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Discussion Starter #1
After going back and forth on how to start this, and what direction to take it, I'm finally just doing it and officially starting a journal to track the progress of my new Morgan mare. I spent the past 6 months browsing ads of horses for sale, mostly focused on OTTB's, and stumbled upon her ad when a friend mentioned being interested in one of the rescue's other horses. I'm not sure what got into me, as I have been endlessly searching for a horse that would be able to eventually get back into 3-day eventing, but I messaged the rescue almost immediately in order to find a time to see her. A few days later, I drove two and a half hours away into rural Wisconsin and got to learn the story of Bella.


The first time meeting Bella.

Bella is estimated to be a 6 year old Morgan mare. When I messaged on her, I didn't quite know the extent of her background, but it is pretty extensive for being so young. Around 2/3 years ago, a family in northern Wisconsin purchased her, I'm assuming sight unseen, as a horse that was halter broke that their kids could brush and love on. As soon as Bella was unloaded off of the trailer and let into pasture, she was unable to be caught, or even gotten close to. Before the family knew it, she was rapidly dropping weight for some unknown reason, until they woke up to find a baby in the pasture. At some point after this, the family contacted the rescue I found Bella at, and asked for any help that they could get. The rescue eventually got Bella and her foal into the trailer, and brought them to the rescue for rehabbing.


Bella and her foal after being brought to the rescue.


Bella was an estimated 2 or 3 on the Henneke Body Scoring System.

Eventually, the foal was able to be weaned off of her, and she was able to return to a normal, healthy body condition. Bella actually happens to be an easy keeper, but you'd never be able to tell from the condition that she was once in. The owner of the rescue worked with Bella enough to get her to the point of being able to be caught relatively easily, and ended up re-homing her last year. After a couple of months under new ownership, Bella was being neglected once again, was back to being uncatchable, and was in dire need of a consistent trimming cycle. The new owners re-surrendered her to the rescue, and that's where I come in.


Approximately four months of not having her hooves trimmed.


Another first impression of Bella, with her very knotted mane.


To be continued...
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So, it's been two and a half weeks since meeting Bella. Since, I have worked with her a total of three times, including the time that I went and looked at her. My initial impression of her was that she is very introverted, but had the softest expression in a horse that I have ever seen. The first time I walked up to her, she was very rigid and upright through her neck, with her eyes unblinking, yet soft. The owner of the rescue let me spend a bit of alone time with her in the pasture, and Bella was incredibly apprehensive with leading of any kind, unless I was a ways in front of her. Every few steps she would plant her feet, and I would have to change directions to get her to unlock herself. However, once I went to take a picture of her with my phone, I discovered something very helpful...Bella is incredibly curious, and was immediately interested in seeing what my phone had to offer her (which also makes taking pictures of her hard!).


Bella showing off her good side, while I was trying to get conformation pictures.

When I initially responded to Bella's ad, she was actually not currently adoptable. I went to look at her with intentions of getting her in the spring, when she was better about being caught and worked with from the ground. After discussing my training experience with the variety of horses I have trained for myself and others, the owner of the rescue believed that I would be a good fit for her and that I could handle earning her trust. I put a deposit down on her, and was giving permission to come to the rescue anytime to work with her.


Bella is very insistent that I remain on her right side, which will need to be worked on.

The first time I drove down to visit and work with Bella brought many surprises...to be continued.
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The next weekend, after looking at and subsequently buying Bella, I drove down to have our first session working together. My boyfriend and dog came along with me, and when we were within an hour away, I couldn't stop thinking about what steps I wanted to take with her to build the groundwork of our relationship. I haven't worked with one of my own, personal project horses in over four years, since coming to college. This past summer I had the opportunity to begin training for the public in my college town (check out "The Trials and Tribulations of Training as a College Student" journal!), and did get to work with a lot of unbroke horses, but it never really felt quite the same as working with my own. My main plan with Bella for this first day of working together was to focus on catching her by utilizing her curiosity, begin teaching her some very basic groundwork skills, and of course work on leading.


