By: Steve Bauhr
In October, I was asked by my neighbor to halter break 5 colts & fillies that he had raised on the ranch next to us. The project included weaning them, turning the mares back out, and working with the youngsters for a few weeks. A couple weeks before the project started, one of them got injured, so we brought him over first. None of these babies had any handling, so catching and doctoring wasn’t going to be easy. But this little guy came around quickly and we managed to get him on the right track.
During negotiations of the original deal, I had my eye on two of the fillies. But as luck and life would have it, I kept two of the colts. The injured colt being one of them. We spent about three weeks working with the whole group. In that time, we simply taught them to be caught, wear a halter, lead up nicely, and allow us in their space. Remember, these babies were plumb wild so they were no different than a bunch of mustangs, only smaller. The same precautions and allowances were taken, keeping both us and babies safe. The good news was they all came around very nicely, and in no time, were we able to brush them, pick up their hooves, lunge them a bit and send them ahead, like into a trailer.
It’s been about month since they left, leaving us with just the two colts. We really haven’t done too much with them since, but the one little guy’s injured leg isn’t improving, so the decision was made to take him in for our Vet to check him out further. We decided to take the other colt as well just for some exposure and a trip in the trailer. While at the Vet, these two youngsters were so very well behaved the staff had to comment, “You must work a lot with these babies, they’re so calm and relaxed!” The fact is we’ve done very little with them in the last month, and didn’t go over board when we halter broke them. So what made the difference?
I believe many times within the Pale of Horsemanship orthodoxy, it can be more about what we “Don’t” do, rather than what we try to do. At our ranch things are relatively quiet. There’s no drama going on with the people who live here or work out here. It’s a friendly and fun environment. Horses feed off that, even though we’re humans. If you don’t believe me, just hang around a place where the humans are a mess and then watch how their horses act. We don’t rush around here either. We take the time it takes, and if we don’t have the time, we don’t take on the project.
If you’re a person who’s always trying to “Fit your horses in” to a busy Saturday schedule, they feed on that as well. It’s not long before horses subject to this vibe start to develop nervous behavior. The, “I have 30 other things to do today,” vibe goes right into your horse, and it’s not good. We have several dogs out here, and we try hard not to yell and scream at them even though they’re far from perfect. There’s nothing worse than someone who is constantly yelling at their dog, especially around horses. The horses pick up on this tension as well, and before long they can become dog haters- don’t ask me how that works, but it does.
We’re just starting to turn these babies out with the older horses, one at a time, and only with the horses who won’t try to hurt them. This time with an older horse is invaluable. They’ll learn so much about the relationship between horse and human by simply watching how our older horses interact with us. They will also learn how to fit into herd life, which consists of a hierarchy. Just keeping these babies to grow up alone would be a disaster since neither know much about anything. The blind leading the blind!
When we feed these youngsters, we carry a flag and “Don’t” let them crowd or push on us, because they will! Again, it’s more about doing less so it’s not a big lesson were trying to teach here, but if they come too close as we’re bring in food, they quickly run into a flag. I can’t tell you how many babies never had this simple “non-lesson,” only to grow up being one of those horses with their head over the stall and ears pinned at feeding time. We don’t nit-pick horses out here. Horses are quick to pick up on this negative vibe as well. We instead focus on the positive, building character, rather than tearing it down. With these youngsters, it’s the difference between a pet on the neck, even though they didn’t perform to our expectations, or over reacting to them taking a wrong step forward.
Next time you’re around your horses, take note at how much of your training is dependent on you either ‘doing’ something or ‘not’ doing something, and yet still seeing a positive result. You might be surprised at how little we might ‘not’ do to develop an awesome horse!
See ya out there!
Steve Bauhr with his wife Brenda own and operate Bauhr Ranch in Chinese Camp CA, a full horse training facility. For more information, go to bauhrranch.com or find us on Facebook, and check out our new YouTube channel!