A Few Steps Back (in reality a huge one forward)

Well.. I knew it was coming, but I still left the ranch pretty worked up yesterday. Let’s start at the beginning!

Thursday night, when we went up to potentially evac from the fire, Cello really did not want me to touch him. I chalked part of this up to the amount of smoke/tension that was up there, but I knew part of it was behavioral too. Remember a few posts ago, when I mentioned the testing?

Quick Recap: Like I said before, he thinks differently than (for example) a Thoroughbred. Whereas a domestic horse usually only tests things when they are new, this horse just tests things periodically to see if anything has changed (do I really have to?) One of his things has been not being to happy to leave the herd. Still, I’ve always been able to approach him, halter him, and talk him into doing what we needed to. Under saddle he is great- I posted early this week about how we ran into a mountain lion on the trail and he didn’t spook. Well..

Thursday it took forever to bring him in. Eventually we got up to him and put a halter on. It was a pretty bad night to pick having that talk, but with the potential evac I needed to KNOW that I could bring him in during an emergent situation. We did halter him, then let him go, but I left feeling dissatisfied and nervous. I knew what was coming next.

Yesterday when I got to the farm I called Emilee (the girl who trained him for EMM.) I wanted her to come out and do a weekend refresher with us, and teach me what should could clinic-style about working with BLM mustangs. At this point I honestly told her that we’ve never NOT been able to do something, just that I felt we were about to enter a rough time. She is going out of town for a week but will come out when she gets back. I hung up feeling relieved, but I spoke too soon. We couldn’t catch Cello yesterday.

I guess I shouldn’t say “couldn’t.” I could have, if I was alone at the ranch with all the time in the world. One of the key things is to not have a timeframe, to work on the horses time and communicate effectively. The effective communication is what speeds things up, not the pressure of a schedule. Too much was going on- people were still preparing for the evac, smoke was still in the air, his herdmate just trailered out and returned, extra people were around.

And to be honest, I let my anxiety get the best of me. The fires had seriously rattled me, and I haven’t felt 100% normal or calm since Thursday. My nervous energy was not helping. Also, there were people around who I had just met watching, which has been fine lately but just not with my nerves high at that moment. Working with horses when you have a high nervous energy output is never a good idea, and almost never ends well or is productive.

So I chose to leave, knowing that next time I am out there I will have to work twice as long and be focused. I didn’t really pursue catching him, but Spencer had, so that was a negative note. Emotion was running high, and I decided we both probably needed a mental health break (the smoke did have him spooked so he was highly stressed as well.) I didn’t feel so bad knowing I had already reached out to Emilee for help.

When I left the ranch I called my friend Alicia who works with Mountain Valley Horse Rescue. At the makeover we ran into each other, and she extended help if I ever needed it. Unfortunately the program has had a lot of mustangs come through, so she had to learn how to work with them quickly and thoroughly. She could totally tell how worked up I was (honestly, almost to the point of tears.) She told me all the things I already knew, but needed to hear from someone else. “Don’t take it personally” (you bet I did) “it’s just him testing herd dominance” (I know) “never go out to catch a horse and not follow through with it” (I know) “herd leadership changes often in the wild, he’s just getting comfortable, they all do this” (I know.) She mentioned that they are the purest horse minds, great reflections and that I will be a way better horseperson for working through it (I hope!)

Alicia happens to be coming up to the valley this weekend, so Sunday she is going to come out with me and help me join-up and work with Cello. I’ve read all I can on the subject, and am refreshing myself on the technicalities, and am so grateful to have someone there who understands these horses to help. I know I could do it on my own, but I’ve been second guessing myself every step of the way with this guy- which is perhaps me being a bit harsh on myself, as we absolutely have worked through some conversations already and never had a negative result until Friday.

I keep pointing out to myself that if Emilee could take this horse from the wild and get him to what he is in 90 days, then I can certainly learn to do it as well- I just need to learn, and re-learn, what I already know/need to know. It’s doable, and I need to be patient with myself as well as Cello. No one is judging me but me (and potentially Cello ahaha.) I just feel so incredibly responsible for him, because I know what a great horse he is. I do feel like every setback we have is from me, but hey, we are on a learning curve and that is allowed. Teaching kids lessons? Easy. Schooling lesson horses? Easy. Working through beginner issues under saddle? Sure. Re-working ex-racehorses so they can be ridden by amateur adults? Definitely.

A wild mustang? Totally different ball game, a sport of it’s own!

And that’s okay. I just need to breathe, learn, get confidence, and everything will be fine. I am so excited for Alicia coming out tomorrow, and can’t wait for my weekend with Emilee, which I hope to follow up on with a clinic/weekend of lessons at Justin Dunn’s. You can read more about him at www.dunnshighcountry.com. He totally made an impression on me and my husband at the Makeover, and has been featured on RFD TV. He’s one of the few trainers I feel confident contacting about a mustang- they are so unique that not every trainer, no matter how talented, knows what to do with them.

Thanks for reading the rant/pep talk if you made it this far. I’m trying to be honest in this blog. Cello is amazing, and I definitely want that known, and I want to be fair to any potential/current mustang owners looking to learn about the real deal. When I was at the ranch yesterday I did have the thought “my horse hates me” but it’s not personal, like Alicia said. It’s just how these guys act, and once they bond to you it is amazing. We saw that clearly at the makeover- even hard core cowboys were having difficulty giving up their mustangs, and the air was so emotionally charged through the whole event.

Cello and I had an amazing few weeks, a good glimpse of what the true bond will be like, but we have to work a little more for it. The relaxation around each other happened, and so this seemingly step back is actually a step forward- the next step is just more of a vault than a step, just a little more difficult. And that’s okay- he’s completely worth the effort. I’m not giving up! When we work through this phase we will be solid. In fact, I am going to the store tomorrow to build some jumps. I am confident we will be popping over them (recreationally, not jumper schooling) in the next few weeks to come!


Cello & Dani


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