him.
Darla is a bit more gentle, and while it’s clear she’s still quite nervous about being touched, she can be caught. She even stood for a bit of light brushing upon arrival. We expect her to make an easier transition into a horse that enjoys the company of humans. We hope she will become a nice riding horse too.
Thank you to Jackie for driving the trailer, and Candi and Kaya for assisting with pickup!
1. Sean C.
2. Cyndi M.
3. Barb & Jon B.
4. Barbara B.
5. Renee W.
6. Geoff B.
7. Christine M‑J.
Every horse deserves at least ten friends! Even a small monthly donation can make a difference. Plus, SAFE horse sponsors receive discounts at local businesses through the SAFEkeepers program!