Thursday, August 19, 2010

Haltering a half-wild yearling

I have taken on an interesting project lately. My mother-in-law acquired a yearling stud colt recently — it's a long story, but basically my sister-in-law wanted to the colt's pregnant mother, and the neighbor who owned them refused to give just one of them up. They were both "free," but of course they both need immediate attention, as the neighbor was your classic irresponsible horse owner. The mare's feet hadn't been done in ages, and her owner wasn't doing anything about the fact that she kept getting out (which is how she got pregnant both times — from the same stud).

The poor colt had NEVER been handled, and has NEVER had his feet done. I think he might actually be older than 12 months, since he's got to be 14 hands or a little taller, and his feet have a lot of growth on them. My mother-in-law was planning on turning around and rehoming him, but in the meantime he has to have his feet trimmed and his equipment removed! Of course, until we get a halter on him, there's nothing we can do about either problem.

It reminds me a lot of Panama's situation, since his mother was also pregnant, and he was about a year old (albeit much smaller), when we rescued him. Therefore I have felt very compelled to help out — though it's also partly because I fear it won't get done otherwise.

Meet Rodeo (and please excuse the crappy iPhone pictures, I forgot my camera):

Yearling stud colt

I have to admit, his sweet face is stealing my heart. Not that he's anywhere near as cute as Panama... but he's close. When I showed my farrier a picture, he said the coloring is called strawberry roan; I had never seen it before.

Strawberry roan horse

When they first got him, my mother-in-law said, you couldn't even touch him. He'd clearly never been handled, probably hardly even been around people at all, and was incredibly skittish about it. He was getting better, but when I first saw him on Sunday, he was still not comfortable with being touched and had never accepted a hand-fed treat.

I started out by giving him a couple of treats. I discovered his mom was quite pushy, and it wasn't until I succeeded in shooing her off that he felt comfortable inspecting the treat and, eventually, taking it. After a few more, he started getting the idea that even if people were scary, they had good things to eat in their pockets!

We took his mom out of the round pen so that I could work with him alone. He was already starting to take an interest in me (the Treat Master), so I started teaching him that paying attention to me was good, and not paying attention to me was bad: I (gently) drove him in circles around the round pen when he stopped paying attention, and rewarded him by stopping as soon as he showed the smallest sign of paying attention to me. Pretty soon I had him standing still and letting me approach him, which earned him more treats.

It was dusk at this point, but I kept working with him well after dark, since it didn't seem to bother him. Once he figured out that praise was a good thing, I backed off on the treats, but I kept giving them for any major accomplishment. It took a couple of hours, but after a while I was able to stroke his neck and shoulder a little bit, and when I walked around the round pen he would follow me. I didn't want to rush haltering him, because I don't want to ruin the tentative trust he is developing, so that was as far as we got Sunday night.

Last night I went down there and we worked on it some more. I can rub on his neck and shoulder, and even run my hand down to about his hip, as long as I don't do anything to startle him — he is still a bit quick to flight, even though he has decided I'm more or less okay. I also succeeded in looping the lead rope around his neck and taking him for a short walk (about 10 steps) — a huge step because he is so alarmed by anything that makes him feel the slightest bit confined.

I did get him to start putting his nose into a halter, but didn't try to force it up and over his nose. Like I said, I don't want to rush it, but we definitely need to work on it again some more, and soon — I noticed last night that his hind feet are clearly causing him some discomfort. He walks very gingerly and awkwardly, and often takes turns resting them when standing still. When viewed from behind, you can see that his heels are nearly on the ground! His front feet are bad, too, but they don't seem to be causing him any discomfort.

Quite a little project I've discovered for myself, isn't it? The problem is that I am starting to get a little bit attached to him, even though I know I can't afford a second horse. I must have a soft spot for neglected babies!



At August 20, 2010 at 5:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's very cute and that's good progress!

At August 20, 2010 at 9:23 AM, Blogger Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Yeah, that is quite a project. There was a time when I was interested in adopting a wild mustang, but realized I didn't have enough time to put into acclimating it to humans. You have to get it to the point where it would allow a farrier to trim its feet within a few months of acquiring it, and just working with it on the weekends wouldn't cut it. It sounds like you've got the time and patience. You can spot progress when you see it, so you are a blessing in this horse's life.

At August 20, 2010 at 10:06 AM, Blogger JennyB said...

My Paso mare is that color too!

It sounds like you're doing an absolutely marvelous job with him!!! I totally agree, make a little progress each time but don't try to push for so much that you risk it all.

When I ran my rescue I developed a soft spot for all of them but I had to keep firmly in mind that if I kept all of them I'd very quickly run out of room to save the others out there that still needed me. Just be real honest about what you can and can't do. Even if you can't afford another horse you should be proud that you're helping him become a horse that someone out there will cherish which is such a brighter future than he had before he met you =)


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