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The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

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

 

Hurry up and Wait

“Taming Wild: Evolution” has started filming!

After so much planning and organizing and working to get all the pieces in place, the first horse is finally here. Now I wait with as much presence and skill as I can muster, for Atlas to realize his life is better with me.

Atlas is over sixteen hands tall (I roughly gauge that as I watch him from my safe distances) and he is rough as a horse who has been through the rodeo circuit as a bucking bronco has every right to be.

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When I met him he was living in a herd of stallions in a pen, all of them heading to slaughter shortly as the unwanted category of horses that don’t buck hard enough to keep working in the rodeo, and horses who are now too aggressive and distrustful of humans to find a place in gentle society.

Breaking my heart as it did to leave the others behind, I chose Atlas out of the group as the horse that might come home with me for the filming of “Taming Wild: Evolution”.

Under extreme pressure some horses shut down and take all their feelings and expressions internal, they just stop relating to the world. That was mostly what I saw in the group of stallions that day. Atlas was a little different in that his ears and his eyes never stopped moving. He didn’t like us humans there anymore than the others, but he was willing to take action without provocation to put himself where he needed to be, while the others seemed to wait for a bite or a kick or someone to scare them into a response.

Freedom Based Training® is the slowest way possible to train a horse, and if I am going to film a movie about this incredibly gradual developmental process, I need to pick horses that are reasonably extroverted in their actions and emotions. Atlas fit the list of requirements.

The horse dealer that sold him to me was colorful on the phone, but a man of few words once we were in person and the recording started. On the phone I got, “that horse is a fucking psycho, why do you want a horse like that?” In person it was the more toned down version of “Like I told you in the beginning, I never ever let these kinda horses go out in the public, cause I don’t want no blood on my hands, I don’t wanna see anyone get hurt.”

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Loading, I watched the horse dealer skillfully keep himself safe on the other side of metal panels as he used a flag to push Atlas into my horse trailer. The very same trailer I used seven years ago to bring Myrnah home for the first Taming Wild movie. I have learned so much since then, and I have a feeling I am about to learn so much more.

This horse was afraid, with every reason in the world to be afraid. Now he and I just needed time to ease that fear, soften that aggression and start over.

The trailer ride home was supposed to be six hours in total, but we hit traffic and missed our ferry, so my day turned into a fifteen hour marathon of events from the time I stepped into the car in the morning until we unloaded Atlas into his new home in the dark of the evening.

I didn’t mind though, listening to Atlas snort his huge dragon snort again and again as he moved around his new paddock in the dark of that first day, I was glad he was safe. My exhaustion was a small price to pay for this chance for him to start again. He and I together.

Now it was all about feel and timing between us.

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In the morning I started outside the fences, making responses to Atlas’ movements. I needed him to learn that what he did mattered and I listened. My responses might be different from other people he had met in his life, but our communication would be consistent and he could count on me.

What I see often in horse human relationships is that people push a horse when they see it is already afraid or in flight, and when a horse gets aggressive or pushes into a human there is a momentary instinctual freeze or backing off in the human that gives the horse a moment of relief. This is how horses learn to be aggressive.

I need to change that conversation with Atlas from the very beginning, even if it only subtly from outside the fences.

Here are my ground rules:

If any part of Atlas moved toward me (eyes, ears, or any part of the body) I would move toward him.

If any part of Atlas moved away from me I would move away also.

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I needed to be smart and take small enough steps toward him that I did not provoke an aggressive reaction. Also I needed to be wise about taking big enough steps away from him that I remained working at a distance range that was acceptable to him.

Those simple rules, with good feel and timing, plus time equals success in partnership.

How much time? I don’t know yet, but I am going to find out.

On the first day we spent four hours together broken up into short sessions throughout the day. I worked mainly just inside the fence where I could duck through to the outside if I needed to, but I never did need that escape.

This conversation Atlas and I were having was a new set of rules for him, so there were moments where my decision making felt dicey like perhaps I had pushed just a little too close to him too soon, but I wanted to maintain my consistency stepping toward him when he came toward me. He would look at me and I would take the smallest possible slide of a foot toward him. I was being consistent, but tactful as the tension in his neck and back and eyes, along with the planted feet told me he would fight back if I pushed in too close.

It was almost as if he expected that one of us had to scare the other one. Either I was supposed to chase him, or he was going to have to chase me off. This conversation of subtle movements and distance changed all the rules he knew.

Day one was all about long distances, and only sometimes working in as close as two horse lengths from him, but mostly farther away than that slowly and gently working my way around his body in circles.

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Day two there was considerably more ease in his body language and I spent more time at the two and three horse length distances.

Day three there started to be some yield to Atlas’s movement and he was comfortable with me walking along with him (at an appropriate distance) instead of the circles around him from the previous days. He nibbled grass and watched the world go by while I stood guard next to him, vigilant about everything so he could relax. Occasionally we even got as close as one horse length of distance between us.

From hour to hour it doesn’t look like much is happening between Atlas and I, but if you know what you are looking at you can see a deep and meaningful language building.

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I am feeling the “hurry up” because I desperately want Atlas to trust me enough to trim those big overgrown hooves. Yet, I know I will wait for as long as he needs because overgrown hooves are nothing to worry about in comparison to the life we just pulled him from.

I will put in the time, and he will tell me when the time is right for us to take the next steps into doing more together.

For all of you who are curious about the process with Atlas and the mustang stallion that will be arriving in a few weeks, consider joining us on Patreon where I will be posting update videos each week and answering questions about all the details of the process as we develop together.

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

There is so much to learn and I can’t wait to share it all as it evolves in “Taming Wild: Evolution”.

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Incredible–you are lovely together. Thank you so much for sharing!
    Connie Funk

    • Thank you Connie!

  2. This new project is going to be so very interesting Elsa and one might say, much closer in circumstances to what many horse owners find themselves facing than the relatively blank canvas that you started with in working with Myrnah. Of course I realize that the blank canvas scenario was one of the main reasons for approaching it as you did – I loved “Taming Wild” and still watch it now from time to time as continuing inspiration but there has always been that doubt in the back of my mind that the emotional starting point between Myrnah and my own horses was so very different.

    I am sure that most of the principles of FBT remain the same regardless of the horse’s history but it will be doubly interesting to see how FBT evolves and to observe the different nuances of your approach that may arise from knowing what you know about this horse’s background. Not that many people take on an ex-rodeo horse but a great many of us find ourselves dealing with horses who are carrying a huge amount of emotional baggage and traumatic memories of their lives with previous owners. So I very much look forward to seeing what unfolds with Atlas ……. lucky old Atlas! He may not quite realize it yet but boy, has he just landed on his hooves! Good luck with the filming Elsa.

    Kind Regards
    Gary

    • Thank you Gary! I love that: “He may not quite realize it yet but boy, has he just landed on his hooves!” Indeed he has and it just keeps getting better from here. I do hope this story line is every bit as inspiring as the first movie was, but perhaps with some perspective that is indeed helpful for the average horse enthusiast working with a horse that might not be a clean slate. Atlas should teach up all so much about this and I am loving every moment of the learning!


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