Lately, there's been a lot of talk about folks whose horses get lost after being spooked on the trails. You trudge around for hours calling, searching, and looking for your horse to no avail. It's scary and heart wrenching to say the very least. You walk back to camp and begin drumming up some help. You call in the Calvary to charge out into the wilderness in the hopes that they can locate your horse and bring it safely back to you.
It doesn't have to be this way. All horses have an acute sense of hearing, and if you have a good relationship with your horse, you can whistle them back to you. If you're out in the wilderness whistling for your horse, you might just drive away predators in the process.
Pick a short easy tune that catches your horse's attention. Have some treats handy. You can even do this during meal times. Training your horse to come to you when you whistle is relatively easy, even if you don't have the best relationship with your horse.
For Cookie, she actually picked the tune The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. I heard a bird that was singing something very similar and Cookie was running around trying to find where that sound came from, so I began whistling it and she came right up to me. This gave me the thought to train her to come to me every time I whistled it.
It took about 3 weeks and some refreshers to train her to come to me. It's important to do refreshers, so they know you mean business when you whistle. Once you train them, it's nice to give them a treat now and again; it encourages them to continue to come when you whistle. That is, of course, if your horse is motivated by food. Cookie is.
In the beginning, it can be frustrating.... I won't lie. Cookie would come to me after a couple of days, then she just stood there. So it took a bit of prompting. Another sound that helped me out was plastic wrapped peppermint. When she heard that plastic she would come to find out what it was. When I would go feed, I would whistle for her to come eat, and she would come.
Before I had knee surgery, I had to teach Cookie to wait outside her stall while I put her feed in the manger. I knew I wouldn't be able to move out of her way after surgery and she needed to respect my space while I worked. So the cue I gave her was to "Hoa-it" at a spot I picked for her to stand still. When I was out of the stall and away from the door, I used a 2 tone whistle, verbal cue "load" and I would point to the stall. After about 2-3 weeks, she has learned to stand and wait for her meals. Now, I can either use the whistle, verbal cue or pointing and she'll go in and eat.
Try to pick a whistle tune that has a high pitch and a medium to low pitch. Having 2 tones helps your horse to differentiate between you and the birds. You can start when you feed and teach them in between times, like when you want to saddle up and ride or work in the round pen.
When teaching your horse to come when you whistle, be patient. Start off at a pretty good distance. Your horse might just turn its ear towards you at first, or they may just look at you. This is where treats come in handy. Whistle first, wait a moment, then offer a treat. If they still haven't quite put the connection together, take a couple steps towards your horse. Wait a moment or 2 and repeat. Whistle, offer treat, wait.
Cookie is a treat hound, and sometimes it takes a treat for her to come to me, so I always have something in my pocket for her. Luckily, pecans keep pretty well and don't get sticky when they get warm.
This little trick can save you a lot of walking and worrying when you're out on the trail. Again, if you have a food motivated horse, think like your horse. Horses, when spooked, can gallop up to about 1/4 mile away. So if you've whistled and swept the area where you first got separated from your horse and you can't whistle them back to you, begin walking forward for about 1/4 of a mile or to where you last saw grass. It takes a horse about 15-20 minutes to get out of "super alert" mode and calm down. Continue whistling in intervals of every few minutes. Give your horse a chance to hear you and respond.
Practice this a lot at home before attempting it out on the trail. If you can, test out your training by taking your horse to someone else's place that has an open pasture or arena. Chances are though, if your horse comes to you every time you whistle at home, they more than likely will come to you out in the open too.
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