Friday, December 14, 2018


From what I have been told Mama Georgia (we'll call her for now) and her daughter were rounded up in Yakima Washington approximately 9 months ago. Mama Georgia was pregnant with her daughter during the round up and it is believed that Mama is approx. 8 years old - at least this is what we have been told. Of course, the rescue or adoption source did not keep records so a reliable history for these horses is unfortunately sketchy at best. But the information that we have been given is that the filly is about 5 months old, was born at the rescue facility and that Mama should be around 8 years old. I wish the rescue organizations (at least this particular one) would keep better records on the horses.

Anyway, I believe that, from her behavior, pregnant Mama was rounded up in a very rough manner to say the least. Imagine, she is pregnant and that she is being chased by a helicopter and some screaming yahoo cowboys out to prove their manhood and their brass. From the time I have until now spent with her I believe she was scared to death for her own safety and for the safety of her foal. 

I've been working with Georgia in a 24 x 24 foot panel pen now for about 4 or 5 weeks, 2 hours a day and 5 days a week. Progress is very slow. I have yet to touch her with my hand although I am touching her with a 6 foot bamboo pole and I am touching her all over. However, Mama has set her boundaries and she knows exactly how close I am at any given time. She is incredibly perceptive and on guard. 

The little filly is the cutest thing I believe I have ever seen. She doesn't have a name as yet but she seems to be enjoying herself as Mama is in the training pen and as she jets around like some sort of rock star. She is a lot of fun to watch as she kicks up her heels and rockets around the paddock. Richard and Cheryl, the sponsoring parents of these horses, have managed to be rubbing the filly all over but we have yet to get the halter on her. 

I have worked with and trained Mustangs and wild horses before in California and in Montana and the task is naturally totally different if compared to working with domestic horses - I mean - totally different. And I have to say that Mama Georgia is actually an exception to this rule - she is much tougher and less trusting than any other wild horse I have ever worked with - bar none. 

I will keep you posted as to how things progress with Mama Georgia and the little filly. Thanks for listening. Your prayers are appreciated.


Some days later:

As a horse trainer I believe I have never felt so bewildered. Somehow I am becoming aware that Georgia and I seem to have much in common that it touches me deeply. Only about ten months ago Georgia was aggressively and without any regard for her dignity and honor ripped away from her home, family and everything familiar to her. And I can in some odd way relate to her and how she feels. I think that many of us also at times feel foreign to this life, like a refugee from some other place. I also feel ripped away from something necessary and important to my survival, my essence and my joy - yet it is like a dream that I can no longer remember. Georgia somehow reminds me of that dream. Sometimes I almost catch a hold of that dream out of the corner of my eye but for it to only vanish around the corner before I can bring it into focus. If I could just grab it for a second that something absolutely important to my survival and to my joy could be revealed to me. And I sense that Georgia seems to be in the same situation at this point in her journey. Never before has a horse brought so many insights into my view as has Georgia. 

Five days of the week I arrive to spend a few hours with Georgia. Each day at 12:00 when I pull into the driveway she watches me arrive. And Georgia usually meets me with her usual snorting and her hesitation. But it is not always the same. Georgia is softening here and there if one has eyes to see. At first I'd never heard a horse snort so much and so loudly as Georgia. And there is no mistaking what the snorting means. It is her way of stating loud and clear that she is not ready to trust nor is she ready for a pow wow. But her snorting is softening and becoming less often as the days and weeks unfold. Many of the subtle strategies and techniques I've learned over the years are coming into question with Georgia. And it is staring me right in the face. I thought I had an understanding of what soft means - Georgia is teaching me otherwise. I thought I had a handle on what slow and easy means and again Georgia has proven m strategies and techniques to be brutish. Almost like comparing a whisper to a scream.  

Methodically and with great care I work on ever so carefully closing the gap on the last 24 inches between me and Georgia. Even the slightest mistaken movement can send us back to square one. Only to begin once again with the inching closer and closer. If you've ever seen a cat about to pounce on its prey then you have seen the stillness, stealth and concentration that is present. Even though I am standing only a few dozen inches from Georgia she seems constantly ready to pounce away from me. this is why this process demands such prowess and concentration. An attention to details that I never even knew existed before. Her survival techniques honed by hundreds of years in the wild in comparison to my more and more obviously limited experience of that world. Yet I continue to attempt to win her over in order that she begins to trust me.  