Bella coming to check out my phone, trying to take pictures of her.

Upon arrival to the rescue, I was immediately taken aback, as Bella walked directly to the fence to greet us...or so I thought. Instead, I realized that she is incredibly interested in dogs, and instead of greeting the humans that had carrots, she followed my dog running up and down the fence line. This ended up coming in handy later in the day! Once I entered her pasture, I honestly expected her to walk away from me, based off of her reaction to a new person the first time I met her. Instead, she was more than content to be around me, as long as my fascinating dog stayed close enough for her to watch and smell. Bella has a problem with shooting backwards or moving out of your reach when you try to grab her halter, and the first time I reached to clip my lead on, she did just that. Instead of continuing to try, whenever she would move out of my reach, I would immediately turn around and walk a few steps away. My main goal by doing this was to have her question why I just stopped trying to catch her, become curious as to what I was doing instead, and re-approach me. This method worked, and after a few repetitions of trying to grab her halter, her moving away, and then me moving away, I was able to have her stand calmly while I held onto her halter.


Bella allowing me to hold her halter, while petting her neck.

Once I put my halter and lead rope on her, we began doing lots of easy work. Leading was one of my main priorities with this first visit, as she hasn't been out of her current pasture in over a year. Unlike the first time I met her, I was able to lead her relatively easily, with the help of my dog. I would begin walking ahead of Bella, my dog would follow, and as I had hoped, Bella did too. After a while of using my dog to help us get going forward, I had my boyfriend take her to my car and I began to work with Bella just one on one with leading. To my surprise she was leading way better than expected, and after walking a couple of laps around the pasture, I began jogging to see if she would follow at a trot, and she did! After this point, I chose to use this as my stopping point with leading, and end on a good note.


My beautiful Bella.


My beautiful Bella, after she realizes my dog is back.

I worked very briefly on the Parelli's Yo-Yo Game*, and she picked it up so quick. The first two times I asked her to go backwards, I had to emphasize my cues pretty largely in order to get a response, but I could see the gears turning in her head. By the fourth time, she was backing away from me with just a movement of my wrist. After this, I spent a while just petting her and spending time around her, and then chose to take her halter off.
*I realize many of the Parelli methods are controversial on this forum, but I have found many of them to work really well on horses like Bella. I personally used the Parelli method on my first horse, Flicka, who was incredibly similar to Bella, and it worked wonders. I combine my training methods with many different sources, so I will never classify myself as a Parelli trainer, but my roots are based in the Parelli method. I do however focus largely in natural horsemanship, and that will most likely be my focus with Bella.

Once I took her halter off, I was pretty worried that she would be completely uninterested in me, and that she wouldn't allow me to catch her again. I immediately started one of the games I like to play with hard to catch horses, where I pick a point in the distance, walk to it, and then squat down. I was really hoping that Bella's curiosity would continue to get the best of her, and it did. She followed me to wherever I went to investigate what I was doing, and was rewarded with bits of apples and carrots whenever she touched me with her nose. I chose to end this session together after a few successful join-ups, and promptly left the pasture after she greeted me one last time.


Bella greeting the weird squatting human.


Bella making sure the treats were up to par.

This session left me feeling really great about the progress I made with Bella in just an hour or two, however, session two proved to be a challenge. I believe that you never stop learning with horses, and I have a feeling this mare will teach me all she has to offer. To be continued...
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Discussion Starter #9
A week after my previous post, I visited Bella again with high expectations of what we could accomplish in our second session together. This brings us to the first lesson that Bella has given me, and that is to NEVER start a training session with certain expectations of what you will accomplish. Bella allowed me to quickly catch her, and after starting to slowly work on untangling her mane, I decided it would be a good idea to start working on concepts that would hopefully help me load her into the trailer. My main goal was to teaching her how to send into their run-in shelter, which is about the size of the trailer we would be using to bring her home. Bella and I started by working on the basics of lunging, so hopefully vocal and body cues could help out with getting her into the trailer. At some point, Bella spooked and did a 180-degree spin away from me, putting me too close for comfort to her hind end...and that's when I dropped the line. After 2 hours of trying to catch her to take my halter and lead off, I left the rescue defeated, with the halter and lead still attached.


