Day 3: Stroppy Stallion and Massive Milestones
20th April 2018
Today went from one extreme, to the other! This morning the horses were on edge and the stallions were scrapping, but by this afternoon calmness had once again returned to the yards and we had a peaceful evening with the Kaimanawas.
The oldest mare was so stressed last night she didn’t eat, and this morning she was shaking in the yard. It’s been difficult having other horses with her as she makes them all unsettled, so Vicki suggested bringing Kentucky (her World Champion QH) down to the yards as her companion.
Poor Kentucky caused a bit of trouble though, as Vicki’s stallion didn’t like having a gelding in with ‘his’ mare (even through there were a few yards separating them). He spent the morning neighing out and aggravating the other stallions and soon they were all scraping over the fences and among themselves. After separating them, the stallions eventually settled, but by now all the horses were a little on edge. Poor Kentucky wasn’t appreciated by the wild mare and after dodging a few bites and kicks, he learnt to keep well away.
Fast forward a few hours and the yards are peaceful; even Kentucky has managed to win over the mare and they’re eating hay side by side. Even the stallions have returned to the more placid versions of themselves. Soley, who could barely enter her horses yard the day before, now finds the mare totally transformed. She stands in the yard as the mare inches closer and closer. After an hour of talking to her, the mare finally gathers the courage to walk right up and eat a handful of grass. Kentucky did his job well.
Soley wasn’t the only person to achieve this massive milestone; by the end of the day 16 of the 17 horses are eating out of our hands while loose in the open yards (Jazz, Taylah, Soley and Leia all for the first time). Another five are being touched over most of their bodies (Nina, Mikayla and Kaia’s colts and both foals) and Lily’s mare was touched on the head for the first time. Nina’s opening sentence in her daily journal pretty much sums up how all of us are feeling... “Today is everything I wished for.”
Three of the mature stallions (Koha, Pumba and Kelly’s bay) and a couple of the youngsters also initiated contact, stretching forward to touch our outstretched hands for the first time without the buffer of grass to entice them.
My stallion, which I’ve named Captain, finished right where we left off; yesterday he took about 20 minutes to bravely walk across the yard to eat from my hand, but today it took just a quarter of the time. For the next half an hour I swap between hay and grass as his curiosity grows. Although he’s completely lost his worried look (pinched eyes, nostrils and lips), which was so reminisce of Elder and Major those first few days out of the wild, it’s still uncannily similar working with him. In almost every way his reactions are mirrors of them; from his obvious intelligence, to his gentleness and how in tune he is to my body language. The only other time I’ve experienced something like this is in Australia when training Brumby mares and their 18-month-old offspring. All of the youngsters mirrored their parents’ behaviour and it makes me question how closely Major, Elder and Captain are related. It wouldn’t surprise me if they are brothers, or father and son. I’m tempted to get a blood test, just for interest’s sakes.
Like Elder his eyes express every emotion and his ears convey a world of meaning; more so than any other horses I’ve worked with. Every second with Captain is truly special and it also makes me realise how much I’ve grown as a trainer since I last trained Kaimanawas four years ago; I learnt a lot from the Mustangs and Brumbies since then.
It’s a joy watching how the horses are responding to a kind voice, plenty of patience and most importantly the timing and feel I’ve refined over the years. It’s especially obvious now, as I mentor the students who are training their own wild horse as part of my Wild Kaimanawa Workshop. As I supervise and talk each rider through every step, stepping in to work their horses when needed (so far I’ve spent about 5 to 10 minutes with about half the horses, while the rest have been solely worked by their owners) I realise just how much the wild horses have taught me. Seeing 17 relaxed and attentive horses, just three days out of the wild, is surely testament we’re doing something right. It’s a pretty special feeling.