Monthly Archives: October 2015

Zeus – The Training of a Wild Horse – Part II

Well I have to apologize. I have a new computer system, new video editing software and I haven’t had the time to produce the last couple videos on Zeus. I will get there, though!

In the meantime, Zeus has been progressing in an amazing way. I firmly believe in training at the pace of the horse vs the pace of the trainer. So with Zeus, a long term commitment to success and the realization and celebration of his small successes is absolutely essential. His life experience is exposed when I work with him. It is so very enticing. We know he was at the bottom of the herd and his behavior around domestic horses demonstrates that; he simply runs when another horse is in the vicinity, whether or not he is being chased. A simple nod of the head from a few hundred yards away will send him off at a canter.

wild horse sunset alberta

Zeus in the sunset colors.

My belief is that his life has mostly been that way: run from perceived danger. Which is a fairly stressful way to exist. But each day I notice Zeus make departures from that way of thinking. Some small and some huge. Zeus is over 10 years old and he’s starting a whole new life. That he can learn, change and adapt is both fascinating and incredible.

As far as training goes, I had to take a different tack on my approach. I’d been asking for Zeus to release, relax…to yield. To let go of fear and stress and move forward in that new mindset. Although we were making progress, the difficulty for him – I have realized – is that Zeus had no idea how to let go. ?

?I don’t believe that many times in his adult life, that he’s been able to, or had the opportunity to, let go of his prey / herd tension. So how could I ask of him something he has no concept of? Although he was trying and exhibiting releases, I felt I could present this to him in a much more beneficial and positive way. So I changed it up: instead of asking him, I showed him.

wild horse moonlight

in the moonlight…

How many times have you heard or been told, “The horse knows when you’re nervous…so relax!”  Very true, so if a horse knows when you are nervous, he is also able to feel when you are not. In my experience, horses can sense everything you are feeling: anger, pride, fear, etc. As a prey animal, communicating empathically like that is a survival instinct; if one horse becomes scared, the rest of the herd instantly picks up on this and they are able to act as one. When the herd leader feels safe and content, other horses in his space relax, close their eyes or lie down.

My approach to training horses consists a lot of being able to direct their thoughts energetically, emotionally and spacially. Physical motion, after all, starts with a thought. If you’ve been in one of our clinics, you’ll have had the opportunity to play with and experience this. Horses communicate with space, energy and intent, so learning to emulate this is almost common sense. However with Zeus, instead of asking him to release with a touch and feel, I have to show him, by really feeling it within myself…and really put it out there for him to pick up. So when I touch him or ask for a release, I must release so that he can feel what I am asking.

It works like a charm.

wild horse companion

A happy horse! The look in his eye just says it all. You can see my position in our shadows. Almost right under his nose. What a great moment!

Our progress since that moment has been nothing short of stunning. Why? Because it was essential that Zeus learn that I can provide him with that peace vs chase him out or ask human things of him that he can’t yet conceptualize. Domestic horses have that conceptualization based on human interaction since they were born. Zeus does not. His view of the world is that it contains many things that want to harm him. He’s had no experience with the opposite.

I’ve tried this approach now on other wild horses. I was recently working with a client’s wildies. She has an older wild mare that has never been led on a lead rope; she has, for the most part, been left to her own devices and is quite content with her life. We’ve been working in the past weeks at showing her that she can release and asking small things of her with respect to spacial communication. She’s been doing great. Last week I had the opportunity to try something new with her. Like I did with Zeus, instead of asking her to release on a cue, at the instant of the cue, I released, so that she could feel it. At each touch of my hand on her neck I let go even more. And with each touch – so did she. She lowered her head more and relaxed her eye and jaw. My client said, “It’s magic!” It seemed like it, but really, I’m just communicating to her in the way horses communicate with each other. As a herd leader, I’m just showing her by demonstration, “We can relax here.” The power in communicating with a horse in their language of space, energy and emotion is incredible.

wild horse atv albertaLike I said, I’m stunned with the results. A couple of days ago, I drove into the pasture on the ATV. Normally, Zeus takes off. This time he didn’t. Instead, when I put it in park and left it idling, he came up to check it out, thus demonstrating two qualities I work hard to develop in every horse: trust and curiosity. These really go hand in hand. Considering Zeus spooked and ran from a water pail after he sniffed it in the week he arrived here, this was a monumental change in his thinking. His growing trust in me was more than obvious as he followed me around the pasture while I was on and off the ATV.

The following training session left me in goosebumps. It was the first time Zeus showed that he was truly enjoying our time together and showing pride in his accomplishments. I don’t think horses, in nature, have many opportunities in their life to feel pride. But it’s quite obvious that we are able to create situations in which they do. There is a look in their eye when they get it right. And where does that come from? That comes from us. We feel “Yes, we did it buddy!” and they pick right up on that. That is such a key element in proceeding with training; once a horse realizes that try produces success which produces pride and reward…well, they’re willing to just try anything for you.

wild horse sunset

Zeus in the sunset light. You can see our shadows; I’m sitting on the ground a few yards away.

