Archive for October, 2006

Introduction to Ground Driving (aka Long Lining)

A friend and I started teaching Rhona to ground drive on Saturday. First I put the bareback pad on Rhona, then I put a simple rawhide bosal hackamore on her head. I attached two lunge lines to the bosal and passed them through rings on the bareback pad. (Note: One usually uses a surcingle, but I can’t find one big enough to fit around Rhona.) My friend led her while I walked about 6 feet behind, holding the lunge lines as reins. We worked on stops and simple turns for about half an hour, and she seemed to get the idea.

You may think that half a hour isn’t much time, but a little seems to go along way with this horse. I’ve noticed that if I work her too long on the same thing, she gets frustrated, much like a smart child does when he’s drilled on the same material over and over…


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Hoof care

Most PMU horses have had very little in the way of hoof care, and Rhona was no exception. Her feet looked TERRIBLE when I got her. Aside from being way too long, her hooves were cracked and split. It was obvious that they needed immediate attention. The problem was that she was very skittish about having her feet handled. No one could hold onto one of her feet for more than two or three seconds at a time, so we had to resort to sedating her for her first trim. It went smoothly, but it took three grown men to hold her up.

Tomorrow is her second trim, and despite my efforts at handling her feet regularly, she’s going to have to be sedated again. Recently, however, I came across a really useful tip in Bill Dorrance’s True Horsemanship Through Feel:  by looping a very soft rope behind a horse’s fetlock and pulling gently, you can get even the heaviest horse to pick up her foot for you. So far I haven’t gotten her to keep it up for more than a few seconds, but I’m hopeful that by the time her next trim comes along, she’ll be able to handle it without sedation. 

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Introduction to saddle

I’ve discovered that Rhona is VERY cautious about new equipment of any kind. It took me two days just to get a saddle blanket on her back. She spent hours just sniffing, snorting, pawing and backing away. (I don’t believe in old-fashioned “sacking out.” I prefer to let her accept things at her own pace, even if it means revising my mental training timeline. PMU mares have had precious little novelty in their lives; I figure a fear of new things is to be expected.)

She’s okay with the blanket now, but a saddle seems to be more than she can handle at this point, so I switched tactics and bought a nice leather bareback pad instead. I’ve been working with it for two days now, and today I was even able to tighten the cinch. She was a little scared, but she didn’t panic or buck. I think she’ll settle down in another day or two, then maybe we’ll try the saddle again.

Next weekend I also intend to start ground-driving her to introduce her to reining…

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The story so far, part 3: Fall FINALLY arrives

Thank goodness, my fears were unfounded. She lived through the summer, but I had to suspend her training until it got cooler, which it FINALLY did a couple of weeks ago.

By this time, she was firmly established as “lead mare” of the herd. And, unfortunately, those bossy tendencies carried over into her relationship with me. She was no longer the gentle, timid mare I’d known before. Instead, she seemed to take every available opportunity to balk and/or push me around (and I had the bruises to prove it!). I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into, adopting a 10-year-old, 1400lb, untrained, unsocialized mare! She was SO big and strong, and she had no respect for me.

I’d never been in that situation before, and I desperately started reading everything I could about how to regain control of a dominant horse. Thanks to books by Monty Roberts, Kelly Marks, Richard Shrake and Bill Dorrance, I started realizing some of the mistakes I’d been making, such as showing hesitance and looking her in the eye.

The most intriguing concept I came across in my reading was called “Join Up.” Join Up is a process which involves using body language to send the horse away from you, then invite him to come back and submit to you as he would submit to a more dominant horse.  I was skeptical but desperate, so I tried it. 

And it worked! Within five minutes of sending Rhona away from me, she was displaying submissive body language. I then invited her to follow me, which she immediately did, and I haven’t had any dominance problems with her since.

I highly recommend Join Up to anyone training a horse, and particularly to anyone training a large, older horse. You can find complete instructions for Join Up in Kelly Marks’ book Teach Your Horse Perfect Manners: How You Should Behave So Your Horse Does Too. Wonderful book, worth every penny.

And that’s where this blog picks up…

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The story so far, part 2: Summer training

I arranged to board Rhona at a stable near my house where I could visit her almost every day. The move was without incident– she loaded and hauled wth no problems.

 The first several days at “home” she was jumpy and nervous, as one would expect from a horse who’d spent her life alone in a stall. We kept her in the round pen during the day, where she could see the other horses, and in the evenings I took her on short walks. 

I learned very quickly to watch her feet! She obviously hadn’t been led much, and she didn’t know where to put her feet. After the second time she stepped on me, I bought steel-toed boots.

Within a week or so, she learned to keep her distance, and I started training her to lunge. That’s when I realized how smart she was! She picked up basic lunging in less than five minutes. Within a couple of days she was changing directions on command, and after a week I no longer needed a lunge line. She seemed to WANT to learn new things, and I was convinced I’d be riding her by the end of summer.  

Unfortunately, July and 100+ degree heat came, and it was obvious that she wasn’t handling it well. I should have expected that– she’d lived her whole life in Canada, and this was her first Texas summer. She became very listless, went off her feed, and one night she colicked due to dehydration. I started to worry that she wouldn’t make it through the summer…

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The story so far, part 1: Letting the horse pick me

I adopted Rhona in June 2006 after stumbling across the Hope for Horses ( website. I’d heard about the plight of PMU horses before, but seeing pictures of actual PMU mares just broke my heart. I decided then and there that I had to save at least one of these beautiful animals.

Luckily, Hope for Horses is only a two-hour drive, so I made an appointment to go meet the mares. I thought I knew which one I wanted based on the pictures– a huge, beautiful, black and white Percheron named Summer– but a wise friend advised me to “let the horse pick me.” 

 So I tried to approach the band of mares with an open mind, although it was difficult, since Summer was even more beautiful up close than she’d been in the photo. But she wanted nothing to do with me despite my multiple attempts to befriend her. 

In the mean time, I was approached by a smaller bay mare with a 4 branded on her rump. She was sweet, but she didn’t really stand out, and after petting her for a moment, I went on approaching bigger, flashier mares.

But the bay mare wouldn’t be ignored. As I followed Summer across the pasture, the bay followed me. As I knelt down and whispered to Summer, the bay gently nudged me on the back as if to say, “Hey, you’re talking to the wrong horse!”

“Let the horse pick you.” 

I finally gave in and accepted that I’d been picked. The bay was mine. I paid her adoption fee, kissed her on the nose and arranged to pick her up the following Saturday.

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The purpose of this blog

This blog is about my PMU mare, Rhona, and my experiences teaching her to be a “normal” horse. I intend to be perfectly honest about the ups and downs of this undertaking, and it’s my hope that doing so will help new and potential PMU adopters prepare for this challenging but  oh-so-rewarding adventure.

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