Working with Magic
The Horse Shelter, a rescue facility in Cerrillos, New Mexico, is doing an incredible job in a challenging situation. I’ve worked with the HS. Members of their staff know of my work with mustangs and the Spanish Mustang Foundation’s board Donna Mitchell, Sierra Perkins, and Doug Lanham. HS staff asked if I would work with a feral mustang no one had been able to successfully approach.
On walking up to the pen where he was being kept, I saw a scruffy, droop-eyed creature wondering how he ended up there with these humans, enclosed in this corral. His name is Magic. He was captured near Tierra Amarilla and before he was lucky enough to make it to The Horse Shelter he had spent some time at Los Lunas auction barn.
I recognized his physical traits as those of a true mustang with a low set tail, big hard hooves, heavy leg bones, and short back. He had a heavy light gray roan winter coat and a long mane and tail that had not been touched by the human hand in his lifetime. It didn’t take long before he started to shine and I felt him tugging hard at my heart. Magic has become a big part of my life and working with him was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I don’t know how he was with all people, but from what I saw he didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone. He wasn’t violent, but he was always ready to react out of fear and to the extreme. If you didn’t play his game he would settle down pretty quickly. He did his very best to ignore you.
It was December, the middle of winter, when I started. After several trips to the Shelter I was introduced to Jarratt Applewhite. He has been a friend of the HS for a long time. Jarratt’s horse facility is only ten minutes from my home so it was decided Magic would be moved to the Applewhite barn. Jarratt has a true heart of gold where horses are concerned and he is a horseman with an understanding of true horsemanship. With this move Magic’s primary human education began.
Right off Magic was sure he wouldn’t survive his new ordeal, but with ground work and communication that he understood we gained his trust. He’s smart like other mustangs. Emmitt Brislawn’s family founded the Spanish Mustang Registry. I remember him saying, “It’ll scare you sometimes how smart they are.” When moving beyond his fears this mustang revealed how quick he is to learn. He’s soft and intuitive and he’s discovered that when he’s close to us everything is alright. He is, in fact, able to survive. His move to Jarratt’s place has been the turning point in his life with humans. The steady daily accomplishments with this man have created an opening for Magic.
This beautiful mustang is less feral now and he’s learning he can respond to discipline as long it’s never punishment. He would receive punishment as betrayal. It would be betrayal not only to him but to me and the achievement I seek.
One should be aware while working with a horse that before a horse does something, anything, he gets ready to do it. You want to be where the horse is right when he’s getting ready. Be right there in that moment. Be prepared and ready to respond. It means you have to be aware and watch for what is about to happen not what has just happened.
Horse training is about working with the self as much as working with the horse. I must be honest with myself or I cannot be honest with my horse or anyone else for that matter. There’s no need to concern myself with Magic being honest. He knows no other way to be. I must open my mind and be with my horse in the present where he lives. If I am not with my horse he will not be with me. If he is not with me I need to take note of the situation and correct myself and be aware of what it is I’m asking and how I’m doing the asking. We need to establish this relationship before we go any further. It needs to be a relationship that becomes a partnership – A 51% - 49%, not 50% - 50% and definitely not a 75% - 25% partnership.
The connection of heart and mind between the horse and its partner reveals the healing power of horses. Horsemanship based on natural partnerships can build confidence and patience in both partners that can lead to self-worth. The ground work principles are: leading, backing, turning the front end, disengaging the hind quarters, moving the shoulders, longing, and pressure and release.
When teaching a new movement to a green horse, start with the lightest pressure, but also prepare yourself to go to a higher level of pressure. But when you ask again you must start at the lightest pressure again or they won’t understand what you want and won’t learn to respond to the lightest touch.
Now Magic’s progress is more refined and the process of desensitizing is well underway. An objective is set and he’s given directives with pressure on him to achieve that goal, knowing that the release of that pressure as soon as we get the correct response is the only place a horse can learn. Without a defined release, the pressure is just nagging and Magic will be turned off.
Magic in the wild was confident and self- reliant. In the presence of humans both can be lost and it is our responsibility to provide trust that restores self confidence. Whenever we make a breakthrough Magic is waiting for us.
Jarratt ended up adopting Magic. They are both fortunate. It has been such a pleasure being a part of the bonding process between Jarratt and Magic. After just 63 days Magic allowed Jarratt to go for a successful first ride. In the ensuing months since that extraordinary moment Jarratt has taken Magic well beyond all expectations, a fitting partnership, indeed.