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The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One trainer, No tools, Just body language

The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

Bringing up Baby

I find I am writing this post with some trepidation. It’s one thing to take a mustang out of hundreds needing homes and try out an experimental training process with her. Whatever happens it’s better than the life most mustangs off the range have to look forward to. However, a small foal brings out the most protective instincts in people. All sorts of opinions crop up: foals should be imprinted; foals should be left alone; foals should be haltered right away; foals should be exposed to as much stimulus as possible; foals should be kept quiet and peaceful… Whatever the opinions are, right or wrong, I am going to make my own choices and most likely do things a little differently. Myrnah and I will be bringing up baby with the same ideals we used to develop our partnership. For better or worse he too is part of the experiment.

Rules of Engagement:

1. The foal always has an exit route open.

2. Anytime the foal wants a rest, all he has to do is reach out and touch you with his nose.

3. Only touch the foal after he has touched you.

4. Respect the foal’s personal space; if he tenses when approached, back off.

5. Teach him polite manners of always yielding space to people. He is little, so it doesn’t take much of a push to gently move him away when he gets too playful or close.

6. The bond between mare and foal is sacred: if they think it is time to nurse, snuggle, or talk to each other, wait for them to finish before interjecting an outside idea.

Six simple rules to follow bringing up this baby. Will this foal become too pushy without being taught to lead and give to pressure right away? Will he become afraid and unconfident about the world without imprinting to set him up for confidence? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I am guessing the results of raising the foal this way will be no less beautiful than the results of taming a mustang have been so far.

As for Myrnah and me, our training schedule has been put on sabbatical temporarily. My observation is, for the first while with a new foal, the mare is completely devoted to following him around. She does not expect him to follow her until later, after their bond has had a chance to develop. Myrnah’s attention has been committed to following the foal, eating as much as she can when he is sleeping or staying close of his own choice. When he nurses, she stops everything to be still and present with him; when he plays, she watches him with a quiet awareness, there if he needs her to accompany him in his adventures.

When I visited them May 14th at two in the morning, shortly after the foal was born, Myrnah was grazing, and the foal was walking around close to her, trying out his new long legs. I could see them dimly in the glow coming from my phone, but put it away and sat quietly in the dark, close to them without interfering. Within moments Myrnah took the few steps over to me to say hi and give me a nuzzle. A few minutes later the foal stumbled right into me in his explorations, and I held him a moment while he found his balance again. I sat with them for an hour and a half, and during that time both of them came over to see me often. Before I left I stood next to the foal, just off the left side of his haunches; Myrnah took the right side of his haunches and together we gently nudged him to lead us into the smaller paddock farther from the herd, with better fences to keep him from going too far astray from Myrnah in his explorations, at least for the first few days.

Day one, I groomed Myrnah and washed her tail with buckets of water I brought to her so she could remain at her post watching over her new little one. I marveled at how calm and easy she was about everything. I spent time with them, hand on Myrnah’s withers, moving wherever they did; or laid out in the grass a few feet from the little one, both of us sleeping, Myrnah watching over us. Whenever the foal woke up he give a little whinny, and three or four horses in the field whinnied back; this little guy has a whole family who can’t wait to meet him.

Day two, I asked her to follow me just a few steps to the fence where her supplement feed was hanging in a bucket. With great hesitation and many glances back she did; both of us were relieved when the little one followed too. That evening I asked her to follow me across the paddock, but the foal staked his claim and began to nurse, so we waited;

then, as we walked across the paddock, he stopped to pee. I reassured Myrnah that he would catch up in a moment, and she hesitantly kept moving with me. Sure enough, when he was done, he whinnied at the top of his lungs and galloped after us at full speed. Funny thing was later, when I said goodnight and walked away from them, I got only half way across the paddock before he had galloped after me, his mum in tow behind him. All that following him around (like a very gentle drive) on day one had created an incredible draw in him on day two.

Day three, the little one got a name, Errai- named after a star that will eventually move into position to take over the role of the North Star in our skies. It is derived from an Arabic word and means “The Shepherd” I have to say I also like the similarity in pronunciation to the word awry, meaning “away from the appropriate, planned or expected course”. I am sure Errai will teach me a lot as he deviates from the course I thought I had planned. Life is sometimes the most fun when you don’t know exactly what to expect. Day three, Myrnah and Errai got to stretch out into the larger orchard. There are fences he can get under that his Mum can’t, but his draw is strong enough now he always comes right back to her; and there is only more orchard space for him to explore on the other side of those fences. The herd is in view, but too distant to reach.

Errai continues to be more and more inquisitive and interested in everything. Myrnah continues to be the best Mom I have ever seen a mare be. It will be interesting to see how it all develops from here.

Bringing up Baby is the title I chose for this blog (after the old movie) in an effort to remember life is full of comedy and we don’t have to take everything so seriously. We take our job as stewards for the young with an eye to making no mistakes and setting them up for a perfect life, as it should be. Yet sometimes we just need to sit back and laugh at it all and enjoy the moments as they come. Perhaps Errai is here to teach me it can all go awry and still be perfect.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

9 Comments

  1. Elsa,

    What wonderful affirmations for you to see how easily Myrnah shared her New Little Treasure with not just you, but with all the kids as well! Many domestic mares would take their foal and run!
    Yes, the little one will teach you a lot and you him.
    Another incredible journey we all get to share in!
    THANK YOU!
    Maggie

  2. Errai’s adorable and all the photos have been irresistible, but that last one’s a peach! The story just gets more and more involving, thank you Elsa.

  3. I got Sonny out of a herd of icelandics with the only human contact being someone coming to the field occasionally to pet the horses, and he was one year old. The herd taught him everything he needed to know to be a good citizen and my job was easy after that. I like your ground rules. You go girl!

  4. Errai, beautiful name! Myrnah looks so peaceful and content with her baby, she’s SUPERMOM!
    I love that last picture where Errai is playing the long-haired hippie :-). Like the Catapult song from the seventies: “Hey get around, and let your hair hang down, and if you don’t know how, I’ll show you now” :-).

  5. That was me: Marja…

  6. O.k., I have to be a mom for a second here… I just want to grab that cute face of his and kiss it! What a sweetie! Btw, love the name and meaning, very nice.

  7. Elsa, You have crossed from trainer to instructor, where students and teachers learn together.
    As Jodi said, you are an ideal person to partner Myrnah as she mothers. What great raising you’ve done with Cameron is reflected in Myrnah’s and Errai’s and YOUR immediate connections.
    The “Rules of Engagement” are excellent; once again, clearly deriving from your and Cam’s obvious success.
    You just added to Child-rearing, Conflict-counseling and New-species interaction guidance. Sounds heady, but you are in rarified company, now. 😉 Michael

  8. Elsa, reading about the way you are so honoring of Erral – he will be an amazing horse – this is so exciting to follow – I love your photos!

  9. P.S. “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, (Baby)”, the song from “Bringing Up Baby” could be your theme for this entire project…’One trainer, No tools, Just body language’…and Love. 😉 Michael


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