I want to be the person that Georgia finally says yes to. It is my wish to find the way to gain her trust - to be the one that finally touches her and shows her that we can make things better once again. Because when you think about it the very first touch is the "Jesus moment" for the traumatized and fearful horse. And let's make no mistake fear rules in Georgia's world at this point in time. Much of the fear and pain that has transpired up to the moment of the touch to a great extent disappears with the touch. The touch will change the horses world entirely and forever. But, as I have said, getting to that moment, closing the gap of the last 24 inches then the last 12 inches and the last 6 inches and finally to the last centimeters prior to that first touch - that takes a dance technique that is difficult for me to explain. The trainer must be soft, slick, quiet and matter of fact and yet hesitant all at the same time not to suddenly realize that boundaries were overstepped and now we begin once again with the dance.

Until now Georgia and I, during those two hours a day, can get within 24 inches. Both of us at that point are very soft and quiet standing next to each other. Her ear is locked on to my whispers as she watches intently for any move that she could interpret as untrustworthy. That's where I usually leave the session. Once I close the gap to 24 inches these days I softly walk away only to begin our dance again the next day. Hoping that those 24 inches will the next day maybe and hopefully shrink to maybe 20 inches and then the next day to 18 inches - until the day of the touch. 

In the meantime, Georgia's daughter, whom I believe has been named Princess Coco Chanel at this point (and this filly is truly a divine little creature), is offering up oodles and oodles of joy and kindness to everyone at hand. I have to say that little 5 month old Coco is the cutest and most rambunctious little horse I believe I've ever laid eyes upon. As I work with Georgia in the round pen Richard and Cheryl slowly learn to educate little Coco for her future with brushing, picking up her feet etc. What an incredible blessing this little horse is to everyone. Richard is like a little boy when he is with Coco. Don't tell him I said that :)

Thanks for reading this post and I'd appreciate it if you could put Georgia and me on your prayer list. Thanks! 

... and I whispered to the horse; 

"Trust no man in whose eye you do not see yourself reflected as an equal." 
Don Vincenzo Giobbe circa 1700


A few days later:

And so the training days continue as the days and weeks slip by with little progress. Pushing or cutting corners to speed up the gentling process is not an option because this will only cause a greater distrust so working slow and easy is our only agenda. There has been progress when comparing today's Georgia to the Georgia of day one. However, I think it is fair to say that we have been somewhat stuck now for some weeks. Even though Georgia shows obvious signs of becoming more and more gentle as time goes by, closing the gap between the last 24 inches to arrive at the final touch seems to continue to elude us. Often horses in training will get stuck in the gentling process for a few days or even a bit longer however, I believe the trauma that pregnant Georgia experienced during roundup was more than extreme for her. And for this reason Georgia is fearful that another such experience could transpire. It is quite amazing and sad how damaging and traumatizing one such experience can be for a horse. But I believe that time and patience will win Georgia's heart in the end. After all Georgia was and still truly is a wild horse.   

But meanwhile Georgia's little filly Princess Coco Chanel continues to take steps forward in her training. To watch this little horse running and jumping around in the paddock is truly joyful for her and for us. There is no mistaking her joy.   

Thanks and stay tuned!



Well, training is going quite well with the little one. By the little one I am speaking of the 6 month old, absolutely cute as a button but not so little anymore Coco Chanel. What a cute and energetic and curious little thing she is as she brings oodles of chuckles and laughter to everyone on the ranch as she runs, jumps, tosses her head around and then just walks right up to us as though to say "well, what do you think of me so far?". To experience this animated and joyful creature is truly to make a person into a witness of something alive, unique and uplifting as heck. One can't n

I'm happy to report that Cheryl and Richard and I are picking up her feet daily and we have also managed to have her take the halter. We did have to make a squeeze in order to get this done because otherwise she just simply would not hold still long enough to get the halter on. Plus, what makes the entire process even more difficult is that the halters for these little horses are not made understanding the reality that they have to go on and off quickly. So, after scratching our heads and wondering what to do about the situation Cheryl duck taped magnets to the buckle ends of the halter and voila - bing, bang, boom - the halter went on. And off. And on again. 

