Milestone 1: Comparing the time taken for the stallions to approach for grass
22nd June 2018
It's been two weeks since the Kaimanawas arrived and every day we've seen these wild stallions increase in confidence and curiosity. Even more importantly, our time spent observing and interacting with them has given us a deeper insight into their personalities and how they are coping with the many changes they're facing.
From the moment they arrived off the stock truck, after being mustered by helicopter just days before, these horses have reacted and coped with the trauma of losing their families and freedom in different ways. Below I compare the time it takes for each of the four stallions, from the June 2018 Muster, to reach their first milestone of approaching and then eating grass from our outstretched hands.
ADMIRAL: 5 minutes of training, during his first session on Day 1
The 17-year-old grey stallion, Admiral, was a stoic and proud stallion who took everything in his stride, seemingly unconcerned about people as he walked down the stock ramp and into the yards. Although covered in blood, he had an aura of confidence and authority; this was no young stallion, but a seasoned warrior who had won many fights in the wild and had the battle wounds to prove it. He quickly asserted himself as the dominant stallion, savagely biting the younger horses to put them in his place. Although he was quick with his teeth (and I hoped they'd never be directed my way) he didn't appear mean-spirited, but rather annoyed by the fretting of the warier stallions and was quick to put them in their place when they crowded into his space. Not once did he stress, or pace, and that first night he calmly settled down to eat. The next morning he was the most relaxed when we fed out the horses and I was confident he was ready for me to spend some neutral time with him.
Although I grabbed a handful of grass, I actually wasn't expecting him to eat it. I simply hoped he'd be able to make the initial steps towards it... I would have been happy with him being able to stand relaxed while I was in his yard, or make eye contact without panicking, or perhaps even turn in to face me. I was NOT expecting this wise old stallion to be able to achieve all of these steps within just minutes of entering his yard, then to approach and take the offered grass from my hand in less than five minutes.
To date, Admiral was the quickest of any of the wild horses I have EVER trained to have reached this milestone. To have such a gesture of trust, from such an old stallion, filled me with a deep level of respect and I promised myself I would offer him the same level of trust and respect in return.
LIEUTENANT: 4 minutes of training, during his first session on Day 1
If I'd thought Admiral was open-minded and trusting, I was in for an even bigger shock with Lieutenant. This rising 4-year-old stallion arrived off the truck relatively settled and sensible, although appeared quite shy. Often I would find him hiding behind the other horses, or with his head lowered and he appeared to be internalising his problems. Although he appeared quiet, I sensed it was merely his way of coping; to me, he seemed quite overwhelmed and unsure of everything he'd been through.
Never though did I worry about entering his yard and could safely walk around him as I fed, mucked out and topped up his water. He was yarded with a friends stallion and both were steady and relaxed, more than happy to eat even with people lining the yards watching them.
After working with Admiral I choose Lieutenant as my next horse to interact with, again with no expectations. Unlike Admiral, who was thoughtful and engaged, Louie quickly hid behind the other stallion. Once I'd separated them he hid in the corner with his head lowered. He appeared quite timid and I was careful to give him time and space to process. Then all of a sudden, less than four minutes in, he raised his head and took a step towards me, boldly approaching to tug the grass from my outstretched fingers. To say I was surprised is an understatement; none of the signs he'd shown me, since entering his yard, indicated a brave horse and I quickly revised my opinion of him. He'd eaten the grass less than four minutes into entering his yard, even outdoing Admiral.
ALLEGIANCE: 131 minutes of training, during his fourth session on Day 7
From the moment he came off the truck the black stallion worried us. He was in terrible condition, was highly stressed and was not coping well with everything he'd been through. He seemed on edge and agitated as he paced among the other horses and once we separated him he ran around the yard in a panic, before standing in the corner nervously pawing at the fence. None of us wanted him; his condition left much to be desired and he looked dreadfully ill, with poor conformation. In hindsight, he'd been mustered for over three hours by helicopter, then had three stressful days in the yards and was dehydrated and starving; he'd likely been too stressed to either eat or drink in days.
