For More About Reddy Colt, see Pressure and Release page

11- 14-2006 Red Colt arrives

Reddy Colt's background: The red colt and the Bay/Brown colt were adopted together as yearlings. Then they were returned to BLM, I really don't know why. They were placed in a foster care situation for a few months. In mid-November, Jason Williams of California BLM called and asked us if we would be willing to take one of these to halter train in hopes of getting them a good home at the Turlock adoption in March, 2007. We said "YES" and Jason delivered the first one, Reddy Colt, on November 14, 2006.

In preparation for the colt's arrival, we went back and watched Lesley Neuman's "The First Touch" video and Jerry Tindell's "Starting Over with Rachel the Troubled Mule." Both are excellent and are good primers in Pressure and Release horsemanship as applied to wild or non-handle-able equines.

By this time Reddy was nearly 2 years old. He was a large colt for his age, leggy, very pretty, and lively. Jason's evaluation was that "he goes fast."

Reddy Colt was born at the Litchfield, California, BLM corrals. Facility-born horses often seem to be less fearful of people than wild-born captures. Often these little fellows will eat out of your hand through the fence at adoptions, so people think they will be easy to gentle. But the facility-born horses are not necessarily any less wild, plus they lack the social skills that horses raised in a functioning herd will have. Often have issues of not respecting the human's space, and can be aggressive, since they tend to see people simply a source of food. 

While in foster care, Reddy and the Bay/Brown colt learned to take food treats out of a person's hand. But neither could be touched beyond an accidental brush of the muzzle while feeding them. 

Reddy was very jumpy, explosive, and not sure he really wanted much of this human stuff.

"Gimme my food and let me alone."

First sessions

Reddy arrived with a halter but no lead rope, so we started out with him at liberty. Our first sessions were built around the three progressive principals of:

2. Direction
3. Connection


We also made use of the Bamboo Pole method of working with wild horses. BAMBOO POLE
First, Movement:
Get him to move away from you, then work on getting him to move in a circle around the pen, smoothly, fluidly, not frantically, not sluggishly, in one direction and then the other.

More on Movement

Next, Direction: Get him to "change eyes" by teaching him the inside and outside turns. We found Reddy to be extremely one-sided, so he needed a lot of work with this. See DIRECTION section below
Finally, ConnectionThrough responding to our cues and allowing him to move, Reddy could begin to connect with us. For the first few days all we wanted was for him to look in our direction. This was always rewarded with an immediate cessation of pressure, stepping back, taking a deep breath to put out a relaxation "vibe" and verbal praise.

More about Connection

Note we are still not touching him. Once you know that touching WILL come, it becomes less of a priority. Far better to build a strong foundation from a safe distance!



At first Reddy was frantic and frightened and he moved erratically. With continued "calm and assertive" direction, he learned to move fluidly in a circle, with light steps and lowered head.

As he became more relaxed, his body (when viewed from above) was straighter, less arched away from the person. Gradually he began to even arc in a little bit, in conformance with the arc of the circle he was running.

Ask for movement but don't push - we want to develop smooth, easy, relaxed movement

Signs of "letting down:" head lowered, eyes soft, licking and chewing

"Shoulders Away": Note the front leg stepping across. He will use this same basic movement later on for roll-backs

Pre-cursor to the Hindquarter Yield: Reddy shows that he is softening, when he steps under his belly, in front of the stationary leg, as he follows Mike in a circle (If he stepped behind the stationary leg, that would be a backward step which still shows that he is braced and resistant)

Outside Turns

Using my hand to block a pushy or nipping attempt
Outside Turn. Reddy kept going into the shed to hide at first. What a great opportunity to teach him the outside turn! Soon he was doing a complete circle around the pen, avoiding getting hung up in the shelter.

Turn away to change eyes ("Outside Turn")

Shoulder Yield/Front Turn - on lead rope

Inside Turn: Face toward the human and turn in toward the person. At this stage Reddy is starting to connect with us.
Eventually, Reddy began to "face up" completely, and finally, to take a step or two toward us. At this stage he also began to follow us and to come toward us at our invitation.

