This week Socks had rides number four, five and six. He worked over poles under saddle for the first time, and we had a play tackless after rain ruined all of our riding time for the day! We also had our first real disagreement this week. He has been quite independent and we haven’t worked much with other horses with the exception of following my black mare for a trail ride. Socks is very sensitive to boss mare vibes, he was terrified of my black mare until he shared a ride with her in the float to the clinic. We tried to follow a different mare over poles during ride five but he got really quite scared and overwhelmed. Once the other horse left the riding paddock he went back to his normal happy self. We will continue to work on his confidence and resilience under saddle, and gradually introduce other horses and group riding scenarios. This is a skill he will have to learn in order to be confident at outings and of course the finals!
This week Socks has had two off property adventures. He came along to an in-hand clinic. He unloaded and loaded in the float like a champion, he stood patiently in the yard when he wasn’t being worked with, he was a gem working in hand around the other participants and we had a really lovely morning.
He then came for a short trail ride the next day with another horse. I started in hand with him and he seemed to be really enjoying himself walking along the trail and taking in the sights and smells. The trail we went along is used by cyclists and although he wasn’t very keen on them, he took my word for it that we weren’t in danger. There was also a road with cars that was visible through the trees, he took notice of them but didn’t react, our walks along the road at home are paying off!
He was happy and calm following the other horse along so I decided to mount and ride some of the trail. He did a great job mostly walking with a few short stints of trotting, and was able to pass cyclists without my support from the ground which I was really proud of!
I then gave Socks a nice big 3 day break. He seemed to miss the interaction and learning, but I am also aware that is my anthropomorphic interpretation of his behaviour.
He has learnt so much over the last three weeks that some down time is still needed so that he doesn’t end up burnt out.
He is now back into more fitness work, building up to ridden work over poles.
This week covers day 12 to day 18 for VBA Socks. I am starting to see some really positive changes in Socks body this week. His back is lifting and his posture is changing as his fitness builds. He has also spent some time grazing free in the paddocks. He isn’t very keen on my other horses, but he was very happy to hang in the house yard and follow me around for a sticky beak.
On day 12 Socks had another well deserved break. On day 13 we did some revision with following instructions on the ground and introduced some long lining. Socks handled it like a pro and he had been well prepared with me leaning over him bareback and with the saddle, so I decided it was time to throw a leg over! Socks was quite happy with my presence up there. By the time we get to this stage they have tolerated me leaning all over them, I think the sitting is much for comfortable for both of us and is almost a step backwards in terms of difficulty for the horse. When I first back a horse I do so with very little expectations. If they don’t want to move and are happy just standing there, then that is cool. If they choose to walk off and have a little wonder, great. If they want to follow the camera man for snacks, then so be it! Socks was happy to flex both directions and not concerned about my presence in either eye, lots of carrots were handed out too of course! Socks then chose to go for a little wander whilst I was mounted, so I started to introduce the idea of steering and listening to the rider whilst utilising Socks desire to follow my husband with a biscuit of lucerne. Socks is quite opinionated and easily inconvenienced, the last thing I wanted to do was nag him to go forward with my legs. Instead I was able to capture HIS desire to go forward and teach him that more treats follow his good choices.
On day 14 we went back to ground work and explored the riding paddock. Socks was introduced to his first ground poles and took it all in his stride. Days 15 and 16 we concentrated on developing motivation and trotting in hand. Much as with his first little ride, I have been working on building Socks self-motivation. When we first started trotting in hand he was most inconvenienced, if he could talk I’m sure he’d be questioning the point of it all. However, once he worked out that treats are free flowing when you give some energy and stick with me for a little run, he was all in! Once he had the concept of trotting next to me sorted, we started exploring down the road rather than continuing death by circle work. Socks is curious and was happy to engage with letter boxes and bins etc, however the cars which didn’t slow down for us were understandably quite scary! They will be his next big challenge as he habituates to domestic life.
On day 17 Socks went for his second little ride. As he was allowed to explore on his first little ride with minimal pressure from me, his confidence and willingness to follow directions had soared by this second ride. He had also had lots of trotting in hand and become very enthusiastic from the ground, and this translated beautifully to the saddle. His next riding challenges are to ride with another horse and then moving outside of the comfort of the round yard. Day 18 Socks went for his first little solo trip in the float in preparation for off property adventures!
