Australian Brumby Challenge ©
Well we’ve made it to the final week! At times I wasn’t sure we’d make it this far and it’s been fabulous ‘Challenge’. There are definitely things I’d do differently but once again it’s been a great learning experience both first hand with the training and also watching the methods and progress of the other trainers involved.
My main aim over the course of the Challenge was to reduce River’s anxiety so he could confidently transition and function in domestic life.I’ve talked about this quite a lot in my updates and I believe it is one of the critical components of horse training – a horse that is anxious can express their anxiety in different ways, but at the heart of it an anxious horse is not a safe horse, and also not a happy horse. Most of us want to enjoy our time with our horses and be as safe as possible, and we also want our horses to be as content and happy as possible.
River was initially very anxious about any human interaction and showed this by being extremely touchy and reactive. To help him deal with this I broke down any tasks into the smallest pieces I could think of, so he could get confident at each level before combining the tasks. For example, an initial goal of leading River in a circle started off with rewarding him for even thinking forward, and taking a step forward towards me was a major achievement. So even a simple task such as walking a circle took a bit of time to complete (I’m talking days here), but once he got the idea we didn’t have to go back and ‘re-train’ it at any point.
In conjunction with dealing with the anxiety,one of the main strategies I used was ‘time’. In many situations River would do what was asked and appear to be compliant but he was tense, showing hard unblinking eyes and a tight mouth. I’ve waited up to 10 minutes (which felt like hours) initially for River to finally blink, and/or lick and chew and process whatever task we were working on. I could have just continued on with training without waiting for those signs as technically River was doing what I asked but I was pretty sure that further down the track there would have been an explosion as River finally got to a point where he couldn’t cope. I wanted River to be comfortable and confident with each of the exercises – not just coping and kind of holding his breath waiting for me to go away.
One of the most important things in horse training is to be very clear that there is always a right answer – and to make that right thing easy. There is no point making the wrong things hard and the right thing slightly less hard. And there is no point punishing or reprimanding the horse for getting it wrong. That is why it is imperative to deal with any anxiety so the horse can think and for them to realise that if they try, they will be rewarded and that there is always an answer to search for.
The aim of all this training is produce a calm, safe horse that can respond to cues, be confident to ‘try’ when asked to do something new and be content in themselves and have trust in their owners.
Obviously this is just the start of River’s journey and he will definitely benefit from a bit of ‘down time’ now, and calm interaction with new people. I hope he can be matched up with a person that is kind, patient, open to new ideas and creative thinking with regard to training – and this person will definitely need a sense of humour!
I would encourage anyone with a passion for training horses, an open mind and an ability to go with the flow to apply for the Australian Brumby Challenge next time. You don’t need to be a professional trainer, just have a love for brumbies and be up for a Challenge!!
Hope to see you all at EQUITANA this week, stop by and say g’day and don’t be put off if I’m looking a bit pale and frantic!!!! I think the nerves will be in overload by then!
If you can’t make it to EQUITANA, I’ll be posting updates on my FB page ABC 2016 : Sally Adsett-Brown