Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Lil' Red, Part 2--Reflections

Lil' Red has had an interesting life. I got him late last November when he was 6 years. The young woman who had him had gotten him just about a year prior to that when he was 5 years. She had gotten him from a place about 30 miles from me; they had him for just a few months. Before that he was out in the west central Nevada desert at the ranch of a Morgan breeder who is, ahhhh, let's be polite and say, "interesting." She does feed her horses but they live in small pipe panel corrals and are rarely touched. Lil' Red did get gelded (so his contact with humans was having feed thrown over the fence, being weaned, and being gelded) but that was all. When the So. Calif. folks went to load him, they had to set up chutes and chase him into the trailer and do that in reverse once home.

They were busy building their place so did not do anything with him and finally the young woman I got him from found him. She wanted a project horse. She told me that when she went to get him, she spent about 30 minutes in his corral, doing Monte Roberts style "join-up" and then haltered him, taught him to lead & loaded him. Then they went down the freeways to Los Angeles, Burbank to be precise. So here was this little horse, used to quiet, now in a busy boarding stable whose back fence was the freeway fence. Quite a change in his world.

The next day, she took him to the round pen, which sounds simple until one learns that the round pen is across the Los Angeles River & must be crossed by a suspension bridge which, while solid, did move underfoot. She said he checked it out and followed her right across. The training went well and he truly bonded with her, becoming a good trail horse as she rode in Griffith Park and a good lesson horse as she gave lessons to horse loving girls.

Then, he came to me; back to a quiet and rural world. Of course he did not know me at all and I had to earn his trust and his respect. Right from the start, he challenged me on the ground and under saddle, living up to the part of his pedigree which contains opinionated and argumentive horses. I was pleased to see it as I am not only used to those horses but bred them and rode them for many years. He had a lot of "druthers", as in "I druther not do that!" and we worked thru each one. Under saddle, he was a bit hot which I finally figured out was due to the feed, and he had some worry which caused him to want to go fast. We had good rides, a few not so good rides, and mostly mixed rides.

Then in mid-January I hit a bad spell with the flu from hell and weather that discouraged riding, so he did not get ridden for about 3 months. During that time, I changed his living arrangements, moving him in with my stallion, Clarion, and then moving the both of them to a new paddock. Lil' Red started out very socially inept. He now is ok with Clarion, who bosses him around, but still inept with the other horses. He and Clarion have become great buddies and Clarion gives him the leadership he needs. One of the fascinating things about this horse is that when I am riding him or leading him, he is mostly brave. But loose in the paddock, he is very timid unless he can follow Clarion.

I started riding him again last week and I am very impressed. That lay-off did him a world of good. He has settled in to his new home and he now trusts me much more. While I was not riding him, I was doing some work with him in his paddock, working thru some issues of him thinking he had to protect his food from me and not wanting to be touched unless I had a halter. He is much happier now.

I really like this horse. He is a good trail horse who will just get better with the miles. He is a solid thinker, but can become upset with high adreniline in the wrong situation but the thinking part of his brain is still there. Two rides ago, he got real worked up about a large log at the side of the road. He wanted to flee. I got off, pulled down the lead to his halter & got his feet moving in half circles, backing up, and whatever, saying "if you want to move your feet fast, fine, but we'll do it my way." When he wanted to slow down, I took it. Then the thinking part of his brain was there. He was still scared of the log, but also very curious. It was a wonder to watch--first we approach the log, then have to back off, then approach, then arc out around it, finally to walk right up to it and try to eat it. Then I got back on and we had a grand ride, looking at the wild flowers. I like a thinking, curious horse, one who can with some help, think his way through a problem. As my farrier, told me, "you would be bored with a simple easy horse; you like those complex ones." And that is so true.
Part 3 to come

1 comment:

dazey said...

With Lil Red I think you would benefit from the information in Basic Training for a Safe Trail Horse with subtitle of Eliminating the Fear Factors. It is a small paperback narrative with instructions about how to teach a horse to be a true companion without having to use bits, spurs, longe lines, ropes, or round pens. Laying the foundation described in this book you would not have had to dismount when Lil Red showed some fear of the log. Instead, you would have his attention on you and you would have let him face the log while gradually moving nearer to it. He would have responded to certain of your words and you would never have him turn away from the log or any fearful object. After he had relaxed and lost his fear of the log you would have walked him by the log in both directions until he could walk by it quietly with no notice of the log for three consecutive times. This book shows you how to be like the alpha mare member of Lil Red's herd in a logical and direct way. It is available on or from the author at