During week two Socks was learning at liberty, even though he learnt to be haltered I didn’t use it to educate him. This week I have been still been using liberty to introduce new things, but as his confidence grows I’m starting to give a little more direction and have him listen to my ideas rather than just his own.
Socks is very intelligent and is very easily inconvenienced. He doesn’t enjoy being drilled to death (who does!?), once he has a concept introduced we move onto something else and keep sessions short and sweet. My goal is to keep him interested and enjoying our time together. Socks also gets quite offended if he thinks he deserves a reward and doesn’t get one! As his confidence grows in the concepts he is learning, I am asking for more before rewarding so that he continues to progress. He is beginning to learn this and developing his resilience with less frequent treats.
On day 5 we worked on leading with a lead rope rather than at liberty, and had our first explore outside the round yard. He did so well and the float was already hooked up to the ute so I decided to introduce him and see how he felt. In typical Socks style, he had a few sniffs, then up he walked for a bucket of food.
Day 6 was a well deserved rest day! He has adjusted very well to domestic life however I am still mindful that his brain is taking lots in and he needs his down time.
Day 7 We did some revision on picking up front feet, touching hind feet and the mounting block in the morning. In the afternoon we haltered and worked some more on leading and I introduced my stick and string for the first time, so that he can get familiar with it before we start some more in hand work after his trim. We also revised the saddle pad and introduced a loose roller. I had already tested his girth and belly with my hand to assess for any tension in response to touch.
On day 8 Socks was doing so well with the mounting block I decided to introduce some weight on his back! He has a few weeks of strength building, fitness and work on his posture to do before I back him properly, but I am super happy with how well he handles myself above him. By the time he is fit enough to be ridden I want him to be super comfortable with my presence up there so that we don’t encounter any brace or resistance.
Day 9 Started adding in some more of my opinion on where we go, how fast and when we stop with some in hand work. What I really loved was that once he had had enough and wanted to leave, he didn’t fly off or get reactive, he simply attempted to walk away from the circle. I didn’t reprimand this or make a big deal of it, I just gently guided his nose back around to the circle and continued on calmly. I let him know that the rules were shifting, without going above his threshold and causing a reason for resistance or conflict. Today Socks also had his first farrier visit! He stood really well for the farrier and had all four hooves attended.
On day 10 we started some trotting in-hand and exploring the property. In-hand work and fitness training continued on Day 11, and the saddle with a girth done up was also introduced and completely uneventful.
Socks arrived quite food dominant and a little defensive when pressure was put on him. This is no surprise as it was the reason he was removed from the wild – for intimidating behaviours shown towards tourists! His behaviour is the exact reason approaching and feeding wild horses is not a good idea! He could have very easily ended up on a one-way truck, because of the actions of ignorant people.
Given his existing behaviours, it would have been reasonable to shy away from using positive reinforcement with this horse before some boundaries were put in place. However, I hope I can show you that positive reinforcement can actually be used to create the boundaries and some rules around food, which have served to remove his food dominant behaviour without fighting, fear or resistance.
I believe a large part of Socks confidence in approaching people in the wild is centred around CHOICE. He always had the choice to approach people, and the choice to leave if he didn’t like the situation. I have been very conscious in emulating this behaviour with my training ethos, giving Socks the choice to participate, in order to foster his confidence in the new skills he is learning. I have approached him from a place of respecting what he knows in regards to interacting with people, and choosing to work with that rather than against it. I am introducing concepts and equipment to him at liberty where he s most comfortable. Once he is a little more familiar with things I start to add in a little more of my opinion!
I have increased the criteria over the last four days from accepting anything that resembled a softer expression from pinned ears and curled lips (and nipping!), to now only accepting a neutral neck and relaxed expression before giving the reward. I have shown him that I am paying attention to his more subtle body language cues and how he is feeling about the situation, which is what I believe has allowed him to melt and relax and achieve so much in such a short period of time without overwhelming him. We are well on our way to working towards a common understanding of how we relate to each other.
Due to the COVID restrictions Lisa's Brumby Socks needed to make the journey to Lisa via horse transport.
VBA Socks was loaded on Saturday along with our other Brumbies that were headed off to warmer weather in NSW and Qld.
Whenever we need to transport unhandled Brumbies, we always work with the team at M&J Peterson Horse Handling and Breaking Horse Transport.
These guys are calm, empathetic and they are just wonderful with our wild ones!
Thankyou so much to Matt and Logan who headed off on the long trip up to Upper Caboolture Via NSW with our precious cargo!
We are looking forward to Lisa's updates from next week.