The big Appaloosa gelding eyed us warily. For three days my friend Trish Frahm and I had tried to catch him in a small pen. He was simply claustrophobic in the pen and if you could get near him you were lucky. I think on the third day I did manage to touch him a few times but getting a halter on him was totally out of the question. And due to his circumstances and the choices made by my friends who didn't want to just take him back to his breeder, it seemed that The Big Brass was now mine. How do I get myself into these things?
Here was a perfectly nice horse that I (unfortunately) had recommended to my friends, Randy & Deo Peppersack, who wanted a big stout gelding for endurance and packing game during hunting season. I say unfortunately because I felt bad that he wasn't as gentle as I thought nor was he catchable. He couldn't even be bribed with food or treats. Through no fault of my friends, Brass thought people were bad news. And in order to get him caught and not reinforce that train of thought, I only knew one guy that could catch him. He's the closest thing to a horse whisperer I've ever seen and his name is Ted Nichols.
When Ted arrived the plan was to move Brass from the corral to the round pen. We had to move some fencing but it was easy to put it back later. Then we opened the gate and Brass moved on into the round pen with a little direction. Now Ted could work with him and get Brass to listen. Soon Brass was circling and changing directions when signaled but still not wanting to cooperate with hooking on to the handler. A friend of Ted's had come along to help but his round pen techniques set us back and undid the work already established because his idea was to run the horse too much. So the work of day 1 was halted and to be resumed the next day.
However the friend was convinced that Brass is a "problem horse" and kept asking Ted why? Ted told him that he isn't a problem horse, "He's a horse with people problems." All this difficulty in his behavior comes from a horse improperly handled. Occasionally he'd get caught, have a halter wrestled on his head, be given shots and wormer, and turned loose again. At the age of 7, Brass's bad experiences just reinforced his lack of trust in humans and not wanting anything to do with them.
The second day Ted began by trying to lure Brass up to him as he crouched against the rail. Brass came up and sniffed but didn't want to be touched.
Something like this requires so much patience it's unreal. But right now Ted was the best guy that Brass knew. He was happy to sniff him and follow but touching him wasn't happening yet. When he didn't respond Ted made Brass move his feet. One of the hard things for Brass was that he didn't want to give Ted both eyes. He favored one side and wasn't going to allow anyone on his other side. It took a lot of work and desensitizing to convince him to give "Both eyes please" and to allow someone on either side. By the end of the evening even I was able to go in and work Brass, turn him, have him follow me and rub Brass on the neck.
One of the biggest physical problems were his hooves were really long and neglected. Running around on those long toes was hard on his tendons, legs and hooves. A few pieces broke off but not enough so sadly he became a bit sore in the process. I couldn't wait to get to trim those hooves!!
After two days of working him in the round pen and only being able to touch Brass but not actually get hands on him, the decision was made to rope him.
Brass watches the rope, checking it all out after successfully ducking the first loop sent in his direction.
The second toss went right over Brass's head. Notice that the rope is not tight and Brass freely moves around the round pen, getting used to the rope. All the while the handling is performed calmly, quietly and with Ted telling what he is doing and why. A great learning experience.
The next step is for Brass to learn to be worked on the rope. He learns to be led, to follow Ted and before we know it, Ted is rubbing his hands on Brass!
Of course you have to able to use both hands at the same time to put a halter on a willing horse. Ted worked on desensitizing Brass with both hands rubbing on his head and neck.
Brass stood quietly as Ted rubbed him all over with the halter, getting him used to the notion that halters and people aren't always bad.
Yes it took three days and several hours but Ted got Brass haltered without even a fight. A necessity if he was going to learn to accept people as non-predators. Ted was still the best guy Brass knew as he stands here enjoying having his head rubbed. Then I got to go in and work with Brass a bit myself. I said "Wow Randy look. Now we can take him to Ted's and he can be trained for you." And Randy replies "Oh noooooo, that's your horse not mine!" Oh well I tried.