Posted by: Diane | April 12, 2013

Meet Ollie…

This is Ollie:

She’s a 9 or 10 month old filly that was given to us by a neighbor after wandering into our yard to graze one day.  She has never been handled, as far as I know, unless it was to run her through a chute into a trailer.  I think she was the baby of somebody’s “pasture decoration.”  As such, she wouldn’t let anyone touch her.  I decided to name her Ollie because she’s “another fine mess” I’ve gotten myself into.  (I need to see if I can find some old Stan and Ollie shows online.  Haven’t thought of them in years until this.)

The first thing I did was buy some sweet feed.  The first time I fed it to her she would pick up a little bit, roll her lips back and toss her head.  Grain flew everywhere.  It took her most of the afternoon to come around to the taste and eat what I gave her.  The next day, however, she licked the bowl clean. 

To start gentling her, I went out into the pasture where she was grazing, carefully ignoring her and sat down on an old cedar log and started playing with the weeds around me.  It didn’t take her five minutes to get curious and amble over to check me out.  It didn’t take her much longer to stick her nose out to sniff me.  I continued to keep my movements slow and my eyes low.  She decided I wasn’t too much of a threat, but still was pretty jumpy.

Gradually over the past two weeks that we have had her, I have used that curiosity to get her to the point where she will walk up to me in the pasture, let me pet her nose, and will take treats and grass out of my hand.  My biggest concern right now is that she needs to learn to accept handling so that we can give her proper care.

I have been spending lots of time reading books and websites and watching videos on horse training.  Unfortunately, most of these assume that you are starting with a horse that accepts a halter and will lead a little bit, and that you have a small square or round pen to work with them in.  So the challenge has been to figure out how I get her to the point of getting a halter on while working her in a 2 acre pasture!

I finally found the website of a couple in California who gentle and train BLM mustangs so that they are more easily adopted.  Another website that is loaded with information is KBR Horse Net.  They also work with wild horses and donkeys with many of the same techniques and with the same great sounding results.

I have ordered a video on “pole gentling” where a bamboo pole is used to get the wild horse used to being touched without having to be close to the horse.  I have already begun to use the concept with Ollie, but boy, is she jumpy!  I wait until I feed her grain in the evening.  The grain keeps her close by and gives her something pleasant to reward her for putting up with me.  The first time I tried, if I so much as brushed a lock of her mane near her withers she would jump and skitter away, looking at me suspiciously.  Yesterday, she only flinched and looked at me.  Today I will do only what I did yesterday and then maybe tomorrow I will actually touch her withers with the end of the lunge whip that I am using.   The point is to get her to understand that I’m not out to eat her, or hurt her and that I can actually be very good at scratching those itchy spots that she can’t reach, while I maintain a safe distance between me and 900 lbs of horse!

While I am gradually trying to get closer to her, I also have to make sure that she respects my space and doesn’t try to shove me around.  She is a large, heavy and potentially dangerous animal.  Horse herds have a pecking order, and she needs to understand that I am the lead horse.  That means that I use my body language and pressure from training tools like a halter or the lunge whip to make her yield to me. 

For example, this morning she decided that I was holding out on the treats and got a little sassy with me.  I used my body language to back her up.  When I feed her grain, I don’t let her just walk up and start eating.  I stand between her and the bowl and if she comes forward I tap her on the chest with the end of the whip.  She backs up and stands still, and THEN I move aside and let her eat.  I don’t want her pushing me, walking on my heels, or turning her backside to me.  Another dominant horse would bite or kick her and make her move away.  What I do is a milder form of that, but it works amazingly well.  I want to establish our pecking order now and I fully expect her to challenge it from time to time.

Another website I found that, although it is not free except for the first 30 days, seems to give a lot of value for the money is Parelli Connect.  There are many trainers who promote the “natural horsemanship” model of training.  Of course they sell videos, books, tools and tickets to seminars.  Pat Parelli is one of those trainers.  For $10 a month, you have access to tons of videos, magazine articles and a social network of trainers and other horse owners who use the Parelli method of training horses. As a member, I got four free tickets to one of their seminars that will be held in Arlington, TX this fall.   Since one “natural horseman” is pretty much the same as another with small variations in methods and philosophy, I think I’ll stick with Parelli for the training that Ollie will need after I get her halter broke.

Since this is a major, long-term project for me, I’ll use my blog to record our progress.





  1. Only you, my dear, would attempt this in such a strategic manner! Good luck.

    • Lol. Sometimes I wonder if I tend to over analyze and over-think things. I’m just an information gathering type person!

  2. Monty Roberts wrote a book about gentling horses that I thought was really interesting and powerful, even beyond the context of horses. He has links on YouTube also, if you don’t already know what I’m talking about.

    • I think I read that book, though it has been several years. Which reminds me, I haven’t checked my local library for resources yet! Add that to my to-do list…

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