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Murray’s Mustang, part four

Published: 1/3/2012
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Editor's Note:
A few years ago, John Murray of Sebago, Maine, adopted a young Bureau of Land Management mustang. He graciously agreed to write about his horsemanship journey for our pages. What follows is the fourth of several installments.

Read Part One
Read Part Two
Read Part Three

By John Murray

Early training

The horse was now home and first things were first.   I had to give him a name.  The only notable marking on him was a snip that was shaped like perfect diamond.  I kept looking for something in his personality to inspire me. Nothing really stood out. 
At that time I happened to be taking a course studying to become an EMT.  We were studying various drugs that could be used to treat patients.  One of those drugs was nitro glycerin for patients with possible heart attacks. 
Nitro glycerin is also used in explosives.  Hmmmm…..small horse, wild horse, possibly some explosive moments.  The name Nitro The Wild Mustang was born.  

It was time to go to work.  People have asked me many times how I trained the horse and there is one key element that I always tell them.  I was in no hurry.  I knew that I did not know what I was doing, but I knew I could learn, and I knew that I could take my time.  It was not like I had the goal of riding a horse in a show or a competition any time soon.    Whatever time it took, would be the time it would take. 
No pressure.
There was one major fear that I had.  What if I screwed up?   What if I got it all wrong and ended up with a horse that was a basket case and I would have to hire a trainer to get him straightened out.  I kept that in the back of mind and used it as a motivation to make sure I got it right.  Or,  if I recognized that things were going wrong, to stop and get help.
Nitro did not seem too fearful of me or other people.  I was able to get my hands on him within two days of his arrival. But objects were a challenge.
I managed to remove his halter that the BLM had put on him prior to loading onto the trailer.  The halter was too tight and the metal buckle was chaffing his face.  He wanted nothing to do with it after I got it off. 
Even the tin containing a salve that I wanted to put on his sore spot was a big scary deal.  I did learn about approach and retreat and used the technique a lot to get him used to objects like ropes, halters, saddles and other things.
Ignorance is bliss. 
Not knowing what he might be capable of in a negative way, I just kept forging ahead with what I knew.  In three months’ time I introduced the saddle and one November day I was able to get him to accept me on his back.  While he was very accepting and tolerant, looking back, this was somewhat foolhardy.  He was nowhere ready to be ridden, but no harm was done to him or me, so all in all, it was a good experience even if premature.
I continued to read what I could about the gentling process and a friend loaned me a DVD program by a fairly well know trainer.  He had “system” that I found useful in some respects.  I practiced what he preached and found that some of it was effective and some of it not. I would practice a technique that I learned from here or there but the process was disjointed.  One exercise did not progress to a next step, it seemed. 
At that point I knew I needed some direction.   I researched various well known trainers that had DVD programs available and settled on the Parelli system.  If you are familiar with Parelli, you know about the 7 games.   They are a way for a horse trainer to learn some of the horse’s language. I found them helpful but not everything worked the way it was supposed to. It’s funny how you can watch a technique and go out and try it and, darn it, it did not work like it did on the TV. 
The greatest benefit I got from that type of instruction was a road map to follow and to be able to progress from the very simple to asking more from my horse.  
I was fortunate that Ever After Mustang Rescue was there to help at any time.  The director, Mona Jerome, is good friends with a trainer named Donna West.  Donna lives in the south and is better known in her area, but a more knowledgeable and capable horsewoman you would be hard pressed to find. 
The rescue was hosting Donna’s clinic on gentling and round pen techniques.   It was perfect timing and an invaluable experience for me.  Throughout the clinic I was struck by the sensitivity of the mustangs.  Body language became all important and a simple, small foot step to the side while working in the round pen could stop a horse in its tracks.  I took this knowledge and experience back home with me. 

The following year, Donna came back to Maine and Ever After Mustang Rescue, and this time it was a riding clinic.  I was able to ride some of the horses at the rescue and the last day of the clinic I brought Nitro.  We were able to get him started with some ground driving and eventually I was able to get on him and ride him in the round pen. 

Honestly, I was scared.  That “ignorance is bliss” feeling that I had in the beginning was overtaken by my experience thus far.  But it gave me a great deal of confidence.
I continued my Parelli method and everything else I learned so far.  I worked in the round pen a lot but wanted to get out on the trail.  I was not confident enough to just ride out, but I was confident in my ability to handle Nitro while I was on the ground.  So, I began taking walks with him. Some people walk their dog; I walk my horse.  We are fortunate that we live very near a major snowmobile/ATV trail that was once part of the narrow gauge railway that ran from Hiram to Harrison.  It makes for a great riding or walking trail. 
We walked it many times and he got accustomed to many scary things that made him spook.  Large scary rocks that may be hiding mountain lions and killer chipmunks in the leaves were all part of our adventures.
Still not confident in my riding I looked to someone with more experience in the saddle than me.  My son was about 16 years old and had worked at stables in exchange for riding lessons.  I was confident that he would stay in the saddle and confident that I could handle anything on a lead rope. 
My walks continued while my son was aboard.  As time went by the lead rope and halter was exchanged for a bridle.  The first few times I was still walking along just in case, but Nitro was doing great and it was time to just ride.
 So we did.  

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1/3/2012 patty
you are an inspiration john to follow your dream and just go with it congrats and give nitro a hug for me and tell him what an awesome teacher he is for patients and understanding ;];]
1/4/2012 Molly
LOVE that ignorance is bliss! LOL - truly does work wonders sometimes. I also think you were being very astute in trying things out and finding what worked and what didn't. I just don't understand "horse" people who absolutely swear by one method and one method only? - All horses and people have different personalities, characteristics, behaviors..etc - There is no one size fits all. Sounds more like you've been doing whats best for you and your horse...BRAVO! thanks again John for your story.
1/5/2012 Frannie Burridge
Hi John: I am enjoying your stories about your horse adventure. You are reminding me of Tom Moates and his adventures.
1/30/2012 denise brown
Thanks for sharing your mustang adventure with everyone. Nice to meet you at the Ever After Mustang Rescue Clinic. They do great work with the horses. Chris Lombard's gentle ways of training are admirable. I love to draw horses and learn about them. The mustangs must be protected and saved from extinction. You can visit

"Nothing on four legs is quicker than a horse heading back to the barn" - Pamela C. Biddle/Joel E. Fishman