Oz has suddenly become awkward and trouble prone – is it the Terrible Two’s? First he got his feet tangled while tied, after having 2 months of no incidents of any kind. Then I caught him with his feet tied again a few days ago. He was really struggling, so I yelled “whoa” from the porch, while getting my boots on. To his credit, he immediately stopped fighting and fell down on his side, flat out. I ran over, touched his face and assured him he’d be fine. He never moved a muscle while I was freeing him, he just laid there perfectly calm and still. When I got the rope loose he took a second and then got up normally, I took his halter off, and he trotted over to see if Bettina had left any food. He really is just unfazed by things.
After those episodes, which I blame on the giant horse flies, I stopped tying him up. All was good.
Until this morning. I woke up and looked out the door to see if Lucy, Sweet Tea, and Oz were around. To my horror, I saw Oz standing with my wheelbarrow hanging from his neck!! I have no idea how long he’d been that way, I hadn’t heard anything to indicate a struggle. And he was acting like nothing was out of the ordinary, just calm and quiet as if he had things hanging from him every day. I had just gotten up out of bed to look outside, and had only a big T-shirt on. Got my boots on and ran out half naked. The wheelbarrow is not light, and is rated for a load of 200 lbs. How the heck was I going to get it off of Oz?
I have always believed a horse’s personality and intelligence matter when it comes to training and performance. Not to say the most intelligent horse will necessarily be the easiest to train or the best performer, as horses can make decisions for themselves and may not want to perform. Is the horse of average, or even below average, intelligence likely to be a better performer? Less likely to argue and to just comply? I think it depends on the horse/human relationship. Of course it’s just my opinion, but I believe that relationship is what makes the difference. Horses want to be respected as intelligent and unique individuals. I believe that two different people will get different results if they trained the same horse. I believe horses want to be able to trust and respect their humans, and want their humans to trust and respect them. And horses want to feel their human is competent enough to be in charge.
I know a lot of people will disagree that horses “want” anything, or care about who trains them, but I believe it makes a big difference. And I believe without doubt that they think. IF they are allowed to. And that is key. I give my horses a lot of freedom – time loose without halter or fence. I allow them (or my GOAL is to allow them) to become the best horse they can be. Smart, confident, thinking, and happy horses. I want to avoid any lack of trust in me or themselves. Because of that my horses are not nervous or fearful. They observe and think, and choose accordingly.
The horses who I’ve raised from birth (Rainmaker and Oz) or from a very early age (Lucy – 3 1/2 months) were/are thinkers and not nervous. It’s so much easier when they have little to no previous human experience! They have no fear of me. They respect me as dominant (read in charge) but are not afraid of me or the things I do. And they want to be near me. If I am outside, even if it’s just on the porch of my apartment, the horses stay around. To get them to go away, I have to go inside, and then they will leave and go graze, or whatever.
Now to my point, which is that I love Oz’s personality. He is smart, confident, and can be stubborn if he feels like it. Determinedly stubborn, not just stubborn for no reason. For the last couple months I have been tying him to my horse trailer to feed him. This is for two reasons, first, so Bettina can eat her grain without him “sharing” it with her. Second, so he can get used to be tied. Horses really need to learn to be tied. Really tied, not just for a couple minutes. I do use a Blocker tie ring, and recommend everyone use one. It’s such a safe and easy way for a horse to learn what being tied is.
From the very first time I tied him to the trailer, he has accepted it without issue. Not fussing or impatient. My routine is to tie him, and tell him I’ll be back. Then I go feed Bettina, and get Oz’s food ready. It may take me five minutes, it may take longer, as sometimes I’ll give the other horses treats. Last I bring Oz’s food to him and dump it in his bucket. I try to remember to set a timer for the length of time I think it will take Bettina to finish. When I think Bettina is done (about 12 minutes), I go out and free Oz. There has never been a problem. Oz is usually just standing there, assured I’ll come free him.
Today was the exception. I went over to free him (he’s on the side of the horse trailer where I can’t see him) only to find him literally hobbled! He had the lead rope around his left ankle and around his right leg, in a way that had his feet right next to each other. It gave me a shock, but it was clear that though he was irritated (the big horse flies are out and he couldn’t really defend himself) he was not scared or nervous. He was quietly trying to free himself, but calmly and gently, not freaking out at all. I walked up, encouraged him to take a step forward to loosen the rope a little. It fell off of his right leg, and then the loop around his left ankle fell to the ground. I took his halter off and he went over to see if Bettina had finished all her food.
Though I would have preferred he hadn’t gotten tangled, it was a great lesson for him, and a great opportunity for me to see his personality. It was also a great reminder to him that I am someone he can trust.
A horse having his front feet basically tied together is a very frightening situation. Most horses would have reacted more strongly than Oz. Many would have completely freaked out, reared, and perhaps even flipped over. I wish I had video of it, but I don’t carry my phone on me when working with the horses. And really, first things come first. The priority was to free Oz as quickly (and calmly) as possible.
Oz is only two and already confident and a thinker. He can only improve. My job is to not change his personality or to “break” him, but to train him in a way that allows him to not only be himself, but to allow him to develop even more confidence in himself, and trust in me.
I know I do things a lot of people would never do. Allow horses to be free (unfenced) and to roam around exploring. Tie a horse and leave it. Doing odd, unexpected things to see what the horse(s) will do. But how else can horses really learn or develop confidence. We all, horses and humans, have to have experiences to develop. Sadly, few horses are given the freedom to really learn. They are haltered and led around, tied, etc. Basically controlled at every point. Some lucky ones do have turnout, but they don’t live in a herd as Oz does, which is how horses are meant to live. So will a horse who has been allowed to develop as nature intended perform well? Time will tell!
In the meantime, I’m happy with what I see.
I’ve always said that 2-year-olds are babies and shouldn’t race. I feel they are physically, mentally, and emotionally immature. Science backs me up as far as physical maturity, as the back (and some joints) are not fully developed until age 4 or older. Everyone points to the knees and thinks horses are ready to run when the knees are “closed”, but they are practically the first to close. In my opinion, a horse doesn’t reach its full strength (read power) until it’s much more mature than two. And as someone who has saddle trained horses, horses really understand things better when training is delayed until they are more mentally mature. The easiest horse I ever trained was an unbroken six-year-old I named Huey. Taught him to lunge on day one. On day three I introduced the saddle (western). On day six I hauled him down to a nearby trail and rode him on it. I do credit it to his being a fully mature horse. For those who have ridden babies, I’m sure you’ve felt them sway under your weight, and struggle to walk a straight line. Huey had no such issues – to me a clear sign that 2-year-olds are not really ready to be ridden.
Oz was born in the herd and lives in the herd. It occurred to me a few weeks ago (at times I’m very slow!) that it’s very clear that the HERD considers Oz (at 15:3) to still be a baby. He has never had anyone’s teeth on him (except his dam’s). He is free to go up to any herd member’s grain or hay and share it – even the herd leader’s (Shadow) who is extremely food aggressive.
So, since even the horses consider 2-year-olds to be babies, shouldn’t we?
I’m curious to see when the horses start treating Oz like an adult!
In 2013, after I had given up on the Experiment, I was given a mare in foal to Bullet Train. The mare was Threeforks River. She foaled May 24, 2014 and unfortunately passed away at Hagyard on May 25, 2014. I am very lucky – as is Oz (the foal) – that my mustang mare Roxanna (the roan in some of the photos) adopted him.
He now lives the ideal life of a natural horse. He has a mom and he lives in a true herd, out 24/7 on 20 acres of varied terrain, including a large hill, and 3 ponds.