<<Back to Blogs

Sudoku Training

When people ask me about our training program, they always ask what “style” of training I do. I never have a good answer for them...the horses here are all so different, it's impossible to maintain much consistency when it comes to curriculum.

In dealing with rescues we don't generally have the luxury of knowing their previous schooling background. The fill-in-the-blanks of retraining rescued horses is like my version of sudoku. I love every second of trying to figure a horse out. To see the “aha!” moments come to life is one of the most soul rocking experiences I get the pleasure of experiencing.

It's no secret, trained horses are the demand, so doing riding evaluations is part of our retraining program. Asking a horse to trust me enough to let me on their back without protest takes a lot of investment on the front end, allowing the horse to set the pace, building on their strong points and giving them the tools to overcome their fears. The horse has to have a say in all I am asking it to do. Voluntary compliance is my goal and compromise is the path in getting there.

We have a little mustang here named Mija. She is a privately owned (here for training), 4 year old and her nickname around the ranch is Regina George. She came in a snotty, bratty, “bitch, I will kick you if you push me” type. Everyone was abuzz at the ranch about her and all joked about me having my hands full with this one. I cant say I disagreed, but I am a firm believer that the most difficult horses have the most to offer. I liked her right away.

Mija wasn't challenging really, she had just created this alter ego of herself and for some reason, was more comfortable being a nasty brat than the sweet horse that I have since come to know.

She's been here for training since May 7th . With the exception of the fire and a few blazing hot days, I work with her daily. Working WITH her doesn't always mean working her; sometimes we just hang out while I drink my tea, other days I give her a bath, walk the ranch, ground drive, work on flexing etc. It's always something new.

Now for those of you who have ever paid someone to train your horse, you might think I am lolly gagging, wasting time or dragging things out. We know, you want a dead broke horse in 30 days If you are one of those trainers who “breaks” horses by getting the bronc out...you might think I'm a softie or pansy.

Think what you will, but to me...horse training is like dating. We are both bringing baggage to the table, putting up defensive postures to feel the other one out, earn each others trust, and we are questioning each other – is this the horse that could kill me? Is this the next human to fail me?

You can't walk up to a woman and say, “hey, let's bone” and expect you’re going to get a wife out of the deal (and if you do ask her that, chances are you're not taking that girl home to mom). You get what you give in all relationships and horses are no exception; they like to be courted a little, have their likes and dislikes acknowledged, assert their “I'm not budging on this issue” topics, have their feelings validated, find compromise and when they trust you – it's like falling in love.

I rode Mija for the first time a couple of days ago. 20 days into training (15 days in if you minus the days lost from the fire). The colt starters might say I went too slow, dragged my feet, or was afraid of her...

...but none of the above is true.

In fact, I think 15 days is pretty reasonable, if not fast, if you compare it to the time I would take on an abuse case.

With Mija, there was no abuse - just fear. I took the time in the front end to invest in this little mares trust and was lucky to earn it quickly. She was acting out because she was afraid of damn near everything. I spent days earning her trust, exposing her to things like water, bouncing balls, buckets, tarps, flags, streamers etc. I spent hours and hours teaching her to come back to me (without running me over) when she was scared. I taught her that anything she is unsure of I will work with her on with patience. I asked her to trust me and made it clear I respect her feelings.

In return, I got to be the first person ever, to sit on her back... she was nearly falling asleep at times. To her, this was just one more thing I was asking her to trust me with...and she did. Without question.

I can't tell you how important it is to establish a relationship with your horses before you start asking them to do things that require trust. Let them show you who they are. Take the time to watch them be themselves so you can use that to your advantage later. Don't let them walk all over you, but give them the chance to show you they will given the opportunity. Know what you're working with.

Mija was a fearful mare who would bolt and dash away from anything she was unsure of. She hid behind her fear by being a sassy, bossy mare so she wasn’t forced to do anything outside of her comfort zone. She could lead, tie, be groomed etc. but she would dash out of gates, get nasty on her right side and pretend to be defiant when really, she was just insecure.

Mija is a fast thinker, her mind moves a mile a minute and she can build up mental energy if she doesn't get the chance to dissect things. She get's bored quickly and is easily offended if you keep giving her a task that she has made clear she understands. I had to switch it up on her near daily to keep her from knowing we were working, find ways to keep her interested in me and get her to like me before I could ever expect her to trust me.

She is a complex girl, and not all horses are like her – but that is my point. Every horse is different. They all have various needs, strengths, fears, and baggage. It is our job, when we take on any horse, but especially a rescue horse, to figure them out and find a way into their world, to speak their language. They have so much to say if we just listen.