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Monday, June 22, 2015

The First Week

Starting in Spurts and Stops

The first week is in the books.  Did everything go exactly as planned?  Does it ever?  Not with horses, rarely with anything else.  

We made good progress.  Scratch spent the week in his square pen.  I did think he would hook up to me a little quicker.  He remains a bit stand off-ish.

The Halter

I thought I had desensitized him plenty to the halter around his head and neck.  Scratch seemed fairly calm, as the horses do.  He was quiet as I lunged him.  When I went to put the halter on it bumped his nose and that's when I noticed I had neglected that body part.  He pulled his head back and I tried to go with him, but didn't.  This meant it was back to the starting point and doing it all over again.  The progression was slow.  When it came time for the second try he was ready.


Once the halter was on it was obviously I take leading my horse Jessie for granted.  Scratch doesn't know how to give to pressure.  He doesn't know to follow me.  Leading was a foreign experience.  We worked on this for hours.  The big problem was leaving the square pen.  He did not want to go through the gate.  Thinking back on Scratch's interaction with humans, bad things happen around gates.  When he was caught and gelded, he was likely sent through a gate.  When Scratch was loaded in our trailer, yep, through a gate.  Now, we don't make excuses for the behavior, but situations like this, I think it is good to know.  The knowledge helps me decide how much time I'm going to spend on this issue.  We worked on it slowly and in a way that kept him comfortable.


Just like the haltering, I rushed to handle his feet.  He got really nervous and it was necessary to back up and take it slow.  Just today I was able to pick up each front foot for two seconds and hold it.  They will need a rasp soon.  We'll keep working on this.

Jeffries Method 

The Jeffries Method is a desensitizing technique.  It is so much fun.  I jump up and down next to the horse.  Then I put my weight on his withers.  Then I jump up on his back and just lay over him while rubbing him all over.  He loves this.  He gets a good rub down.  As Clinton said, "There's just something about having you heart next to the horse that really quiets them down."

Below is a short video of our adventures for the first week:

Thanks for following along!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What's in a Name

 Meet "Scratch"

Little Billy Shakespeare was right when he said "A rose by any other name is still a rose."  After many wonderful suggestions and much ruminating, (always good to toss a cow joke in a horse blog), we're calling my new horse "Scratch".

I stumbled on Scratch quite by accident.  The more I tossed the name aside, the more reasons came back telling me this horse was Scratch.  After all, many of the horses living in this herd are covered with scratches.  They are tough horses.  The world is a rough place for them.  Living with bumps, bruises, and scratches is just a part of getting up in the morning.

When we were getting to know each other in the first few hours of getting home, I let it be known the next four months would be filled with rub downs, pats, and scratches.  At the time, he (known as Whats-his-name then) didn't think much of any of those options. He had not yet discovered the magic of my fingers.  I know, given a chance, I can win him over.

The compelling reason to name him Scratch came from our starting place.  We are starting from Scratch.  I've not done this before, started a horse that is.  I've come a long way with Jessie.  We continue to have a good time together.  But last year as I watched the entire VHTC I thought, "This is a really cool event.  The people putting it on are great.  The horse are especially wonderful.  Wouldn't it be great to try."  The event is designed to showcase the horses and, I think more importantly, good horsemanship.  

It's one thing to study horsemanship - read books, magazine articles, watch videos - it's another to apply it to an un-started horse.  My podcast, The Whoa Podcast about Horses and Horsemanship (yes, shameless plug), has given me the opportunity to talk to and watch a good many excellent horsemen and women.  I've seen what others have done.  Now, it's time to put my knowledge to the test. 

Scratch reminds me of a lottery ticket.  What are the odds?  Two weeks ago, I'm certain he didn't think his life was going to change substantially.  I hit the jackpot being a part of this event.  I cant wait to see where it goes.  Scratch is also slang for money, i.e. "chicken scratch".  Maybe I should spell it with a dollar sign like this - $cratch.  What do you think?

And, scratches can be just minor irritations....unless you neglect them.  Then scratches can be a real pain in the ass.  Or, we could be just scratching the surface of learning about this horsemanship deal.  There are a lot of reasons to pick the name Scratch.  Scratch fits us perfectly.

Scratch and I are ready.  We'll do our best to learn about each others' world and our respective places in that world.  I'll take care of him and expect him to do the same for me.  

The next four months is a partnership.  As emotional as it is, I've already made the decision to auction Scratch at the end of the event.  These horses need homes.  The drought in California and the overpopulation of the herd make it a tougher place to live than it has to be.  If I can get him ready for a new life, a place with a kid to ride him and a dog to tag along, I've done my job.  The name Scratch keeps us humble and in touch with both our roots.  It reminds us today is a gift.  Pop it open and enjoy it. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Behind-The-Scenes Video of The VHTC Horses

You will see a little of what we saw and see my horse load in the trailer for the first time.

