Beri, the big little Shooting Horse

It started with the quick 'how about...' thought, progressed to an email, that quickly expanded to include a group and ended up with a fun and productive evening.

A fellow endurance rider, Kristen Fisher, also shows her Arabians, and manages several of the local Arabian Horse Assoc horse shows.

After exchanging a couple of emails, she agreed to let my shooting club, the Texas Smokin' Guns do a mounted shooting demo between classes during prime showing time Saturday evening.

Wow ~ the pressure was on! At least for me it was. Beri and Miree and I won the Arabian Horse Association Open Events National Mounted Shooting Championship last year and the minute I opened my mouth about taking Beri to shoot at a big AHA show, the butterflies started doing their flippy thing in my stomach. What would all those fancy show people think about my fat little pasture horse?

But, as they say ... onward and onward (or something like that).

I gathered my wits and took consolation in the fact that although Beri and I hadn't been able to shoot in several months prior to the March shoot, she did better than could have been expected with the little bit of training we'd been able to do with all the transitional (divorce and restarting life) stuff that I'd been going through. I'd have to count on her to remember her base training and run on that rather than what little we'd been able to do month to recent month.

Then Mike asked the exhibitors for their bio to be read for each horse and shooter at the demo:

I started pulling stuff together, trying to figure out something that made us sound good. Of course, I wanted to mention the AHA OEIP award, and that she was an endurance horse, and that she was a homebred, and of course something about her relatively recently-imported Saudi breeding ... and I looked at what she'd done over the last couple of years...

* 2009 Arabian Horse Association OEIP National Mounted Shooting Champion
* 2008 was the Texas Smokin' Guns Ladies 1 year end highpoint.
* 2009 TSG LC1 3rd place high point.
** 2008 and again in 2009 she earned a National Top Ten recognition from the The Institute for the Desert Arabian Horse for her shooting and other activities.
* She was the 2008 Blue Arabian Horse Catalog Reserve Champion Endurance horse
** also in 2008 High Point BLUE STAR Shooting horse in both the adult and wrangler division
*** and also still in 2008, Reserve High Point Ambassador.
* She's the BAHC Champion Shooting horse for 2009
** and also again, in 2009, their Reserve High Point Ambassador for local and community events which include doing events like this demo.

Also that she's an accomplished AERC Endurance horse, having completed over 550 AERC miles with six different riders. To date, she's completed rides of up to 75 miles, including completing 50 miles at the Bluebonnet ride last weekend in Decatur.

....not bad for a fat little pasture mare. It gave me a little confidence, but also a bigger case of nerves. I had the thought that with her standing a full 14.1hh, her list of awards ended up being longer than she is tall.

But - many thanks to Mike and Mary Brucia, Robert Carlson and Maddie, Mary and Collin Flick and my son Jared, the demo went smoothly and seemed to entertain the larger than expected crowd in the stands.

Thank you again to Kristen Fisher and the Mayfest Challenge management for letting us show off a little - and we hope to be able to do it again!

(...argh. I know I've posted video here before, but I can't get it to work now so you'll have to follow the links.)

Becky and Beri Shooting Demo

Collin Flick and Desert Khai Special thanks to Mary and Collin for participating in the demo with their Blue List, Straight Egyptian, Khai. It's especially rewarding to have been able to have two Arabians in the demo at an Arabian Horse show. Too many people think that Arabians may be too 'hot' or temperamental to handle the gunfire and that simply isn't the case.


First of all, apologies to my readers as well as to ANDI for leaving her hanging on a bad training day. She is coming along nicely and I'll get caught up with her posts shortly.

In other news, What a fabulous time we had at the Bluebonnet ride this year. Due to "life" (and such), I hadn't been able to attend an endurance ride in about 14 months, and, as they say, that's too long.

It sure was great to be back in the saddle and back on the trail. GWAIHIR had an excellent ride his last time out (not counting the rider option pull last April due to the weather and his wimpy rider) with a 1st in our division and a 3rd overall on the tough Hill Country trail.