I'm not the best artist, but I figured Minnie deserved a spot on my wall!

And to announce the name I settled on, Bella's name is officially changed to Minnie! Her show name will be Wilhelmina, which I found to be quite fitting, as the origin of the name translates to "willing to protect" and "resolute protector/fighter".
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Since our setback the last time I drove to work with Minnie, saying I was a bit worried about picking her up is an understatement. A woman that boards at the same barn as I do offered to haul her trailer down for me, and I really didn't want to burden her with 5 hours of driving and who knows how long catching and loading. Well, I'm learning to quit expecting certain things with this horse, because she defied my expectations yet again. While the woman and her daughter were positioning the trailer for loading, I went to start attempting to catch Minnie. Well, as soon as I dropped the halter out of my hand and focused on just getting her to take treats out of my hand and let me pet her, I was able to grab her halter...with-in five minutes of entering the pasture. Surprised? Because I was.


Minnie checking out her new neighbors.

Something I didn't expect was the challenge of convincing her that she was allowed to leave the pasture that she has lived in for the past year and a half. The only way we could even get her to consider stepping out of the gate was by bringing her pasture mate out first, and even then it took a lot of reasoning with her. It seemed like she was super concerned that I was trying to get her zapped by an imaginary fence, or that she would be in big trouble for leaving. Well, as soon as she mustered the confidence to leave her pasture, Minnie absolutely strutted her stuff down the driveway to the trailer. I had zero problems leading her, and if she got stuck in place, it just took a bit of verbal reassurance to get her walking again. Minnie seemed to be super interested in where we could possibly be going...endurance prospect maybe? ;-)


Minnie testing out the meal options in her new home.

Once we got up to the trailer, which we had purposefully positioned against the corner of a fence in order to minimize the space she could express herself in, I started by attempting to load her by standing in trailer and rewarding her with the release of pressure when she came closer or touched the trailer. Despite how quickly she ended up actually getting all the way into the trailer, this method was a mistake. The trailer we were using is a two-horse straight load that had the divider taken out, and I opted to have the escape doors remain closed just so she wouldn't panic and try going out one of them. Well, when I had my helpers begin closing the doors, Minnie panicked and ended up spinning around and out of the trailer. I ended up getting pinned against the wall, and then dragged with her, resulting in a hand full of rope burns and some nasty bruises on my body. Lessons learned; wear gloves and don't load a horse you don't know this way.


Minnie checking out the view at her new home, from the safety of the trailer.

Once I got a pair of gloves on, I opted to send her into the trailer instead. Both of my helpers were positioned behind the doors, so as soon as I got her in, we could close them immediately. It ended up taking very little pressure to convince her to take small steps up to the trailer, and eventually jump in (which really impressed me from the last time I worked with her!). We got the doors closed, and got back on the road home. The trailer had a trailer cam, so I was lucky enough to see how she rides in the trailer, and the entire time she just chilled, looking out the window.


Minnie was totally calm for unloading, probably better than my other horse.

When we arrived at my boarding barn, I was a bit concerned that she would explode out of the trailer...yet again, she defied my expectations. We opened the doors slowly, and she was standing there, cool as a cucumber. I just held onto her lead rope, and let her decide when to leave the trailer. She took her sweet time, and once she realized she was at a new place with new horses, she started strutting her stuff. Most of the boarders were at the barn, plus my farrier, so they got to see the show and officially see the horse that I have been talking about for the past month. She paid no mind to the group of strangers watching her, or the four dogs buzzing about, but remained respectful to my space.


Minnie, showing her best side to the pasture of geldings next to her pen.

