Australian Brumby Challenge ©
Day 1/Pickup day: I was 3rd to pickup my VBA Brumby and she went on very smoothly with the expertise of Colleen and her team. Once she was nice and comfortable in the truck, we set off for the 10 hour drive up to Mona Farm, Braidwood NSW.
We finally got back after battling torrential rain and gale force winds, but the day didn’t end there. As I turned the truck onto the grass to back into the yard we had prepared earlier in the week, the truck got stuck! Long story short, it took us about another hour to get the truck out and into position ready to drop the ramp.
Once the ramp was down it stayed down overnight, and I didn’t force Honey out of the truck. I wanted her to walk in and out as she pleased, so that she would be comfortable walking up and down the ramp, and be happy to be inside the truck. This will be a huge benefit when it comes to float loading later on in her training.
Thoughts of the day: “i’m a bit sick of driving” And “what a bloody day”
Day 2: Feeling refreshed after a goodnight sleep, I headed out to the yard and Honey was out of the truck and having a good look at her new surroundings. I was probably about 50 meters away when she saw me coming, and headed back up the ramp and into the truck. The truck had become her comfy place where she felt safe retreating to. As i got closer, she came down the ramp and started bouncing of every panel on the yard with any small movement i made. I waited until she calmed down a bit, then put some hay in the yard and shut the ramp to the truck. i didn't get much closer as i need her to be comfortable with all the new sights, smells and sounds of her new home. She needs to get used to her new home before she can get comfortable with me. Later on in the afternoon at feed up time I got back in the yard, and let her have a frantic 5 minutes of rushing around until she found somewhere she could be still. When she found a spot to stand, I started unlocking the ramp and could see she was curious but nervous with what i was doing. While dropping the ramp back down i saw a sigh of relief from her. She didn't spook or scramble when the ramp came down. I backed off out of the yard and she calmly walked into the truck to eat some loose hay on the ground.
Thoughts of the day: “jeez this thing is a bit wild” and “how the hell do i get the truck out of here without her escaping??”
Day 3: When i came to the yard Honey was out of the truck. As i put the hay in for her she braced and span backwards bumping into the panels. Again, I lifted the ramp up and just hung out with her for a bit. She wouldn't eat when i was in there, and would freak out if i itched my nose or blinked. Breathing was about the only thing i could do that she was comfortable with. I decided i wanted her to be a bit more comfortable, so i started my normal ‘face up to me’ game/work.
When asking her to face up, the aim is to get her body nice and straight so she is facing me, and looking at me. Any backing off or running away was treated with me putting pressure on her by stepping in closer towards her, and as soon as she faced towards me i would take a step back. Then i would wait, lower my body language and as soon as one of her front feet took a step in my direction, i took a step back. If she moved away i would walk forward again, then a step towards me was rewarded with a step back. After around 5 minutes she got the picture and realized that standing looking at me was the most relaxing place to be. I went off and did a few things and came back a few hours later. She still freaked out as i approach, but once I was in the yard she faced me and calmed down.
I carried on with the forward pressure, which I would again release with a step back. I continued on with this until i got her taking 2,3 or maybe 4 steps towards me. When i was about a meter away i would put my arm forward holding a long bit of lucerne hay, and after about 20 minutes of repeating this process she would lean forward and take the lucerne hay. I used smaller and smaller lucerne pieces until she was happy to come VERY close to my fingers!
This was a lot more than i expected to achieve today, so left it at that.
Thoughts of the day: “this is a clever little horse” and “glad to still have all my fingers”
Day 4: I had to transport some horses in the truck today, so i was up early to do a little bit with the brumby. My wonderful girlfriend came with me so i could take the truck out of the yard, and very slowly she shut the gates bit by bit. After realizing the truck was still stuck and having to go through the whole un-bogging the truck ordeal again, we finally got it out and Honey had her yard safe and secure. She now had two new panels to bounce off, if she wanted.
I spent around half an hour to an hour on getting her to face up nice and straight, getting her to come in to me, and then giving her a little reward. The rewards are getting smaller and smaller and less frequent. She has to at this stage give me more to be able to get the lucerne. I rarely use food in training, but i adapt to every horse and this horse was telling me she needed more than just lowered body language to feel at all comfortable. I was out for the rest of the day so no more work done on day 4. Small steps big improvements
Thoughts for today: “she has improved 200% today, hopefully she can keep that up” and “this horse is teaching me a few lessons” and “it is FREEZING today”
With Honey facing me and giving me her full attention, letting me close but not sure about my hands, I thought is was time to get my ‘gandalf stick’ out. I dont mind using flags or carrot sticks but the ‘gandalf stick’ is great because there is no flag on the end and no chance of poking her with the end of a carrot stick. i like the ‘gandalf stick’ as it is light, chunky and also made of wood which is a smell the horse is familiar with (I will put a picture of the stick up). So i move in towards her and let her smell the end of the stick so she can figure out that it’s not going to hurt her, then i back of when she relaxes. When i get the stick to her neck i then repeat the process and each time i move my had up the stick getting closer and closer until finally i can remove the stick and just use my hand. Ahhhh success, first proper touch. She is a little bit uneasy but happy for me to give her a scratch. If she backs off a bit i just move with her until she stops, then a quick scratch and i release by giving her lots of space. I retreat all the way to the other corner of the yard if I need too.
I carried on with my other jobs on the farm and went back from time to time to spend a few minutes repeating all this.
Thoughts for the day: “first real touch on day 4, I’m pretty happy with that.” And “its still bloody FREEZING.”
Day 5: Day 5 was more or less like day 4. I just repeated everything i was doing previously, working on making her more comfortable with everything I was doing. I was concentrating on getting in close to her shoulder and letting me stay there. I had a little go at getting to her left side and she was having absolutely none of it. On her left side, she acted like the horse I met on the first day. So i started a bit of free lunging around me, getting her to move forward and keeping her attention on me. Once she was moving around me and stopping and turning in to me (not away from me), I would go through the whole process again on her left side. I did the free lunging so i could connect with her left side whilst keeping a safe distance. Not quite there with her left, as she is still not comfortable. I still did lots of standing and relaxing throughout the day.
Thoughts for the day: “i think as soon as i get to her left hand side she will be a different horse”
and “its supposed to snow tomorrow.....”
Day 6: What a week so far, she gets better and better everyday.
Today i walked into the yard and repeated the steps/ games I had done with her throughout the week. I then started working on her left side, and after 2 attempts she let me touch her and give her a scratch. As soon as this happened she seemed to change a lot, and became much more comfy and more willing than before. I spent the rest of the day just doing 10 min sessions, concentrating on being able to touch on each side all the way to her rump. Sometime i had to bring the gandalf stick back to touch certain areas first, and then working my hand up the stick. The whole day was made up of scratches, concentrating on the areas the halter sits, and doing the actions needed to put a halter on. i.e. arm over neck and under neck etc.
Thoughts for the day: “I hope people realize that everything I do before the halter goes on, is part of my way of halter training. I need her to turn the direction I want her to, stop, come in and stand still, before the halter even goes on. I need to get control of her brain first not her head” and “it was too cold even for snow...”
Day 7: All I did today was two 15 minute sessions and worked on her left side again. She has come along way this week and Honey and myself are happy with the progress.
Thoughts of the day: “ its been a long week, time for a beer” and “lets hope the sun comes out next week”
Thank you for taking the time to read this, hope you all enjoy watching this wild horse become quiet, willing and ready for any discipline.