Turning to face the human after going around the pen a few times. Stop and ask, then reward by stepping back and letting up on any requests for a moment. Then repeat the whole sequence with movement, direction, and ask for connection

Turning to face the human - starting to connect

Offer to sniff hand; Don't force - let it be his idea!
We use "Pressure and Release" training, but we also use the Bamboo Pole method developed by John Sharp of Prineville, Oregon, and now taught by his grand-daughter, Kitty Lauman.

A bamboo pole is a great tool to have around when working with wild horses. It is lightweight but strong, and the notches on it feel good to a horse when you massage him with the pole. It allows you to touch a horse at a safe distance, by using the pole as an extension of your arm. You can start to touch sensitive areas, like the legs and underside, with it. You can use it to retrieve a rope from the other side of a horse.

It is often beneficial to go back to bamboo pole basics from time to time while gentling a wild horse.

The other thing about the bamboo pole as a gentling method, is that it is easily accessible by most new adopters, even if their timing in "recognizing the try" with pressure and release, isn't too good yet.

Kitty Lauman's "From Wild To Willing" DVD presents a very methodical approach to starting with a very wild horse and getting him to the place where you can get a rope on him and start teaching leading. I highly recommend it!

Because Reddy already had a lot of ground work, he progressed through the stages of bamboo pole work very quickly. But this was a critical ingredient to help him to learn to accept human touch.

Pretty soon he was doing better with touching - even seeking out a good scratch.

The very last step in poling is the legs and feet. Viewers - do this very carefully, and only after going through all the earlier steps, as explained on the Lauman video.

For the first couple of weeks, Reddy Colt made steady progress. Then, unexpectedly, he started being aggressive and showing a temper. He started kicking and charging. He now wanted to come in to us, but he did it rather aggressively and it didn't feel safe. He seemed to be challenging us - he had learned that we won't hurt him, but now he wanted to be in charge!

Not wanting to get into a big showdown with him in a small pen, we decided to go back and get some basics a bit more solid. We went to the garden store and bought a bamboo pole, then sat down and watched Kitty Lauman's "From Wild to Willing" video.

Starting from the topline and gradually adding new areas, we poled him from top to bottom. As we did that, we moved in ever closer, until our fingertips were touching him along with the pole. He definitely knew the difference! But with patience he came around to accepting it, and this allowed us to begin to pet him with our hands over much of his body.

By December 2, Mike can scratch Reddy on his shoulders and toward his sides.

Starting to like being petted

If, for instance, in the above de-sensitizing exercise, he does kick, try to keep your cool and don't let him think that by kicking he got rid of you. If the kick is not too threatening, just quietly and assertively keep doing what you are doing until he can accept it. But if it feels too unsafe to continue, you still need to "win" but you can do it a little differently:

It may be that you were introducing this level of desensitization too early and he really is not ready. If he really cannot tolerate the whip on his legs yet, just ask him to move, or do something so that you stay in charge. Be safe, but don't inadvertently train him that kicking is the thing to do to get something to stop. Remember, a horse remembers that last thing that happens in a sequence. So if he kicks, don't quit there! You don't necessarily have to keep flinging the whip at him if that is generating too large a response - but make him do something - run, for instance, until he calms down and you can quit on a good note.

Learning to lead: It's all in the release!
A bamboo pole is ideal, but you can use other things as well: Here we are working with a lungewhip, to direct movement and create energy when needed, and also to begin contact from a safe distance, as with a bamboo pole


Using the lungewhip to teach the Outside Turn

Softening: Reddy's posture is less "upside down" His head is lowered and he is softer, more relaxed. The hind foot away from the human is lifted in a relaxation pose. If the foot closest to the person were lifted, we might be alert for a kick or strike. But this is good.