Saturday, he never missed a beat. Other than being a little more overly ambitious than usual, I couldn't tell he'd been out of the game for so long. He ate and drank better than ever and, as always, was eager for the trail. We had a great finish, I haven't seen the official results yet, but I think in the top 20.

If I read the photographers captions correctly, these photos are at about 47 miles. I love having happy horses at that distance.

Courtney rode ELBERTH (Beri), a smarter ride, letting us run, she slowed down for an easy day, just missing turtle by a couple of riders.

Beri finishing another 50 is a real success story for us as she tied up at the Bandera ride last year. We researched all our options and treated and brought her back conservatively.

We looked at everything, exercise, conditioning and fitness level, nutrition and even her heat cycle. I'd changed feeds and so I changed back. Over the course of the next weeks and months, we did a course of selenium and a very slow, structured work schedule, a period of rest and then a repeat of the very gradually increasing work, bringing her up to a regular riding schedule.

And it paid off. She's been doing light trail work and arena work, including winning the AHA OEIP National Mounted Shooting Championship for 2009, but this was her first long distance ride since her tie-up.

I couldn't resist adding this one. We're racing no one for ... I figured 30th place ... turned out to be in the top 20.... but I just love to let them run across the finish line. It feels good to have that much horse left. I didn't know Jim Edmondson (the photographer) was there, but got excited when I saw him get out his camera. I thought I'd get a real good photo of GWAIHIR extended and working, I love those with the nostrils flared and all that going on...

*sigh* It's a fun shot, but the son-of-a-gun doesn't even look like he's breathing hard. I love having that much horse, but he's going to have to work a little harder next time out so I can get one of those dramatic finish line photos that I love.

Reclaiming Andi - day seven

Today, unfortunately, she backslid. She wanted the halter on and would approach me to target it but didn't want me to approach that final step (into the Andi defined comfort zone) to put it on. I just walked around the stall with her until she stopped, and once I was within the zone, she tilted her head toward me and was glad to have it on.

I think what has happened is that over the last couple of days, I've moved too fast and put too much lag time between the halter and the grain. Yes—we'll get to that point, but I see now that while the lesson was well-learned on the surface, the foundation is still shaky.

I'm not going to reduce the lag time, though. I'll simply up the repetitions and gradually continue to increase the lag time, occasionally putting the halter on and off without a grain snack while it's on because eventually she'll be wearing it without a specific reward. Remember at this point, our goal is still to get her to want to have the halter put on and to like wearing the halter.

On Guard

I talk about my horses all the time, but I like to show things as well and this photo very well illustrates a herd instinct that you read about in old westerns, but don't often see.

This is a domestic herd, none of them have been feral for generations. I'm standing in my front yard, they're in a side pasture, the road is just on the other side of the trees.

Yet horsey instinct demands a guard be placed. You can see the backs of the other mares just below the crest of the hill. They're munching on a round bale. Beri is the youngest of the bunch and so she got tapped for guard duty. Even with her hip cocked and resting comfortably, you can see by her ears how alert she is, she's taking her job seriously.

If your hero rides a good mare like this, he's going to be hard to sneak up on, day or night.

Reclaiming Andi - day six

Day six was another easy review day, which was fine since it was snowing and cold even inside the barn.

I'd been there a bit earlier with the ferret under my coat. He sniffed her, and she sniffed him back, uneasy at the predator, cautious and unsure but trusting when I encouraged her—another sign of her progress.

I went in her stall with just the halter before I even scooped her bucket. She's calling to me now when she sees me come in the alley, and she came right to me but didn't like my bulky, noisy jacket that smelled of ferret she couldn't see. I quietly insisted she not step away, haltered her, and let her sniff my jacket—all was fine. I left her in the stall and went to get her grain before I fed anyone else.

Reclaiming Andi - day five addition

A fellow trainer called me on a point I mentioned earlier, and rightfully so. I made a simple comment - that I was willing to wait and let her come to me, that I was letting her make the decisions as to how much of what I wanted she was going to do, that I was passive and letting her decide if she wanted me in her comfort zone.

