In between rain storms, I’ve been trying to civilize Noble. He comes from a line known to be difficult to train, and I can see where that reputation might come from. However, it is difficult in a way that I am used to, after more than forty years of living with Appaloosas. In a word, he is smart and willing to use it to his advantage. Compliant will never be a word you can apply to my Noble! Yet, he adores getting attention, and in recent months has been asking more and more that he get the attention the “working” horses get. However, a recent event illustrates just what I’m up against – and left my mother and I rolling in the barn aisle!
My work with Noble has been confined to his paddock. Prone to get bored very quickly, and simply run off, he is a challenging pupil. Due to his size, we have focused on teaching him many things I might not have needed with other horses in the past: lifting his own feet, lowering his head and placing it under our hands, etc. He is one of the quickest learners I have ever worked with – that is, once you convince him that it might be fun to actually play these silly human games.
On most occasions, I have worked with him after he has had his day out roaming the back. But, on this particular day, I decided to work with him before his turnout. We’d had several dry days, so he hadn’t missed any of his roaming time, and seemed in a rather mellow humor. So, we worked on his usual cues, and I started some new body cues. It was a nice session, and I began to feel that he was more focused and interested throughout the session than in any time since he hit puberty.
We finished on a good note, and I started to lead him back into the stall to remove the halter. Apparently, according to Noble, this was the wrong decision to make. About halfway back up his paddock, he suddenly got that “look” and immediately spun around, tearing the rope from my hand. Since he could not get out, I decided to keep going into the stall to see what he would do next.
Once inside the stall, I turned around to find him standing at his back gate, looking in my direction with a somewhat puzzled expression. His rope was dangling, and he seemed unsure what to do about it. I’ve been working with him on ground tying, and although he is nowhere near solid, the lessons seemed to be in his mind as he stood without moving a foot. After a considerable amount of pondering, he apparently decided to try coming in to see what we were doing (my mother now standing at my shoulder watching the proceedings). And then it happened – snap! His first step landed squarely on the rope, and even he was no match for his own weight! He very abruptly stopped, rocking his weight back, and landing a hind foot on the trailing end of the rope.
He was well stuck now! We stood there watching as he tested the length of the rope, by lifting his head and swinging his neck. No give. After another moment pondering, he came up with his next approach – dropping his head enough to slack the rope, then picking it up in his mouth and trying to lift it. At this moment, he did move a front foot, giving the rope some extra slack – but his hind foot was still well and firmly planted.
We watched, with some amazement, at the thought process he put into trying to free himself. After a couple of different approaches to the “pick the rope up” gambit, he dropped it and stood there perplexed. As I stepped out of the shadow of his stall, his head went up and he got that “I’m in trouble now!” look – but clearly felt well and properly trapped in that moment, because he did not move a muscle.
I walked up, took the rope, and asked, “Can we go in your stall now?” He dropped his head, let me gather the rope, and walked placidly back to his stall. We did a couple of practice “Whoa!” on the way in, just for good measure. I took off his halter, gave him his last carrot piece, and went out to open his back gate. He came calmly out and went on his way to the grass out back.
Perhaps, if fate would grant another similar incident, or two, Noble might actually learn respect for his halter. Such fortuitous occurrences can be a great boon to a horse trainer. Dani attempted to buck on her first time cantering under saddle, and had such poor balance that she nearly fell over. It clearly disturbed her enough that, to the end of her career, she never again attempted to buck under saddle. But, I won’t count on fate, and the hard, slow, tedious work will continue.
Noble is a challenging character, but I am in no hurry. Perhaps, if I’d raised him from the beginning, he would be far more advanced. However, waiting out his horrible adolescence seems to have paid off in an improved interest in “playing” the human games. So far, time has been my friend. No doubt, there will be more challenges ahead, but we will persist. I have a dream of what can be, but nothing to prove and no agenda aside from giving him a good life.
Just for fun, I will leave you with this little clip of the big monster – with a bit of a bang toward the end. Enjoy!
Be good to your horses!