Monthly Archives: January 2016

Zeus – The Training of a Wild Horse – Part IV

Zeus has been at Amazing Horse Country since September. If you’ve watched our videos on YouTube or read our stories, you’ll know that Zeus is an incredibly sensitive guy. His sensitivity is based on fear.

Zeus arrived with a halter on. Not long after he arrived I took it off. I was cautioned, “Good luck getting it back on!” At that point I made several commitments: I would train him without it. I would never restrain him. I would focus only on his acceptance, release and commitment. When he was ready, we’d revisit the halter. I’ll tell you that sure made for some creative (but fun) sessions!  Zeus has always been free to leave whenever we work together.

It took me 18 hours before I was able to touch Zeus’s face, put my hand under or over his neck. It took over 2 months before I was able to nonchalantly walk up to Zeus’s right side.

The reason why I spent that time is simple, but requires explanation. To proceed with Zeus, I need his acceptance and release. If he’s nervous about something, then we take all the time he needs to work through it. If that is an hour, great! If that is 2 weeks, that’s great too! Progress is progress and the horse dictates the training timeline.

In our society, that probably seems like a foreign concept. I mean, there’s a show in 3 weeks! We gotta get that horse ready, right? There is also outside pressure from those that want to see a rider on Zeus in the mountains in short order. Well, all those things are great – it’s good to have goals – but they focus on the wants of the rider VS the needs of the horse.

wild horse training

Relaxing with pressure on his nose!

In my case, training Zeus is all about Zeus and not about me or anyone else. This is what I’d consider one of my principle concepts of working with any horse: if you focus your efforts on improving your horse, in turn you will derive incredible benefits. Those benefits being trust, connection, establishing trust in leadership, horsemanship skills and particularly a horse that will try anything for you.

And you know what? Although it may seem to some that we’re taking the long road, we’re not. This is a short cut. Why? Well, what we’ve created here is a horse that is so trusting of me, so keen to try something new, so wanting to please, that our progress now is staggering.

So what is the big news about Zeus? For the first time since he’s been here over 4 months now, I put a halter on him.

Seems trivial doesn’t it? From our perspective it probably is. From Zeus’s perspective it is anything but. Consider for a moment what Zeus’s experience with humans was before we started training with him. Likely being roped, herded into a pen, forcibly haltered and trailered to an auction. I can’t conceive of anything more traumatic for a wild animal…I truly can’t.

So it’s no wonder he’s shy about the face. And thus the reason I’ve spent countless hours showing Zeus that touch on his face is okay and simply means, Relax, buddy…I’m taking care of you. And every single session, he improves. Consistently, I was able to place my hand further down his nose, under his chin…scratch his opposite cheek. All these sensations that a halter would produce.  I needed to see and feel him embrace those as something good. If you’ve watched the videos of trimming Zeus’s feet, we took the same approach. Sharon Leney of Happy Hoof commented, “For a first time having his feet trimmed, Zeus stands better than many of my client horses!”

Zeus is over 10 years old. Simple things such as being led, drinking out of a bucket, having his feet trimmed or even being touched were completely and utterly foreign. So a statement like that from Sharon really emphasizes to me that we’re on the right track here.

Wild horse halterI mentioned the incredible benefits we derive from taking the required time to really dig into a horse and work things out. Zeus is taking me on one incredible journey; not only one of learning about the wild horse, but one of learning about myself. Thoughts of frustration have been replaced by those of creativity, fun and patience. How can I get frustrated when I don’t have a timeline? How can I get frustrated when we improve at something however small in every single session? Instead, I find ways to break down exercises and find creative ways to introduce new things to Zeus. He shows me clearly what he’s willing to try and when he’s had enough. I respect that. I have to. It’s a pillar of our relationship.  It’s a pillar of horsemanship.

The truth is, Zeus is training me. He is a great educator in the ways of the wild horse and horses in general. In my horsemanship journey, Zeus is a fork off the main road. But the trail that we’re going down is filled with so many exciting, amazing things. I’m glad I took this detour.