Compare this posture to the photo at left - In this case Reddy is tolerating being rubbed with the lungewhip, but he is poised to strike or kick if he feels he needs to defend himself - a subtle but critical difference!

Notes From 11-22-06:
The rope work is going very well. I worked with him yesterday, got him comfortable with the rope coming toward him, but I have never been much of a ball-thrower and most of the time I missed. Mike is an old softball pitcher and football QB so today he did great:
Nice  colt!

We threw a soft rope over Reddy's back to de-sensitize him to the touch of the rope. When he could handle that (and he learned that real fast) we draped it over his neck to begin teaching him to lead. NOTHING is lighter than a wild horse! Reddy's responsiveness is just amazing!

Reddy is still not keen on contact!
So we continue with de-sensitization work, this time using the rope:

Toss it around him (keep your distance in case he takes off!)

1. ASK with a slight pressure in the direction of the desired step

2. RELEASE for forward step

Piece of cake...

Mike works with Reddy to get him to accept having his halter handled.

Letting down. Head down, licking and chewing

Rope around the hind legs - Reddy is more curious than upset - excellent!

Light contact with very slight movement of the rope is all we are asking him to tolerate here. We are not pulling or hurting him in any way.

Finally Mike feels the time is right, and he is able to attach the lead rope to the halter!

We can now attach the rope to Reddy's halter, and begin teaching ground skills the usual way. Here Reddy is doing circles, followed by a hindquarter yield to a stop.

Reddy is actually happy to be touched and petted now, so long as I stay on his head and neck - no further! He also still is prone to being jumpy, so he isn't really safe to be too close

December 2- 10: Continued Progress, using Liberty, Lungewhip, Rope, and Bamboo Pole

Nice easy circles



Rope work

Preparing to ask for shoulder yield and directional change

Shoulder yield and directional change

Another shoulder yield: Step 1: Ask

2. Reward when he leans in the right direction

Shoulder Yield/Direction Change step 3: Off he goes in the other direction, looking at Mike through the opposite eye as before the direction change

Rope toss: No problem

Notes from 12-11-06

Reddy Colt is now doing a lot of things really well - he does his Tindell-style ground work better than a lot of domestics - he does a great shoulder yield, steps under real nice when asked to come to a stop after doing circles, backs up, etc - so we are teaching him some things pretty well. He has finally decided that he can not only tolerate, but occasionally really enjoy, being petted or scratched on his face, neck and shoulder.  

But what he is not doing is becoming relaxed, trusting, or trust-worthy. He is still pretty jumpy and he does offer to nip and be pushy with his head. When I pet or scratch him he is tight and tense. So the question is - is it just a matter of time? Or am I doing something wrong? Or is there something we should be doing that we aren't thinking of?

I asked Lesley Neuman and she replied that maybe we are working too hard at it - that we should give him a little soak time, less performance pressure. So we gave him a few days off of actual training, but instead just occasionally went out and hung out around him, offering to scratch him if he asked but otherwise not asking anything of him. It worked.

12-12-2006: The colt was very happy to see me when I cleaned his pen today. He let me scratch him all the way from his face to as far down his side as I could reach from standing in one place in the much.

Daily chores allow the human to spend time with the horse without asking anything of him

For More About Reddy Colt, see Pressure and Release page

Rope Work is great for de-sensitizing and helping the colt to gain some courage in a safe manner

12-19-2006: I went to Ohio to visit my parents for a few days before Christmas. While I was gone, Jason called Mike and told him that Reddy had an adopter. He came to get him on December 22, and I arrived home December 23 to find, not Reddy, but the Brown Colt, in the gentling pen. Hmmm.. the life of the Foster Parent, I guess...Mike says it was a bit sad when he realized that the two knew each other well, but instead of being reunited, they were just passing each other - one coming, one leaving.

The people who initially told Jason they wanted to adopt Reddy did not follow through, and for a short time we were very worried about Reddy. But the story has a happy ending. Jason's farrier fell in love with him and adopted him. The farrier is a horse trainer, so Reddy's future looks bright!

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