Facilitating New Experiences for Young Horses

By Patty Wilber

Because I train horses that I want to pack and ride in the back country, as well as excel in the show ring in ranch and cow classes, introducing them to new experiences is a big part of their training. My goal is to help the horses gain confidence during these activities.  I don’t mind pushing them, but, because I want to promote resilience, I want them to stay engaged and trying, and I do not want to enter the panic zone.

Lucy in 2019, at three, jump-packing and LT trying to get a drink!! Photo by Jim.

Also, I want to make sure that I don’t ruin someone else’s day with a horse that is in a situation he can’t handle.

So, we loaded up to go the Feb. 5th New Mexico Buckskin Horseman’s Association training show.  LT, being the most experienced traveler was loaded first.  Then Gette, then Rip.  I like to load the least experienced horse last so the loaded horses can act as bait/comfort. Rip hesitated a fraction, then got in. They all traveled well! Win.

Rip does not yet back out of the trailer, and my trailer has high clearance for wilderness road travel and thus a large step down. I turned Rip around and he came right out, giving the dry leaves he stepped into the side-eye and crouch-tiptoeing as they crunched under his feet. He was very cute and came on as I asked him to. Something to work on and a win on the leaves.

LT is a good mentor for the youngsters.  She is nice to them, will happily stand with them at the trailer, and does not get grumpy with them at the end of the day. If fact, she is the one that is most likely to worry that they will leave her, not the other way around! They all seemed to enjoy each other and there was no pawing or drama!  Horses are herd animals and most youngsters do better with company, so I like to have at least two horses at the trailer.  A win!

The start and the end of the day looked liked this. LT (buckskin), Gette (middle), Rip (end). They all get along and were happy to stand together. I love the color differences between the three! Yes, Gette does have the highest butt!

After Rip and LT were saddled, I realized that Gette had to be moved because eating saddles is something she enjoys doing. She went to the next door trailer where she could still see her travel companions and also kept Hondo company while he contemplated whether or not to exit his trailer. Everyone stayed happy in this arrangement, even when only one horse was left at my trailer, because the buddy horse was close at the adjacent trailer. Win!

Gette was moved to save the saddles!

Gette, looking at LT and Rip, was happy at either trailer, especially if she had food. She also had company at this trailer.  Hondo, who came with Heidi and Lucy, is still in the trailer, contemplating if he wants to come out or not. (He eventually did.)

Rip has been riding well at home in the month I have had him (green, but fast progress). He has gone to Heidi’s and he rode well there, so I had entered him in some classes at the show. I first hand walked him around the grounds and through the trail obstacles, which he did well. But, when I mounted up and rode him into the main arena, he was overwhelmed.

“holy horses, batman!” says Rip. “they are everywhere and i don’t know any of them!”

There were 20+horses warming up in the arena, and I could feel the tenseness in his body.  Plus, for some reason, the far end of the arena was sooo scary! He did not buck, or rear, or try to run away.  He just stopped and kicked his foot at me when I asked him to go.  I got him walking and trotting at the near end, but decided that forcing him to the far end in a crowd was going to push him beyond a good learning experience and could potentially disrupt others, so I didn’t pick a fight, and scratched him from the main arena riding classes.

Two required him to go to the far end while in the arena alone, and we were not going to accomplish that in a confidence building way in a class.  The remaining class would have been with 22 other horses, and walk, trot, lope.  He claimed a mild case of Stranger Danger and could easily have gotten in the way of others. I was a little surprised that he was not more confident, but this was not a loss.  Our purpose was to help him get constructive experience.  Actual showing was secondary. I rode him later, during a break, and we made the far end with minimal drama, and got walk, trot, lope, so maybe next show!

I kept him in Walk-Trot Trail because he felt relaxed over at the trail arena.  Of course, we skipped the very first obstacle, a rope gate, which he mastered last week at home, because there was a Very Scary Valentine on it.  Valentine’s might fly off gates and strangle horses, he said. He then trotted the cone serpentine nicely, including a log.  He steered well and trotted into the back through.  He backed the L, trotted to the L side pass where I elected to side pass him in front of the flowers instead of over them, stepped right up on the bridge, handled the slicker, and then walked right into the box (where I forgot to show off his turn around in the box–but we had already DQ’d due to skipping the gate).  Then he did the walk overs.  He did not hit a single log in the whole pattern and was very focused!  That was a win!

Before taking a young horse on an experience building adventure it is a good idea to evaluate the horse’s level of training, behavior at home, and general demeanor.  Will the event provide a constructive experience?

Next, give some thought to the trailer time and how to make that easy.  Having friendly companions and food near at all times really helps most horses stay relaxed. Lucy trained me not to tie the water buckets to the trailer ties. That scared her and she once ripped the tie ring off the trailer and butt printed my car, which was not parked that close, just saying. Also the chance for the lead rope to entangle the bucket seems too high to me.

Finally, experience building is not about us as trainers.  It is about helping the horse.  It is necessary to leave the ego at home, and adjust plans to best help the horse gain confidence. If we can’t do that, it would be best to wait until a horse is more solid before bringing her out.

If we treat each horse as an individual, lay the foundation that horse needs, and design our show or other event warm-ups to aid that horse, we can go places and expect a horse to perform. Some horses need more support than others! The youngsters I have right now seem to be quick studies!  So fun!

Overall, I was really pleased with the whole day for the horses!  I also had a lot of fun with the other participants and really enjoyed helping my students, Heidi and Faith!!

Cancer Update:  The show kicked my butt!  It was a long day for me–I left home at 6:30 am and got back home and up in the house close to 8 pm.  I was fine at the show, but on Monday and Tuesday I was really, really tired. I had to nap every day this week, which I have not had to do in two months.  I might have overdone it a tad!

My neutrophils (first responders to infection) were in the normal range on Thursday! My overall white blood cell count went up (still low, but getting there).  My lymphocytes (they mediate and create our antibodies) stayed the same and are still low.  All the rest of the blood and metabolism values were normal!

Two more of these treatments to go! Then, surgery (end of March). Radiation and more chemo will follow, but I just learned that it might be possible to do the five to 12 weeks of five-days-a-week radiation concurrently with the last YEAR of every three week chemo.  I really won’t know much until after the pathology report after the surgery.

I am aiming for missing very little riding time following the lumpectomy. Hehe.  I saw a meme today that was perfect.

Happy Friday!


About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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