I want to emphasis that this is part of step one. I don't ask for trust and submission without a basis, without first building a foundation.

In the past, I've had friendly, willing babies that went a year or more into training before I realized that they had NO training at all, that we were simply a couple of buddies hanging out and having fun. These horses like people and are bold and enjoy getting out and doing fun stuff. They did everything I asked so I naively didn't realize there would come a time that I would ask something they wouldn't want to do, and because it was a 'new' situation, that we'd have problems with that.

I'm going to try real hard not to make that mistake with Andi. The lines of communication are open. She knows I'm talking to her, and she knows I'm listening when she talks back. I'm going to take the time to build a relationship, to give her a foundation and reasons to trust me, but I will, over time, be sure she understands that while I listen to her and answer her questions, that I have the final say in our discussions.

Ideally, I'll be able to do this subtly and gently over time. It's all fine lines and shades of gray, trying to find that perfect balance ... to ask more than what she'll do easily and just for fun without asking her to do something she'll outright refuse.

Over the next weeks, I'll introduce her to Linda TJ's 'wand' and 'put her in the box'. She'll learn to move her feet for me, to move away from pressure on her body, and we'll start doing some simple gymnastics in-hand. The plan is that the "go forward" cue will become simple habit as we transition from walking the barn alley or the arena to tarps, creeks, and even loading in the trailer. I'll try to find stuff for her to cross that will worry her just enough to think about it before she'll go ahead. Over time, she'll learn that I won't ask her to do something she can't do, and when there does come a time—out on a bad trail or in a trailer accident or any of those bizarre situations that horses and horseman get into—that I have to ask her to do something dangerous or at least very strange, she'll lay that trust in my hand and let me guide her out of something that frightens her or that she doesn't understand.

What a day ~

I had an early start this morning, little knowing how really bizarre and busy the day would turn out to be.

The first actually stop was to pick up chicken and guinea cages from my dad, which took only a couple of minutes, and then to tank up the truck and pick up a large coffee and some snacks for the road trip.

The first planned stop was to pick up a board horse that now belongs to a friend who lives out of town and is going to be keeping him here.

But I didn't make it there without mishap.

Less than a mile from my actual first scheduled destination, an explosion rocked my world. In the next instant, I realized I was covered in glass shards. My first instant thought was that I'd been shot. Thankfully, I was too much in shock to slam the brakes and (weirdly) drove about another couple hundred feet before I pulled over to try to figure out what happened.

Looks like a bird hit the window (someone said) - but this is the back window, directly behind the driver's head, and I was going about 50mph down a winding country subdivision. Some suggested it could have been a bird flipped over the top of the truck in the draft ... which ... I guess the hole is about the right size for a very small bird, but that doesn't explain the very centered point of impact and the fact there's no blood and no bird. That hole obviously could have been made by a rock or baseball ... but not in the back window going 50. -no one else was on the road, no one passed me.

The final answer has been narrowed down to a random shooting, space debris or spontaneous combustion. So far, nothing except glass shards have turned up in the truck cab or the bed. I'll give it a better going-over tomorrow.

Picking up Chewy from a farm outside of Kauffman, the original first planned stop, was the next actual stop.

Then to Canton for four Red Cornish chickens, good laying and sitting hens, and a rooster. We were down from a mixed batch of six chickens and a rooster to only a couple of hens and that's not enough eggs for us. We're hoping to have an overabundance shortly!

I was almost home when I got a frantic call that one of the does we hadn't put in the pen had had her baby and was too busy fighting off the dogs and other goats to clean it or let it nurse. The boys snatched it up, dried it off and wrangled the mom into the pen and made sure the new little girl got her first good drink of colostrum. This little one now belongs to the young man who found her - I told him, that's what you get for saving her little life.

She's getting stronger, nursing good and mom is being a good mom, now that she's been given a chance.

We've had three little ones already, out of two does and four more does to go, although one isn't due for a couple of months - so we still have loads of cuteness still to come.

