Scroll down to see the total transformation of a young horse who starts out being one tough customer and turns into a smart, sweet and responsive young horse

FROM WILD (and angry)             To "WOW!" (and "Awww....")


Jason Williams of California BLM asked if we would halter train this colt for the Turlock adoption in March.

PLAIN BROWN WRAPPER: He said there is a particular need for training the plain-colored horses, as they are much harder to get adopted. People want color in their mustangs, even though Mustangs are typically the basic solid colors of bay, brown, black and red.

I have to admit I have been guilty of that myself, but once you get to know a horse, the color doesn't matter. If it's a nice horse, whatever its color is will be beautiful!

No one discriminates against bays and browns and dark reds in the TB and QH world! So why mustangs? The vast majority of mustangs are bays and browns and dark reds, so I think that people are attracted to the ones with unusual coloring, simply because they have little else to go on:

  • they can't handle the horse
  • the horse has no training to evaluate
  • they can't get close enough to evaluate the temperament.
  • Most adopters do not know enough about conformation to consider that.

So color takes on an exaggerated importance.

Hopefully we will be able to get this guy a good home by providing a horse that people CAN handle, get to know, and value for his intrinsic merits and not just because of his color!

Doing daily chores provides a nice way to interact with the colt, without really asking anything of him. He learns that we are okay, just going about our business.

My first thought when I saw Brown Colt for the first time, was "Are you sure he's been gelded?"

The brown colt had marched right up to me, head high, neck arched, like a stud, demanding his hand-feeding. I had nothing to give him so he tried to force it from me, but I waved him off and he bounded off, bucking and kicking.

Over the next two days he did that a lot, sometimes in response to humans, other times I would just look out the window and see him bucking up a storm. He was not happy to be here!

He also did a lot of pawing and digging, as though he thought he could dig his way out of his pen. He was an angry young man. He pulled his water bucket out of its clip that had attached it to the fence panel, and used it like a soccer ball.
This guy is going to be a handful, I thought.

The first week we had him was Christmas week, so we had little time for him anyway. Plus we had a few days of heavy rains, leaving his pen a muddy mess.

The angry tantrums subsided and were replaced by a very miserable, depressed attitude. He spent most of his time sadly looking out toward the barn with our horses. He called to them. They couldn't care less.

Poor Brown Colt was one sad fellow!

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT HIS PAST: Bay Colt was born in the Coppersmith Herd Management Area of Northern California. This is a good Cavalry Re-Mount herd area, producing good stout, sturdy horses. He was gathered last summer (2006) and was adopted at the end of the summer or fall. We don't know when he was gelded, but from his behavior I would guess that it might have been recently.

His adopter hadn't done much with him when she got sick and had to relinquish him. He then lived in foster care until coming to us. So it seems he is basically a good "blank slate" - no real bad experiences with people, plus he has all the advantages of at least a year on the range in a functional wild herd.

The morning of December 28, I decided I couldn't stand it any more. I had to work with him. So I went into his pen. The muck from the recent rains was so bad my feet stuck. I realized I was in no position to get things going "too Western" by approaching this colt the same way we had Reddy (by encouraging movement, which has the potential to be pretty explosive when you first start out) as I might lose my balance if I tried to take a step and my foot stuck in the mud, which it was doing.

Wild horses respond to early pressures in one of two ways: they may have a strong flight response (like Reddy Colt) or they may feel overwhelmed and tend to just shut down. They get "stuck." Bay Colt is one of those - a seemingly "quiet" mustang that just didn't want to move. Ask him to move and he just stood there, stuck. Then, of course, when you finally did get movement, it was too much. He would become very jumpy and explosive.

That first session, I did get him to go around the pen one full lap, but it was difficult for him to maneuver in the deep muck and puddles, and harder for me to follow him without my feet sticking in the mud, so I allowed him to stop. And frankly, he scared me. A 20 ft. by 20 ft. pen is not much room when a horse is very spooky or explosive. It impressed me as just too dangerous to start work with this fellow in the same way that we had started the Red Colt, who moved off much more easily.

I decided another approach was needed.

We eventually would need to get his movement better, but for starters something calmer was needed. I got out the bamboo pole. To my surprise he did very well with this and I could go much farther than I expected.  I poled his topline, then his rump and shoulders, then his chest, then his sides and tummy and all the way down his legs - all in the first session.

I noted that as he learned to like being massaged with the pole, he developed soft, bright eyes and didn't seem angry  any more. I finished by petting him on the face, and he seemed to enjoy it. Next day I did this again, and this time he let me pet him all over.

I still didn't have him moving much - and the pen was still too wet to try to get much in the way of movement - but he had made a total turn around from being an angry fellow to a complete cuddle-bug!

January 2: Bay Colt is not really afraid of us. He will walk right up to us. But it isn't the right kind of tame yet! He still acts pretty studly and pushy at times and can also be pretty explosive - not safe to be too close to just yet.
Here Michael teaches "Shoulders Away" to help him learn to respect the human's space. Bay colt needs to learn to be less pushy and more respectful before he will be safe to hang out around. He thinks he's the Top Stud.
Mike uses the lungewhip both to encourage movement and to make gentle "petting" contact, similar to using a bamboo pole.
Bay colt started out this session pretty explosively. But Mike just kept with it, calmly asking for nice movement around the pen.
Then "explosive" turned to "stuck" again. He stuck his head out the feed window and said, "I'm outta here."
But Mike kept asking. He had to work through this or he would have taught Bay Colt to be defiant and to stay stuck - a dangerous place to be!