Zeus and I work mostly at liberty. In our last session we were trotting together, turning in unison, stopping – and for the first time – I sensed he was proud of how he was doing and truly with me, as opposed to simply acting on my direction. That look in his eye… It was like he was having the time of his life. And he probably was. After that I was able to step energetically into his space and praise on him, something I’ve had to be very cautious of. Too much energy in presentation and he’s typically off like a rocket. This time, however, my energy was in how proud I was of him.  And he sucked it right up.

Tonight was one of those evenings that…I’ll admit…left me a bit teary-eyed. Zeus was alone in a section of the pasture around the corner from the rest of the herd, after being chased out by Spud. Spud is an exceptional horse as well, but he is very protective of his herd and particularly one horse within it. Needless to say, Zeus was on his own. Our backdrop was a beautiful red and yellow sunset. It was warm and calm – no chilly south wind for a change. I walked out into the pasture that Zeus was in and sat down on the ground just to take in the serenity of the day.

wild horse mustang alberta

Close up of this gorgeous wild horse

Slowly, and ever so slowly, Zeus made his way toward me. He’d stop, sniff at the grass in front of him, raise his head, stand there a few moments, then lower his head again and take another couple of steps toward me. I just sat there, creating that space of peace that horses gravitate to. As he neared me, his steps became very small. He’d pick up a front foot, shift it forward and over a few inches, cock a hind foot, then cock his other hind foot and move a foot up. His approach to me was a cautious arc. Within about 20 minutes, Zeus was standing over me. He lowered his head and sniffed my shoe. The look in his eye was one of utter contentment. Cautiously, I reached out my hand to him, and he sniffed it. He’s always been fearful of that, and today…curiosity. Instead of me going up to him and touching him, he voluntarily came up to me and touched me.

WOW.

wild horse saying hi

Hi Buddy!

What made this moment even more intimate was that Zeus turned so that his right side was toward me. His ‘scared’ side. The side that I’ve worked so hard to be on. For him to walk all the way up to me, completely release and present his right side was an exceptional demonstration of trust and intimacy. Everything we have been working on in the past weeks came together and was revealed in those moments.

It was emotional and touching.

Zeus is a project. He’s an incredible animal. He has power and strength, but so much fear. With each day his fear dissipates. His courage increases. His curiosity is piqued. He’s experiencing that crucial learning sequence through try to success to pride and reward. He has come to realize that being with me is a good experience and he is seeking that feeling by wanting to be with me. For a horse like him, this is so, so critical. It’s the development of trust and his belief that I’m not going to hurt him or chase him. Our journey together is a very special one and I feel blessed to be a part of his life.

Scott Phillips,

October 2015

More on Zeus at the Amazing Horse Country Facebook page and YouTube Channel

 

 

 

 

 

Zeus – The Training of a Wild Horse

If you’ve seen our Facebook posts, read our newsletters or watched our YouTube Channel, you’ll know that we’ve got an Alberta Wildie here for training.

His name is Zeus.  The vet figures that he is around 10 years old.  He was recently gelded. What strikes me the most about Zeus are that tiny little things, that any horse rider or owner would take for granted, are huge mental obstacles for him. Standing in front of him. Touching his face. Drinking out of a bucket or eating out of a feed dish.  Wearing a halter.

wild horse albertaConsidering that Zeus spent the 10 years of his life in the wild with no interaction with humans, this isn’t surprising. His thought processes and instincts are completely different from that of a domestic horse, as the result of having to survive in the wild – where predators are real – and humans are among them. Needless to say, Zeus is very skilled at running from, and out-maneuvering, any perceived danger or uncertainty. It’s also interesting to note that my horses are not to sure what to make of him. His herd behavior is different – and I think to them, he looks like a horse but doesn’t act like one.

My horse training philosophy is based on working with the mind of a horse vs physically forcing them to do things in a vain attempt that they’ll eventually ‘figure it out’.

wild horse alberta

Something is over there…

And working with Zeus’s mind is a very time consuming process.  It is, because his fear is so ingrained into his psychology that it has been hard for him to process much else. The work I do with Zeus right now is 90% feel/energy and about 10% motion. That might not make sense to many people. It is very important to me, when I’m working with any horse, that they start from a place of mental peace and clarity. Just like an athlete – they need to be in a proper mental place before they can excel and try to the best of their ability. Fear and stress do not contribute to a positive and productive learning atmosphere.

With Zeus then, establishing that mental state is a huge mountain. A born predator (me) who has the ability to put his mind to rest vs cause him flee for his life?  It’s not part of anything he has ever known. I equate it to the scenario of dropping a 5 year old child that was raised in urban Canada into a remote village in China – absolutely everything would be foreign and frightening. But through the hours I’ve spent with him, subtle changes and patterns are emerging in his behavior. He is learning try. He is succeeding at little things that he has come to realize result in peace and pride. And this big mental leap for him cannot come without the cost of time and an infinite amount of patience on my behalf.

wild horse alberta

Zeus came with the warning, “If you take his halter off, good luck getting it back on.” So I took it off a few days after he arrived.

