I’ve written before of my ongoing challenge with young Mr. Noble. When he first arrived, and the age of six months, he was already a big strong fellow – and not what I would consider halter broke. Oh, if you were strong enough, you could muscle him in the right direction (as his prior handler did); but that was not my idea of fun. We’ve worked on it, but quite by accident he learned that he was strong enough to break away from me. Over the past year, between his entry into adolescence and my injuries, he began to make it quite a habit to leave when the mood hit. We’ve been approaching it with a combination of management (sacrificing our entire back acre so he has more room to run), equipment (stud chains are only evil if you use them in an evil way), more bonding time, and of course training. The situation has improved – with an interesting twist.
In spite of the mucky conditions out back, we’ve been able to be pretty regular about turning Noble and Java out. We’ve had to make one adjustment, putting a gate at the end of the arena so they have a less mucky passage back to the green stuff. We’d gone several weeks without incident, until the old gateway just got too mucky for Noble – and he broke away before I could get his halter off. So, a new gate, with more solid footing, and the big kid is much happier.
In the weeks since we started the new routine, we’ve had a couple of other breakaway attempts – but always in locations where he ran into obstacles, and I was able to regain control of the situation. Add in some training efforts and increased bonding time, and we seem to be on the track to resolving the issue. Then, in the past week, we’ve had three new incidents … but this time there’s a difference.
The first was as he was passing through the gate, coming in for lunch. Java, who’d come through the gate first, suddenly spooked (very uncharacteristic). Noble was able to contain himself – then Java spooked again. This was too much for the boy, and he started to bolt through the gate. I tried to hang on, but the rope caught on the gate latch. Noble hit the end of the rope, and it snapped. He came to a stop, looked puzzled, then turned and walked right back to me.
The second incident was a day or two later. We were bringing the boys in for the night, Noble in the lead. We were walking quietly when Noble suddenly leapt to the right. It was dark, so I didn’t see what spooked him, though I suspect it was one of the cats running up the tree. I’d forgotten my gloves, and his leap was so dramatic that when I felt the rope bite into my hand I didn’t even try to hang on. (Confession: I’d just seen a picture on Facebook of some fingers nearly severed in just such a way … yuck!) Noble got halfway across the arena, stopped, turned, and walked calmly back to me. Notice a pattern yet?
The third incident was the first one in several weeks where he just couldn’t contain his excitement. The boys had been out for longer than usual, and it was clear they thought we were late! As I lead Noble through the gate I felt the energy suddenly build, and just before I could react, he bolted and was gone. I turned to make sure my mother had gotten the gate closed behind us, and as I turned back to see where my colt had gone he came galloping up. He slid to a stop a few feet in front of me, then calmly walked the last couple of steps. I gave him a carrot for coming back, and we calmly made our way to the barn.
Of course I would love it if my colt never tried to break away from me – but that may be expecting too much from a very large adolescent who didn’t get the proper lessons when he was a wee lad. I certainly hope that over time these incidents won’t occur. However, I have to admit to being touched by each of those times he walked calmly back to me. I may not yet have won his complete obedience, but I seem to have won his heart!
Be good to your horses!