Finding and purchasing a number of horses was a totally new venture as no one in my family had any experience with horses beyond summer camp and vacation riding. In Boquete, there was a beautiful, brown horse with a long, shaggy mane for sale. I went to look at him and then gave him a “test” ride.
He had a wonderful gait and seemed to have a mellow temperament; so, with US$500 less in my pocket, we returned home with this new horse, who I promptly named Shaggy. We let him loose in the field and soon discovered 2 problems. First, he didn’t like the other male horses, though he did like our one female horse – Louise. So we separated him from the boys (moved them to another field) and gave him Louise for his very own. Problem #1 solved.
But then we discovered that he liked his freedom and didn’t want to have anyone put a harness or halter on him – so he wouldn’t let anyone get near him. To resolve this, we had to “capture” him – several employees got on other horses and chased Shaggy, while attempting to use the lasso to contain him. In the end, they did manage to get a harness on him, but the employees, other horses, and Shaggy were all exhausted. After this happened twice, I stepped in and told these men, who had been around horses all their lives, that this would not happen again and that there had to be another way.
Remember, I was a not-so-young female with no real experience with horses, and I’m in what only can be described as a “macho” town with macho men who ride their macho horses. Their way worked, but, from my perspective, it required too much time and effort, and it did not seem good for Shaggy.
So, the “captures” stopped, and Shaggy and Louise were living happily in the field just below where the first buildings were being constructed by the local construction crew. I started going to the field every day with 2 bananas (peel and all – the horses love them!). Louise would come right over to me and gobble down a banana. Shaggy would watch from a distance of 100 feet or more while Louise consumed her treat, and then Shaggy’s treat because he kept his distance. Every day I went to the field, every day I fed Louise, every day I called Shaggy and tried to build trust. And every day Shaggy came a little closer.
And every day the construction crew watched me. And every day I prayed that Shaggy would come eat a banana so I could save face with the work crew. And to my utter delight and relief, after about a month, Shaggy came close enough to gobble down the apple I offered him. He immediately took off again, but that was the beginning. It was in this moment that I truly believed that I would be able to build enough trust with Shaggy to have him willingly allow me to put a halter on him eventually.
I continued to feed Shaggy and Louise bananas daily. Shaggy got comfortable with coming up to me. One day I put a halter on my shoulder and entered the field with my bananas. Shaggy spotted the halter and would not come over that day. He kept his distance, 100 feet or so. I repeated past behavior, feeding Louise the bananas every day, and Shaggy slowly worked his way back over to me. Finally, Shaggy willingly took the banana from my hand, even though I had the halter resting on my shoulder. Now Shaggy would let me pet him some before he took off, but never for very long.
The last step was offering Shaggy the banana while holding the halter out. Shaggy backed off again, but Louise kept eating and I kept offering. Slowly Shaggy moved closer. Eventually, Shaggy took the banana from me while I was holding the halter. After a number of repetitions, I then attempted to put the halter on Shaggy after he had eaten the banana. He was not willing the first few attempts, but I did not push; I wanted him to accept the halter willingly. One glorious day he agreed – he let me put the halter on, and I led him across the field in full view of the macho crew who clapped and congratulated me. Yes!
Postscript: Today Shaggy maintains some of his initial spirit. He, like the other horses, comes to the grain bucket each morning for his breakfast – at that time, our staff can put a halter on him, and he is a favorite with the guests. However, if there is no ride scheduled for the day, and he is returned to the field after breakfast, that is it for Shaggy for the day. He’s been fed and he’s loose, and he’s going to have fun – he does not make himself available to anyone for the remainder of the day. What a great horse!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gina Cronin – eco-preneur and avid world traveler – owns and operates a leading
Green Globe certified, TripAdvisor top rated eco-resort, restaurant and solar powered, off-the-grid life style project in Boquete, West Panama, near Costa Rica. http://www.ranchodecaldera.com .