KBR Horse Net
Training Case Study:


Patience in her Pen

Patience is a BLM mustang, adopted on the final weekend of Wild Horse Workshop '98. Cindy, her adopter, hadn't a great deal of horse experience and Patience was a bit of a challenge.

Patience wasn't mean, but she definitely didn't like people getting into her space. Cindy could get hold of her halter lead and touch her head and shoulder, but Patience would not give her any more. One day Patience got the halter off and there was no touching her.

We went over to see what the horse was all about and herded her into the round corral. I worked with her with a bamboo pole and she'd let me rub her all over, but I couldn't get in her space. we ended up doing some round corral drills and before too long, she'd depart, trot, slow and whoa on command but she refused to look into the center of the ring and refused to hook on. Even after playing dominant horse games, yielding her, etc., it was as if she would say, "You can make me move and you can make me stop and yield, but I don't have to acknowledge your presence."

I went back a few days later and tossed a lasso over her head and worked her with the rope in the round corral. She worked fine and even hooked up with me, keeping a safe distance. She still wouldn't give in with her space and seemed really frightened if I tried to force things by drawing her closer than she wanted with the lasso, so I undid the rope and decided to rethink this situation.

We'd been discussing clicker training on the Wildhorses list and while I was more into traditional natural horsemanship methods, I thought I'd give the old clicker a try.

I worked Patience in her paddock, first rubbing her with the pole, then backing off and showing her a carrot. When she actually looked in to me, I'd click and then offer her a carrot bit. (I had cut a few carrots into small pieces in order to make them last.) She liked the carrot and after a few reps, she was starting to figure out that the click meant a treat was going to follow.

I typically don't like to train with treats but this little mare had some very hard layers of fear to peel off and the clicker and carrots were tugging at her curiosity. If I could get her more curious than afraid, then I could make some real progress without risking a panic attack and her blowing up.

As the lesson progressed, I'd wait for a more definite acknowledgement of me before clicking, plus I'd present the carrot just a bit further away each time so she would have to come to get it. We fooled around with this for about 45 minutes and by the end of this short period, she was following me around and worrying much less about guarding her space.

We realized that since Patience now lived on sand which doesn't wear her feet down at all, getting her into an easier environment with which to work was critical else she would soon be walking on skis. We moved her to "Mustang Manor," a pen at the Kickin' Back Ranch, where the design and attached gentling chute would give us some leverage.

Oh, I get a treat after that noise
Looking in to earn a "click"
Stepping back and making her advance
Wanna kiss?
Not real solid yet, but
starting to follow me around

Continue to Part 2

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