Reclaiming Andi - day five

Day five was a short and simple recap of the previous lessons. I filled her bucket with grain but left it outside the gate when I went into her stall. She approached me; she tensed slightly when I stepped toward her and started to step away but stayed with me when I reached out and tangled my fingers in her mane. I haltered her, and asked her to give to a light pressure on her poll, which she did, and we walked (leading) about three or four steps in each direction, stopped, and backed two steps.

All that done, I fetched her bucket of grain and poured it out for her and let her eat, then removed her halter.

We'll have at least one more day of review before we move on again. I've learned that when they come along so fast, it's easy to leave holes rather than the firm foundation you need in these basics. I don't want to bore her, but I will do all I can to be sure she's solid and steady in each series of lessons before we move on.

Reclaiming Andi - day four addition

I want to take a moment to address the problem of Andi pulling back in order to get pressure to release in an attempt to cue me to click=treat. This problem is two-fold.

One: it's fabulous that she's figured out that her actions command the click, but it's not good that she's trying to be in charge. That will definitely have to be turned around. She's trying to cue me to click/treat. Step three, which she skipped, is putting a cue to the behavior that gets the click.

I want her to 1)release her body to pressure and 1b) come forward when I put a little pressure on her poll with the lead rope.

1. My cue to her is to apply pressure.
2. She releases the pressure by lowering her head and stepping forward.
3. Click
4. Treat

The PROBLEM is that SHE applied the pressure in order to cue ME to click/treat.

Her sire would do this. One method of using the clicker is to 'extend' the trick. For example, I taught him to stand at my shoulder by click/treating when he positioned himself with his shoulder next to mine. Once he was doing this, I would take a step. In order to stay in position, he would have to take a step. (click/treat) Once he's done that, it's simple to take two or three steps (click treat) when he stays in position. You'd think you could go to ten steps or half a mile (which actually is the idea),but he would only go about 3-4 steps then bolt off and come back into position to try to get me to click/treat. (If I had fallen for that, I would essentially be treating him for bolting.- Tricky, tricky boy! Too smart for his own good sometimes.) I also wanted him to stand beside me as long as I wanted. You do this by not clicking immediately when they stand properly. You want a few seconds/minute. If I waited too long, he would circle and come back into position, clearly upset and anxious, worried he had done something wrong (since he wasn't getting the click/treat) and trying to get me to click/treat by redoing the trick.

We worked through it. He will free lunge both directions, stop, reverse on voice command, and jog at my side, over and through obstacles, and he'll even weave a pattern with or without poles on voice or hand signals.

One interesting aside is that I thought I had taught him the vocal commands left and right, but he actually learned toward and away from me, so when I'm working on his right side, I have to use right for left and left for right to get him to turn the way I want.

Because he's learned that some behaviors earn the click, he tries endlessly to please me. If he sees me standing in the window of the house and wants me to come outside and play, he'll start going through his tricks. He likes you to pull his tongue, so usually, that's the one he starts with. He'll stand at the gate and stick his tongue out. It's funny, but it can be very obnoxious as well, depending on the trick. Fortunately, the tongue tricks are mostly harmless, although he actually licked a judge at a show one time when she accidentally cued him.

So Andi is already self-tasking and experimenting with behaviors, seeking the click, which is really amazing, but in this specific case, she's already learned what could escalate into a terrible and dangerous behavior in pulling back on the rope, and it's something that will have to be dealt with.

Reclaiming Andi - day four

She’s asks for the halter, stands easily to have it put on, and appears totally comfortable about wearing it. She still gets a little tense if you approach her instead of letting her approach you. That's a training hole that cannot go unaddressed because it will be a huge issue later if she doesn't get over it. At this point, we're going to keep a very close and concerned eye on this behavior, but we’re going to move along because I think this is something she's going to get over with time.

To recap, she's approaching the person, asking to wear her halter, standing quietly while it's buckled on, and following the person around the stall.

The next step is leading (leading being the obvious external goal, the bigger goal being to get her to learn to give to pressure). Leading, as I see it, mainly involves moving forward beside the handler. I want her to walk beside me, stop, back up, turn left and right, and eventually turn on the fore or the quarter or bend her spine up or to the left or right without moving her feet.