Not only is she taking the halter like a little champion but just yesterday I snapped a long line onto the halter to see how she would or would  not respond to coming off of pressure and I could hardly believe how quickly she figured it out. So quickly did she grasp the pressure thing that I would hardly even ask for her to respond to a tiny bit of pressure when she would step towards the pressure. And immediately the release would come as the reward. 

As for Georgia, Coco's mama, it does not cease to amaze me how deeply the round up, the obvious rough handling and what appears to be a blatant disregard for another creature by those managing her care has left her. She continues to be terrified even months after the ordeal. That human beings can be so calloused as to leave another creature on the planet trembling in fear at the mere sight of another of like kind should be an insult to a persons character - such behavior astounds me.   And I have never pondered this issue so much as I do now since meeting Georgia. And I pray that I might be so honored to help Georgia make that huge step into our world even though most likely the world we offer her is far less perfect than the world she left behind.  

And that we humans might become ever more conscious of the impact our behavior has on the wonderful creatures, large and small, that share this world with us. 

For we shall know that we are growing in the right direction when we no longer wish to bring pain or suffering to any creature. 

Thanks for listening!



Friday, February 12, 2016



"Russell is truly an inspirational and wise horseman. People and horses are fortunate to learn from his experience and skill. We hired Russell to start our young stallion and filly and within three weeks he had the horses loading quietly and confident under saddle. In my forty years of experience as a trainer, breeder and presently the owner of a Fresian facility I found Russell to be not only a most accomplished horseman, but also a man of the highest integrity".

Owner of Fresian Facility
Bend, Oregon

 I received a phone call one morning inquiring as to whether I could meet to discuss the possibility of putting two Fresian horses under saddle; a 4 year old stallion named Lammert and a 4 year old filly named Janneke). We made a time to discuss the proposition. I'd worked with Fresian horses before and was excited at the possibility of another opportunity to meet and work with more of these majestic, sensitive and special horses.

The day came for our appointment and as I drove up the driveway of the ranch I found myself getting excited. Even though I have worked with and trained many horses during my time as a trainer I somehow, and for some reason, still feel like a young boy when I'm about to come face to face with more of these honorable creatures. 

This turned out to be a very special day in my life as a trainer I have to say. The ranch is a classy ranch - I could feel the special ambiance as I drove up the driveway on that first day. There was a feeling of quiet and calm and order about the place that floated above the ranch like a soft silver cloud. For the first hour the owners and I sat by a pond on deck chairs, in the shade, while discussing horses in general.I figure they wanted to see if I would be the right person to work with their horses and I certainly appreciated that. It gave me a clear picture that they cared for their animals and that they were not just going to allow anyone to interact with them.

After we leisurely discussed horses as well as other things for about an hour the owner asked if I would like to see the horses - and - of course, I said yes. I won't forget what happened next and the impression I had when I walked into the spotless barn. Soft classical music was playing in the background and otherwise the barn was unusually quiet. It is quite normal that when one walks into a barn housing 9 horses that there are lots of sounds - horse related sounds. But here all was extremely quiet. As I looked around I noticed 9 gorgeous, unblinking, Fresian horse heads looking out of their stalls; all eyes were on me yet there was not a sound. It was as though I was being watched by 9 magical Unicorns in all their wisdom and grace; no pawing, no snorting, no movement at all - just 18 beautiful eyes looking deep into me. Even when I approached a horse he/she simply stood still and continued to study me. I knew then that there was something very special about this ranch and these horses; my excitement grew.

I hit it off immediately with the ranch owner and we set about making a schedule for beginning training.

Training began on the following day. During the next five weeks I would park my truck next to the round pen - sharply at 11:00. The owner and friends that were invited to watch pulled-up chairs beside the round pen. I would train and work with one horse for the first hour and then, punctually at 12:00 I would begin the next hour with the other horse. Some days Lammert, the stallion, would be first up and on other days I would bring Janneke, the filly, in first. Five days a week the horses went to school for one hour per day and it didn't take long for them to be anxiously awaiting the training time. I always find that interesting. Most horses, once the training starts, anxiously await my truck in the morning to begin the training session.  

