The long strange trip

Five years ago, today, we set out on the three hour journey to pick up the colt of my dreams.  More than just a dream, he was something out of a long held fantasy – and someone was giving him to me!  I am not the person who ever wins the raffle, or finds a random twenty dollar bill, or attracts a wealthy benefactor.  So, from the beginning, I was waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop.  But the day was here, and we were on our way.

It took a while to get the colt loaded into our trailer.  They’d been practicing with him – but context matters, and this was not the same trailer.  But, we were eventually loaded and rolling.  The guy who had done all of his training (and was apparently quite fond of him) jumped on the running board and talked to the colt on the long drive out to the road.  He waived as we drove off, while mom and I settled in for the long nerve wracking drive home.

Fortunately, it was uneventful.  From the moment the doors closed, the colt never moved a foot.  He had the full open box to move in, but he never moved from the center.  We could see him through the window – head high, occasionally turning it slightly.  What was in near constant motion were his ears, taking in every sound on that long journey.

Noble – at that point untouchable.

Thus began our journey with Noble.  My dream soon turned into a nightmare, when I discovered that my new colt was not only terrified, but was fear aggressive.  We were warned that he had a fear of strangers, due to several early medical procedures – his only interactions with people other than the two at his birthplace.  I have dealt with fearful horses many times, so I was not worried about that aspect.  But Noble was not prone to run away.  Instead, he would run at you, and it only took a couple of times being shoulder-bowled for me to know I had a problem.

Noble’s first day out

As I wrote in the post “Becoming Noble“, I eventually settled on a plan to win him over.  Within a week I could touch him.  Eventually, I could halter him; and a month after he arrived we could finally turn him out for some play time.

From then on, our bond grew.  Noble greeted me whenever I came into view.  He’d follow me around – we even did some liberty work over obstacles.  I really felt that I was raising the horse of my dreams.  And then came the second nightmare.

In the year in which he turned three, something changed in Noble.  It first became clear one day when he spooked at a tarp and tore the rope from my hand.  I watched a light bulb go on that day – and every time I caught him, he’d first get a glimmer, then bolt away.  This soon became a habit, and almost every time I had him out he would break away at least once – usually multiple times.  Initially, the breakaway would be followed by his returning to me.  But, as he discovered his freedom, even that concession ended.  I tried several things, as I wrote in the post Bratty, with a twist – but nothing phased him.

As he passed three, and journeyed toward four, he showed less interest in our interactions.  The focus I once had from him was gone.  He became highly impulsive, and began to have what can only be described as temper tantrums.  When his paddock became muddy, he would gaze at his open back gate, and the pasture beyond, then whirl around and kick the walls in his stall.  His expression began to remind me of a teen who is always spoiling for a fight.

I faced a dilemma – I could not out-power him, and it was challenging just to outsmart him.  To show you just how smart this colt is – he was in the cross-ties one day, getting groomed.  Something triggered him to pull back, for the first and only time.  The leather breakaway strap on his halter gave way, and he was loose.  Cool!  He turned and went to chat with Coffee.  So, I retrieved Tally’s halter – same style as his – caught him up and put him back in the cross ties.  No problem!  Then I saw that glint of trouble in his eye.  As I wondered what he was pondering, I got my answer.

Before my very eyes, he calmly began to lift his head.  Higher and higher he lifted his poll, slowly pressing against the top of the halter until the leather strap snapped!  He then whirled around and went back to his chat with Coffee. Need more proof of his intelligence?  I found an all-nylon halter that I could fit on him – and he never tried more than a single tug to determine that his gambit wouldn’t work with that halter.

This was often my view of Noble during his juvenile delinquent period

Facing a colt with a juvenile delinquent attitude, and a knack for learning things in one or two tries, I knew that any mistakes would have lasting consequences.  Once again, Noble presented me a challenge I had not previously encountered.  So, I made a rather controversial decision – I chose to basically leave him alone in the hope that he would grow out of it.  Many people I knew thought this was exactly the wrong choice – thankfully his breeder supported me, sure that I knew Noble better than anyone.

So, for the better part of two years, we lived with a juvenile delinquent.  I confess that I often would look at him and see no future for us.  He would not be safe to send out for training, knowing that most people would be intimidated by his size.  Likely methods would include trying to push him – and I knew from his foalhood that aggression would be his answer to anything that caused fear or frustration.  But, just as I became convinced that I’d made the wrong choice, and all was lost, something began to change.

Noble meeting an umbrella

About a year ago, he began to try to get my attention when I was working with the other horses.  He began to nicker when I’d come in – something he hadn’t done for a couple of years.  So I started to see how much he was willing to engage.  We started with teaching simple commands, over the stall wall – lowering his head, presenting his eyes, ears, nostril, or mouth.  I followed that with introducing ‘scary’ items and working on acceptance.  Surprisingly, he enjoyed all of these ‘games’.  Over this past year we’ve made slow training progress, but I’ve focused on rebuilding that bond we once had.  Noble’s eye is much softer than even a year ago.  He is trying hard to understand what we ask of him, and seems to be always looking for the next ‘ask’ when I work with him.

Proof of just how much he has learned to focus came a couple of weeks ago.  I was letting him out, and knew I would have little time that day to work with him.  So, I decided to take some treats and see if I could get him to focus as liberty.  I ran through the things I’d taught him early on – move the haunches, move the shoulders, walk with me, back, move sideways, figures – I was shocked at how much we got through.  Knowing I was pushing my luck, I decided to end the session and made my way out of the field.  I gave him a last carrot and stroked his nose.  He looked at me, for a moment, making sure we were done – and then he turned and went bucking and galloping all the way to the back!

The soft eye and focus on me has returned

If he can focus and be obedient when he has that much pent up energy, then there is truly hope for the future!  It’s been a long strange trip to get to this point, and there is no doubt that we still have a long way to go.  Still, for the first time in years I am fantasizing about what it will be like to dance with the giant handsome fellow that is Noble.  Whatever we eventually are able to do, it’s just a good feeling to have my boy back!  Stay tuned for future developments.

Be good to your horses!

Lia

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