Sierra came to Hanaeleh in August 2021. Those who have followed her story may remember that she was purported to be trained under saddle, but was just a little spooky out on trail. Unfortunately, when we brought her to Hanaeleh, we discovered that this was blatantly untrue- she had no concept of a bridle, a bit, leg pressure, etc. Her “training” seemed to consist of nothing but running her around and hurting her, as she was deathly afraid of ropes and whips.
We have spent the past three months working on getting Sierra comfortable with us on the ground, letting her know that ropes and whips will no longer hurt her (just tossing the lead rope over her neck originally made her jump and try to run away, but now she stands and doesn’t seem as concerned). She is still wary of whips, but we worked with her with a dressage whip, running it along her body and legs, letting her know that it would not hurt her, so she is less reactionary to them now.
Sierra has high ringbone in her right front (ringbone is bony overgrowth on the pastern- low ringbone is debilitating, but high ringbone usually does not affect the soundness of the horse as long as it is managed appropriately), and she was uncomfortable when we brought her to Hanaeleh. Now that she has been trimmed correctly, she is much more comfortable and we were able to take her off of the Equiiox completely. We still put boots on her if we are going to work her a lot, but she runs around and seems fine even without them.
When we first tried working Sierra in the arena or round pen, she would just run and run and run and run- this is indicative of a horse who has been “cowboyed,” or run around until she is exhausted. There is no training in this method- the purpose is only to fatigue the horse in an effort to exert control. Once the horse is no longer exhausted, they still aren’t trained, and at that point they are fearful of the whip and of humans. It’s a complete waste of time and, quite frankly, is abusive. While Sierra still has some days where she is still fearful when we pick up the whip, we are now able to get her to walk and trot and canter on cue in the round pen and arena- something that even a month ago we could not do. This means she is listening to us and learning that she is not going to be hurt during the training sessions!
In addition to being run around until she was exhausted, any other types of training Sierra had was abusive as well, as we discovered when she started rearing when she experienced any bit pressure. She would get very frustrated very quickly and, while she was not mean or aggressive, she was obviously very fearful that we were going to hurt her. Therefore, we decided that the best way to approach her training was to start at the beginning (ie: treating her like a young, untrained horse) and give her a solid foundation.
We started ground driving her, which immediately exhibited a fear reaction, and she would spin around or even rear when she felt any bit pressure at all. After a lot of patience and several weeks, Sierra started to learn what bit pressure means, and the rearing stopped and the spinning around stopped as well. We had started Sierra out in a full-cheek snaffle in order to teach her to turn, but today we tried her in a French-link snaffle, which is much softer, and she did very well! She still is a little fussy with the bit, but today we were able to zig-zag across the arena, something we haven’t been able to do before today! It will still be several weeks before we get on her back- the goal is for her to be completely comfortable with ground driving before we ride her- but she is moving in the right direction! She is a very smart horse and is not spooky- her reactions are due to her past abuse, not her personality. We took her for a walk out on our very busy street last week and she didn’t spook or shy at anything at all!
If Sierra’s previous owners had just taken the time to work with her in a humane, safe manner, Sierra would currently be completely trained under saddle. Instead, they tried abusive shortcuts which don’t work. It may take Sierra a little longer to learn what we are teaching because she is overcoming her fear, but she is progressing, and we know that she will be an excellent horse under saddle very soon!