The horses were kind and well-mannered as a result of their breeding - and - due to the care, attention and affection they received from everyone at the ranch.  In all honesty I'd have to say that I've hardly met horses that wanted to please and get along more than these horses. Yet still they were not started under saddle as yet and the task of desensitization through familiarization - sacking out - would, as usual, be the first order of business. We did the usual: walking over tarps, flagging, ropes and objects around the legs, moving hind-quarters, loading, noises, umbrellas and even a vacuum cleaner and hair dryer plus more. Through the skillful use of these objects close to and around the horses they learn not only to trust that particular object and sound but somehow their trust and relaxation in relation to human beings grows. 
Each time the horse says "o.k., I'm fine with that" he's also saying "I trust you a little more". I should once again say that these objects, noises etc. are introduced to the horse in what I call a soft and artful manner. My job is to set-up a safe learning circumstance/environment and then to assist the horse to be successful, in a soft way, to accept the various objects etc. The lower I can keep the horses energy the faster he will learn so it behooves me to be very alert and sensitive to the emotional nature of the horse at all times. If the horse begins to get excited I simply drop my energy and back off. Then I once again approach the horse, talk to him a bit to calm him/her down and then I proceed in an even softer way. Again, my job is to help the horse come to terms with these various objects not to scare him or force him to "get over it". This is the heart connection that I believe every "good trainer" knows intuitively. Otherwise it is a game of exploitation, ego and control which I personally have no use for - and - it just doesn't work if we're attempting and desiring to establish a working relationship based on trust and partnership with our equine partner. And so I proceeded with the sacking out or the familiarization process! 

 Saddle pads and saddles pretty much went on during the first two days. I think the filly jumped out from under the saddle once (the second time I put it on her) but both horses accepted the saddle with little issue. I prepared them by placing blankets and other objects lightly on their back in preparation for the saddle - plus - if ones timing and energy and technique are all working properly one can sit the saddle on the horse in a way that the horse hardly even notices it being placed there. On the other hand, if one attempts to place the saddle without having ones timing, technique and energy in order - the horse can become overly concerned and nervous and will become fearful. 

I should state here something that could sound a bit strange at first to some while others would understand immediately. For me training a horse is a dance. And there is a tempo and even a silent music to this dance. There is a cadence and a timing and movement and a rightness of action that is always present - or not. The job of the trainer, my job in this case, is to become a master at the music and the dance which the horse and I establish in the round pen - both the horse and I participating in the conversation. My job is to guide the horse into greater levels of acceptance and willingness. If the trainer can accomplish this, putting a horse under saddle can be a magical and even mystical dance to witness. The music of these two horses was playing so loud and clear that I was simply overwhelmed and happily accepted the opportunity to join in the dance.

And So The Saddles Went On


So Did The Chains, Bags, blankets and Bells!

Let us not forget what we said earlier. When we introduce foreign items and sounds and circumstances into the world of the horse we have a great responsibility "to help the horse" move past his/her fear. If we really and truly care about the horse our dance will be calculated and precise both of which stem from a heart connection with the animal. Without the heart connection we are lousy dancers indeed. To be a good or master dancer is to care, deeply.

There is a quote from John Wayne which goes something like this " Even though I am scared to death, I saddle-up anyway". Well, no matter how well the training goes and no matter how confident we feel in our dance i.e. technique, timing, feel and heart connection with the horse when it is time to throw our leg over the horse - we just never REALLY know what will happen even though everything feels right. It takes courage and guts and possibly a little insanity. Don't let anyone kid you - starting colts is an extreme sport!

Teaching to Load

The owner also wanted the horses to learn to load so we placed a horse trailer beside the round pen and each day would begin and end with loading and unloading. When this is put into the training program as a regular procedure I've never met a horse that didn't load without difficulty - especially if done with low energy and consideration for the animal. Again, the trainer is there to help the horse be successful. The trainer is there to help the horse overcome his/her fear - not to add to the horse's fear and dis-trust. These horses were not terribly excited to enter the confinement of the trailer but through patience, kindness and technique they both loaded and never once had a problem.