After I had the halter on Zeus – and he very politely accepted me adjusting buckles. We went for a little walk. I was amazed…impressed. Because all of the training we’ve done to date has been without a halter, my requests to him, to move forward…stop…back up…yield, have been primarily energetic. Unable to use the halter as a crutch for these things, I had to truly communicate with him like another horse would. And now…wow. There is a softness in this horse that is poetic. A feather weight in the lead rope and Zeus releases into that.

wild horse training

“I’m proud of myself!”

Instead of using the halter and lead rope as a precursor to the headstall and reins, the halter is now a tool for providing clarity to our requests in a regime Zeus is already completely familiar with. I’m not using the halter as a method to catch Zeus, lead him or ask him to turn or move. We’re already there. He has chosen to be with me, follow me and try with me. Instead of being a primary training tool, the halter is a now a tool. I can use to add and build on what we’ve already accomplished.
It’s a striking contrast. This 10+ year old wild horse, who previously considered the halter as a way humans dragged him around, now accepts the halter as a provider of clarity, peace and connection. Unbelievable.

Congratulations Zeus! You’re awesome!

 

Scott Phillips

January, 2016

Zeus – The Training of a Wild Horse – Part III

December was a great month for Zeus, our resident wild horse. We experienced many huge milestones. It’s somewhat humorous: the milestones I speak of are things that we take for granted in trained domestic horses. But to Zeus, simple interaction and communication with a human being let alone other domestic horses – was utterly foreign.

Amazing Horse Country - Zeus

Zeus in the sunset

I can now confidently walk up to him, toss a lead rope over his back or neck.  I can lean on him with my arm over his back (a saddle-like sensation) and lead him around. He’ll follow me. I can ask him to turn in toward me, send him forward, stop and back using only energy and focus. We have fun playing at liberty and he responds softly and kindly. He knows what it feels like to release. Although he’s still shy about exposing his right side, he’s much better.

 

Soon I’ll take him to the arena where we can really create some positive experiences for him.

One of the highlights of the past month was working with barefoot trimmer, Sharon Leney of Happy Hoof Inc. I initially met Sharon in one of my clinics in 2015 and have since worked with her and her horses several times. She has been instrumental in helping me work with Zeus’s feet.

Not long ago, something would brush by Zeus’s leg and he’d be gone. As calm and careful as I was, the sensation was too much for him. With time we worked up to being able to touch him all over, rub and scratch him, and play with his legs. The next step was asking him to pick up his front feet. Tricky timing! The pressure must disappear when his foot goes up, holding onto it once he’s picked it up would devastate the whole exercise. We’re teaching him: lift your leg and hold it there on your own versus be calm while we restrain your leg. Also, his decision to stay and try is anchored in the mutual trust we’ve built over the last few months. It must be that way: success with Zeus is rooted in his belief that I’m not going to hurt him and that being with me and now others – will consistently be a good experience.

I don’t doubt for a second that Zeus’s capturing was a horrific experience for him; likely the most traumatic thing that he’s ever experienced. Thus I avoid any kind of restraint; it’s crucial that his response to the lead rope is to relax, not brace or pull. This response is becoming more ingrained as he gains confidence. In an attempt to trim his feet there were many moments where all it would have taken was a feather weight on the lead rope to ask him to release when he became tense. But I need two hands to work with his leg and the nippers. Although I was able to cut some length off one of his front feet, it wasn’t a great job. Realizing I either had to grow another arm or get help, I called upon Sharon.

Amazing Horse Country - Wild Horse Foot Trim

Scott and Sharon work with Zeus

Sharon comments, “Zeus, what an amazing horse! To have the honor of working with this gentleman is an opportunity I could not pass up. Therefore when Scott called to ask for my assistance with trimming Zeus, I agreed.

I have been around horses most of my life and being a trimmer I am not easily intimidated by any horse, no matter the size. Although I wholeheartedly agreed to help with Zeus, I must admit that I was intimidated just a bit by the thought of working with a wild horse. Then I met Zeus up close and personal. What I saw was a small, yet powerful horse, that was scared. In that moment my heart went out to him.”

