Think before you Train

I’ve talked about my farrier, Scott, in an earlier blog. He is a very nice man who tries his best with horses and has handled my horses really well. He’s even worked well with how I’ve been easing Danny into getting his feet done.

We have had quite a few interesting conversations while he was working on my horses. I’ve come to find out that he is older than I am and that he comes from the same “old school” training that I grew up with. So, we have similar stories growing up with horses.

The difference is that my path with horses went down the way of learning as much as I could and continuing my education with clinics, scientific research, training, and more training. And I was always looking for a gentler, softer, more connected way with horses.

My farrier did hit a time in his life that he wanted to learn the latest craze and he started with “Natural Horsemanship”. He liked that it was kinder than what he had learned growing up and that his horses responded well to it. But that is where his learning stopped.

Our conversations have gone over a variety of topics, but when they came around to “training” horses, we definitely have “agreed to disagree”. However, he admitted to usually falling back to the “old school” ways. He feels that people should “control” their horses and that if their horse doesn’t do what they ask, then they need to force their horse into submission to get it done.

As an example of one of our discussions –

When it came to our discussion about socializing my new horse, Danny Boy, he said that I should just put Danny in with another horse and let them work it out themselves. And if they get hurt, they get hurt, but after they work it out “naturally’, it will all be fine.

Well, that is not what I did!

He also said, NEVER put him with another stallion because that will NEVER work.

And that is just what I did do!

But not because I was doing the exact opposite of what he said he would do, but because of my knowledge and experience with horses and my training approach.

And let me say, the socialization of Danny Boy is going very well. When I first was asked to train Danny, he was a very unsociable, extremely opinionated, and was a very high-strung, excitable stallion.

Danny Boy is a beautiful grey Arabian stallion that had been ignored, abandoned, and isolated from other horses for years because of his bad temperament. But when I first met him, his eyes said it all.

He just looked at me from a distance and said, “Please come play with me”. And my heart was “all in”!

That started a 21-session lesson plan that took him from “unmanageable” to “sweet and socialized”.

All this is documented in my Stallion Series program along with the journey of another beautiful Arabian Stallion named Kit. Danny is now best friends with Kit and can be turned out next to each other and stalled next to each other.

It may have taken me 21 days over my farrier’s one day solution, but it all went smoothly and flowed easily.

Last week my farrier decided to socialize his gelding with another gelding by just putting them together in the same pasture and letting them work it out.

Well, guess what happened? They started to fight. The other gelding was more aggressive and was protecting his territory. His horse started running, trying to get away from the aggressive horse, and was running full speed towards his owner, the farrier.

Scott was on the outside of the fence watching as all of this was going on but didn’t have a back-up plan or an escape route for his horse. So, he just watched as his horse panicked as he was being attacked and chased by the other horse.

His horse was still running full force when he realized that there was nowhere for him to go except over, or into, the fence. And sure enough, his horse jumped the fence and he saw it coming but didn’t move out of the way.

Unfortunately, his horse landed on him and he is now in the hospital with 15 broken bones, cuts, and bruises. He broke both arms, both legs and will be in traction for at least two months.

Luckily, he will be ok, and he didn’t have any terribly serious injuries that can’t heal and no major damage to his internal organs. He told me himself after the accident that he saw it coming and he just froze.

He also realized when he saw his horse being attacked that he probably shouldn’t have just thrown them in together like he did. But he felt that the “natural” way would work and that the two horses would just get along.

And yes, his horse is ok with a few injuries from bites and kicks on him. However, I’m sure he is traumatized and has a few fear memories to deal with now as well.

If you’re going to try to socialize your horse with another, here is my training plan so that it might help you or give you some suggestions for your own plan.

Now that Apollo is alone in his pasture due to the recent loss of his father, Jazz, I have been working on socializing Apollo with Danny Boy.

