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Making of a ‘Keeper’ takes time

By Sheryl Lynde - October 1st, 2017 - Trainer Tips, Training

Trainer TipsIn preparation for my upcoming demonstrations at the Norco Horse Affair Oct. 6-8, I sent out a request for a fearful horse to use. Immediately, I received responses and videos. I selected the first one I received, but another horse that came in later reminded me of an 18-month-old colt that once was sent to me to start.

Starlight Sam I Am was his name, and he had a common link to the horse recently offered to me for my demo – they had a level of fear that would not be fixed in an hour’s time.

Sam’s fear was unpredictable and explosive. He was a danger to himself and anyone handling him. He lacked self-preservation, meaning if he put himself through a fence during one of his episodes — so be it. This wasn’t due to anything the owner had caused. Sam arrived with his baggage. An attempt to touch his hind legs would elicit a rapid-fire kick. One day he would accept the saddle, but the very next day while repeating the identical steps, he would flip over backward multiple times. As soon as he got to his feet, he would launch into a 20-minute bucking spree with me on the other end of the lead rope, trying to keep him contained in the round pen.

I really wasn’t sure whether I could — or even wanted to — fix this. His eyes mirrored fear and chaos. But since the only other option at this point would have been to be put down, I decided I would give him my best effort.

I saw some progress after a couple of months of ground work, but he was still unpredictable. We made the decision to lay him down. People seem to think that laying down a horse is about submission, but I disagree. A horse’s thought process is black or white. They don’t fear the possibility of injury; they fear they are going to die.

By laying a horse down properly, they are able to realize their worst fear — which is death — and live through it. Once Sam was down, I laid across his rib cage and rubbed everywhere that had previously been off limits which were his girth, flank, and hind legs. I continued until he was relaxed and had a soft eye. Once he was calm I stood and left the round pen. Sam stayed down for about 30 minutes. When he came to his feet he let out the widest yawn that came from deep inside, finally releasing stress. I haltered him and turned him out in the arena where he continued to lay down on his own. Finally, I see real progress.

At this point we turned him out with our geldings. They would teach him what he needed to know about being a horse. After about four months, they accepted him into the herd and he was running freely among them. He had a new confidence about him. It was time to start his training again.

I put about four months of ground work on Sam, consisting of saddling, dragging tarps, trailering off site, ponying and packing. His episodes still occurred, but with less frequency.
I took every opportunity to build his confidence through each stage of training. When it was time to put on his first ride, I became a passenger on his back while being ponied. After being ponied at a walk, trot and cantor, it was time for his first solo ride, and it went smoothly.

It was then time to ride outside the round pen. We have an area contiguous to our training facility that is great for colts with hills, uneven ground and lots of brush to navigate around. I was able to lope him safely on more level areas where the footing was softer deeper sand. What really built his confidence was having him track cows both at our place and off site.

After eight months of riding, I turned him over to Rick Hoffman who continued his training on cows and put a great handle on him. Both Rick and I took some hits off of Sam, but we got back in the saddle and stuck it out. Sam just competed in his first Versatility Ranch Horse event and he came home with ribbons. He is trusting now, which enables him to think instead of react. Good training takes time – years, in fact. Sam belongs to Rick now, and his name is “Keeper” –and that he is.

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One comment has been made on “Making of a ‘Keeper’ takes time”

  1. Bonnie feiler Says:

    I saw this horse go through his progression on occasion. This article just proves that through patience and perseverance, once these animals gain that trust , they’ll take you any where you want to go.thank you Sheryl for letting people know that have problem horses not to give up on them .

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