I have an odd bit of failure here. Once I attach a lead rope to her halter, I can't apply pressure to her poll because when I step away with the intention of applying pressure via the lead rope, she follows me.

Smart girl . . . she's already leading, turning left and right, and stopping beside me when I stop (of course!! how would she get a treat if she kept walking past the treat pocket). While a lot of trainers would take this and shout it to the rooftops, it raises a red flag with me because unless we back up and find a way to apply pressure so she can learn to give, this will create huge (extremely dangerous) triggers and behaviors in the adult horse.

This means I have to find a couple of creative ways to cheat. I step away quickly and tug. I extend my arm out and pull the rope without moving my feet. A horse’s natural inclination to put pressure on the poll is to throw their head up and back. I use a heavy bungie leadline so there isn't a hard set for her to hit, just a gradual pressure that she applies herself and can release herself. I'm able to get her to apply pressure a few times, and the INSTANT she comes forward, click treat.

Andi's doing so well! I open the stall door, and we walk and stop and turn up and down the alley a few times. A few minutes later, we go down to the end to chill for a few minutes near the older mares, and I get a mind-boggling example of how smart this girl is.

She chills with me for a few minutes, but her baby attention span is short enough that she's soon mugging for treats. Mine aren't allowed to mug, so while I scratch and pet when she comes closer to nuzzle me, I gently dissuade her from sniffing around and trying to get in the treat pocket.

After thinking about this for a couple of minutes, she steps away, one step sideways and a step back, taking the slack out of the lead and raises her head, applying pressure to her poll. Her ears fly forward, and her sassy little bright eyes sparkle as she comes forward so I can treat her for the release. I'm dumbfounded, and while my brain is trying to deny or at least process her behavior, she does it again and then again! She's experimenting, trying to figure out why she didn't get the click treat. She steps right instead of left or maybe two steps back the next time.

She's figured out that her behavior (in this case, pressure on the poll and release) causes the click, and she's trying to get me to click and treat.

I shouldn't be surprised. You'd think that after all these years, I'd expect that from these horses, especially given her sire, but she hadn't shown me anything at all like this before.

Today has been a huge success, a moon-leap kind of step forward. The lines of communication are most definitely open. She's answering my simple requests with questions on top of questions, and she's expecting answers.

I've always liked this filly and thought she had huge potential, but she really blew my socks off today.

Reclaiming Andi - day four photos

So, in about a week, we have gone from a filly who just about couldn't be caught to one who is begging for her halter.

This is the best photo I can get of her if I'm in the stall with her.

What a huge difference. I think the title says day four. We put her up in the stall Wednesday and started consistent work with her on Thursday. This is Sunday, so yes, four days.


I bought a half dozen chickens last year... a total impulse buy that I was told at the time was a bad idea and I've since been unable to defend myself. We'd driven halfway across Texas to get our little spotted nubian buck and came home with the chickens too. The seller complained they laid too many eggs and were a hassle to take care of.

yep ... hook, line and sinker. We've had a grand total of one good egg, one crushed and one found too old in the intervening months.

So, I have more chickens on order that I'm picking up in a couple of weeks and in the meantime, I bought some laying crumbles for our remaining two hens. Last week, I bought the crumbles on Monday, I think. Today, I finally managed to carry the bag of laying crumbles from the barn to the chicken shed, I opened the bag, spread out some crumbles for the hens, turned around and ....

... but just try to put that in a book ?!?! LOL. It's true that truth is stranger than fiction, and I've proven it once again.

Reclaiming Andi - day three

Continuing on with step one—we started clicker training.

I don't subscribe to it in a religious sense as some people seem to do to one system or another, but I have found it to be a very handy communication tool.

Remember, my main goal is to open the lines of communication so I can ask her to learn and do stuff with me, and she can let me know if she understands what I'm asking or if she's uncomfortable or ready for more.

