Removing Pendle’s Number

Trotting Red Dun Mare

ID tags are attached high on the neck with thick climbing cord.

When I adopted Pendle, I opted to leave her id number from the BLM tied to her neck rather than stress her in the loading chute with its removal. I planned to take it off once she was already tame and would be relaxed about more intensive handling. All my other mustangs had had their id tags taken off before they left the BLM facility, and more than once I felt badly that she still had her id number attached even though she was home. As she grew more tame and allowed me to touch her, I suspected that she would allow me to handle her enough to remove the tag. What I didn’t want to happen, was to begin the process, loosen the cord, and then have her pull away and end up wearing a too big “necklace” that could get caught on a fence post or that she could catch her hoof in when she went to scratch an ear with a back foot. If I was going to attempt to remove the tag I needed to be confident I could complete the entire process.

Even mustangs that can be touched all over and seem relaxed with people can suddenly panic when faced with any sort of physical pressure on a rope. Horses in general can be worried about being trapped, but a mustang who is still learning how to feel safe around people can be downright dangerous if they think they can’t get away or experience a novel sensation. So, I was cautious. I wanted to untie the knots in the cord rather than cut it – I wasn’t sure how she would respond to the noise of a scissors so close to her ear – and I didn’t want her to end up with a scissors attached to the cord around her neck. I also knew I had to be really careful untying the knots, so if she pulled away my fingers would not catch on the cord and I would not be dragged with her. With a wild horse, you must be aware of everything before you begin. Safety comes first.


So I practiced a bit scratching her all around where the cord was on her neck and moving the cord back and forth and putting pressure on the cord. She absorbed all of the different sensations with relaxation and curiosity. It was time to remove her number.

The nervous, over-threshold horse I met at the adoption location was never who Pendle really was. That horse, the one who crashed into the pen and almost went over the top, was just a combination of an untamed horse and a confinement situation too small for her current level of fear. Every day, horses are labelled “crazy” or “reactive” or “hot” based on behavior they offer in response to set ups that we humans control. In so many ways, we are responsible for the behaviors they end up practicing. In Pendle’s case, what she ended up practicing this time is relaxed engagement for handling. I chose to work on the other side of the fence so she could leave if she wanted. And so she could stay if she wanted, too.

Taking off her number felt like removing the last vestige of her captivity. She isn’t a wild horse anymore, of course, but she is part of our herd here, and our family. We are working on many more things now – she is tame enough to be turned out into a larger area to pick at winter grass- and she is quickly learning to lead with just a rope draped around her neck. She is sensitive and intelligent and social with humans. Everyone that meets her feels special, she offers that sort of attention. Her energy is warm and soft and she glows. That is who she is at her core, a sensitive, social, curious soul.

Fierce little Pendle

Pendle having fun in the snow in larger turn out.

Let your horse be right

smile like you mean it

Yesterday when I went out to train Aesop I had a clear idea in my head about what I wanted the training session to look like. I was going to practice his increasingly solid “riding from the ground” skills outside, in his saddle, and then play with a bit of balance work in trot as a reward for good RFTG. He really loves to trot now that he knows he gets “paid” for it in treats and wants to offer it any time the chance arises.

When we got outside and into the training session, it was clear Aesop needed a different lesson than the one I had planned. I had planned on doing a training session where we would review what he had already learned and get in some nice repetitions of fairly stable behaviors. But his behaviors weren’t where I had left them. He had processed the go forward with someone at your side really well from our last lesson and was ready to offer it just when asked to bend or when I got near the side of the saddle. He was ready to show me what a good walk-off looks like and I had been so busy envisioning our fun trot work I was caught totally off-guard. Here’s a video of me caught by surprise and re-setting his walk off’s, which I had worked so hard for the last three training sessions:

To be clear, Aesop isn’t too conflicted about being re-set. He handles the information in stride and doesn’t get emotional or frustrated. It is an ok training choice that centers around getting stimulus control.But many other young horses would be frustrated or discouraged to be interrupted at this stage in their learning. To my small credit, I am clicking and treating these re-sets because I am at least aware they are new to him. But in my work, I am looking to let the horse be right. It’s not a natural way to look at things, and it takes practice. So how can I let him be right? I can let him walk off and click for either soft bend within the walk off or staying with me, both of which are criteria I will have in this exercise. That allows Aesop to have the right answer while I am still building skills we need for our future riding. Here’s a video of me with my changed criteria:

In this video you can see that Aesop leans down on his forehand and walks off when I ask him to bend. He’s not waiting for my breath cue against his side and he’s walking through my bend request. But instead of re-setting and blocking him, I just go with him, but I wait for him to raise his head a bit and bend more correctly before I release the rein and click/reward. He gets to be right and I get behavior that I want, too. I can go back in in a few sessions, once he’s really confident about walking off and work on stimulus control. It’s not important right now.

Aesop and IPart of what I love so much about training is the number of choices it presents at every moment. It’s both what is hard about training and what makes the training session such an infinite place to inhabit. It’s what confounds newer trainers and obsesses those who make it a life’s work. There are training mantras, though, that can help a trainer navigate their choices better. In this case, the mantra was: Let you horse be right.