This is a follow-up to a previous blog post where CHDC supporter Patti wrote in detail about the acquisition of a mare and foal from the Dawson’s Creek Auction last year. Patti is also known to CHDC supporters as the host of the “Tea in the Forest With Horses” fundraiser held in May 2015. Dolly and her foal Crumpet have been living in Cowichan B.C. for several months, and Patti is thrilled that they have adapted well and have begun to trust humans under the guidance of Liberty Horse Trainer Heather Nelson. Both Patti and Heather have provided an update below:
“A pregnant Dolly arrived at my house last Thanksgiving with her 3 months old filly, who we named “Crumpet”. Having been bought off the Dawson Creek, BC auction website, I was unaware of her past or even that she was pregnant at the time. I assumed she was halter broken because she was wearing a halter. The thought never crossed my mind that she was a range horse that had been a broodmare for most of her eight years, and possibly not had a lot of human interaction. I heard rumblings of “wild”, “shy”, and “batshit crazy”, from the various people who assisted me in getting her from the auction house to my property.
The journey took the horses from a large tract of land in northern BC, (the only home they knew), to a crowded auction house where 80% of the stock (770 horses) went to the slaughterhouse in AB that day. After my successful bid they went to a nice gals’ place in Fort St. John, where they waited to be run onto the first trailer bound for Abbotsford with Doug Nord – (amazing to deal with). They spent another week in Abbotsford until they were run onto another trailer with Trish at Crofton Transport – (another amazing hauler) to the final destination of Lake Cowichan.
While they were travelling in my direction, I was starting to panic. I’ve had a lot of experience with riding horses, owning horses and I even working with horses at Hastings Park as a groom, but this was all new. I’ve heard the saying that you have to get the right people on the right seat on the right bus, and this definitely applied and happened like some kind of divine intervention. I was extremely fortunate to have connected with all of the people I did. Prior to their arrival I contacted Heather Nelson from Heather Nelson Liberty Training and while I was thinking that no one would be crazy enough to take this training project on, she seemed keen.
The horses had not been touched since the auction and they had no intention of letting me touch them when they arrived. I left them alone for two weeks to decompress. The first training we did was to move them with energy – maybe out of my way – from stall to stall. Next it took me three days to cut the old auction halter off carefully with an exacto knife while her head was in a bucket of feed. I had nightmares that if I removed the halter I would never be able to catch her again. Heather assured me that she would be a full trained horse one day with tack on. I would not let myself even venture to think that possible at that point.
Heather and I decided we would meet every Wednesday and between lessons Dolly and I would practice what we learned. It’s been four months and I can walk up to Dolly, put the halter on, lead her, rasp her front feet and put her in the trailer. I would not be qualified to explain how this happened, but I do know that I chose to take my time and be patient and its paid off in spades. I asked Heather if she would be willing to comment further on the training from her perspective…..”
“When Patti told me about how she had purchased a broodmare from an auction I was excited to meet the mare and her foal. I do not often have the opportunity to work with horses with so little human handling.
Dolly was extremely withdrawn.
She wanted nothing to do with me I respected that. If she wanted to look or move away I backed off and respected her wishes. That’s in contrast to the training I once did years ago in the round pen. I’ve discovered that although I can get up close to a horse quickly in the round pen, the horses are often only allowing this because they really have no other ideal choice.
I wanted Dolly to WANT to be with Patti, not because the alternative was unpleasant, but because spending time with Patti was attractive to her. Patti was completely on board with working with Dolly in this way because she loves Dolly and is more concerned with Dolly’s well being and the safety of everyone involved, than the speed of the outcome.
Patti is in it for the long haul and she has no agenda with Dolly. It’s precisely that lack of agenda that now has Dolly loading into horse trailers, leading without tension in the line, accepting saddle blankets thrown up on her back and having her feet trimmed by a farrier. She trusts Patti and she is learning how to learn from these silly humans with all their ideas about what horses should and should not do.
The more opportunities she has to say “Yes!” to Patti, the more it is becoming the norm for her.
Leadership is still at the cornerstone of Dolly’s training. We did (and do) ask Dolly to occasionally and quietly move from one location to another (usually at the walk) in her paddock. However, we quickly backed off and paused to let her think about it.
The training happens in the still moments, when Dolly has time to think and process.
Patti also went up and greeted Dolly from time to time, but it was always respectful of Dolly’s wishes. Dolly could leave. She was rewarded with gentle words, grain from a bucket and eventually stroking on her neck when she did something well.
We used this philosophy in everything we have taught her. She has changed from a very mistrustful mare that would shy away from touch to a girl that loves her kisses and cuddles from Patti. Dolly’s hard muscles filled with tension have softened along with her eye. So far Dolly hasn’t had to break a sweat in class, but she’s learning to lunge slowly and is now beginning work on her strength and suppleness through ground exercises.
Patti will continue to take it slow with Dolly, especially since Dolly has a foal due late this spring. I’m proud of how far they have come and I know that when it’s time for Patti to train up the babies she will apply her skills without a whole lot of stress and still end up with respectful and relaxed horses.”