Pacifica (autumnwinds) wrote,

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Training the horses

I got to have some interesting interactions with the stock this week.

For one, last weekend the interns went for a ride up to the wolf den, and on the way back, the most skittish of the horses jumped a creek into some bushes, tearing a big gash on one front leg above the knee. It was too big to leave alone, and there was no way we could fly a vet in for a few days, so we ended up having to stitch the thing closed ourselves.

The horse, as previously stated, is skittish, and especially hates anything messing with her legs, so this promised to be a real picnic. It ended up involving twelve of us, with several holding her halter and one holding the twitch (which pinches her nose and releases endorphins), two actually doing the stitching, and the rest of us bringing scissors and syringes and bandages and bute. We put in nine stitches, which took two hours, several shots of local anesthetic in the leg, and two shots of a general sedative in the neck to dope her up a bit (but not knock her out).

A few days later, we had a second incident...the stock escaped. Holly and I were changing Kat's bandage that morning (looking good), and Holly forgot to lock the gate with the carabiner when we left. The gate still had a sliding bar to close it, but the mules know how to deal with that. A few hours later, at lunchtime, Penny and the mules were right outside our kitchen window.

The field is a mass of chest-high hay at the moment, and the stock was wild in it, running and trampling and eating everything. It doesn't help that the lead mare is a mustang, and enjoyed the excuse to be a wild horse for a while. They ran from one end of the pasture to the other, which was murder on Kat's leg. Tyler managed to catch the slowest mule, and I was able to lure one in with grain and slow down another enough to be caught. Then Jim caught the lame Kat at the watering hole, and we herded the other two into the corral after the rest were tied there.

Luckily, they didn't do too much damage to the hay. It was a bit trampled, but it'll spring back up before we start mowing it this week. The fun thing is that Holly thought it was a good excuse to give the lead mare some extra training on respect, and I came along to watch.

What Holly basically did is use a whip (for sound, not for beating) to make the mare run circles around her in the corral, and the mare was not allowed to stop unless Holly said so. When Holly gave her the cue to stop, the mare would walk to Holly, licking her lips (a sign of submission) and get a rest for a minute before Holly started her up again. The intent was basically to affirm that Holly was in charge, not the mare, and that getting to spend time around people was a privelege and a place of refuge. Then Holly let me try it, and then we both did it with the crankiest mule, just to see if we could. We even got to set the whip aside.

I have to admit, it's a really cool feeling to be able to control the movement of something as big as a horse or a mule by voice commands and hand signals ALONE. By the time we were done, I was able to call them to me from across the corral, or make them follow me around without even having to make eye contact.

It was a few steps above my usual stock interactions in terms of difficulty, and I enjoyed it immensely.

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