I have been doing much work with Zeus lately with no halter or rope. In order to put a halter on him and have it be a good experience, he needs to feel that working on and around his face is a good thing. Zeus also lives in an open pasture, not a stall, so it’s not a given that he is ‘caught’. Just simply being able to approach him, to touch him, to be in his space…it requires a very delicate sense and balance of energy. Then I can ask for subtle yields and motions: Can I ask him to take a step toward me – energetically? Can I put my hand on his neck with pressure akin to the weight of a feather and ask him to release in that? I now can – and that came after hours and hours and hours. With a domestic horse those things would have been accomplished in minutes. With a seasoned horse – seconds.

wild horse albertaIt’s not important what Zeus does. What he thinks, however, is paramount. His motions and what he does with his body are a result of thoughts in his mind – just the same as you or me. My job then, is to cause correct thoughts and reward them. Because any more than a feather weight of touch will cause him to brace or worse, flee, the actions I take are minute but meaningful. Without a halter or rope, I have to be very careful to balance both the level and direction of my energy. It’s good training for me too!  I can never get frustrated. I can never get tense. Not only are those unproductive states, they are also easily sensed by a horse.

So today I was able to take Zeus to a very relaxed state, standing by the left side of his head; he is very right side cautious. In fact, standing at his left shoulder and simply stepping toward his head – even with zero forward energy, would cause Zeus to turn away – and eventually take that first step to leaving. I spent about an hour gently working with touching his face, until I was able to put my hand over the bridge of his nose – a big deal for him!  I’ve put over 9 hours into having him accept my touch on his face – and not simply touch, but to release when touched. Meaning that he is realizing that my touch and minute requests are simply a cue for him to let go of mental tension.

And of course a good scratch feels great!

That going good and consistent, I very gently put my fingers over his face, touching the right side of his nose, and energetically asked him to turn his head toward me. He responded!  I was so proud of that because it was the first time he’d released in that way. These actions though, were mainly a review of what we’ve accomplished in all the hours we’ve worked together i.e. touch and release.  The big barrier with Zeus has been his right side.

Gradually I worked my way to stand a few inches forward toward his nose, playing with the same small release exercises. Then I took a step back away from him, so I was about 45 degrees off the left side of his face, in front of him. Normally in this position, Zeus would turn away to the right and leave. But this time, although he turned his head away to the right, he didn’t leave. And he has the right and opportunity to – we’re standing in an open pasture.  Offering him all the peace I had in my body I energetically invited him to turn his head back toward me. He did!

This was HUGE!

For the first time he voluntarily turned to face me AND relaxed. No raising of the head in brace or fear – he was totally content. I was ecstatic and I don’t doubt for a second he felt the pride I felt for him. Such a small movement – but such a huge mental leap for him.

The session continued with another huge first for Zeus today. We repeated the ‘standing in front, turn to face me’ exercise. Next was a huge test…from my position in front of Zeus, I wanted to walk to his right side. He has never let me attempt that – any try – as small and unenergetic as I can be – has always ended up with Zeus turning around to the right and walking away a few steps. This time though…he started to turn his head away as I moved ever so slightly to his right. I was able to cue him to bring his head back, face me and release.  Another small step from me and another cue. Soon I was in a place he’d never let me be before – 45 degrees ahead and on his right side. I had goosebumps!

This was so incredibly beautiful – do you see what I mean by how tiny things that we take for granted are so mentally huge?

From that spot I was able to slowly move to Zeus’s right side.  He was on alert now – head up slightly and eyes open. But I was able to touch him, to ask for releases and bring him back to that important state of peace.  I was then able to scratch and rub the whole right side of his face. His releases were huge and obvious with much licking and chewing. He had finally let go. I will freely admit that some water leaked out of my eyes at this point.

Today we hit a milestone. This was so, so big for Zeus. He has overcome a huge mental obstacle that will pave the way to the next steps. I was able to lead him at liberty today – another first! For the first time he was totally and utterly content with me. And I with him. Sharing that with a horse…well, honestly I consider it one of the greatest pleasures of life.

wild horse albertaIt was a beautiful warm sunny morning as well. I took the opportunity to sit down in the pasture next to Zeus. ??He was so relaxed at this point that his lower lip was hanging partly open. He lowered his head and stepped toward me.

Wow.

For him to acknowledge me as a leader that can provide him with a great mental place, and for him to relax so completely in my space was incredible. For him, this is a requirement before we can proceed any further.

And today – he nailed it.

Whoo hoo!

We tried leading from the right side, but Zeus was hesitant to take a step forward. I was, however, able to ask him to step toward me on the right side, and get a forward thought out of that.  We’ll get to ‘forward on the right side at liberty’ later. We’ve done that on the lead rope already. Although difficult for him, he did great – it’s in one of the videos.

Needless to say this is a real journey for both Zeus and me. Working with a truly wild horse is a fantastic opportunity to explore the subtleties of horse mentality. It’s an exercise in patience and creativity.  And the reward is an incredibly moving experience.

Thank You Zeus !