Kameo: The Experiment (An Introduction)

Alternate Title:

My Strange Love Affair With Mustang Sally

Or, less preferable:

A Horse is a Horse (of Course, of Course) Until She Stomps Your Head


When my friend Greg died, I ended up spending a lot of time with his two sisters. One of them has a small herd of horses in Wisconsin.  Cyndi runs Getaway Farms in Plymouth, Wisconsin.
When I first visited the farm last Summer, I met Kameo.

Kameo in Stall

The only time this horse was calm was when she was eating.

Kameo is a 5 year old Arabian horse that has decent bloodlines and a sad history.  She shied from everything and seemed to think that everything was dangerous and scary.

Those who know me know that I am a fixer.  I fix things.  I set things right.  It doesn’t matter if it is people, architectural rehabs, or (as it turns out) horses.
There was something about her that drew me to her.  The fear and panic in her made me think that we had a lot in common.  We both have been pushed around and abused to the point where we draw in on ourselves and spook at the world.

She had been foaled on a small farm and scared to death her first couple of years.  They kept her in cross-ties and stalls and got her through doors and trailers by shaking milk jugs full of rocks at her.  Pretty much just frightening her to do what they wanted her to do.  When the results of this kind of imprinting became obvious and she was deemed un-trainable, they gave her to a smaller farm where she was tended to by a worry-wart of a new owner.  The new owner wasn’t abusive like the former owner, but she was very high-strung and hand-wavy.  Instead of working through the abuse that the horse had gone through, she would fret and fuss over the bad behavior making it worse.
By the time Cyndi got her, she had been abused and then coddled so that her bad behavior was exacerbated a hundred-fold.

She wouldn’t let you halter her, she couldn’t trailer, and she had never even had a saddle or blanket put on her.  She was practically feral.

She was given away as an un-trainable horse.

She had had no trailering experience, so they had to practically dismantle the trailer when they brought her to Getaway.  Tight spaces made her crazy.

Cyndi wasn’t sure how the other horses would react to her, so she brought her to the back pasture a couple score yards away from the main herd.  Even as frightened as she was with all of the stimulation and new environment, her herd instinct is so strong that she ramped and raced through two electric fences to join the herd she didn’t even know.

Now, she is second-to-last in the pecking order of the herd.  She gets pushy sometimes in the pasture, but the herd that existed before she came was well established and so her place is pretty solid.  Because she seems to be the equine equivalent of Rebbecca Sharp, she is always being pushed back into place after an attempt to climb the social ladder.

One day this Summer, I mentioned to Cyndi that I would like to try to train Kameo and see what happens.  She likes me enough that she will come to me in the pasture and follow me for a bit and I have been wanting to get back into horses, so it seemed like a good match.

We had been watching a lot of Pat & Linda Parelli on DVD and were in a place where anything seems possible.  The Parellis will do that to you, you know.  One minute you are thinking that nothing good will ever come of this mare and then you see Pat and Linda doing what seems to be magic on some monster of a horse and all of the sudden you are seeing yourself Roman riding in the circus as cannons fire and lights flash.  It is very seductive.

It helps that I grew up watching my cousin Bill Hewig train and work horses. When I was little and we went over, I would watch him work with them in the round pen and listen to him talk about them.  He gave us our family horse, Nicholas.  Nick was a large sturdy white Quarter Horse that was great with kids.  We rode him and played with him until my parents got divorced and my brothers and I had to move into the city.

In any case, Bill was talking to me about a couple of conversations he has had with Monty Roberts and gave me some intro pointers and references.  The next thing Cyndi and I have to do is come up with some goals.

She wants a happy horse that will be tolerant, manageable, and softer so that Kameo can be bred.  I would add to that that I would like a horse that is capable of some work as well as pleasure.  I don’t really respond to the idea of horses as pets, but don’t think that all they should do is pull or carry.  So she and I are working on a bit of a continuum of expectations.

The things we agree on are far more important.  We both are thinking that natural riding and training are the way to go.  We aren’t going to use cross-ties and bits if we can help it and we are both against whips and crops as discipline.

And thus begins the experiment.  I am going to incorporate the training into some of the broader aspects of my business for two days a week for the next six months.  We will see how far that gets us.

Stay tuned.