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.
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.
I 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.
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!