 The gentle and artful use of a butt-rope can be a great help!

And sometimes the buggers don't want to come out!!!!

Now Back to The Riding - And So We Mounted 



The stallion, to a great extent, was a perfect gentleman and didn't want any trouble but still I was very careful not to ask to much of him at a given time. Of course, that's a general rule - not getting on the bad side of a horse you're soon going to ride - a no-brainer! The filly, on the other hand, as is often the case in my experience with the females, was not quite so ready to accept whatever I asked of her. Don't get me wrong, she was kind and very much a lady but she was just not quite as ready to trust as was Lammert the stallion. So, we slowly and methodically worked around her occasional skepticism and hesitation in order to help her to trust the process.

I worked with these two horses for five weeks. When I finished my work I left the ranch with reluctance and with a heavy heart. I have to honestly say that I have grown deeply attached to each and every horse I've trained or worked with and these horses at were absolutely no exception. I'll miss those horses more than I can put into words. And I'll certainly miss those beautiful days at the round pen with the ranch owners and friends all observing the beautiful sight of these majestic horses and their journey.  Life is somehow bitter-sweet I guess.

One of the ranch hands with my wife Christine on the last day of training. 

Thanks for tuning in and remember there is a portal/access into your horses mind and heart. This portal opens as a result of softness, timing, feel, heart and an absence of noise!!

Russell B. Hunston

See you down the road!!

Monday, May 19, 2014


Alice called me one day saying she had a Mustang mare that she did not feel confident with. She had only had the mare for a few months and decided she needed some help establishing a confident relationship with her horse. I was delighted to find Alice a very caring, intelligent and concerned horse owner so it was a delight for me to tell her that I'd be very happy to see if we could remedy the situation.
Alice didn't know a lot about Sienna's past history and since she was, according to her BLM records, approaching 20 years of age that means she had quite a bit of history that we just didn't have access to. And even though it is good to have some history (the more the better) on a horse in training it is really not that important as long as one can simply read the horse that is in front of oneself - period. Sometimes too much history is too much information especially when that passed-down history can often times not be accurate.
Sienna was a very sweet mare that had some issues with accepting her role while under halter or under saddle. If she was simply allowed to live out her life with her buddy Mr. Bean then she wouldn't give anyone any trouble - but - when the halter went on or especially when the saddle went on she just didn't want to accept her role. And it could also be that she'd never really been properly trained to enjoy her job and her place in life. When horses are properly trained and find themselves living with owners like Alice that truly care for them and look after them let me tell you that those horses can be a true delight in a horse owner's life. Horses that live without the previous care and attention and training can be unhappy animals indeed.
Alice and I decided that we'd start from square one with Sienna and that we'd slowly and systematically look for holes in her training so that we could address those holes one at a time in order to build a strong foundation right from the beginning - even though Sienna was 20 years old. In my opinion there is really no other way to proceed in such a situation - otherwise without starting from the very beginning those unseen and unrecognized holes can come back to haunt a person in a fury. For this reason I usually begin at square one with all my horses in training just to see what needs solidifying or establishing.
So, desensitization through familiarization was the way we began and although Sienna had some difficulty with some of the tarps, plastic bags etc. in the beginning she learned very quickly in her clever Mustang way. Even though Sienna had been captured almost 20 years before I came into her life I have to say that much of her savvy was still incredibly present. In a matter of days she showed her intelligence and decided to get along and to even enjoy doing it.
At this point I should say I consider myself a soft trainer. What I mean by this is that even though upon occasion I have to demand certain transitions from my horses in training (which means to gently push the horse through it's own default barriers) I generally and fundamentally believe that the more relaxed the horse is during training the more the horse can learn and absorb in any given training session. My job is to help the horse enjoy the learning process by being interesting and curious myself thus keeping the horse out of his/her survival thinking; to help the horse enjoy and even look forward to interaction with me as the trainer. In addition, I choose to be instrumental in building this same scenario into the relationship between the horse and the horse owner. If it isn't fun and exciting for horse and horse owner then what's the point - and - the horse will figure that out and become bored and disinterested way before most people come to the same conclusion.
Alice is a courageous and loving horse owner and I developed a lot of respect for her during the time I spent assisting her with Sienna. It was a true pleasure for me.
At this point in time Sienna has come far in her training and Alice is spending quality time with her each and every day - the perfect equation for success. I look forward to hearing from Alice as she continues her kind and caring relationships with her horses. Keep up the good work Alice.
May all Mustangs find themselves in the loving and caring hands of an owner like Alice - this is my wish. Thanks Alice!