Here is how my training plan is going:

  1. I have placed Apollo in the pasture next to Danny’s pasture where there is one small area that they share a single fence line.

    a. I stayed close by with a lunge line in hand to make sure there were no major issues. No fights, no rearing, no kicking the fence down, no injuries or destruction.

    b. There was a bit of vocal discussion, squealing, head shaking, foot stomping, and posturing. But that quickly dissipated as I kept asking them to “be good”. They both had already been taught what that cue meant.

    c. I allowed them to have their voice and be themselves but didn’t allow it to get out of hand. Within about 15 minutes, Apollo decided he had said enough, and he walked away and quietly ate grass in another area of the pasture.

    d. I did this for a few days for about 30-60 minutes a day. Every day they got better and better and they actually started to look forward to seeing each other.

    e. Apollo would run over to the fence line every time I let him go in the pasture next to Danny and Danny would race over to greet him as well. They would just hang out quietly together. Every once in a while, I would hear a squeal and they would look over to me as if they were two little kids telling each other a secret. It was so cute to see how they were becoming good friends.

  2. Once they seemed to calm down and could be close and quiet together, grazing on either side of the fence line, I added food to the mix.

    a. Since horses can change their disposition around food, this was a test to see if I could trust them together. Before I can try to put them together, I have to make sure they can get along around food.

    b. I was surprised at their reactions. I know that Apollo can get dominant around food, so I put a flake of hay in his pasture first. I placed it in the vicinity of the fence line they shared, but not close enough that Danny could get it. I didn’t want to actually start a fight. I just wanted to watch their interaction around food.

    i. Apollo started eating the hay and Danny put his head through the fence to try to reach the hay, but he couldn’t. Danny then just pulled his head back and started eating the grass by the fence.

    ii. But Apollo, instead of being dominant as I’ve seen in the past, picked up a large chuck of hay and put it by the fence for Danny to eat. He actually gave Danny part of his food and they stood there together eating the hay.

    iii. I was so moved by this kindness and thoughtfulness, I started to cry. I just couldn’t believe what I had just seen. Apollo wanted to eat with Danny and was sharing his food on purpose with him. He actually gave Danny some of his food.

    c. So, the last few days I have fed them both a flake of hay right next to each other alongside their corresponding fence lines and they are eating together like a close net herd.

    d. It’s now gotten to the point where they walk over to the fence and say hello to each other, eat together, and then go graze in their respective pastures, but still close to the fence. It’s like they’ve been friends forever.

  3. Now to my next step.  I will put them in the two turn outs right next to each other so they will share more fence line to see how they react to each other.

    a. I’ll do this a few times and hopefully they will just be the same as in step 2.

  4. Once they are calm and quiet and have been for a few days, I will open the gate between turn outs and allow them to be together.

    a. If they start to react badly, I will be in the turn out with a lunge whip so I can direct them from a distance.

    i. That way I can separate them again if needed and close the gate.

    ii. This way I can make sure they both stay safe and well mannered.

    b. If they get along without trouble, I will stay with them for an hour or so and then put them back in their own pastures.

    c. I’ll then do that a few days in a row and won’t leave them alone.

  5. After that works I will put them in Apollo’s pasture so they can share that together and the barn.

    a. However, there is a gate that cuts off the pasture into two sections. I will first put Danny in one section, close the gate, and Apollo in the other section.

    i. The reason for this is because the pasture is Apollo’s “territory”. And even though at this point they are getting along great, everything can change once Danny is in Apollo’s home territory. So, this gate is my back-up plan to ease them in together.

    ii. Once they are good by the fence in Apollo’s pasture, then I’ll open the gate to see how they are together in the pasture.

    iii. If they get in trouble, I will just do what I did above, and separate them again, closing the gate. I won’t leave them alone and I will be in the pasture with a lunge line in order to direct them at a distance if I need to.

    b. Once they get along together peacefully a few days in a row I will open the gate and they will be able to share the pasture and barn as a herd.

I’ll keep you all updated on how it works out.

Remember to think about your training before you start. It’s kind of like the old saying – “Look before you Leap”. Try to think about all the things that could happen and try to prepare for the unexpected. If it happens, then you’re ready for it. If it doesn’t happen, all the better!

Think about the purpose of what you are trying to achieve, have a plan of action, have a back-up or an escape plan, and be safe! Always think of your safety as well as your horse’s safety.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments below.
 

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