Sharon and I had the mutual understanding that the goal was not for her to show up and trim all his feet in a session. Our only goal was that Zeus improve at something during each session. We worked towards trimming his feet as he grew more comfortable with each step in the trimming process. The fundamental principle here is: We train at the pace of the horse. Not only does this provide solid and lasting training for the horse, it validates two beliefs:

Amazing Horse Country - Wild Horse Foot Trim

Sharon works with Zeus

1. ) There is ALWAYS success. Because when a horse tries, and he will, we respond appropriately, and he will improve with each try. Thus success is a consistent result.

2. ) We are NEVER frustrated. How can we be frustrated when there is consistent success? The key is changing our definition of ‘trimming success’ from getting his feet done in 30 minutes to we’ll advance through a series of steps at the pace Zeus is comfortable with, and it will take the time it takes.

This being our mindset, Zeus is astounding me. I am very proud of him and he feels this. When Sharon and I work with Zeus, I’m not simply the handler, nor is she simply the trimmer. The three of us are a team.

It is my job to connect with him and keep him in a great mental place where bracing, walking off, or kicking are thoughts that do not occur to him. Initially this required a lot of concentration on my behalf. I’m now ‘turning him loose’ a little more as he grows confident: less emotional babysitting, but letting him know I’m there for him. The great thing about Sharon is that she’s of the same mindset. She is not projecting any fear or negativity toward Zeus. She has stated that  Zeus is allowed to take his leg away.  If he becomes nervous and pulls away, that’s okay. He’s allowed to be unsure. He’s allowed to walk away. It’s then our job to reassure him. It’s simple: when we reward the try and focus on the success, the negative aspects disappear.

Sharon continues, “Although he was scared, he allowed me to rub his neck and work my way down to his front foot. On the third or fourth rub down, he lifted his foot. It was only for a moment, but what a moment. It’s a time when your heart swells, for you realize that this majestic animal is giving you the most precious gift he has: trust. It wasn’t long before I was cleaning his foot and touching up his bars with a knife. We then repeated the process on the other side.

Since that day we have trimmed his front feet and are now working with his hind feet. With every visit we get farther faster, though I am in no rush to finish as I truly enjoy working with Zeus and Scott.

So many horses are rushed through the training process. Zeus is fortunate to have a great trainer that puts the horse before the saddle.”

This amazing wild horse is gaining confidence as our exercises become routine; his expectation now is that working with his feet results in a feeling of peace and pride. What better expectation could a horse have? The look in his eye says it all.

Lately I’ve been working on asking Zeus to turn in front of me. This was exceptionally difficult for him because he’s shy about the face and he’s very protective of his right side. I call this game, left side / right side and we’ve played it quite a bit lately. I simply stand in front of Zeus and ask him to turn the other way. If he’s having difficulty, I just slowly move toward the side I’d like to be facing and cue him to take a step. He’s found it’s easier to do that than tuck his head around to his hip, which has been his typical response!

Not only is Zeus much more comfortable with people on his right side but recently he’s

Amazing Horse Country - Zeus

For Zeus, touching his nose is a big deal.

exhibited a great response: curiosity. He’s very shy about his nose. During Sharon’s last visit, although with noticeable apprehension, he extended his nose toward her to investigate the tool she had in her hand. Also when Sharon was working with Zeus, he slowly turned his head toward me so our faces were almost touching. That move, choosing to turn in toward me – was an astronomical move for him, and is a clear demonstration of trust. Good job buddy!

The icing on the cake came yesterday. I’m still euphoric. To date, we’d been able to pick up Zeus’s hind feet and pick them out. But he was somewhat unsettled about it and he’d move away or take his leg back when we’d brush by a ‘touchy’ spot on his leg. I spent time each day, whenever I fed the horses, playing with Zeus’s hind feet. Letting the lead rope brush by them, asking him to pick up a foot, slowly building up to being able to touch and play with his legs all over.

And what was the result?  Zeus let me trim both of his back feet and was calm for the whole process! Although he had every option to leave, he stayed with me. Watch it on our YouTube channel.

I’m having a great time working with Zeus.  Stay tuned for more adventures as we head to the arena!

Scott Phillips

January 2016