I really think I hit the jackpot with this mare, and I really can't wait to see where we end up together. Minnie will be living in a small round pen for the next month or two until we get her catching problems completely resolved, and then she will be moved in with another mare that just lost her pasture mate to colic. I should be seeing her Thursday, where I will be officially tackling her mess of a mane, and just spend low-stress time with her. I am so excited for this one.
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Did she ride in the trailer facing backwards? was she tied, or did you leave her loose? I'm always curious about how people deal with trailering situations.


she is very , very cute. When she sheds out, she will be gorgeous.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Did she ride in the trailer facing backwards? was she tied, or did you leave her loose? I'm always curious about how people deal with trailering situations.


she is very , very cute. When she sheds out, she will be gorgeous.

She did indeed ride in the trailer facing backwards! I personally have never left a horse loose in a trailer to decide how they wanted to stand, but it seems like that is most horses preferred way to ride in the trailer. I left her loose, because as far as I know, she has no training related to tying whatsoever. I kept her lead rope attached, just in case she was to unload a bit exuberantly.
 

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so, she was able to turn herself around in that little trailer? loaded front in, turned around? This CAN become a bad habit, if the horse loads, then panics and whirls arond (as I think you experienced). But, if it's part of how they are trained to load and they are calm and you expect the turnaround, it can work; you send them in with enough line to allow them to turn around, then either unclip the line from them, or throw it well up and over their back, or run it out a window and tie to the bar on teh outside, (so you can untie it before openning the back door. Often there is not place on the inside to tie them to when they are facing backwards
 

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so, she was able to turn herself around in that little trailer? loaded front in, turned around? This CAN become a bad habit, if the horse loads, then panics and whirls arond (as I think you experienced). But, if it's part of how they are trained to load and they are calm and you expect the turnaround, it can work; you send them in with enough line to allow them to turn around, then either unclip the line from them, or throw it well up and over their back, or run it out a window and tie to the bar on teh outside, (so you can untie it before openning the back door. Often there is not place on the inside to tie them to when they are facing backwards
I personally will not be loading her again until her groundwork is much further along than it is now, as we will rarely be in the position to let her ride backwards regularly. I'd like to be able to avoid her spinning around in the trailer without me asking, and I think we are pretty far away from that point until a lot more work is done with her. I also am someone who no longer ties my horses when they are going down the road, just in case something happens. In my BO's slant load, I will either drape the lead over my horse's back, or I will just run it through one of the tie rings.
 

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I will finally be updating with pictures and video hopefully tonight or tomorrow morning...we have finally made "big" progress! :loveshower:​
 

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Discussion Starter #16
I'll admit, the general theme of my experiences with Minnie since I last posted was "I'm way in over my head". Up until two weeks ago, I was considering contacting the rescue and admitting defeat. I've never dealt with a horse that is so adamant about being afraid and avoiding any sort of contact. The past few times I had tried working with her, I was lucky to be able to touch her at all, and that was while she was trembling against a fence.


Minnie’s default stance: cocked back leg, head looking away, but with one ear still locked on me.

The last time I worked with her before our somewhat breakthrough, which would’ve been five weeks ago, I got a small look into how incredibly smart Minnie is. My BO feeds round bales, and it was time to replace Minnie’s for the first time since I brought her home. Our plan was to drive her into the run-in, and for me to just hold her there as the BO moved the panels and placed a round bale. Everything sailed along smoothly, and once the panels were placed back into place, I decided to start approaching and retreating from Minnie. I looked over the fact that the gates latch wasn’t done up, as I had been leaving it undone any other time I worked with her, as it could only open wide enough for me to squeeze through.


I began teaching Minnie that when I would make a certain cluck and put a small amount of pressure on her, that I would retreat when she would turn to face me.

