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Breaking In One

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Tuesday March 27 2007

Trevor's got lots of stories about breaking in horses - broke these here, broke those there, with a partner broke in 10 in one day. I'd sure like to see him work with one.

He asked what me the plans were for today. "Well? How about breaking in a horse?"

"Hmm. Royt-o. That sounds good."

He picked a 4-year-old gelding by Harmony that he already had separated from his herd-mates into his own big paddock. He likes to do this for a while before he works with them, to get them off the mob-mentality. He had only been handled briefly 4 months ago for a few hours, when he was tied to another gelding Trevor was breaking. He was run into a round pen and worked with till a halter was got on him, then he was simply tied by his halter to the other gelding with a halter on. The other gelding had a problem with fighting being tied; when 2 horses are tied together, they must work out the pulling and the tugging on the head. One horse can only pull back so far - they learn that pressure on the head means to give, and they learn how to lead. Other than that, the bay gelding had been untouched.

We ran him with the 4-wheeler into the big paddock in front with the big 8-foot fence round pen in it, and we left him in there to think about life in a restricted enclosure while we had tea. Then Trevor gathered up his gear - ropes and halters and whip and such - and went into the round pen. The gelding, a good-looking nicely built bay, bigger than his sire Harmony, was all snorty and wild-eyed. I climbed up and sat on the fence to watch and take pictures.

I could write a book on what he did, the subtleties and the reactions of the horse and human, but, the pictures tell the short story. First Trevor worked him one way around the pen till he was paying attention, then he worked him the other way till he was paying attention. He was then able to approach him and touch him, (the horse still snorting a lot, and wanting to run away, leaning his body away from Trevor, but still holding his ground), then throw a rope over his body and neck, then slip the rope around his neck and head. Due to that one little tying-to-a-horse lesson months back, the horse knew how to follow Trevor and the slight pressure on his head. Next came the surcingle, or roller around his belly, which he took very well. Trevor had the horse take steps in both directions, feeling the new thing attached to his girth and back, Trevor always controlling his head. After that, Trevor dropped the lead rope - the horse had learned to stand still when the lead rope was on the ground, because it was his sort of quiet spot, or safe zone - he didn't have to work while his lead rope lay on the ground. This whole process took maybe 45 minutes to an hour. Each horse is different, and his progress dictates how long you spend on each step. We left the horse in the round pen to think about the surcingle and halter with attached lead rope while we had coffee.

When we returned in an hour or so, the horse was standing quietly at the gate, watching for Trevor. When Trevor went into the round pen again, the horse was on the other side snorting loudly, but Trevor had only to walk up to him slowly and stroke his neck again, then pick up the lead rope and lead him to the middle of the pen.

Next was the introduction to the bit; Trevor slipped a zilco halter/bridle on under the rope one, with snaps for the bit. He stuck his finger in the horse's mouth to get him to chew; then he clipped the bit on one side, and got him chewing again with his finger, and just slid the bit right in his mouth, easy as that. The horse stood there like he'd always worn a bit in his mouth. Trevor stepped him in circles both ways a few times. Next, he attached a rope from one side of the bit through the surcingle and used that to pull the horse's head to one side, get him respond to that by turning. He did this both directions two or three times. Next, lines on both sides to drive him and turn him into the fence a few times.

Next, bit out of the mouth, and time to introduce the saddle - scary! Snorty spooky horse at that lump of Something in the middle of the pen! Trevor approached and retreated with the horse, removed the surcingle while rubbing it all over him. They re-approached the saddle, which, while scary, did not make the horse run away, although he could have if he really wanted to. Notice as Trevor picks up the saddle and carries it to the horse, he's not even holding the rope. I was amazed at how calm the horse was; once Trevor picked up the saddle, it was no longer scary, and he barely flinched as Trevor put it on his back. Trevor quietly and smoothly cinched it up, and turned the horse both ways. Here is where he says you really want to keep the horse from bucking - keep his head to you and keep him off balance turning.

So far so good... we left the horse in the pen with his halter and saddle, and went to have coffee again (we sure have a lot of coffee!). This all maybe took another 45 minutes.

When we came back, the horse was at the fence, eyes and ears glued to Trevor approaching. He walked away when Trevor entered the pen, but didn't run, and didn't snort. Trevor carefully approached him again, petted him, and drove him around a little bit again with the saddle on, and the rope tied around his neck, which was different with the rope hanging to the ground, which the gelding knew meant to Stand.

Next - get the horse ready to mount. Put the stirrups on, slap them around, bounce them off his side, and spin him or drive him around till he calms down to that. Then Trevor tied him to a post, (here's where tying to a horse also comes in handy in teaching the horse not to pull back), put weight in both stirrups, rose in the stirrups so the horse could see him on both sides, petted him. When he was ready, he slowly stepped in the stirrup and swung his leg over the horse, stayed low in the saddle petting him a while, then slowly rose.

And the gelding did nothing. Each step had been done smoothly and with the minimal amount of stress, nothing rushed, and the horse took everything well. Now of course each horse is different, and some may take many hours or 2 days to do things right (and things may not go smoothly at all) - you just let the horse dictate what he can take, and what you need to adjust for him. Trevor tried to get the horse to take a few steps, but the gelding knew he was tied up and shouldn't move. Trevor untied him, but he still wasn't sure what Trevor wanted.

This is where a jockey comes in handy... a passenger on the horse, where the horse still sees and feels a person on his back, but the person on the ground gets the horse to move at first, while the rider slowly takes over the commands. So, I climbed on him. Trevor led him around in circles, I moved my weight and arms and legs and reins around on the horse and petted him all over so he wouldn't forget me up there while Trevor, his safety blanket on the ground, led him around. After 5 minutes of that we quit, all on a very good note. That would do nicely till the next time Trevor works with him - and the whole process would likely take a fraction of the time the next time around, since this horse took everything so well and learned so fast.

When Trevor's done with his horses, he immediately unsaddles them - work is over; he takes them away from their safe comfort zone to the middle business part of the pen, un-halters them and immediately walks away from them, instead of letting the horse walk (or run, or bolt) away.

Really, it was all that simple, just a few hours and all that accomplished. But of course it's not simple. This one went easily and smoothly, and Trevor's so good at what he does, it just looks easy.

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