Sunday, November 3, 2013


To the wind out on the prairie
There's a wondrous place it's born to dwell.
It's smack between the Mustang's ears
And in his flowing mane and tail.

For thousands of years or more these two
Have shared their circumstance.
Where one was found you'd find them both
In a magic poetic dance.

In the very beginning when God was contemplating
"Now let me mold a special pair
Two noble brothers fast and wild
One flesh and one of air."

The flesh one He shall rule the plains
He'll run like He has wings.
Tight muscled, wild with dignity
He'll be the prize of Kings.

His brother, He shall be called Wind
And He shall not be seen.
A Master's force of subtlety
He'll fill the inbetween.

The Natives always knew this lore
They live amongst these two.
The Indian ponies and the wind
Across the prairies flew.

They danced and played as eons rolled by
As flesh and air merged into one.
In sunshine, rain or freezing cold
Their Alchemy, through time, was done.

Then slowly white men lost their way
Dumbstruck and drunk with pride and greed.
They'd roundup all the Mustangs
And for pennies do the Devil's deed.

The Judas horse is how he's called
To trick and lead the steeds astray.
As pathetic cowboys crouch and hide
And all for sport and pauper's pay.

And all Light Children of the earth
Observe and weep the Mustang's plight.
As Brother Wind is horrified
No longer Mustangs in His sight.

The prairie's now dead silent
No hoof beats on prairie floor to hear.
So Brother Wind is left alone
As Hopi's know end times are near.

This darkness has been prophesized
By the Seers of the past.
This battle between Light and Dark
Soon will end at last.

The Wind and the Mustang will be re-united!

An Original Poem by Russell B. Hunston
April 2012

I wrote this poem because I am, like many, terribly saddened by what is taking place on our Federal lands with the violent removal of our wild horses. These noble creatures who have served and contributed so much to this country are not being given a fair shake and the bottom  line is greed and ignorance. May we be forgiven for our part in this injustice.

Russell B. Hunston

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Luke's Success Story

Luke is a nine year old approx. 17h, maybe a bit taller, dapple-brown Percheron/Thoroughbred Cross. I met him when I was called by his new owners in mid-summer of this year - 2012. The new owners, they'd only had Luke on their property for a few weeks, were concerned about the safety of this horse because basically he had bucked the daughter off in a pretty hard way and now the family, quite naturally, was hesitant to trust Luke under saddle. We set-up an appointment for me to come to Bend, Oregon to have a look at Luke to see what I thought. 

The Bovi family, Luke's new owners, are good horse people in my opinion. They have owned horses for a lot of years and most likely owned and dealt with horses even during their early childhood years. I know that Megan, the daughter (who got bucked-off), had been riding horses since she was a young girl and Donna-Lee, the mother, had also spent most of her life interacting with horses. It is always a pleasure to work with people who truly care for the well-being of their horses so I was pleased that we had agreed that I would begin to work with Luke. 

Before going further I should say that when I first met Luke he was quite honest about a few things such as: don't try to mount me and don't come close to the girth area on the on-side especially and also don't try getting close to the girth area on the off-side either. These were areas that Luke was protecting. He felt nervous if I even attempted to slip into the on-side stirrup area. He'd back up and place his head between me and his shoulder. It was pretty much the same on his off side. Before beginning to train a horse I like to make sure that nothing physical can be causing difficulty or is standing in the way of the horse being able to perform properly. I ran my fingers down Luke's back and it was obvious that Luke's back was out since one could see him cringe at a certain point just about where the saddle would sit. The Bovi's contacted a chiropractor, a session was arranged and the next time I saw Luke there was no evidence that there was any pain in his back - so it was now time to begin learning about what makes Luke tick. A horse that bucks for what appears to be no reason is a dangerous horse and my job was to get inside Luke's head to see just what was causing this behavior. Maybe Luke even had good reason for his behavior and that's what I wanted to find out.

