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BLOG: Australian Brumby Challenge - The journey begins

Lara Beth Poynton - First touch

Lara Beth Poynton - First touch


The Australian Brumby Challenge has begun in earnest. Each day we continue to make positive steps, introducing the wild brumbies to our training system. We have 150 days to take our brumbies from Wild to Wonderful.

Our story began with a random ballot whereby the horses selected for this year’s challenge are assigned to each trainer. I was allocated Cooper, a ten year old, recently gelded wild horse from the plains of Kosciuszko. Amber’s Wrangler is a young four year old from the same region. Pickup day on 23 June involved loading both Cooper and Wrangler on to my stock trailer for the long trip home to Tuerong.

Establishing leadership

In this post, I want to share some insights with you into the first ten days of our training program as well as highlight some of the fundamental principles we apply to all our horses in training.

For Cooper it’s been about understanding his natural instincts and working with them in order to establish our relationship. My goal is to have Cooper trust in my decisions as the leader. The important principle here is to understand that “horses establish who the leader is based on who moves who’s feet…” This means the more influence I have over Cooper’s feet, the sooner he will trust me as the leader.

Lara Beth Poynton - First pat

Lara Beth Poynton - First pat


Some of Cooper’s innate instincts have been useful whereas others require me to be a lot more cautious. He is proving to be one vigilant horse with an incredible understanding of personal space and body language. As wild stallions know how to use dominant behaviour to their advantage - coupled with a heightened flight response - you don't need to be a horse trainer to understand the potential dangers that can present at any time. This was evident on our pickup day, as Cooper would flee and double-barrel with his hind-legs all at once. Basically, his feet were moving faster than I could see them!

The art of learning

There are advantages to having an older horse for this challenge. Copper’s life experience means that he is capable of building a solid understanding in respect to what I ask of him. A bit like teaching an old dog new tricks! It’s about giving him enough processing-time after every correct-response to a cue.

For Cooper the learning process is bound to take longer than that of a younger horse as his existing neurological pathways require more time for him to connect with each new lesson. To put it simply we are teaching Cooper ‘how’ to learn. Horses learn from the release of pressure and every correct response to a cue/instruction is rewarded with release.  During our first few lessons, I would physically need to leave the stable before Cooper felt the pressure had been taken off him.

The human touch

At this early stage of training the idea of being touched by a predator goes against his natural instinct. I’m teaching Cooper that patting is a postive and it is okay to love a pat! Cooper has not found it easy to have a human in his personal space, but on the fourth day something clicked. We experienced an ‘Aaha’ moment…I had influenced Cooper’s feet enough that he began to trust me in his space. On the fifth day, he was wearing a halter. Cooper had learnt to associate that contact in the form of a pat equals release of pressure.

Signs your horse is engaged

It’s incredibly important to keep our wild horses engaged and present during their training. Many times I could have taken Cooper to the next level, but I would then see him shut down or lock-up his legs - immediately - I knew he needed more time. Domesticated horses also do this.

I always look for Cooper to be present in his facial expressions and body language before I move on to another exercise. Being present involves him blinking, softening the skin around his nose and muzzle and licking and chewing with his jaw. These simple observations signal that he is engaged and ready to move onto the next step.


Lara Beth Poynton - halter on

Lara Beth Poynton - halter on

The way forward

In the next post, I will discuss some of the challenges ahead in preparing our horses. Cooper must first learn all the cues in a halter before he can transition to the bridle. If all goes according to plan, then he can be started under-saddle.

The experience over the past ten days has been quite different for both of us. Amber didn’t know what to expect with Wrangler - he seemed easy at the start, but is now becoming more challenging as he gains confidence in himself to question her leadership. Whilst Cooper, who started out cautiously, is now steadily accepting his new role in our relationship.


Lara Beth Poynton - building trust

Lara Beth Poynton - building trust

Lara Beth Poynton
For further updates go to: Brumbydiaries/Lara Beth

2018 Naming Rights Partner, McDowells Herbal Australian Brumby Challenge,
EQUITANA Melbourne, 15 to 18 November


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