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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

When We have Time

As many of us know, once becoming a parent you seem to relinquish all rights to hobbies, interests, and most activities you enjoyed before (and I say this in the most endearing way possible) the rug rats came along.

Now don’t get me wrong; my rug rats have changed my life and world for the better. I am more responsible, save more, work harder, do more housework, require less sleep, have more patience and cherish the little things.

But like all parents I have given up on or put other things on the back burner. For example: privacy in the bathroom, privacy in the bedroom, moments to myself, my emotions, my clothes, personal upkeep (to a certain degree), having a clean vehicle, and last but not least, horses. If I am not working I have kids and vice versa. To make life more complicated we have a blended family. Our access schedule is Thursdays, and every other weekend are days to spend with kids and work on things at home and to play.

young girl on horse

This saddle is -almost- my size!

When I have the kids I clean the house piled with the makings of a long workweek and two more children entering the premises. Floors show the whole life adventures of two dogs that are indoor/ outdoor, and laundry for five people. Of course everyone is a different size, except the girls, so laundry must be washed separately, or we face subsequent mornings of this isn’t mine! Otherwise tidy and clean vehicles somehow in one day become a disaster filled with shoes, coats, sweaters, juice boxes, dirt, Kleenex. I think you get the picture. Keep in mind there is only one day to do these recreational activities.

Coupled with a family run business, a house in the making, 25 cows, 10 horses, and one resident skunk that will rip the garbage apart and spread it all over the yard. Most of the time everything comes in that order.

So horses ? How do they fit into this picture? Well when the sun comes up at 6AM its pretty simple thats what time you ride, before everyone else gets up (when they are up they come out in their pj’s looking for breakfast). In the winter on the days the trucks won’t start for work (because you forgot to plug it in the night before) and the days the kids want to play inside (you ride near the house so if any problems arise they can holler). In the fall you get off work with just enough time to ride at dusk then boogie home to go pick up kids from the day home or the other parent. We also go to multiple cattle drives, brandings, go roping in the winter, the occasional clinic, check cows, go camping and participate in the Canadian Cowboy Challenge.

Now you may ask, how do we do this with a 3, 5 and 6 year old in tow? Well, they ride mostly by themselves and with great eagerness to do so. We have a minimal tolerance in our home and few toys. Our policy is one strike then you’re out for any given ride or activity. Yes, we do time outs too. Now don’t get me wrong; we have some patience and lenience but when it comes to animals, quads, and other peoples homes there is none. We have certain expectations that our kids are aware of. Some people think we are expecting them to be too mature, but here is the reality of it: how many mistakes do horses allow? Cows? Dogs? Quads? Glass? Walls? Society?

kids and horses

Spending time with the kids – and horses.

What horses and other animals give parents is a teaching tool. Our kids know how to tell when the cows need hay in the winter, how to feed the dogs and how to give the horses a treat without getting fingers chomped off. They’ve learned where it’s safe to stand when loading and unloading horses from the trailer. Where to go when the bull and or cows gets loose. Where the saddles go when you’re done with them and even where the truck needs to be to hook up the trailer. They know their manners when someone gives them lunch at a cattle drive. And where they can run and scream without breaking things!

Although our kids are not old enough to ride in events like the Cowboy Challenge they look forward to the days they can and are being well equipped already. We participate with a group called Ridge Riders; we do two 5 day camps each year. We ride out from camp each day with packed lunch. Some people don’t ride so if the kids aren’t into riding that day, they can stay and play in the creeks or help at camp. They are part of set up and take down. They help care for the horses and get ready for the rides.

Our family has been cowboying for generations. We raise our children in that rich tradition. Family oriented riding groups and events like the Canadian Cowboy Challenge help provide families like ours the opportunity to keep doing what we love with friends and neighbors.

When we have time, that is.

ABC Race for STARS – Raising Money for Saving Lives!

The ABC Race for STARS fundraising season is in full swing, having started May 1 and running through to October 13.  We have 96 riders signed up. Given that number of riders, we should have a good year! Click here to see the ABC Race for STARS listed in the STARS calendar of events.


I don’t think there is one of us that hasn’t been affected by STARS in one way or another. Our own Deb Dombosky, friend, ABC Rider, and ABC Race for STARS committee member, knows first hand. Her grandson, Tyler Hribank is now one of STARS VIP. 

However I think it is easy to put to the back of our minds just how important fundraising for STARS is.  It is almost an expected service for us now, especially here in Alberta. But unbeknownst to most of us, it doesn’t come cheap. I know we all know it costs money, but do we know just how much? And STARS has also now expanded across western Canada and serves Manitoba and Saskatchewan as well.

Did you know that the money you raise for STARS through the ABC Race for STARS, goes directly to STARS in your own province?

Let’s give you some background info on what it takes to operate a STARS mission:

STARS helicopter on mission

STARS helicopter on mission

  • an average flight costs $5400
  • STARS averages 4 missions per day
  • the BK117 medically equipped helicopters are $5 million each
  • on each mission there are at minimum a??flight nurse, flight paramedic team??and of course a pilot
  • STARS total operating expenses per base is approximately $10 million a year.
  • Patients are never asked to cover the cost of transport in a STARS helicopter. ??

How do they get money to operate?:

  • STARS is a charitable, non-profit organization
  • Funding is met through donations received from individuals, service groups, business and corporations, municipalities, and through collaborative agreements with provincial governments.
  • Approximately 20%of STARS total mission costs is funded by Alberta Health Services
  • The remaining 80% comes from fundraising and community partnerships.

Who do they serve?:

So if an average mission costs $4500, last year ABC Race for STARS riders, raising over $19,000, helped 4 people get the life-saving medical attention they needed. Pretty cool when you look at it like that!

That means this year, with 96 riders signed up for the ABC Race for STARS, if each of us raised a simple $1000 each, we would be able to donate $96,000 to STARS and be helping over 210 people!

That’s incredible!

Together we make a big difference.

Together we make a big difference.





So here’s the call to action…I challenge each of you to raise a minimum of $100, and then build on it if you can, – $500, $1000 or more. As one person it may not seem like much, but together we can make an impact and save lives!

Join the ABC Race for STARS ??or Donate Now!

~Check out the ABC Race for STARS contests running this season!~