There are two new trainees on our farm. I’ve been working with them nearly every day since they arrived on August 27. Samarra is the seven-year-old palomino dam of the three-year-old black colt named Lokey. Samarra is one half Haflinger and one half Quarter Horse. She is just one inch short of 14 hands. Lokey is one quarter Haflinger and three quarters Quarter Horse. Samarra had a bit of training and Lokey has had none-not counting halter training. When she arrived Samarra seemed fairly hot-blooded. Lokey is steadier, cold-blooded, and not really very afraid of stuff. As I have worked with them Lokey stayed true to his steadiness whereas Samarra has seemed to become more relaxed and calm.
We are mostly passed the tumultuous introductions with the inherit dangers and drama. I’ve been alternating them on trail rides down the gravel road and back in the next day in my training pen. My goal for them at this point is to teach them the basic cues… walk on, halt, turn and be light and responsive. Today they seem to be pretty much at the same level of training. Lokey seems to have caught up already.
Our first session was unusual. I did everything the same but the horses were unusual. Peg, the horse’s owner, was there to watch me start the process. So walking out to the round pen together I laid out a horse’s usual behavioral pattern in the round pen.
• As they trot or canter around the pen the horse’s first effort is to look for a way out.
• The horse gives up the hope of finding a way out and settles down to regular pace. His attention focuses on the trainer. This is apparent because though the outside ear may be moving around to catch any odd sounds the inside ear is riveted on the trainer.
• In 5 to 10 minutes the horse will show signs of submission by licking and chewing. He will lower his head from time to time.
• After the submission signs the trainer can back off the pressure a bit, but still keep the horse moving. Often at the slower pace the horse will start to turn toward the trainer instead of away. This is a good sign that the exercise is working and nearly complete.
• Finally the trainer can take all the pressure off and resume a more casual stance of shoulders facing away from the horse and eyes no longer looking directly at the horse’s eye. The horse will stand and look at the trainer attentively. To this point it usually takes about 20 minutes.
• The trainer then serpentines toward the horse taking a casua,l pleasant, non-confrontive stance. Circling past the horse and then walking away from the horse will usually follow.
• This is called join–up. There needs to be refresher courses. This exercise establishes the dominance of the trainer over the horse. For the horse there is no ego problem about being submissive. Once they know who the boss is they become content and seem to appreciate the relationship.
I spent about a half an hour with each horse in the pen. Both horses spent a lot more time trying to find a way out of the pen and they did not lick and chew or lower their heads. It was really hard to see that anything was happening in their heads; they were just running around in circles. Lokey turned toward me right away. I don’t think Samarra ever turned toward me. Nevertheless after about a half an hour I pretended like everything was complete and turned my back on them and lo and behold they followed me. The join up was successful and in the pasture they still follow me, wanting to be close when I’m in their vicinity. This was certainly not true before the round pen.