September 2008

Article and  Photos  by Abel and Janet kalinowski

2008 Extreme Mustang Makeover

Wise words are stated in Proverbs 21:31 of the Bible.  “We prepare the horse for the battle but the safety, the victory, and the deliverance belong to the Lord”

We at Los Indios Stables have taken these words to heart as we prepare our mustangs for the “battle” of their new domestic life.  Just as a warrior must be conditioned and trained for a real battle, these mustangs must be prepared for a different set of circumstances than they have ever experienced in the wild.  There are 3 essential lessons that mustangs must learn in order to adapt to their new life.  We as trainers made a commitment from the moment we chose to adopt our horses to help them make a successful transition.

Mustang Lesson #1
Feed, hay and water no longer have to be searched for, fought for, or done without.
Mustangs are creatures of the wild with a strong survival instinct.  This causes them to act and react differently than a domestic horse.  On the plus side, a mustang has not been taught any bad habits by a previous owner!  With that said, realize that mustangs need to be full in order to be teachable.  A hungry or overly stuffed person can only concentrate on their stomach – it’s the same with horses.  Consistency is the key to your feeding program.  Feed twice daily at set times so the mustangs learn to trust in the availability of food and water.  Feed them a normal ration to ensure their optimum body weight along with free choice grass hay since they are accustomed to free choice grazing.  Do not overfeed either – just enough so they are full and content.  A hungry mustang will be concerned with fighting or fleeing for their survival rather than learning.

Mustang Lesson #2
People can be trusted.
Always keep in mind that a mustang’s first priority is his own safety and survival.  We must be committed to demonstrating to him that we are to be respected yet not feared.  After all, we chose to adopt a mustang in order to gain a working partner, not a slave.  We are going to make a bold statement here and say that there is no such thing as a horse that is too bad, too wild, or too untrainable, only ineffective or partially effective training methods.  Your mustang needs to know that he can respect and trust you.  You must establish your position as a herd leader who is confident and trustworthy.  You need to use training methods that teach the skills to the horse so he willingly does what you ask.  Training by fear, intimidation, or sheer brute force only causes a horse to look for a way of escape.

As you ask your horse to accept a new object or new maneuver, he may become apprehensive about it.  This is not something to be avoided but rather a teachable moment that you can use to build a new level of trust between you and your mustang.  As you remain calm and confident in your position as herd leader, so will your horse.  He will begin to look to you for guidance as you take him through the scary moment.   Avoiding this teachable moment only makes the horse more apprehensive the next time he encounters it.  The anticipation of an unknown only tends to make it larger than life.  If you have ever heard yourself say “My horse doesn’t like that” or “My horse won’t go near that object”, stop the negative thinking and realize that you have a teachable moment.  Deal with the situations the moment they arise.  We call it “going over the cliff”.  Sometimes asking the horse firmly is enough and sometimes you have to push them over the cliff but once they realize that you are going with them in that scary moment, they will begin to look to you for security in other circumstances.  As you become the herd leader that your horse needs, make sure you have the skills you need to safely and effectively get your horse through the moment.

Mustang Lesson #3
A new set of skills is crucial for surviving in a new environment.

A solid foundation of skills is needed by the mustang in order for him to be a safe and enjoyable partner for you.  Safety of the horse and of the trainer is the highest priority.  Solid foundational skills are the key to safety.  Be responsible - if you are unsure you can do something safely, don’t attempt it without help.  This article is not designed to teach you how to accomplish foundational skills – only the importance of having these skills in place.  Never be too proud or too independent to ask for help.  We are never too old or too experienced to learn a new way of doing things.  The more time you spend patiently laying a solid foundation, the more solid and safe your horse will be both on the ground and while riding.

Major foundational skills that need to be in place before climbing on for your first ride:  If you are not familiar with some of these terms, take the responsibility to ask a knowledgeable person for help.  Daily and consistent maintenance of these skills through out the horse’s life is important to keeping you and your horse safe and content.

1. Consistently desensitize your mustang daily with different objects and in different situations.  This is a lifelong process for you and your horse.

2. Ensure that your horse is responsive to your cues.  He should move his major body parts (poll, both shoulders, both sides of his rib cage, both hind legs) in response to applied pressure.  For example, flexing or bending the head and neck to the side in response to a rein pull is crucial for guiding him. As he responds even slightly, you remove the pressure.  Horses learn from the release that they are doing the correct response. 

3. Disengage the hind legs.  You must have good flexion of the head and neck to accomplish this maneuver.  Chris Cox and Clinton Anderson both do a great job of explaining this process.  The goal is to have a loose hind end that does not get locked up.  Moving the hind quarters to one side effectively takes away the power of the horse and allows you to bring him back under your control so you can stop, change direction, etc.

4. Make sure your saddle has a breastcollar and a snug flank cinch and that your mustang is comfortable with both.  This will desensitize their flanks and ensure that the saddle stays in place.
5. Flop the stirrup leathers around, pat loudly on the back of the saddle, move the stirrups back and forth, etc.  Your mustang should stand quietly during all this.

Mustang training usually involves taking two steps forward and one step back.  Abel calls this “working in inches through faith, love, and patience” and constantly reminds me that as long as I keep the horse moving forward and don’t get myself or the horse locked up then we are both learning.   Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.  Go back to square one when things start to get out of hand, a little too fast, or you just get a little lost in the process.  Taking the time to build a solid foundation gives you something to come back to.

Treats are great but only after the work is done.  Using treats to bribe your horse to do something is similar to using candy to bribe your child to be good in the store.  It may work but who is really in control?  Babying them with words, treats and pats is distracting to their training.  Keep your words to a minimum and let your mustang concentrate on what your body language is telling him to do.

Do not be in a hurry.  Nothing ruins a horse faster than a deadline.  If it takes us twelve years to get a diploma, don’t you think it’s fair to give the horse more than ninety days to be considered “finished”?  Don Blazer’s article in the August Horse Gazette does an excellent job of discussing the concept of “Wait”.  Chris Cox calls it “soakin’ time”.  Even with the latest and greatest in microwave ovens, you have probably noticed that while the food is prepared quickly, it might have exploded requiring some extra clean up, it does not stay warm very long, and it may have hot and cold spots.  This is similar to rushing a horse through the training process or creating a “microwave” horse.  The horse can explode at any time and while he may be prepared for that event or competition, the guarantee of a safe lifelong companion is missing.  There may be foundational hot and cold spots that will show up at crucial moments resulting in an unreliable ride. 

Just as a mustang needs a solid foundation to build their new life on, we also need to build our lives on a firm foundation.  We have found our foundation in Christ and pray that you will too.
I Corinthians 3:11 states, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ”.  Enjoy your mustang - a truly remarkable and beautiful creation of God.

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