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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My pet is bigger than your pet...

The Farmer bought me two beautiful Belgian horses for Valentine’s Day, 2009. I have always wanted a horse of my own. I imagined myself riding Ashley through the bush around our property, the Farmer by my side on Misty. So far, that dream has not come true. We lost Ashley, tragically, in 2010. Our busy lifestyle is not exactly conducive to horse training so our very large, very untrained horse Misty thinks she’s a pet.
When Ashley, the older lead horse died, Misty was lost. She looked around and all she found was...Donkey. He is now her best friend, and she will follow him just about anywhere: through the gate that Donkey jimmied open, onto the front lawn to eat my daisies, down the road to visit the neighbours. He gets her into plenty of trouble and he is not a very good influence. Donkey taught Misty to chase my lambs and make them bleat in terror. It’s one of his favourite games. I had to run down the field, a golf club in my hand, and rescue my lamb from under her huge dinner-plate hooves before she squashed it. I’m sure she didn’t mean any harm. She just heard a small animal making a very strange noise and it seemed a threat to her. From then on I kept the lambs separated from the horse until they were old enough to get away from her big feet.
Misty taps on the back window of the stable with her nose when she wants in. If no one responds, she pushes on the door. If that doesn’t work, she goes back to the window and brakes a pane of glass for emphasis. Finally Donkey comes over and shows her how to lift the latch. He has also taught her to lift the freezer door and help herself to sweet feed and corn. But just because Donkey can squeeze through the gap in the barn door doesn’t mean Misty can. She’s twice his width.
When I enter the barnyard, Misty comes and stands still in front of me. She puts her head down and presses her nose to my chest. This is how she initiates a hug. When I put her in her stall with a load of hay and a bucket of water, she nods her massive head up and down until I fill her bowl with corn. Then she snorts a thank you at me. I do understand some of her language. We communicate a little.
Monty Roberts, the horse whisperer, says that you should not attempt to ‘break’ an untrained or ‘green’ horse as was common practice in the past. Even Monty’s father believed you had to break a horse’s will and tame his spirit in order to control him. Monty found his own way of communicating with the wild mustangs of Nevada, and discovered that if you invite the horse to ‘join up’ with you, training is a natural process. This man can actually approach a wild horse and go through a series of very patient and methodical steps to get it to trust, approach and follow him. I tried applying his steps in the barnyard with Misty.
Step one: introduce yourself by rubbing (not patting; I learned that lesson with the ram) the horse’s head. Now move away and toward the hind end of the horse, keeping clear of the ‘kick zone’. Next, flick a long line (like a whip but not to be used as a whip) at the hind quarters. The horse will start moving around the pen. When the horse retreats, you advance. Keep the pressure on. After a few rounds of the pen, try to turn the horse in the other direction by flicking the line again. Try to get the animal to canter five or six rounds one way, then in the other direction. Watch the horse. If he tips his head down toward you, submissively, he is saying “I would like to take a break now.” Turn slightly away from the horse and invite his approach. If he does, you have won his trust. If he stands still but doesn’t move, approach him slowly but indirectly, in circular, round-about movements.
I went through these steps with Misty. I didn’t have her running around a pen but I walked her back and forth until she stopped and started chewing something on the ground, watching me with one eye and flicking her ear. I turned my back on her and she slowly approached, resting her chin on my shoulder. Maybe she is trainable after all.

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