Milo Chronicles: P2
Installment No.2 of my adventures with Scar Face Tony (2018 OTTB gelding) on his foray into eventing.
These last couple of weeks with Milo have been fun, he’s starting to really open up and show his personality, he’s coming across very friendly and inquisitive. The first week together I focused on just bringing Milo into the barn for regular care, leading him around the farm and approaching all the stuff around the place. These sessions were a good way to introduce him to new things, teach him to look to me for guidance, reinforce basic ground manners, and generally cultivate a partnership with him. I also give him cookies, I'm not above bribery.
We established consistent responses to voice commands, body language cues, and pressure from the lead rope. He has shown willingness and curiosity towards everything we’ve approached so far, which I really like! In the beginning, he did grind his teeth a bit as he tried to works things out, but overall he handled himself well.
Methods for starting horses under saddle can vary a lot across trainers, and I want Milo and I to understand each other before I hop on his back. I want to see how he learns and processes things, what his reactions are, and how he responds to stimulus, changes, and pressure. I prefer to do that through ground work before going under saddle, so we've started in a rope halter to learn about each other and develop our relationship.
Here's what we’ve worked on so far:
Adjust to new environment
Stand in cross ties for grooming, bathing, and general tending to
Yield shoulders and hips, back up, lead from both sides
Spray bottle treatment
Lunge w/t/c with and without tack
Approach and step over poles, flower boxes, tarps, small jump fillers
Starting out, I built a temporary round pen out of jumps in one corner of the indoor arena to help keep him focused and respectful of my hold on the lunge line (prevent me from being dragged across the arena). After a few sessions, he showed calm transitions between three gaits, halt and change of direction on the circle, so I removed the pen and continued to work in the same corner. I led him along with me while I set up and broke down the pen, getting him used to poles moving and crashing down, he didn’t mind at all.
He got his teeth floated and lost some baby caps in the second week, which I felt was necessary before putting a bridle on him. We stayed in the familiar corner and started working in a mullen mouth Nathe bit which has a pliable, rubbery mouthpiece to encourage softness, and full cheeks to apply some pressure to the sides of his face and offer a bit more control. The first day he wore the bridle with the rope halter over it, just carrying the bit without any pressure. When starting to activate the bit, I loop my lunge line through the bit and noseband of the bridle on the side I’m longing from to avoid putting too much pressure in his mouth which can cause resistance. He was a quick study with this one, so after a couple sessions we moved on to long-lining (or ground driving) to install some steering, confidence, and responsiveness.
Responding to my disembodied voice from behind is a totally different skill than responding while keeping eyes on me, he loses focus in the long lines. I start sessions on the lunge line, then connect the long lines and continue on a circle to make sure all the buttons still work. The first day he quickly showed understanding of that, so I sent him ahead of me and walked all around the indoor. The second day I had a helper to walk alongside him for reassurance, and to grab the bridle or lines if there was trouble, so we went outside. There was trouble! He was pretty confident on his own until he saw the other horses getting hay, then lost focus and got going. I almost had him back to halt on a small circle, but he opted for freedom. Once he was caught and settled, we started again walking alongside him and ended when he was doing that calmly.
We’re still working on the long lining, better responsiveness and more confidence is needed before he graduates.
While he does expect to see me coming nearly every day, we don't 'work' every time, some days I just give him a groom or bath and hand graze. Sometimes he hand grazes alongside Carter to help them get acquainted. They are turned out together, and Carter is a benevolent leader, but he does make cranky faces at Milo. So far, Carter understands that he has to play nice when they're both with me. They’ll be spending a lot of time together in the trailer and at competitions in the future, I just want them to get along!