I always begin with evaluating my horses character in several ways before working with them. I first do this by observing them carefully in their surroundings and how they react and interact with people, horses, other animals, food, and anything else they come in contact with. How do they handle various daily handling experiences and unexpected routine changes and environmental changes. Character is the traits that are intrinsic to any being. There is no judgement about character traits they simply are. And you either learn to get along with them or you don’t. A horse is who he is just as much as you and I are who we are. We can only shape behavior patterns that need to be shaped but we will never change the core character of any being. Then there is the Nature versus Nurture aspect. Who was this being when he was born and who has he become based on his 5 years with humans. I have become good at figuring out who the core horse is and what was human created. It’s quite fascinating for me to peel the layers right down to other people’s training techniques a horse has been taught. It’s one of the reasons I make it my business to know other styles and schools of training, so I can know why a horse is reacting the way they are or why they are muscled the way they are etc.
My first impression of Angus when I saw him at the place he was before he came to the farm was that he was actually quite settled. I observed some head shyness around the halter being put on, but when I approached and asked if I could handle his feet (a total stranger to him) he was not fussed about it. He seemed to take his routine in stride (which some horses don’t Mercury!). He was bright and alert, but also disconnected a bit from people not in a shut down way but in a way horses get when they don’t really have a person who they really connect to. Of course not always possible in busy lesson and show barns for horses to get as much individualized attention. I was told he didn’t load on the trailer completely willingly so I made sure to tell him where he was going and what was going to happen before they shipped him to us (this is important whether you buy into it or not. It matters to horses that they know what is going to happen to them). I was told he didn’t fuss much when they loaded him and brought him a few days later.
Upon arrival, I helped unload him and he was calm and mannerly. We put him right in a paddock so he could see his surroundings and the other horses. He walked around a bit, found his hay net and started eating. A good sign. During the day, the only time he got excited, was when horses were walked by him. I visited with him periodically and brought him Carrots, Black Sunflower seeds, and Rose hips all of which he ate happily! I observed that he was definitely a food motivated horse (not all horses are) but also would leave his hay net to visit anyone who walked by or went to the fence. I went right to work on my halter game exercise because he was definitely showing anxiety around the halter being put on because we needed to be able to have it be a calm experience for all of us. By day two, he was whinnying to me when he saw me! “Hey lady with the herbs and delicious whole foods!” I had made a new friend!
I took him out of the paddock so he could walk around the farm and see where he was. He was much more un-confident so we took our time working on him focusing on me and my guidance so he knew he wasn’t alone in this. I was there for him. I let him nibble a bit of grass here and there to help him settle himself. Then I brought him in for his dinner. More to come!