Well, she took her opportunity and blasted her way through the gate to freedom. This has been my biggest fear all winter, as the fences continued to disappear as more snow arrived (we get around 220 inches per year where Minnie is boarded). I had no idea how we could possibly catch her if she were to get loose, and of course my BO and I got the opportunity to figure out how. The cherry on top of Minnie getting loose was that she decided to join the other horses and tear down ~150 feet of electric fencing in the process, making four horses loose. I swear, I could see my BO’s hair turning grey as this all unfolded...I wouldn’t blame her for considering retirement. :lol:


Me? Never.

Luckily for us, the snow we had accumulated this year had made a nice alley between Minnie’s pen and where she was loose, and we used the tractor to block the other alley leading to the road. Even luckier for us, Minnie decided to be buddy-buddy with my BO’s gelding, Joe Dirt, so all it took was catching him and leading them both back into her pen. Crisis averted.

To be continued…

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Three weeks after Minnie’s prison break, I absolutely had to get a halter onto her as the farrier was coming. Minnie was due for a trim when she arrived in the beginning of February, so she was officially two cycles behind on trims. I took a break from even attempting to catch her until this day, as I went on vacation to Yellowstone for 10 days and then wanted to give her a chance to get acclimated to her new supplements after I had returned: magnesium and loose rock salt.

I arrived three hours before the farrier was due to arrive, just in case Minnie didn’t want to cooperate at all. As soon as I arrived and entered her pen, I noticed that she was less tense and less worried about me being around her, though she was still very alert to my movements. I began by asking her to move around her pen, at either a walk or a trot, along with changing direction when asked. Once she was beginning to relax and lower her head, I took all of the pressure off and just began wandering around her pen, paying no attention to her at all.


Minnie, slightly more relaxed than usual.

Eventually, I began the process of approaching and retreating, beginning with only looking at her until she turned her head towards me, even just slightly. After an hour of doing this, I was able to have both hands on her, while holding her halter in one hand. I let the rope halter fall into place on the opposite side of her neck, and as she realized what I was doing, she lowered her head and let me halter her. Success, finally.

While we waited for the farrier, I finally got the chance to begin de-tangling her mess of a mane along with start currying off her excess of winter fuzzies. Every once in a while, I would feel her nose on my arm, just checking what I was doing. Soon enough the farrier arrived, and I hoped for the sake of us both that everything would go smoothly. When he entered her pen, she immediately became tense, but did not try to back away as he approached her with his tools. She stood quiet as can be as he began his work, only occasionally trying to lift her leg away from him. The trim was completed, and I left her pen a proud horse mom.

To be continued…
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Discussion Starter #19
4/21/2019

After this post, I will almost be caught up to present day with Minnie. Up until the last post it was really hard to find any motivation to provide an update on how working with Minnie was going, as it seemed like the majority of our time together was full of setbacks. I wasn't giving myself enough credit for what I was attempting to do for the first time in my horse ownership and training career, which was taking on a scared, largely unhanded rescue that I knew very little history on. The time I have spent working with Minnie up until this point has been incredibly humbling, and has taught me a lot about the importance of patience.


Minnie after the last time I caught her, and began untangling her mane.

A month had passed since I last had the opportunity to see either of my horses because as life does, life happened and my car broke down majorly and was in the shop for almost three weeks. Finally, after lots of money down the drain to get my car in working order again, I went to see Minnie this past Easter Sunday. Half of her mane was still braided from a month before, but the rest of her was an absolute mess. Shedding season is now in full swing here, so between her tangled mess of a mane, her mud covered coat, and the clumps of hair coming off of her, Minnie was desperate for a grooming. I carried my grooming tote, horse treat container, and her halter in her pen, expecting her to move to the far side as she usually does. Instead, she stayed facing my where she was standing, and just watched. I decided that I would try to approach her and halter as I would any horse for the first time since bringing her home. Minnie wandered to her 'safety spot' under her run-in and waited for me to approach her, and even though she was nervous, she let me halter her as I would with any other horse.


Minnie walking over the tarp outside of her pen, like an old pro.

