As I've talked to people recently about the adoption of wild horses, almost all have said, "Can those be trained?" The younger of the horses from one to four years are just as trainable as any horse that has been hanging out in the back forty without being handled. Any horse left to itself would need the same kind of gentling and early training as a horse adopted from a wild herd. How do you start a colt? Those attending the Filer Adoption Day got a great demonstration of gentling techniques.
This is the youngster my brother adopted -- coming home soon
On Friday and Saturday the ninth and tenth of September, 2011, thirty members of the Saylor Creek Wild Horse Herd made the trip to Filer for an adoption day, held along with training clinics at the Twin Falls County Fairgrounds. These were younger animals and many were very young a year ago when their habitat burned in its entirety. The young horses are preferred by some because they have been handled for most of their short lives.
Training and gentling clinics were held several times on both days. Conducted by Mario Johnson, a noted Idaho horse trainer who specializes in starting colts, each clinic featured a horse that had not previously been introduced to handling or tack. Johnson's quiet and unhurried demeanor and broad range of techniques made for an intriguing afternoon. We got there late in the day and slipped onto the bleachers, trying not to distract the colt. Johnson was working with a young palomino. They'd been at it for only about a half hour, but already the colt was warming up to the trainer.
The palomino, his bronze coat dark with sweat, stood in a relaxed manner, while Johnson talked to the audience of potential wild horse owners and explained what he was doing and what he would try next. As he worked, he also outlined other possible procedures that would work well for those taking their own animal home to a similar round pen for gentling and early training.
During the first half hour the year-old colt got used to being in the round pen and the presence of the trainer. The rope and tack were introduced, and we watched the delicate back and forth give and take between horse and trainer. Repeatedly Johnson told us to avoid pushing the horse and to stop whatever step you are working on before the animal becomes too anxious. At the 30 minute mark, the young palomino was getting ready to step forward, toward Johnson for the first time, rather than away from him.
By the end of the hour Johnson had begun to bring his hands to the face of the colt, slowly and with a sure confidence that instilled that same relaxed attitude in the animal. We all leaned forward for those last minutes, wondering if we would see man and horse come together. Would the colt allow Johnson to actually pet him, rub his ears, scratch his forehead. It was a long way to come in a little over an hour, and no one would be surprised if that last step had to come on different day.
In the end, however, as the children played in the shade beneath the bleachers and the day's heat began to fade, it happened. The touch of the trainer had become almost a pleasure and Johnson was able to use both hands on the colt's head. This was a pretty interesting process to watch, and we made the trek over to find Johnson's DVD, with high hopes that we might learn a few of his skills.