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Ranger's Journey: Day 2

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

The first terrifying obstacle of the morning was the chickens. They are very nice chickens, but if you haven't ever seen one it's a different story. They make weird sounds, they rattle (chicken shaking) and they pop up with no warning! I love training with chickens because it's a perfect trail obstacle. When I got Zuri (another horse) her owners said she spooked at grouse out on the trail and would come out from under you. Well, after a few weeks of ubiquitous chickens she was cured forever. We had many a ride with spontaneous grouse and she never flinched. I hope Ranger gets there in a couple days. He is super smart.

Ranger never saw a stall before, and maybe not even a barn, so once again, he had to trust that it was ok to follow me into those big darker spaces. Suddenly he was in a little box, though the turnout door was open so he could leave. That was scary for him but his new friends were on the other side of the panels out in the back corral.

Ranger's hay for the night before was outside, but there was also a flake in the manger in the stall. That was untouched this morning, so I moved some onto the ground in hopes of encouraging him to step inside. I also put some Safe Choice in a feed tub to see if that would help. As you can see, he still wasn't convinced.

I am always fascinated to watch what horses do to problem solve or create something that makes sense to them. The stall problem continued to be a little daunting, so Ranger came up with something else to do with the hay he was comfortable leaning in to get: making salad. Silver (another mustang of mine) used to do this, too - for her it was a big game of making sure she got every soaked flake.

This is a perfect example of something that makes complete sense to a human but not to the horse. I get angry (true confessions) at so many people who punish their horses for spooking or acting out, when what happened made perfect sense to the horse in terms of survival. All the punishing does is reinforce to the horse that whatever spooked him was, indeed, something to really worry about because it meant pain. Here, I moved the grain closer to the door of the already frightening stall, hoping that Ranger would take a step in. He did that, but flipping the tub up terrified him so he lunged back, made a big ruckus and scared himself.

What did I do? Absolutely nothing. I didn't move. I stayed right there breathing calmly and he got to see that everything around him was still the same. That gave him the courage to try to see it a different way. When humans react to stuff like that, raising their voices and panicking along with the horse, what else can the horse think besides, "Terrifying Monster?"

These things take time. Ranger is doing exhaustive mental work. Nothing is guaranteed for him - it's all a risk. He has no idea what will happen, and yet that's the life of being a horse much of the time. My goal is always that the process will be safe enough for him to keep reaching in his mind, to keep trying to figure out what it is that I want. Of course I try hard to be clear but what's in my mind isn't always in his. This is a dance of patience. And please note that ALL of this is done at liberty - no halter, no pressure. Ranger always has a choice.

This was the final piece of the stall event. What got him to come in was following me (since I take the pix I couldn't get all of it on film). I went out into the turnout and petted him and he followed me back into the stall. He had seen me in there all the time but it seemed to help him that I walked with him. He was calm enough to eat with me in there and I took that as a good sign. He had come up for a snuggle with me earlier in the morning out in the turnout so it seems that he's comfortable enough with me to initiate friendly connection. Also, he sees all the other horses come up to me and want to be friendly, especially Biscuit, Skippy, Gato and Whicker, who are all bossy and dominant but respect my space, so I think some of that gets communicated to Ranger (that I am safe).

The stall was a huge training for one day. I was so proud of him for getting through all his fear - what a brave boy! Being outside was a big "reward" for all that effort, so I put a halter on him and led him back into the corral, and turned him loose so he could move freely. He walked around and met up with Doc and then came back to me.

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