 When I met Luke on the first day of training the Donna-Lee (the mother) and Megan (the daughter) had set-up a make-shift round pen at one end of their arena; it was constructed out of jump standards and 4"pvc pipe and basically just rounded-off one area of the arena. Luke took one look at me, got anxious and nervous and basically just pushed over a part of the pvc pipe and said "Nope, I'm not going to do this" and he was outa there. And it was obvious that he'd become fearful and agitated. So, obviously the next obvious order of business was to set-up a paneled round pen so that Luke couldn't just walk away and decide not to participate. 

Once the round pen was set up I began working with Luke; five days a week, two hours a day. He'd be in school during the week and have weekends off. I like to train this way because the training becomes a routine and the horse also gets a bit of time off so that what he's learning and thinking about from the sessions can sink in during his two days off. Then, it's right back to school on Monday again. I find this method works well. Also, as I prefer, Megan and/or Donna-Lee were often present for the sessions because in my opinion it's a family matter and if I train the horse without the owners understanding how then there is an obvious disconnect when owner faces horse when it's all said and done. So, during the training sessions we all discussed Luke's progress or lack thereof and what it meant and how to tweek the training in order to be successful.

I should say that when we began our sessions Luke would get excited in the round pen, stick his nose over the top rail, get more excited, act flustered and there was no doubt he'd had some of this round pen stuff in his life and that he just didn't want to play. My response to this behavior was to stand quite still in the middle of the round pen so that Luke could figure-out on his own that he's the only one playing his game of anxiety and fear. Monty Roberts, one of my teachers, used to say "when the horses' adrenaline is up then his ability to learn is down and when his adrenaline is down his ability to learn is up" and I never forgot that. And, with Luke it proved absolutely correct. Often trainers will join in with the horse by saying "Well, if you want to run then let's run" and then the battle begins. What I'm talking about is to go actively passive (and this is not just a physical passivity but also an inner slowing down of ones energy) so that the horse realizes, on his own, that all his running and all his anxiety is not based on anything other than himself. And, believe me, horses figure this out right away because they'd rather not be doing all that running around - especially when they realize that it's all their doing. So, when I would go passive Luke slowly decided that there was no reason to be afraid and no reason to keep running and this took only a few sessions. 

I'll write in another post about what this thing I call active passivity involves because right off the bat it could sound confusing or even contradictory but, believe me, once a person understands this a portal opens into the horses world and only here, in the horses world, do we truly begin to speak Equus. And after gaining access to this dimension of the horses world is where the sacred relationship with the horse can take place. Otherwise we are simply demanding the horse enter our world of noise, aggression, ego and exploitation and Equus is not spoken within these parameters.   

Pretty much right away I could saddle Luke. He had difficulty allowing my presence at the girth area on either side but slowly he learned that nothing bad was going to happen when I was there. Plus, I've learned that if a horse has difficulty with me being anywhere around him then that's exactly where I need to be and that's exactly where I need to spend time making him feel good. By doing this that area is intentionally changed into a "feel good area" for the horse. I should also say that once Luke allowed me at his girth areas he still moved away when I took the stirrup to mount. He obviously had had negative experiences when people were in that position. So, I continued to spend "feel good time" there and showered attention on him when I was in that problem area. Sometimes I just stood there doing nothing other than rubbing on him. The point is to change his old ideas/habits about people being in that area; make him feel good and confident when I'm there and he'll, sooner or later, give-up the fear and his tick of moving away will vanish which it quickly did.

Donna-:Lee and Luke

Megan and Luke
 I decided to go back to square one with Luke. I started all over with ground work and with sacking-out i.e. getting him to trust. I think these things had never been done properly with Luke because he would often jump or spook at either the littlest thing or nothing at all so as a sort of joke we called it Luke's "I see dead people" reaction. So, I began with ground work i.e. plastic bags, driving, umbrellas, tarps over his head and just anything I could think of in order for Luke to realize that nothing was going to hurt him. And this is a big one for a horse that has learned not to trust. It's not so much about the tarp or the umbrella or the plastic bags but it is more about the horse finally figuring-out that the person, and people in general, can be trusted. To this point of trusting is where we are bringing our horse. During these exercises Luke often let out huge sighs which showed that he was releasing stored-up tension.


