So, at long last here is the first installment in the story of ‘U’ my recently acquired 14-year-old Lusitano gelding.
He had spent most of his life, the last seven or so years at least, travelling and doing shows. He was kept in a stall and though he got out several times a day, he rarely got to go outside and play and run about in the sun and the dirt and just be a horse. His owners allowed me to have him because they thought he had done a great job and it was time for him to have a different life.
He arrived at my farm late October 2014 and spent the first month or so just adjusting to his new lifestyle. I gradually introduced him to being outside for the day in a paddock where he could run and play a bit but it took him a bit to feel ok about being out. When I introduced a playmate, a mellow older gelding, whom he had met across the fence he seemed uncertain and almost naive about how to proceed.
His interactions with me were polite and reserved, distant and almost unwelcome. He had been told for many years exactly where to be and what to do and how to act. There was no input allowed from him; he had no voice in the conversation. It was a very one-sided, though normal for the horse world, relationship. He would soon discover that life out here was a bit different, to say the least.
He would stand in the back corner of his stall and would not come over to see what was going on. There was an air of ‘don’t bother me’ about him and it pained my heart to see this from such a gentle and intelligent creature. All he wanted was to be left alone.
I was sure that once we started the work I do with him this would change, but it is always difficult with what we call a cross-over horse and most all the horses that we work with are cross-over horses. This means that they come to me either after all other ‘training’ methods have failed and they have gotten angry and ‘dangerous’ or because the owner has such a dull and shut down horse that they can’t get them motivated to do anything.
His initial interactions with me were a lot like the ones with his paddock mate; unsure as to how to act in case a wrong action brought forth a reprimand like it would have in the past.
When I started to click and treat him every time I went past his stall or in to halter him you could see the wheels starting to turn. Something about this human was different, but he was still waiting for that other ‘shoe to drop’ and the correction to come. This is typical for cross-over horses, especially the sensitive ones. Other reactions, depending on their personality, may include what could be seen as aggression or even anger, which, in many cases, it will be a release and expression of what he is feeling about the past training now that you have given him a voice in the conversation. This is where a lot of people will decide that clicker training and positive reinforcement is not for them, they prefer a ‘partner’ who has no opinion. For those who stick with it (and there are ways to allow this and still keep everyone safe until the conversation becomes more civilized) the rewards are amazing as these animals will truly become your partner and there will be no doubt to the partnership.
I’m going to leave you there for now and show you a short video of how he was to work with the first time I did.
Next time I will continue the story and show you a video after only a few short sessions. I hope you can see the difference!