I went into the stall with her halter, the clicker, and a pocket full of grain (Notice I don't have the bucket. I want her to come to me now, not to the bucket.) ((I'm actually combining a few steps and making a fairly complex lesson day for her.)). I want her to figure out that when she hears the click, she gets a treat, so I click the clicker and offer her half a handful of grain. I've never had a horse take more than about 28 seconds to figure this out. Usually, the light dawns with the second 'click/treat' or at most, the third.

Andi is no exception. By the time she heard the third click, her nose headed for my pocket, .but that was just an aside. Remember, she's wearing her halter to eat.

At this point, we back up a half-step and get her to 'target' the halter. I do that by touching the halter to her nose and clicking (treat). I do this twice then simply stand, holding the halter close to her . . . success! She stretches out her nose to touch the halter. (click treat).

Within minutes, she is following me around the stall asking to nose the halter.

To reach the next half step, when she noses the halter, (click) I put the halter on before I treat. This takes a few more repetitions because it's a little more involved. There is some lag time between the click and treat, and she has to figure out if I've betrayed her in some way, changed the rules, or simply added to the game. I give her time to whirl it all around in her head, and we do a few more repetitions.

Halter off.
Offer halter.
Nose halter.
Halter on.

This step takes her about five or six repetitions to get comfortable with and to totally accept what we're doing.

**this photo was taken after the fact (obviously we're in the arena, not in the stall) but I wanted to show her approaching the halter and (grrrr at my slow digital camera) touching her nose to it. oh well. But isn't she cute? The young man in the photo is living and working here and learning to work with the horses, so he's training in groundwork along with Andi.


A very exciting day today, the delivery man drove into my yard, knocked on my door and handed me this! A print version of Leah Braemel's PERSONAL PROTECTION.

It's not just getting a new book that excites me so much, but that I take (inordinate) pride in this series and this particular book. Leah and I have been friends and writing partners for longer than either of us will admit ;)

As I'm sure I've said before, we've shared laughs and tears, and made each other stronger for having shared not just our writing, but our lives. Part of that sharing has been my small part in the bouncing of ideas and reading and commenting on various versions of this book. (please understand I'm certainly claiming more credit than I'm due!) Being a involved on the fringes of Leah's success has kept me sane through my own writing frustrations as I can enjoy basking in the (unduly) rewarding glimmer of her limelight without having had to suffer a fraction of the work she's put into her career.

Leah has special talent to combine smart, sexy characters with complex plotting that keeps the reader panting for more as the tension rises (and releases!) between the characters. Personal Protection is the second in her Hauberk Protection series. You don't have to have read the first, the novella PRIVATE PROPERTY, in order to enjoy Personal Protection, but I promise once you've read one, you'll want the other.

Reclaiming Andi - day two

Next, we have her looking for the bucket and standing comfortably and eating. I move a few steps left or right or away every few bites, and within minutes, she's following me (the bucket) around.

The next step is the halter. She's already worn the halter and decided she didn't like it, so the goal we need to keep in mind with this is not only to get her to wear the halter but also to get her to want to wear the halter and to like wearing the halter.

Starting today, she has to wear the halter to get her grain. This is initially somewhat of a drawn-out process. I go in the stall with a bucket of grain and the halter and just hang out. She sees the bucket and wants to approach, but she doesn't want to approach the halter. I give her a few chances to go ahead and approach me, but she decides she'd rather not eat than wear the halter.

My next step is to go ahead and put it on her anyway. I don't want to traumatize or upset her in any way, but I'm going to firmly insist she needs to do this. I manage this by just walking her in the stall. (Remember this is a largish stall) I approach, and she walks off, but I continue to approach, slowly and quietly and easily. I don’t sneak up on her, which would increase her tension, but just approach her slowly, steadily and consistently. Eventually, she stops in a corner and lets me slip her halter on. At that point, I stand with her and let her eat the entire bucket of grain. Once she's done, I remove the halter.

This step is a little harder for her because she has to unlearn her dislike of the halter before she can learn to like it and want to wear it. This part of the routine takes about three days before she can be haltered easily. She will approach a person easily enough now but still doesn't want to be approached. I'm dealing with this by walking in with the bucket and halter, letting her approach me, slipping the halter on, and letting her eat.



