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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.