However, only a few days into the program, the head trainer contacted Tami stating that Faith was too wild, she kept running through fences and into walls, and they didn't feel that they could gentle her in the 90 days. They told her she should pick a new horse.
Tami was heartbroken, but not necessarily ready to give up on this mare that she had her heart set on for so long. She sought advice from the Mustang communities on Facebook and many people advised her that Faith may just need a new trainer/new environment/new life.
Two days before Christmas, I gladly told Tami that I would help her with this mare.
Due to the holidays, we had to wait for another 3 weeks before Faith was delivered to me near Denver, CO. In this time, I was warned about how "wild" Faith was by nearly everyone from the Canon City BLM office. The stories even had me wondering what I'd gotten myself into!
On Monday, January 12, Faith was dropped off to me.
I was relieved to see that she didn't have scales and horns as the previous descriptions seemed to have dictated.
While many people like to let their horses acclimate to the new environment prior to doing anything with them, I prefer to interact with them directly after unloading. I do this for a couple of reasons.
- I like my horses to think of my interactions as commonplace. There's not a time for resting and a time for training...there is simply a time for interaction whenever I'm around. Because like it or not, horses are interacting with you and forming opinions of you from the second you walk out the door on your way to the barn. It's our job to make these interactions interesting, stimulating, and pleasant.
- My second reason for interacting with them immediately lies within the fact that I'm not "working" with the horses, nor am I "training on" the horses. I am simply holding a conversation with them. And as I said before, if we can make this conversation interesting and stimulating for them, they will want to hold the conversation with us.
So I began playing a Catching Game with Faith. Now to be clear, the goal of this Catching Game is not for me to catch her. It is for her to catch me!
Now in order to play a game, there has to be two players, each with their own objectives. So I will outline the objectives, rules, and how to win the Catching Game.
- My Objective: Faith relaxes, looks at me, steps towards me, walks towards me, closes the distance between us.
- Faith's Objective: I stop looking at her, turn away from her, walk away from her, make the distance between us larger.
- No talking. Using verbal language makes you lose focus of your body language and energy.
- Don't act like a predator.
- When Faith is looking away from me, put pressure on her by squarely looking her in the eye, walking towards her. She'll likely move away. Maintain the distance that caused her to move away. If you close the distance (get closer to the horse) she'll move away faster, if you widen the distance (move farther away from the horse), she'll interpret release and thus reward. As she's moving away, maintain the distance but stay squarely facing her. She should only be moving away at a walk or slow trot. Once she gives me any of the actions in My Objectives give her release and reward by giving her one of Faith's Objectives - turn away from her, walk away, and give her more distance.
- Soon, she will recognize that she has the power to send you away from her and all she has to do is turn and look at you! Recognize that both My Objectives and Faith's Objectives are being fulfilled! She thinks that she's winning the game and I think that I'm winning. The truth is that we're both winning!
- Remember that when it becomes easy for her to turn to look at you, maintain pressure until she gives you something a little more - a step towards you. Then give her more - a step away from her.
- It is crucial to never get too excited and start acting like a predator... by that I mean, when she gets within a few feet of you, it can be tempting to turn around and stick your hand out to pet her. That is not staying true to your role in the game and it can unravel the progress you've made.
- The only way to win the Catching Game is for both the horse and human to walk away feeling like they've won. If you've done this with effective timing and release, your horse should be following you around, reaching out to touch you, and welcoming your touch in no time!
- It is important to remember that it's not about the end result of getting your hands on the horse. It's about the relationship you're building in the meantime. When you start your relationship based on this kind of playful trust and communication, the foundation for future progress is strong.
- This game builds confidence in your horse, is fun for your horse, and teaches patience to the human!
After playing this game with Faith on the first day, within about 15 minutes, she was reliably turning to face me and following me around. I never put enough pressure on her to cause her to feel like she needed to escape through/over the fence panels. When you put the horses in that state of mind, they are no longer thinking logically and thus it's not productive for any forward progress. Once she recognized that she was in control of this game and she could get me to walk away, she easily would turn and face. The "magic" of this game is that the horse thinks they're in control, and we think we're in control. It is a win-win! By the end of 20 minutes or so, she had reached out to touch me.