Although he looked like he'd be a challenge to tame, I gazed at him with empathy. He was bloody and battered and absolutely traumatised. My heart ached for him, more than any of the others and I took him on as one of my stallions, assigning him to Taylah (my working student from Australia) to tame. She wasn't due for another few days and this horse, more than any of the others, needed the extra time to not only gain condition but also to simply relax and be able to cope with people near him. A few days of being fed and having nothing else expected of him would do him wonders.
When Taylah arrived, on Day 4, I was uncertain if he was even ready for a session; he was a timid horse who like to hide in the corner behind the other stallion he was yarded with. But since Taylah was so excited to meet him, and he appeared more settled than he had been, I decided it was worth entering his yard and gauging where he was at. Not wanting to unsettle this horse I talked Taylah through every stage of her gradual approach and retreat, careful to pause or retreat anytime he flared his nostrils, tensed a muscle or raised his head (all warning signs that he was becoming discomforted). Our timing was so perfect that not once did he feel the need to turn away or leave and finally, after about 25 minutes, he even approached and stood about four metres away. Satisfied with his progress we finished for the day and left him to think over what he'd just done.
The next few days he was much the same, although he reached the same level sooner each time and was able to approach closer and closer. Of all the stallions he required the most patience and accuracy; he was in a mind frame to learn, yet so nervous that it was critical to we didn't rush him or expect too much from him.
Then on Day 6, he finally approached to sniff the outstretched grass, before panicking and darting back to the corner. His bravery had terrified him and the next day we had to rebuild a lot of trust before he was able to gather enough courage to take the offered grass.
CONCORD: 173 minutes of training, during his eleventh session on Day 13
From the moment he rushed down the stock ramp, and along the race, facing backwards I was captivated by this striking bronze stallion with his curly silver mane. He danced and pranced as he entered the yards, snorting and shying at everything around him. In every way, he was the epitome of a wild stallion and he looked like he'd be trouble to tame.
My second impression was much the same and the next morning, as I watched him in the yards, it was obvious how truly terrified he was. Unlike the black stallion, however, this one had a strong flight mode. I knew that any pressure, or entering his yard too soon, could result in him trying to jump the 6ft fences, or worse bolt into them and break the rails. Because of this, it was five days before I felt he was ready for his first proper session and even then my expectations were low. I made sure to work him in the largest yard so I could be as far away from him as possible. In those first sessions, I was simply looking for relaxation and as soon as he was able to stand still and face me we would finish for the day. His restless energy, however, developed a highly sensitive horse who was tuned to the subtlest shifts of my body. Of all the stallions, it was Concord I enjoyed working with the most, even though he appeared to be making so little progress. But to me, being in that yard with him, I was able to truly appreciate how hard he was trying to trust me and how much he grew in confidence each day.
But every morning, as soon as he saw people, he would become tense and start running. Everything about humans was simply too much for this stallion, and although he was bold around the other horses and often picked fights, around me he shook with fear and would circle uneasily. But even though that fear, there was something there, never once did he ever gain speed, or try to jump out, and every session he was engaged and making an effort. It was almost like he was able to relax when I was near and without fail, every time I worked with him, he would find a moment of stillness, chew him lips or yawn. For within his unease, he was also starting to realise we weren't going to hurt him; he constantly struggled between his fear and his desire to trust me.
Although the days quickly passed, I barely noticed how far behind the other horses he was, because to me he'd come so far. Then on Day 13 it happened and I stood in awe as this restless spirit approached, then lost his confidence and darted backwards, then gained the courage to try again, before again losing his resolve, before gathering the courage to finally step forward and take the grass from my hand, before again darting backwards trembling. Never had something so small been so rewarding and I was truly thankful this wild stallion had been able to overcome the first of his fears. It had taken a long time to reach this first milestone and I had a feeling it would take just as long to reach the next one; sniffing my outstretched hand. But without fail he would be worth waiting for.
DON'T MISS THE REST OF MY 'MILESTONE' BLOGS AS I COMPARE THE TIME IT TAKES FOR EACH OF THESE STALLIONS TO REACH SIGNIFICANT STAGES IN THE TAMING PROCESS. To watch full-length training videos throughout every stage of their journey, including the build-up as each of these stallions, gain the courage to reach this first milestone, subscribe to Kelly Wilson LIVE.