Day One - A new Beginning

 It was an exciting trip to Tehachapi to pick up the horses.  Tehachapi is about an hour drive east of us.  There are a lot of wind turbines there to generate electricity.  We bet up with everyone at the gate for the five mile drive to the meadow where the horses hang out while the grass is good.

The organizers spent Saturday rounding up as many horses as the could for the eight trainers to choose from.  Coming around the corner and seeing the meadow for the first time was truly a remarkable site.  About the last have a mile and band of 6 or 7 with a foal ran along with us.  As you come over the rise it opens to this meadow where 60 to 70 horses stood grazing.  I am certain most every trainer felt like I did:  it was truly and honor taking part in this event.

 After a group meeting to discuss rules and such, names were drawn from Organizer Jeremy Dunn's hat.  My name came up last.  After the draw the group was given 30 minutes to choose their horse.  There were many great looking mares.  The rules stipulated you could take a mare, but if she had a foal, they were a package. Jeremy said there was also a chance Momma could be pregnant too.  I knew that was more than I could handle.  I set my sites for a gelding.

These horses are a bit smaller than Jessie my Quarter Horse.  There are a lot of withers on them either.  There were a couple of stallions in the group.  You would be required to geld them before the event in October.  If you picked a stallion, you could choose to bring it back on July 11th to be gelded by the Oak Creek caretakers or pay for it yourself.  Because I'm completely new to this, I wanted to have as much time with my horse as possible, so I was looking for a gelding of good size.

As luck would have it, by the time it was my turn to pick, there just so happened to be one.  Not sure how old he is.  My guess might be 6 - 10.  He was gelded in 2013 (the brand a number on their hip).

He loaded well, trailered home with ease.  I placed him in the pen and he was a bit nervous.  It was hot - 105.  At first he didn't take water or feed.  As the afternoon rolled into evening he drank.  I was concerned he had not pooped.  He didn't look uncomfortable, but even my 9 pm nothing.

The next morning there was one pile in his pen.  I started working him.  I could touch him and rub him most places.  He is a bit jumpy.  His escape seems to be backwards.  I hope this translates to a good back up.

My goal for this week is to keep working, get him haltered and wormed.  Once that is accomplished, I'd love to get the dental out of the way.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Night Before

Tomorrow is the big day.  I must say it is a bit of an ominous feeling.  Getting another horse is one thing.  Getting a wild horse of Oak Creek is another.  Getting a horse I know I'm going to train to be auctioned off in 4 months is bizarre.

I'm not one to let go of animals I make a relationship with.  It's not in my nature.  If I choose you for our family, it is usually for life.

I'm going to state my goals here before I start.  That's not to say they won't change.  They probably will.  Stating them here is just to see HOW the change.  This is after all, an adventure.


#1.  Don't get killed or hurt.  The only way I'm any good to this horse is if I'm healthy.  Three weeks ago, I re-instated my workout routine.  My goal is too stay fit and to ask the same of my horse.

#2.  This is called the Vaquero Heritage Trainers Challenge.  Listen, I'm no Vaquero.  I'd love to be, but I'm not kidding myself.  What I know about horsemanship compared to those guys would not fill a thimble.  But I have studied horsemanship.  I know a bit more than some.  I am qualified to do this.  But, I will not pretend to be something I'm not (even if it's something I've strive for) - a vaquero.  I have to use the tools I have now, not the ones I hope to have.

#3.  The people putting this event on are doing so to place these horses in qualified homes.  They are also trying to reduce herd size.   The only way this horse is going to find a qualified home is a) I make sure it is healthy and b) I make sure it is safe.  I think I can deliver on both those accounts.  I want to deliver a horse that is dead broke.  One a kid can ride on the trail, maybe work a few cows, but more importantly, be a willing and trusting partner.

I think I know the Downunder Horsemanship Method pretty well.  That's going to be my test.  How well do I really know it?  My horse will provide that answer.  Yes, I am apprehensive about the new horse.  I take that as a good sign.  If there weren't apprehension, if I weren't worried about the outcome, what kind of trainer would I be?

Tomorrow is the big day.  I'm not sure how busy I'll be with the new horse, but I hope you will follow along.  If you ever thought about starting a horse, if you ever wanted a challenge, come along with me.  Read and learn about my journey.  I promise to tell you not just the highs, but the lows as well.  Together, let's learn a little more about what we call horsemanship.