Some of my best assistant trainers haven’t been people. When you’re trying to reach confused, concerned or belligerent horses, often animals can be better teachers when it comes to addressing young horse training issues.
Who says dogs and horses don’t mix?
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows Gatsby served as one of the best equine assistant trainers I’ve ever encountered. I was lucky to have his help for fifteen years. He was a mutt I picked up from the Rochester City Pound who had an uncanny ability to read, comfort and guide horses in a way that made them feel brighter, bolder and safer in all that was requested.
Even new client horses coming to Halcyon Acres® seemed to recognize with him around, they’d stay safe. I felt a lot safer too (on and off horses – he had a lethal jaw and, as amiable as he was, I always knew he’d use it to protect me). He calmed horses through painful doctoring, helped with young horse training on the trails, assuring and then desensitizing, comforted horses that were concerned and even welcomed each new foal. I’ve never seen anything like it – even maiden mares would allow Gatsby to get close to their newborns.
There was an energy about him that every horse picked up on and appreciated. In fact, when he died and was buried on the property this summer, the farm horses went nuts. They couldn’t see him but somehow they knew. I miss him so much, but will remember all he taught me about horse sense for the rest of my life.
The little filly that could
Leah has always been an interesting character. As a yearling, she challenged the bully in the pasture (not the leader) who commanded a large run in shed for herself. Leah didn’t get violent, she simply wouldn’t be intimidated by this mare’s posturing. When the rest of the herd witnessed her bravado, they began to follow her lead on many other things.
If I’m not hasty with fresh water in winter, the entire herd waits for Leah to land a crushing hoof through the ice surface. She never claims first dibs.
She’s always been one of these fillies that lets you know she’s choosing to cooperate. For each request there’s a moment where she pauses to make sure you know she knows she doesn’t have to. It’s quite comical, actually.
I laughed out loud watching my novice employee start Leah under saddle. After six months of riding lessons and helping start young client horses, this gal wanted a project she could learn from alone. Ordinarily, this would have been an impossible request. I recognized, though, I had a very special filly born at the farm. Her smarts, kindness and confidence proved green hands with a green horse could work.
As I watched the scenes unfold from my office window above, Leah proved to be the old soul with a sense of humor I knew. It was hysterical to witness Leah enforcing lessons when words were forgotten. Lowing an iron before climbing aboard was one of them. Leah walk off just fast enough so this gal would be hopping on one foot with her other in the stirrup. This usually went on for a half hour before the light bulb moment. As soon as the rider dropped her iron, Leah stood. Through every step, Leah gently pushed back until the student got it right. Irony can be fun when you see it coming.
Leah’s also my go-to gal for providing client horse companionship for singles (which always includes some schooling). Usually, customers who send only one horse have gotten stuck trying to go it alone. So, there are issues to be undone before tackling new activities.
At the tender age of three, Leah’s totally cool being removed from the herd (some of her tight peers aren’t so comfortable). This usually involves her spending half the time in a stall and the rest turned out with a newbie and his behavioral issues. She helps me by eliminating most of the attitude problems non-violently, while I treat her to extra goodies and attention. Still, it’s incredible to witness the adaptability and smarts of this young gal. Most horses of any age would stress out and act out with such a dramatic change. She joyfully rolls with the punches, delighted to find new ways to keep that busy mind engaged.
It’s wonderful to have such willing helpers. There are other horses that get culled for particular issues, but Leah usually gets first call for the most challenging tasks. Wise beyond her years is an understatement. Of course, she’s been teaching me along the way too. Each horse gives you new learning opportunities. This one has taught me more than most about how to be clever and kind with equine communications – whether directed at humans or horses. She’s a hoot.
Do you have animal companions around the farm you use to help you with horse challenges? I’d love to hear about them in the comments, and imagine blog readers here would too. Also, if you enjoyed this blog post, please share using the easily clickable options to the left of the content column. Thanks :-; .