Day 6: So Many Life Changing Moments for Both Horses and Humans!
23rd April 2018
The last three days have blurred together; while everyone else just has the one Kaimanawa to work with (except Amanda who is training two stallions) I am supervising, mentoring and assisting in the training of 13 horses as part of my Wild Kaimanawa Workshop, as well as exclusively training my own stallion Captain.
Every time the students are in the yards I’m constantly talking them through their timing to ensure they remain safe, and their Kaimanawas don’t get confused or pressured. Every second I’m guiding them on when to approach, when to retreat and when to pause. It’s exhausting not only keeping an eye on the people, but also the horses so I can anticipate their every move, and prevent problems before they develop.
Every flicker of the horse’s ears, a quiver of the nostrils, a swish of the tail or a muscle shifting requires a reaction (or lack of reaction). It’s my job to see potential problems before they develop and be ready just in case the students misread the horses; when and if that happens I talk them through how to regain the horses trust, or step in when needed to work with the horse myself.
So far the Workshop has been hugely successful; everyone is learning heaps and we’re starting to see happy horses that are really enjoying their new lives in domestication. It’s been a big change, considering they were roaming wild less than a week ago, but most of the Kaimanawas are starting to realise life’s not a scary as they first thought.
One of my favourite aspects to the Workshop is the diverse range of horses we’re working with. We have six mature stallions, two mature mares, four 2-year-olds, three yearlings and two foals. Of these some are bold and curious, others are quiet and sweet, a few are staunch and defensive and a couple are fearful and reactive. Every horse requires a different timeframe and way of training; I’ve already learnt so much over the past five days and we’re rapidly evolving our methods to cater to the varying needs of each horse.
On Saturday some of the owners came up to meet the Kaimanawas we’re handling on behalf. Their horses had only been with us for four days, yet all of their horses came over to introduce themselves and ate from their hands; something I wouldn’t have imagined possible just days before. Even Massey (the liver chestnut stallion) walked across the yard and ate out of his owner’s hand, even though he had yet to be handled.
My quiet time is working with Captain; it’s the only time I have just one thing to focus on. When I’m with him I’m able to tune out everyone and everything else. Never have I worked with a wild horse quite so responsive; he responds to the subtlest shifting of my body or the tone of my voice.
Saturday was his third session and Captain remembered everything he’d learnt. Within minutes he was straight up to eat hay, then sniffed my outstretched hand for the very first time without grass as a buffer. That first time he initiated contact he barely touched me, then over the next ten minutes he grew bolder and started pushing my hand with his muzzle. Hopeful he was ready for more I raised my hand to his eye level and was rewarded for my efforts when Captain lowered his head and bumped his forehead against my open palm. Although he’d been the one to touch me, he gave himself a fright. Never have I seen a horse leap on all four legs and spin around that fast. Shaking he glanced at me woefully and for the next 10 minutes I gradually rebuilt trust until he hesitantly walked up to sniff my hand again.
The next day he wasn’t quite ready to forgive me and we spent half an hour starting from scratch, finishing when we’d reached the same level of training he’d achieved on Day 2. We were back to the basics, but since that was all Captain was mentally ready to cope with, I was more than happy to lay a solid foundation. Today I was rewarded for my efforts when I was able to stroke him on the head for the first, second and tenth time. This evening he was so relaxed and I was so impressed with how much trust he was willing to place in me, not only are we back to where we were on Day 4, but we have totally surpassed it. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!
Captain isn’t the only one making progress. Four of the Kaimanawas are now haltered and have been taught to lead; they enjoyed their first proper adventure today, exploring the river and bush, then finished with hand grazing in the paddock for half an hour each. Another five have been touched for the first time (making it 14 of the 17 Kaimanawas that have now initiated contact). Two of the Kaimanawas, who have yet to be touched, are now eating out of our hands; the only horse who hasn't acheived this milestone is Vicki's stallion who will begin his traning tomorrow once she returns home.
It’s honestly been the most rewarding experience so far and I am amazed at how well the Kaimanawas are responding to life in domestication, and how well the students are doing taming their very first wild horses (with the exception of Hannah from USA who has worked with over 20 wild Mustangs). Watching Hannah working with Koha and Massey today was amazing, in so many regards her approach is similar, yet I’ve learnt so much from her already. Rather than being the mentor today I became the student as I applied some of the techniques Hannah uses; Captain really thrived with the slightly new approach!
Today was undoubtedly one of the best days I’ve ever had with wild horses and every day I gain a new appreciation for just how much these horses can teach us. Every student is learning so much from their horses, but for me it’s exemplified 17 times over; every one of the horses is teaching me something new and already I’m starting to see some of the lessons unfold.