Saturday, September 1, 2012

Grey Feather - Training Log

I first met Grey Feather a couple of years ago when I was on went on a trip to the USA to find a Spanish Mustang stallion to import to Australia.  My first stop was to meet Donna Mitchell at the Little Cayuse Ranch.  We had been conversing via email and I really wanted to meet Donna before we started our trip to find a stallion to import.  Donna and her family were such wonderful people.  They opened their homes and their hearts to us and I consider them very dear friends.  Soon after arrival at the ranch, we were taken out to see the horses.  I won't ever forget that moment that I first laid eyes on Grey Feather.  I was totally in awe of this filly.  I spent a long time in the yard with her just marvelling at her exquisite grace and beauty.  Donna kindly agreed soon after to let Grey Feather make the long trip to Australia so we spent an extra 10 days at the ranch after we had finished our stallion search and during that week I started handling and getting to know Grey Feather.  I remembered her to be an extremely sensitive horse with a fire in her belly.  

A lot happened over the two years that it took for me to finally be able to bring Grey Feather home.  I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and I feel that reason was for me to progress in my learning with horses to a degree where I could do justice to the relationship I am building with this incredible horse.

Grey Feather hasn't had a whole lot of handling and very little training.  She lived on 3000 acres at the Little Cayuse Ranch and grew up in a herd environment there.  This is the sort of upbringing that brings out a strength and substance in a horse that I find lacking when they are raised by people.  There is a marked difference between my horses in this distinct way.  Neosho was raised on the Cayuse Ranch running with 17 other batchelor stallions and mostly untouched by people until I bought him as a 7 year old.  My Australian brumby mare was captured as an 8 year old, never touched until that age, then sadly abused before coming to me so she took some time to gentle down.  These three horses all have a history of limited or nil human handling until adulthood.  They are extremely sensitive, exceptionally intelligent and working with any of them is the most incredible gift I have ever been given.

Scout, Lacey and Cazador on the other hand are the opposite.  They are bold, fearless and I often have to remind them about personal space and the need for boundaries.  I find it far more challenging to work with horses that have had human interaction from an early age.  That may just be a personal thing as I am sensitive myself so I guess I am drawn to the softness and respectful way that comes naturally with the wilder ones.

So on to Grey Feathers training and the way in which I have decided to approach this with her.  Grey Feather is not a horse that you can just walk up to in the paddock and pat or lavish attention on.  She gets very offended at the suggestion and I am fascinated watching how people reacte to her.  She unwillingly draws peoples attention due to her almost unbelieveable beauty and ethereal way.  Some people want to touch her and see it as a challenge to work out how to achieve this.  Others respect her space and will marvel at her from a distance that is comfortable for both parties.  Some people she will eventually invite in, others she won't.

On her arrival home, I was told by the transport company that delivered Grey Feather that she was hard to catch and would turn her rump to threaten to kick.  I discarded the information quickly as I knew this horse or all horses for that matter would not intentionally harm me as long as I was paying close attention to the conversation they were having with me and never let them feel they have the need to escalate to that level.  I had been worried about importing Grey Feather due to her sensitive nature however interestingly she handled the trip better than any of the other horses and I was contacted by handlers along the way that fallen in love with her.  She has the ability to really open peoples heart space when you spend any time with her. 

Starting out with Grey Feather I could clearly see she did not like the halter and also being caught to her was not something she was interested in.  I thought about this for a short time and decided early on I would always be upfront with her when it came time to put a halter on.  After she had been settling in for a few days I decided to move her into another larger paddock with grazing.  I walked into her yard and held my arm out showing her the halter.  She ran away at the suggestion and I stayed where I was until she stopped running.  When she stopped and looked at me, perhaps confused at why I was not persuing her, I held the halter out again and asked if I could come towards her.  She allowed me to come close to her then walked away a few steps.  I walked level to her shoulder and if she wanted to move I just walked beside her.  She slowed and stopped to sniff my hand and the halter and I stood beside her giving her as long as she felt she needed.  Eventually I put the end of the rope over her neck.  She flinched and tensed so I took the rope off and stood allowing her to sniff it again. She was relaxing now at the lack of pressure in this situation and the next time I put the rope on her neck and opened the halter she dropped her head and put her nose into it.  

Once on the halter, moving beside her is wonderful. She reads every subtle movement of my body and responds as if in a dance.  Every single time I am with her in these moments I am honoured at the lessons she chooses to teach me and the way in which she imparts her wisdom so gently.

There was one day when she was running around her paddock very stressed as one of the other mares had gone over the hill and she could no longer see her.  I went in with the halter to move her so she could be closer to the other mare and I made a mistake that day that I try never to make with horses like Grey Feather, Neosho and Sienna.  Grey Feather was cantering back and forth and her adrenaline was high.  When she got close to me she stopped and came over and I told her I would move her in to be with the other mares.  I placed the rope over her neck and closed my hand around the rope.  Grey Feather went to flee and for perhaps a second I held the rope.  That was a terrible mistake as I like her to always know she can get away however thankfully she didn't hold on to the experience for long.  She initially bolted away then spun to look at me with a snort.  I said out loud how sorry I was and if she wanted to go in with the other mares she would have to have the halter on so I could safely move her into the paddock with them.  Incredibly, the instant I said that she ran back to me and dropped her head waiting for me to put the halter on.  She is such an sensitive and intelligent - horse so much so that she seems to really understand when I explain something to her.

The next thing I wanted to address was Grey Feathers issue with picking up her hooves.  She had been trimmed a few times but was certainly not thrilled at the idea.  Very soon after she arrived I decided at feed time I would start by running my hand down each leg.  The first time I did this she ran sideways. I made sure she was always free to leave if she needed to. I waited till she came back to her food and gently put my hand on her leg. Instead of fleeing, this time she snatched her leg up and snorted. I stood up and said 'Thank you Feather - wonderful, thank you'.  The next time I touched her leg she very quickly held it up.  Again I thanked her.  I repeated this routine twice a day and she got very comfortable with the idea of me touching her legs however did not want me to hold them.  One afternoon recently I went down to the paddock with some bits of carrot in my pockets.  I was asking Feather to pick up her hooves and although she would snatch them up quickly there was still no way she wanted me holding them.  I decided this time I would give her a carrot when she lifted her hooves.  Well the instant change was astounding.  Her whole thought process seemed to change so quickly to one of intrigue as she would try to figure out exactly what I wanted so she could get that treat and the worry of giving her hoof had disappeared entirely in that instant.  I am now using food to teach her basic words like come and stand.  She picked that up in a matter of minutes also.   

All these things may seem small and insignificant however they are the most important building blocks of our growing relationship together.  Grey Feather and I seem to understand each other very well.  Perhaps she recognises in me that same independent spirit and the fight that I to unleash if I feel my freedom is under threat.  She is a very unique and special horse that embodies the power of the feminine spirit.  I am very grateful she has come into my life.

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