He also had to protect himself, because a "stuck" horse is more prone to kick and strike than one with movement.

This process (of balkiness and getting "stuck") is fairly common with the first session or two in the round pen with any horse, domestic or wild.

Finally, the colt started to move out. Reddy had jumped the water tub, but Bay colt skillfully maneuvered around it. (We could have moved the tub, of course. But it doesn't hurt to give the horse something to think about. This way he can't just get into a mindless "going around in circles" thing.
After a few rounds around the pen, Mike paused and asked for the colt to look his way and face up.
He did this really much faster than we expected! Look at the total change in demeanor - head lowered, soft eyes, soft movement of the feet!
Bay Colt is gonna be JUST FINE!

ROPE WORK: Having rope flung over him didn't bother him a bit!

He threw the rope over, under, and around Bay Colt, moved the rope back and forth, etc. to de-condition him to being touched by a rope and to get him used to having a rope around him, and to begin teaching him to give to the pull of the rope.
"training him for the bit" - not really. But once I saw Bryan Neubert working a wild horse and when the horse took the rope in his mouth, someone asked him if that was a good idea to allow, and he just shrugged and said, "Yeah, I'm training him for the bit."
READY FOR FIRST LEADING LESSON: Mike uses the bamboo pole to draw out both ends of the rope.
Now that he had him around the neck with the rope, Mike begins teaching Bay Colt to lead, by releasing the pressure every time the colt moved in the right direction or took a step. This is the very first step toward learning to lead on a halter and lead rope.
January 8: Repeat earlier steps with pole and rope; advance with more rope work  

Above: Ask for shoulder yield
Right: the turn completed, Bay Colt walks off in the correct direction

It's good to let the horse sniff the rope, even mouth it a little, so that he is never afraid of it. Use the rope to pet him all over. He should have no fear of it.
January 13: More rope work, work on leading

January 14, 2007
He felt frisky tonight and really wanted to run. SO I started the session by encouraging him to move at his own (fast) pace around the pen. He really does know how to go in a circle now! No balking, no hanging up in the corners or the shed.
His movement is getting much better, but he does still occasionally freeze up. He has gotten very "one-sided" and tries hard to keep the human on his preferred side.

Here he has "stuck" himself on one side and I am asking him to move his front end (shoulder yield) and move the opposite direction. This will get better with repetition and time.

After a movement session, I went back to the old familiar rub all over with the soft whip
 A little more movement, and then I ask him to come forward for petting


He can be such a soft sweetie pie!
He really likes a good ear scratch. He is starting to like this "people thing."
January 14: Mike starts his session with more rope work, and working on movement.


We want him to be able to go around the pen less frantically, in a relaxed, easy trot.

He started out pretty explosive. This is very normal, but you have to be on your toes!
Then he calmed down, and Mike tossed the rope around him.
The familiar bamboo pole acted to soothe and relax Bay Colt.
Then Mike used the bamboo pole to pull the rope from the other side, so that the rope looped around his neck very loosely.
Now Mike has the rope around Bay Colt's neck and can teach him to take a step forward, through pressure and release. One or two steps is enough for this early stage of teaching.

Wild horses are SO LIGHT at this point - just the slightest pressure and they feel it and yield to it. IF only we could keep them so light!

Finish with a nice body rub - at liberty
January 15 - We thought we'd introduce a real halter and lead rope. Bay Colt knew this rig was different, so we just introduced it - let him feel it and smell it, but didn't force the issue of trying to get it on him
Then Mike put it around his neck and practiced leading - still just a step or two at a time.
Then he worked on some more "at liberty" driving him around the pen
Followed by an invitation to connect with him, which Bay Colt accepted.
A good place to stop for the day!
January 20 - HALTER TIME

We felt that Bay Colt was ready to get a halter on him. We started with the temporary halter made from a loop of the same rope we'd been using. How to do this is described in detail in Kitty Lauman's "From Wild To Willing" video.

At first Bay Colt didn't care much for the new rig
But he quickly learned that it wouldn't hurt him, and he learned to lead in it really fast. He has had a few sessions of learning to lead one step at a time. Now he is starting to "get it" and can lead for many steps around the pen.
A potential adopter came to meet him. It looks like it may be LOVE!
The day's work ended by getting the "real" halter on him, and off him, and on again, and off again. Next day he willingly dropped his head and tried to get his nose into the halter, all on his own! He's a fast learner!


On Wednesday, January 24, Julie and I took Bay Colt out of the pen for his first walk. We put two lead ropes on him, for in case he bolted and got away from the first handler, we had a back-up. But he did pretty well, and loved getting to graze on fresh grass. Next morning he got another walk.
Here, our daughter, Saanen and Julie take Bay Colt out for a walk

January 25, 2007 - ADOPTION AND MOVING DAY: Well, Julie did fall in love with the Bay colt, and she adopted him! He will board with us until he is ready to go to a regular horse boarding facility.
Here Bay Colt is leading like a pro, following Sparky to his new pen. We used Sparky as a lead horse, as Bay Colt and Sparky had already met and got along okay, and we thought Bay Colt would be comforted by following another horse.

Bay Colt marches right in to his new digs, and with a new adopter!

Bay Colt - now CHINOOK, was great for his first hoof trim!

Good-bye, Chinook!

Chinook as a "regular" horse in his new home (Chinook is second from left)

October 2009 - Chinook with Julie at a Gymkhana.

UPDATE: Julie eventually sold Chinook to some people I met at 2011 Napa Mustang Days. They love him and he is becoming a dressage horse!

And we begin a new adventure with RED FILLY:

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