Out at the Ranch one morning, one of the staff invited me to help her catch “Oliver,” an unruly colt who was out in a paddock playing with his little buddies and refusing to let anyone near him with a halter. My friend Sally had been trying for some time; I didn’t have any better luck. We were using the techniques that our trainer “Jay” had taught us, but to no avail. Eventually we gave up and went to get Jay himself.
Oliver was WAY more interested in playing than in being caught. He is/was a little spooky, it’s true, and for whatever reason, he recently had decided that being caught and haltered was not something he wanted to allow. He insisted—or pretended—that it was really scary.
Jay just played the game with him—and for Jay, it was a game, and fun. For Sally and me, it had been a job, or at least something that had to be accomplished in a “reasonable” amount of time. Not fun, but stressful!
Jay and Oliver played “approach and retreat” and “If you run away, you have to run really fast” for nearly an hour before Jay could begin to get the halter near Oliver’s head. And even when he could have “caught” him, Jay chose instead to reward Oliver’s relaxation by walking away—numerous times. Even when the halter eventually went on, it came back off several more times when Oliver relaxed.
In the end, Jay’s approach proved itself of huge benefit. Not only did we bring Oliver in that day, but the next day, after Jay had worked with him for a while in the round pen, playing the same games, I was able to halter him in the indoor arena. In fact, I was able, using the same techniques, to get him to run all the way across the arena to get me to put the halter on him!
So the lesson, to me, is that sometimes it takes a LONG TIME to do something the right way the first time or two. Yup. No doubt about it: It would have been quicker, that first afternoon, to drive Oliver into the “trap” that’s there in the paddock for that very reason, and catch and halter him there. But that hour Jay spent, plus the few minutes the next day in the indoor round pen, will save everyone HOURS and HOURS of effort from now on. Not to mention the fact that Oliver now thinks that being haltered is a very good thing.
A lesson in “horse time.” In horse time, things take as long as they take—no more, no less. Things happen at exactly the right moment. Before it’s time, you can relax and have fun or eat grass, because it isn’t time yet. After it’s time, you can relax and have fun or eat grass, because it’s already happened. I want to try living my life that way.