I am a city girl, so imagine my surprise when it was decided that since I was new and still learning I was charged with breaking a wild mustang because he was new and still learning. He had just been captured and nobody else wanted anything to do with him. I learned two new terms then: “skitzy” and blue roan, both pertaining to the mustang I was tasked with breaking. His name was Bluewater, and you guessed it, he was “skitzy”; (afraid of everything and everyone), and he was a blue roan: a mixture of white and black blended together to look gray to me.
For those of us who are wondering, roan is a color that is a mixture of white blended equally with another color, like black; making a blue roan, sorrel, or bay, making a strawberry or red roan, etc. Just think about a salt and pepper grey mixture in a person.
Building Trust While Breaking A Mustang
Needless to say, trust was not in Bluewater’s vocabulary, and I really didn’t trust this 1,600 lb creature that had just been snatched out of the wilderness, but we had to come to grips with each other.
Bluewater stood about 14 or 15 hands high, was thick and sturdy with a white blaze on his face. He had white running through his mane and tail, with two white stockings. Building trust takes a great deal of patience and consistency. So, I sang to him. Every evening I would go to the picket line or the tack trailer where he was tied and sing to him when I fed him. Every morning at feeding time, I would do the same; lullabies, songs, sometimes just notes or tunes, sometimes I would just talk, Bluewater was privy to many confidences I couldn’t share with anyone else.
It didn’t really matter so long as I was there; I like to think he liked my voice. It worked both ways, Blue helped me work through my grief when my mom passed. I helped him work through the loss of his herd and he began to look for me.
Now, your circumstances may be slightly different. You probably have a barn and a corral or some structure in which to work. The premise is basically the same, though, first, gain his trust. Let him know you will be there with him; after all, you are now his herd.
Sometimes you need a sounding board, someone to talk to, to cry on; someone who won’t judge you or tell you that you should…… Your mustang needs the same, someone to talk to or be with; you removed him from his environment, his family, so you get to replace them; you, in essence, become his herd.
So start at his stall, talk with him. Take a treat to give him when he lets you touch him. Touch and talk or sing, treat; groom, talk and treat. Soon you can rub all over him with no problem, you can groom him the same way once you get him used to the brushes and curry comb. You are going to introduce him to the grooming tools just like you introduced him to the halter. Don’t think this will be a piece of cake.
There will be setbacks. There will be times you wish you could send him back to the wild, especially when it’s time to hoof pick him. Mustangs are very touchy about their feet: they’re his escape and if you’re holding one, that is going to hinder him.
Bluewater was a master at passive-aggressive behavior; I would pick up his back hoof and instead of snatching it back or kicking out, he would just lean on me by simply shifting his weight. I could almost hear his laughter and hear him thinking, “Okay, what are you going to do now?” I eventually learned to push back, to make him settle on his other feet. But, it took a few times for us to realize that we were not going to hurt each other. That it was okay for me to pick up his feet. I wasn’t trying to hurt him. It was also ok for him to lean, that he was not trying to crush me. Once we trusted each other, he let me hoof pick him, to check for injury, and treat any injury he had. Just remember, patience and persistence is the key.
Shall We Go For A Walk
Once he lets you touch and rub him, the hard part begins. You should have a halter and a lead rope. Pet him like you usually do, but rub the halter and rope on him, too, let him smell it. Talk to him all the while you are petting. Tell him what the halter is and what you’re going to do with it.
Ease the halter around his face and over his ears. Back off if he gets testy. It’s okay, just keep talking or singing. When he settles back down, try again. Be persistent, be patient, remember, this is all new to him. You know, I keep saying “him”; an apology to all the mustang mares and fillies, I’m not ignoring you. it’s just that my mustang was a guy so I tend to think him. But, this method works with girls too.
Yeayy, you’ve got his halter on with a lead rope; now, that deserves a treat. Some people give extra hay or grain, but I gave Bluewater half an apple; he loved apples. You should give him whatever treats he likes. Now, let’s go for a walk. It may take a while for him to get used to being led, but he can do it.
Wear a pair of sturdy gloves and be prepared to be pulled and bullied. Put steady pressure on the lead rope, don’t jerk on it. He’s going to test you by pulling away or tossing his head, just continue to apply a steady pressure on the rope as you lead him around and keep talking or singing. Be consistent! Do this a few times a day. I usually did this at feeding time, leading him to his food, tying him off at the feed bucket, or leading him to his stall and letting him eat.
And Now The Fun Begins!
Next, we are going to introduce our horse to a lunge line and saddle. Now it’s time for our mustang to learn to follow directions, left, right, stop, go. With a lunge line, we can let him have a tiny amount of freedom. He can move to the end of the lunge line, let him go back and forth until he gets used to the feeling and the restriction. Using the lunge whip, teach him to stop, go, and change directions when you want. The lunge whip does NOT ever hit the animal. It’s the sound that makes him stop and go. Again, not a piece of cake, but patience and persistence will take him to the next step which is the saddle and rider.
To get him accustomed to the saddle and your weight, rub him with the saddle blanket, lean on him and across his back. so he can feel your weight. As he becomes more familiar with your weight and closeness, you can lay the saddle blanket on him. He will usually tolerate the blanket. It’s all that other stuff associated with a saddle that he probably won’t like. Such as the girth, stirrups, and cinch. (All the stuff that bang and tightens!)
Ease the saddle on him while you are still leaning on his back, if he lets it stay on, tighten the cinch. Let him get used to the saddle by putting him on the lunge line for a few turns with the saddle on.
A Ride Anyone?
Breaking a mustang turned out to be more fun than I thought. It also was harder than I thought and more time-consuming. When I finally rode him, it turned out he had an excellent gait; smooth, even, comfortable. He didn’t have a tantrum and start bucking, he knew I was fragile and he didn’t want to break me. We went on to have a great relationship and a fun time. When he untied the knots on the picket line and ran around all over the place with the other horses and mules, they woke me up to come sing to him to get him back on the picket line. This took a while plus a couple of apples, but we made it back safely.
That showed me that the time and effort I spent breaking Bluewater was well spent. Now, we have a mustang that is a great ride! Showing a great disposition and willing to let others ride him. We did it with no broken bones, nor did we break Bluewater’s spirit. He trusts us to care for him and we trust him not to throw us for no reason.