After a long, thorough grooming session, it was time to take a leap of faith and bring Minnie outside of her pen since bringing her home. As Minnie does, she surprised me. There was a big, white tarp right outside of the gate to her pen and rather than be fearful of it, she marched ahead of me, right over top of it. Minnie was on a mission, to finally explore the rest of her new home. The barn was pretty busy that day, with the chickens out of the coop, boarders tacking up their horses, dogs romping around, and the BO doing her normal evening chores. None of this fazed Minnie, and she followed me all over the yard, checking out what there was to check out.


Minnie, showing off her new hairstyle to anyone who would look.

As the sun began to set, it was time to put Minnie back in her pen and get ready to drive home. I took the time to take some pictures of her, so one day I could look back on the progress we made over our journey together. Every single time I come to work with her, I can feel how much more trust she is willing to put into me and allow me to be around her. As I took her halter off, I took a chance for the first time since getting her and wrapped my arms around her neck. I could feel her tense up, but after a few seconds I felt her exhale and accept that I was not going to hurt her. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I think I may have found my second heart horse.
:love shower:


Minnie, with the softest face I have ever seen on a horse.

To be continued...
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4/24/2019

Last night I was invited out to the barn to ride with a group of women that go on trail rides pretty often, and usually I'm too tied up in school/work/life to make the time to join them on week nights. Fortunately, I finished all of my assignments through the end of the semester for college early, so I actually had time to ride with everyone before my finals start. After I finished grooming and tacking up my other horse, Toofine, I decided to spend some time grooming Minnie and hopefully exploring more outside of her pen. I came to the barn with carrots, Minnie's favorite. One of my new goals with her is to have her begin approaching me, rather than me always approaching her. I began this goal by offering her carrots just out of her reach, so that she has to start extending her neck towards me in order to get the tasty treat. My end goal is to have her come to me in her pen to get haltered, and eventually begin working on simple liberty work that involves this also.


Minnie, beginning to show some positive expressions in her face.

Minnie was quick to halter yet again, this time without going to her 'safe spot' in her shelter. I have noticed that she vastly prefers people working on her right side, so that is something to work on in the future, but for now it has helped me in being successful with haltering her on the first try. After I curried out more of her shedding fur, I decided to make it a goal to make it into the arena so we could begin exploring some obstacles in the future. Between her pen and the arena currently is a horse trailer that is covered with tarps that like to flap, a scary pig pen with a weird structure in it, and of course other horses. I expected her feet to be pretty sticky going past the horse trailer with the tarps that were flapping pretty wildly, but other than raising her head slightly, she continued to follow me to the arena. Again, Minnie defied my expectations.


Minnie, quickly showing me that ground poles were no big deal.

Luckily, my BO has lots of obstacles to offer for us to work with, and today I decided to keep it simple and just use what was already laid out in the arena: a barrel, a jump standard, a ground pole, and a hula hoop. Minnie quickly took it upon herself to walk over to the jump standard, give it a quick sniff, and walk over the ground pole next to it. I never asked her to do this, I just think she wants to continually prove to me what a brave, smart mare she is. Minnie did the same for the barrel, giving it a quick sniff with an outstretched neck, before walking past it, almost bored. Finally, we had the hula hoop, which she walked over no problem, and let me rub all over her with a bit of reassurance.


Not quite the best hula hoop, huh?

As my journey continues with Minnie, I have been becoming increasingly suspicious that she knows way more than what any of us thought we knew about her past. She understands the joy that grooming brings, she understands basic leading no problem, and apparently she has been introduced to arena obstacles at some point. After playing with all of these obstacles, I decided to ask her to go out on a circle around me at a walk and a trot, and again, no problem. Minnie willingly changed the location of her circling around me, and was more than willing to trot over the ground pole and hula hoop. Either she is a super mare, or someone, at some point in her life put some time into her. I'm thinking a bit of both.


Got anything more difficult?

Oh, and this was the first day that she knickered to me when I approached her pen.
:loveshower:

To be continued...
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