Seeking First Contact

I’m willing to bet that when Timber “woke up” this morning he was not thinking “Gee, I hope Tim will come out and let me touch him today.” Nope. His primal, basic thoughts are about survival and food. Horses are “in-the-present” creatures. I do think they remember past events and their behavior is influenced by them. But, they are not in-the-future creatures, like we humans typically are. Horses bring their past experiences into present situations. Humans remember their past experiences and frequently project them into the future. Because of this, we worry, we plan, we dream, we hope and we fear.

Timber doesn’t act like he’s living in fear, but he is definitely on high alert. This is a new “present” for him. He’s in a round pen, he’s near (but not with) new horses, there are new humans who come out to feed him and are beginning to engage him. None of this is “fearful” but it is new and a horse is cautious and skeptical about new things. This is the way of the prey animal. “If it’s new, I need to make sure it’s not going to eat me before I can even think about letting my guard down.”

I’ve been thinking about Timber’s life up to this point. I think of it in the following 3 phases.

Phase I – Wild

Timber was born in the wild. He grew up with his mother and in the presence of a herd. He learned how to survive and how to get along in the herd. He learned about predators and when to run out of fear. He also learned to run for fun, playing with other foals. There were no boundaries (fences) to confine him. He got to explore and roam.

Certainly, life in the wild should not be romanticized. It was tough also. He likely had to contend with blizzards, lack of water and feed, predators and other dominant horses. The life expectancy of a horse in the wild is far less than a domestic horse.

Timber also probably encountered some strange looking two-legged creatures who certainly acted like predators but to whom he never came close. As far as Timber was concerned, he could do just fine without humans. In fact, in his mind, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Phase II – Captivity

One day, humans came into his life and turned his world forever upside down. I don’t know what the “gathering” process was like for Timber. He was 1-2 years old when the humans showed up. So, he likely tried to stay glued to his mother’s side. He and his band of horses were pursued by the two-leggers (predatory behavior to be sure), driven into a contained area and then all forced into a cave on wheels (i.e. a big horse trailer). Without being able to move, he could only look out and see his home land recede forever into the distance. It was a noisy and dusty trip.

At the end, he was unloaded into a confined space with other new horses. New pecking orders had to be established so there was more pressure to deal with. At least he knew how to behave around horses. Every time those two-leggers showed up, he knew things were not going to go well. All his physical contact with humans was under duress. He was run into a chute and squeezed in until he could not move so the vet could attend to him and the farrier could trim his feet. When the two-leggers showed up with food or water or to clean up manure all the horses would flee as far away as possible. After the humans left, or at least moved a good distance away, they would eat and drink.

The last day of this phase of Timber’s life looked something like this. A group of about 16 two-leggers walked into his area and spent some time looking at him and the other horses. The horses wouldn’t let the humans get too near them and would run from one end of the area to the other trying to keep away from these bad-news creatures. Eventually, the humans left. Shortly afterwards, more humans on horseback came in, separated him from his buddies, squeezed him into a chute, forced him down a long tunnel and into another cave on wheels (horse trailer) and slammed the doors shut on him. Once again, he watched his home recede into the distance.

Phase III – Horse-Human Partnership: Horse-Man-Ship

I struggled with what to call this phase of Timber’s life. Up until now, I have been trying to view Timber’s life from his perspective. The fact that he is now in my care obviously brings me and my perspective into the picture. For both of us, this phase is just beginning. So, the name I assigned to this phase reflects my hope for what it will be like and I would like to think that, down the road, Timber would agree: Horse-Human Partnership OR Horse-Man-Ship. I believe Pat Parelli coined this phrase. And, just to be clear, “man” is not sexist, it is short for “human”.

It is my goal to develop a partnership that is beneficial to both of us. I have more detailed articles about my philosophies here.

Seeking First Contact

So, this brings me around to the title of this post. I recognize that I am the one who is seeking contact with Timber. He is not seeking it with me. Since, I am the one seeking, then I am responsible for convincing him that I am worthy of his trust and that having a relationship with me is a good thing.

Let’s face it, up until now Timber’s dealings with humans have all been bad. He has no reason to want to be around me.

Let me be clear about something. In no way am I saying that the people who work for the BLM are bad people with bad motives. My limited exposure to the BLM process for Mustangs has been nothing but positive. All the horses I saw were well cared for and the people I met seemed to have a genuine love, concern and commitment to the Mustangs in their care. Unfortunately, the plight of the Mustang is a complicated situation with no easy answers. And there is a limited amount of money available. When it comes to animals, and especially horses, these issues quickly become emotional which makes it even more difficult to come up with good solutions.

All I know is my small world. I am one person who decided to adopt one Mustang and to give him the best life that I possibly can. One of the things that amazes me about horses is that they have a deep capacity to forgive and to give humans a second (and third, and fourth) chance to earn their trust. So, I will do my best to earn Timber’s trust and we will both benefit from this new partnership.