About a month ago, Johnny Cash hit a major milestone. Not only did I mount, and sit on him bareback working on flexing, but I also walked him around the round pen three times. On the last trip around, he got a little squirrelly, and assisted with my dismount. I promptly remounted, flexed him, and then called it a day. This event was six months in the making. Could it have happened faster than six months? Absolutely! However, I have many competing priorities in my life, and sometimes Johnny Cash isn’t top. That’s not an excuse, just reality.
Mustangs, unlike my domestics that know in their soul, I won’t hurt them, I always have pockets filled with treats, and that most of the time being with me beats standing in the field grazing require much more attention. When I started this mustang journey after watching multiple trainers and amateurs work with wild horses, I felt overly confident that training one would not be that difficult or different from a domestic horse. I’ve discovered that, while not fundamentally any different from training a domestic, the major difference is that mustangs require more time and emotional commitment. The younger the mustang in question, the less difficult it is to instill a desire to be near humans, but the initial fear of humans means that training a mustang will not be the same as a domestic.
I underestimated the time I would need to spend creating a bond with my mustang, and with other competing priorities like a full time job, toddler, and other animals that I was equally committed to training, the transformation from wild to trained riding mount has taken longer than I originally anticipated. Johnny Cash would have benefited from several short training sessions every day. As it was, I had a limited amount of time every night after work to devote to mustang, domestics, and ponies. Johnny Cash demonstrated his fear with aggression, so there were many nights when making the choice between a ride or drive with an animal that loved me versus an hour with an animal that would spend most of it trying to bite, kick, or strike and make contact was really no choice at all. Many times I questioned why I even put myself through the process, but I always knew deep down eventually Johnny Cash and I would have a working relationship.
So after my initial mounting and three short circles of the round pen, I had proof that I could do this. Now I just needed to make it a priority. So I turned Johnny Cash loose in the back pasture for two weeks, and his only interaction with me was during nightly feed. All of this seems like procrastination. To anyone that has been watching this journey and wondering what the hold up is or how could I possibly take any longer to get this animal trained, I say, it will happen. This is unfortunately a quirk of my personality. If there was a solid deadline, like in my real job, I would mull the process over in my mind working out the details and at the last minute throw a hail Mary that would not only exceed expectations, but leave people scratching their heads how so much happened with so little visible progress up to the due date. Since there is no solid deadline (only a personal moving target), the progress is just that much more invisible. Have no fear though, I am playing every possible scenario I can imagine in my head on a loop 24/7.
In honor of my birthday, I thought I would set the arbitrary goal of having at least two weeks of solid rides in a saddle on this horse before my birthday month is over. So to that end, Johnny Cash now wears a saddle at least 4 times a week for several hours, sometimes all day long until I remove it at feeding time. I have been doing all of his ground work with him wearing the saddle, and I’m bouncing beside of him and putting weight into the stirrups to get him used to that sensation. I’ve also been working on flexing him and getting him to respond to softer and softer cues. Today he started wearing a bridle with a bit in order to get used to that sensation. I’m doing my best to get everything possible done on the ground before my butt hits the saddle. I don’t have the bronc riding skills I possessed in my youth. Whether I can’t actually sit full bronc any more, or fear is getting the better of me and I’m dismounting in an effort to minimize casualties I’m not sure. I just know I would prefer to have everything worked out of this horse so that a few crow hops are the worst I have to endure.
I have a golden opportunity right now, while I’m working from home and Offspring finally returned to daycare two days ago. Short training sessions with Johnny Cash before work, during my lunch break, and then after work are finally possible. This is an opportunity I may never have again, and it would be a shame if I didn’t get him moving well under saddle with me in it before I fully return to office life. Tomorrow we’ll work on more flexing with the bit and ground driving with the bit. We’re so close, but we still a few days before I feel that Johnny Cash is comfortable enough with me and the tack to progress to the final steps.