I'd also had another realization pretty early on with Luke. When working him in the round pen he would often immediately join-up. He learned quickly to come to the center of the round pen and that this is where he could come in order to stop moving his feet - and - to get affection. Then, he would be in my pocket so to speak and it was even difficult to shake him loose - he'd follow me everywhere and was saying that he wants to go on. Otherwise he could just disconnect and go look the other way. So, pretty quickly into the training I saddled him and rode him in the round pen. All seemed to be going fine - until - one day he dragged my leg along the inside of the round pen. As a response to that I'd learned to turned a horses head into the panels in order that he swing his hind quarters away from the panels and thus releasing my leg. Luke didn't seem to understand this and when I continued to demand he swing his hind quarters out he bucked and dumped me into the dirt. Now I had some thinking to do. Sure I'd put pressure on him but most horses simply move off of the pressure and then everything's fine. 

At this point I decided to look into Luke's history or at least try to see what I could find out about him. I learned that before the age of four we didn't have any knowledge of his life. Except that at an auction, when he was four years old, he was doing flying lead changes in the auction yard while looking like a fire-breathing monster. The person showing what he could do was getting results but it was obvious that Luke was not happy about it. Luke's next owner let him sit in the pasture for some years and then saddled him and demanded a canter which led to her immediately being dumped.  The next owner decided to do dressage with him not long after he arrived at her ranch so he put her into the dirt also. Megan Bovi attempted to mount him shortly after he had arrived at her ranch and he dumped her also - and - now he dumped me. I was getting the clear idea by now that Luke simply had a line that people kept stepping over. We cannot simply do anything at anytime with our horses. Horses have a right to rebel and one should appreciate this fact about these creatures. Luke had become fearful of people because of his past experiences; people had consistently confirmed to him that they would violate him or that they would continuously (as in the last four or so people that had mounted him) step across the line that he held sacred. Luke wanted to get along and for this reason he'd join-up immediately in the round pen - but - he was also communicating loud and clear that to win him over one had to respect him. 

My job was to figure Luke out. My job was to, through my chosen training program, give the Bovi's back a horse that is safe, predictable and reliable. So, I adopted a strategy that if Luke acted-up then I would not reprimand him (because he'd had enough of that) but I would become even softer and more reliable and more predictable; that I had to create a safe zone where he could drop his guard and know that he was safe. At first it was difficult but slowly Luke began to change and to trust and to allow - as I learned to simply work around his little quirks and to concentrate on helping him to trust. In all honesty, there were times when I thought that his old attitude and behavior would prevail because some horses have been so hurt and violated that they will never trust again and I was very pleased to watch Luke step through and out the other side of those old attitudes.

Luke taught me a lot. Luke made me think hard about how to help him. I knew that if I did not or could not bring him back to trusting that he would continue to be misunderstood and that there would, for the rest of his life, be a disconnect with him and people - not a very good state of mind to be in.

As soon as we all realized that Luke really wanted to get along; that he simply had a line in the sand that we needed to respect and, by the way, that had never been respected we all had a meeting of the minds and Luke began to shine. Luke has become a perfect gentleman on the ground and under saddle and he seems totally willing to please me and his owners. 

This was a great success story for all involved. I am so happy to have been a part of this experience and to have had this experience with Luke, Donna-Lee and Megan. We all learned so much. And our teacher? Luke was really our teacher and it was this horse that taught us all so very much on our journey towards becoming better horsemen.

I guess the moral to this story is that softer and kinder is always a better way to train and a better way to be in life. Even if the horse acts-up there's no reason or logic, in relation to the end goal of creating a trusting horse, to start the fight. Luke taught me that softer and kinder work and he actually escorted me into a deeper and more meaningful part of myself as a trainer and as a person.

Thanks Luke. Thanks Donna-Lee. Thanks Megan. I'm grateful to have had this learning experience with you all. 

Happy Trails!