I've been making some small progress with Marti over the course of the week. At some point it occurred to me that I'm so used to working with a dominant horse (Gogo) that my body language probably screams I'm-The-Boss even when I am trying to be as passive as possible, and that this is probably what was scaring him to death. Horses read right through cover-ups every time, don't they. He could not possibly be a more opposite personality than Gogo. I've also been learning bits and pieces about his history, like how the workers at the place he's been at were so afraid of him that instead of leading him anywhere they just opened his stall and paddock and chased him to and from turnout every day, and how others have also tried to work with him and he's been equally as timid with all of them. He's really only known his momma and his stable his whole life, so getting completely removed from that is a BIG scary deal for sure.
So I changed my tactics. I am not insisting he come right to me if he wants to eat. I am not insisting he put his head in his halter before he gets his meals. These things were causing him to increasingly keep away from me, as it meant that every time I walked into the pasture I had an ulterior motive. What I am doing is holding his food bowl and waiting for him to come eat out of it while I have it, so that he associates me with something simple and full of comfort without the pressure of HAVING to do something, or using food as a bribe. Once he is there and eating, he gets lots of good rubs and scratches, and he seems to like that. He actually came to me directly tonight for food instead of backing away first. That being said, I had also enlisted the help of another weapon I didn't even realise I was holding: the owner. The owner had originally planning on staying away for awhile to try and get him to detatch a little from her, but she is honestly all he's really known, and she can get him to do pretty much anything. It's just other people that he has a problem with, and honestlty now that I know a little bit more about how other people handle him, can you blame him?
I re-released him into the wild with Gogo the day after I wrote about keeping him in a small pen. He was definitely not happy there, and while I originally thought it would make him easier to catch, it only made him more nervous. I said screw it, he's going back out, and out he went. At that point I let the owner know how bad he had been with the pulling back and getting away, and she offered to come out and see if being there would help him a little. She too had initial trouble catching him, but we soon figured out the real issue at hand... GOGO! She is incredibly possessive of humans in her field, and doesn't let other horses get near them unless she is bribed by food to go away. The owner couldn't get her to stop following her around, and he kept running away from both of them, so she had to put her up in a stall to just get her out of the way. Then she could catch him! Together we gave him a bath, which he desperately needed, and he was for the most part really well behaved, if not a bit jumpy. My hope was that I'd be able to finish his clip once his hair wasn't so thick and greasy, and the owner came back today to see if we could get it done. Of course, by this time I had totally killed every set of blades I had, so we struggled to get his front legs and head done. I gave up after that, and will try to finish his hind legs and belly tomorrow. I also hope to lunge him tomorrow, and maybe try on a surcingle and really loose sidereins to see how he reacts. He's on principle a hair fitter than he was when he first arrived already, simply from being out and running around on 15 acres all the time, but he's clearly still quite unfit so I want to be careful with what I do.
Today was definitely the first time he came TO me when I brought food to him, and didn't step back or run off while I was in the process of approaching and putting food into his bucket. Maybe after a few more 'hey-look-you-weren't-kidnapped!' sessions with his mother around for comfort, he'll start to get increasingly comfortable, and be able to be weaned off of her a little bit more. I don't want to rely on either her or food in order to catch him or be able to work with him, but Rome was not built in a day. The next time I hoof it into town (a 20 minute drive from the middle of nowhere where I live), I plan on picking up a clicker and trying that with him. Roundpenning is still an option, as I do have access to one, but I'll really need to read up more on technique before I give that one a go, or take a clinic on it. In principle I know what to do, but I've not ever roundpenned a horse beyond exercise. I've never had a horse NOT want to be with me before... this is a while new realm of training. Gogo comes running every time she hears or sees me, and she definitely doesn't ever leave my side when I'm out at liberty with her unless I insist on it. She puts her head on my chest and asks me rub her head for endless amounts of time whenever she wants a good snuggle. She follows me everywhere, even when she's just out grazing and I'm just out with her enjoying the sunset. I love that.
I think Marti will probably get to that point where he wants to be with me that much too. He really is a sweet guy, even with his issues.
The very special Ridgeway weekend
1 day ago