A HUGE thank you to Pony Peak Stangmanship for making incredible progress with this amazing horse. Here is part of Jessica’s journey with Monterey; check out her video and more on Facebook!
There are some horses that make you dig deep into your training toolbox…this mare has been one of them for me. This is Monterrey, she’s an 8-12yo mare from the Hallelujiah herd of 900 mustangs/feral horses that were rescued from a neglect situation in South Dakota. She was brought to Ft Collins with hundreds of her herdmates, then taken in by Colorado Horse Rescue. She spent a year there getting used to human presence and getting healthy. She showed little to no interest in people and was “untouchable” for that whole year. So CHR sent her to a local trainer to see if she could come around and become adoptable. Some progress was made, first touches acheived, but she continued to be reactive to pressure and only participated in the training “on her own terms.” There was a worry that she was the “unadoptable type” that would never come around to domesticated life. So she ended up coming to me for 30 days of training to see if a different approach might help. She’s been here 19 days, and her transformation has been incredible, at least in my eyes. She was one of the most shut down and intorverted horses that I’ve come across. It took me quite a while to get her to even look at me, she’d hide on the fence, her head tilted as far as possible away from me. So I dug deep into my toolbox. I haven’t ever used positive reinforcement training with a horse this early on, but I felt like this mare would benefit from it. Maybe it would bring her out of her shell and help her have some try and “want to.” So I broke out the alfalfa cubes. I used positive reinforcement in the classical sense, just like clicker training for dogs or dolphins. But instead of using a clicker, I use a bridge word “good!” to mark the correct behavior. And instead of feeding the treats by hand, I toss them on the ground…after losing some serious skin from one finger, I decided this was a better alternative. By tossing the food rewards on the ground, I found that she never looked to my hands or pockets for treat, but rather to the ground…perfect since I don’t want her to learn to be pushy or a pocket mugger for a future adopter. The use of positive reinforcement training in this mare has been SO INCREDIBLY helpful! She has come out of her shell, greets me at the gate, WANTS to participate in training sessions, acts like she really likes learning, and has learned to think through pressure instead of being reactive/explosive. I did this video on her progression to being haltered because this has been particularly difficult, her head has been a total no-go zone, so the positive reinforcement training has really helped to speed up the process, and to get her buy-in and willing participation in the training. It’s been truly amazing to see the internal transformation in her. I’ve had her 19 days, and looking at the “outside”, I can touch her all over, lead her from a neck rope, and put a halter on her. But the transformation on the inside is the most significant to me…she greets me at the gate, nickers to me as I walk up to her pen, and constanly says “what else can I do for you?” in our training sessions. She still has a ways to go to being fully integrated into domestic life, but she’s well on her way now, and I feel like she’ll have a bright future with an adopter. I have learned so much from her already, she’ll go down in the record books as one of my greatest teachers!