I’ve found that if you let a new horse stand alone in his new home for too long, with nothing to occupy his mind, he’ll start to think that either this is the best deal ever and he never wants to work at all, or he’ll start to worry about what’s coming next and instead of settling in, he’ll get more and more anxious. So I think it’s important to introduce a routine in a gentle, easy way and to offer some glimpse of what your expectations are right from the start. I like smart horses, so the sorts of horses I tend to bring home tend to need something to think about – before they think themselves into trouble.
The challenge, of course, is to do this without overwhelming the new horse.
So, today I let the gray baby (name to be announced tomorrow!) mostly just relax and chow down while I sat on the corral rail nearby and read my book. (Reading a book is the fastest way I’ve found to catch a horse’s curiosity. Odd, but totally true!) She came over to sniff my hair, my hands, my jeans, my boots. Let me brush the forelock out of her eyes. She got used to seeing me with a hat and without, with long sleeves and without, with sunglasses and without. (Every mustang I’ve ever known thinks sunglasses are secret weapons and have to be convinced otherwise…)
And then I started to teach her the rules. (With Trinity’s occasional help from outside the corral.) Right now, there are only two she needs to know: 1. She can’t turn her butt to me. 2. When I walk up to her, she should stand still until I ask her to move.
She is doing really well with #2 and let me rub her head, neck, shoulder and back several times. I can reach for the tag around her neck, but I don’t trust her to stand still *quite* long enough for me to cut it off yet. That will come in the next day or so, I expect.
#1 is a little harder – her preferred defensive move appears to be a double-barrel kick so I REALLY don’t want her to get the idea she can swing her butt to me. She is sweet and mild around me – unlike the moments she feels she needs to protect her hay from Trinity *coughcough* – so I don’t want to make a huge deal of it. There’s no point in frightening her, but she needs to learn the rule. So today I taught her to turn and face me when I kiss to her. It’s an easy, adaptable cue that can form the basis for all sorts of conversations later, so it’s generally the first thing I teach. Took her a little bit to figure out I wasn’t just making weird noises for no reason, but I think she’s got the idea now. 🙂 Tomorrow I’ll build on it.
Already she’s looking less tucked-up and her eye is softer, so I think she’s doing pretty well. And tonight she discovered the wonders of soaked alfalfa shreds with a scoop of Horse Manna sprinkled on top. 😉