Thursday, February 1, 2007

Our only hang-up

Behind the horses you'll see the BLM truck; note the open top.

Wild horses at adoption in Spokane.
Note the ramp in the upper left corner used for unloading.

The BLM trucks that I've seen horses transported in are open topped. Not completely open, as they do have slats that reach across; but the wranglers need a way to get the horses out of the truck when they get to an adoption. The only way that happens is if someone sits on top of the trailer to 'push' the horses towards the ramp.

To help encourage the horses to move down the ramp and away from the front of the trailer, the wrangler will have a long pole with a flag on it. This pole reaches down and the flag is waved in front of the horse to get them to turn towards the ramp. For a wild horse, neither the ramp nor the flag are things they appreciate! The flags are also used to help move horses from one pen to another when they're at adoptions, and I suspect as well when they're at the holding corrals.

Now, don't get the wrong idea. The wranglers are horsemen and women who really do know their stuff. Scaring the horses isn't in anyone's best interest; the flags just happen to be the simplest way to get the animals to move to where they need to be.

However, once you've got your new horse home, you may find that a pole such as a carrot stick will send your horse into orbit. Quiet Storm, for all her mellow ways, did not like anything that resembled a flag to come near her. When I attempted to use a carrot stick with her, she turned to face it down, rearing, striking and stomping as though it were something to be killed. No way on God's green earth was she about to let a fly mask be put on her face, either! And forget running a towel full of fly spray over her body. Nope. Not going to happen.

She was still at Cheryle's when I discovered these things. The fly mask was a relatively simple problem to solve, as I just attached it inside her stall near her feed. Hungry? Get a little closer to the mask. I put the mask up in the evening when I fed, and when I came in the morning I found it dead in the middle of the stall floor; she'd pulled it down, stomped it and killed it. Back up it went, and I tossed in the hay for breakfast. Not happy, but also not as aggressive the second day; and by the third day I was able to slide the mask up alongside her neck and over her ears and eyes.

I didn't worry about using a carrot stick; no real need. But being able to reach towards her with a towel would come in handy some day, especially when we began saddle training. But although the mask was accepted, a rub down was not. We used Equi-Spot on her for fly control (worked pretty good, too) and I decided to just not worry about rubbing her down for the time being. After all, what was the rush?

This winter, while Darling was cleaning her stall, I began wondering how she'd react to the rub down. I took off my jacket and held it up alongside Quiet Storm's neck. She gave me a bored to tears look, so I put it up over her neck, then ran it down her back. Nothing but a "Feed me, please." I let the jacket sit on her back as I crossed to the other side and then pulled it off from there. "Excuse me, isn't it time for breakfast?"

And that was that. I was left wondering which of us had learned the lesson...her, or me? The fact was, I'd really done nothing to ease her fears in the traditional sense. We hadn't been taking her out and showing her she wouldn't be hurt by towels or coats being tossed onto her back or touching her face. Instead, we'd just left her alone to mature a bit, and when I went back to try it a second time, she was ready mentally to accept whatever I offered.

Now, how easy can that be, to just let a horse grow up a bit? Not that it will work every time, but I sometimes think we get in such a rush to be 'there' sooner than the other folks that maybe we risk screwing things up. What if someone else hadn't waited for Quiet Storm to forget the flags and instead pushed her into conforming? Would she always have a deep down fear? Who knows, really... But I do know that allowing her time and space worked, and it was a far sight easier than standing out there every day pressuring her to accept a fear.

Quiet Storm's summer 'training' consisted of following visitors around the pasture and generally making a pest of herself!

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