I found this lovely photo of Andi's great-granddam while I was looking for something else, and wanted to share.  This is a recent photo so she's 20yo in this shot.

As a young mare, VANIAH was one of the herd caught up in the 'Sheets' debacle in Ohio way back when.  She was well fostered and adopted and cared for, but never part of a family until she came here a few years ago.  She was included as the bargain part of a deal with her sister, WITNESS, because she only has half a hoof on the right hind, having apparently hooked it in something as a young horse and ripping most of it off.   She was sound as far as I could tell so we started her under saddle and used her as our extra horse when we had guests.  She has a wonderfully gentle and maternal nature and as we found ourselves riding her more, we spent about a year of corrective shoeing to get her damaged hoof to grow the support it needed. She did her first LD Endurance ride at 17yo, and later did 25 miles of a 30. Her rider moved away and she's since been retired from the longer distances.

Unfortunately, she's only had three foals, the stallion ALI ZEUS who has since passed away, a filly that's still in Florida and the cute bay gelding,, LANDROVAL, in a few posts back.  Andi's dam, Marah, is a Zeus daughter and in spite of, or maybe especially because of, the small numbers in this group, it's exciting to see all that works so well through the generations.

Reclaiming Andi

Normally, when a foal is born here, it receives attention multiple times a day for a week or more then daily (at least) attention for the months until weaning. By that time, they're already trained and performing tasks that many grown horses don't even do, such as being halter-broke, leading, having their hoofs picked and trimmed, and loading in the trailer.

Marah's baby, Andi, is my 'divorce baby,' and her training has fallen through the cracks of my life. She got all the usual new-baby snuggles, but at a week old, she was turned out to pasture and not handled much at all. Much to my shame, she's seven months old this month and just now being halter broke.

Usually with the little ones, it's a case of showing them the halter, letting them sniff it, rubbing them down with it and slipping it on and off a few times until it's a non-issue. Andi wore the halter a few times; she would sorta leap alongside when you tried to lead her, but I was never consistent enough for her to learn to give in to pressure and be happy and comfortable about it so she developed an aversion rather than a liking to being handled.

In addition to all the toil and turmoil of divorce and trying to finish the new house, I've been working a lot of overtime - up until about two weeks ago.

Now, Andi's not at all feral, and she's not panicky and wild-eyed. She’s perfectly comfortable with being around people in her Andi-defined comfort zone of about three feet out—arm’s length. She simply doesn't want to be touched.

My solution to that has been to bring her up out of the pasture and put her in my large stall and start over from day one --handling her multiple times a day.

If you ask 20 horseman their opinion on this matter, you'll get 47 answers on how to handle a young horse like this: anything from rope, throw, and tarp them; withhold feed and water; bury them up to their heads in sand; round penning; to trying to give them away; or simply turn them back out and let them be wild.

I have what I consider an advantage in that I have all the time in the world and, IMO, a good focus on what I want. My main goal, aside from halter training or anything else, is to open lines of communication with her, gain her trust and get her to come around and want to work with me. I have obvious ulterior motives for all this. Her sire is a proven performance horse (and his sire and uncles and so on), as is her maternal grandsire and his dam. I have big plans for this filly, and I know through long experience that I want her working with me from the start, or we'll end up nowhere.

Since she's used to being grained, I provide (in her stall) full buckets of clean fresh water and free-choice hay, but she only gets grain out of a bucket I'm holding. She's not being starved or tormented -- I'm out there at least twice a day and she's getting her usual amounts -- but she has to make a choice to come close enough to me to eat out of the bucket.

This is a no-brainer and takes her about 30 seconds to figure out. She doesn't stand and eat at first. She’ll come in, grab a couple of big mouthfuls and pace around behind me while she chews, but by the second day, she's standing quietly and eating out of the bucket as long as I don't reach out to touch her.

So the first part of step one - to get her to come to me - has been accomplished. She's approaching the bucket while I hold it, and we'll use that baby step over the next week to work in a simple transition to get her wanting to wear the halter and follow us around.