WORKING TO GENTLE TWO WILD HORSES FROM YAKIMA
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!