Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Answering a Question

knitalot3 said... Have you guys ever met a horse that was just so wild/angry/untrainable that it wasn't worth your time?

Well, Knitalot, I've met horses that are down right nuts. Whether from mishandling, a misfiring in their brain, or just plain old sour personality, it depends on the horse.

My very first horse of my own was purchased for me as a Christmas present. A beautiful little gray Quarter Horse/Welsh Pony mix, from the Arabian side of the Welsh gene pool. She had a dainty little head, expressive eyes, and the smaller stature that I needed at the time. I think I was eight or nine, and small for my age.

I'd been jokingly putting "a horse" or "a pony" at the top of my Christmas List for years, wanting a mount of my own, and my parents hadn't given in on the matter. I didn't really expect that they would, money was tight and I understood that... but I had to try.

This little filly had passed the pre-purchase lookover and test ride that a relative had given her, making sure that she would be appropriate for my level of skill.

A few days before Christmas my whole family loaded up in a couple of cars, saying we were going to a new restaurant. They blindfolded me, feeding me a line about getting a free meal if you were blindfolded on arrival. I didn't buy it for a second, I knew there was a surprise for me in the offing, I just didn't know what it was.

That is, until we pulled to a stop and I heard a whinny.

"You got me a horse?!?"

"Er.. no... you have to um... neigh to get in."

Mamaw has never been good at making up lies on the spot. She'd tell you that it was because she never lied, but the truth is, she just can't think of a good one unless she's got time to plan it. Love you Mamaw.

So, the jig was up, they took off the blindfold and I found myself staring into the eyes of a little gray filly, small enough for me to mount by myself without having to do the monkey climbing act that I usually did with the larger horses. (Knee in stirrup, grip saddle leathers, pull self up, right foot in left stirrup, stand up, left foot in stirrup, remove right foot and swing over.)

She was wearing a hot pink halter, on the end of a matching nylon lunge line. They didn't have my saddle, but I mounted up bare back and Farmmom led me around the open area near the barn at the local fair grounds, where they'd stabled the filly to present her to me.

In the mean time, my brother was screaming his head off and dancing around... I'd gotten my big present early, so he got his early too, a new gaming console that he'd been wanting. He could care less about the horse, he just wanted to go home and start playing games.

Eventually, they pried me off her back and took me home, after promising to bring me, and my saddle, back the next day.

That day I rode her in the arena at the fair grounds, and it was a harbinger of things to come.

That little twit bucked me off right off the bat. No harm done, I didn't get hurt and I got right back on, after which she behaved a little better, but it was a warning sign.

Once we moved her with the other horses, Ginger (that's what I'd named her) picked up every bad habit known to horse kind. She'd kick, she'd bite, she'd buck, back, wheel and rear. I couldn't do any good with her, although I kept trying.

When she started going over backwards with me in the saddle, Farmdad stepped in.

Armed with a three inch thick piece of round rubber about a foot and a half long, he stepped on her. In my saddle. Let me tell you that was an amusing sight, until she reared, and Farmdad hauled off and whacked her between the ears with the rubber.

See... a horse won't rear if they think they're going to hit their heads. A horse with serious rearing problems can be retrained to think that they have something over their head whenever they have a rider on their backs if you simply hit them between the ears every time they do it. I'm not talking about a horse that rears occasionally, or has done it once, but the horses that consistently rear and pose a hazard.

You can't make it a love tap, either. That might work a couple of times, but eventually the horse will figure out that it doesn't hurt that much, and just keep doing it. Some people advocate an egg, or a glass bottle of warm water, for the extreme cases. The sensation of the egg or the bottle breaking, and the warm liquid running down their head, makes the horse think that they've injured themselves. I have never personally come across a horse that needed this, and while I might use the egg tactic, I don't think I could break a glass bottle over a horse's head, near sensitive eyes, nostrils, ears, etc.

So, Farmdad hauled off and whalloped the little filly, and she settled back to all fours, walked a few steps, and when he tried to turn her, she reared again. Another whallop, another few steps, and another rear.

This went on for some time before Farmdad got fed up with it, and with Ginger rearing higher every time, and the next time she reared, he slid off the back of the saddle, keeping the reins in his hand, and hauled her over backwards. She hadn't intended that outcome and wasn't happy with it.

There were several more training sessions like this, and she never would straighten up enough to be a safe horse. She never improved enough to encourage further work, either.

Eventually, we sold her, to a lady who wanted a matched set of grays (she had one already) to train to drive. The lady knew exactly what she was buying and bought her anyway, so we didn't feel guilty about it.

But that little witch was one horse that we just couldn't do anything with. She was vicious towards people, other horses, and anything that got near her, on the wrong day.

So yes, I have run across horses that were simply "bad apples." They're few and far between, in my limited experience, and the truly good ones make up for them in spades, but they do exist. Some have been mistreated to the point that there's nothing you can do to "fix" it, some may have the same kind of miswiring in the brain that makes people do crazy, dangerous things, and some of them simply have that personality.

However, most horses that are dubbed "bad" are just with the wrong rider, I think. Sometimes personalities don't mesh, and of course conflicting personalties are going to create conflict.

That's my take on it, anyway.


Eric F said...

WOW! I have that horse in a smaller size and a different breed of animal(yellow lab). We are frustrated beyond belief.

jon said...

Worst horse I ever had contact with was a mare that had been left to her own devices in a pasture. She could be coerced to the fence by her owner, but didn't trust anyone else.

I was looking for a horse at the time, so I thought I'd at least try to walk to her and see if I could get her by her halter. Why waste a thirty mile trip?

I slowly walked towards her and she turned to face me, but didn't back away. As I got closer, my wife asked me a question, so I turned to answer. In an instant, my wife's eyes widened and before she said "Watch out", I started moving and heard the snap of teeth coming together. I turned back towards the mare and backed to the fence. She had lunged when I turned and tried to bite. It was time to go.

It turned out the entire family was scared of the mare and had never worked with her at all. Never broke, never brushed or messed with. She was a beautiful bay quarter horse, with a really good price. I wonder why?

Farmgirl said...

Jon, I'd bet that mare had just been convinced that she was the lead mare. All it would have taken to work with her would have been to change her mind about that.

That's more a case of neglect than meanness, probably.

jon said...

I think she had been used as a brood mare and the new owners bought her in ignorance. They saw an opportunity for the horse of their dreams. The mare had spent her life protecting herself and her foals in the only way she knew.

In a more perfect world, I'd had the resources and time to work with her over a long period of time. In a way it all was a sad event. She probably never received the care and attention she needed.

Anonymous said...

Those words... "care and attention". My experience has been mostly standing on the ground even though I rode as opportunities happened before I became disabled. Seems to me any time I've been able to take my time and move quiet and easy around a horse- including the mustang I told of and my current horse- they go from being standoffish to being curious and then we become friends. It really hasn't taken that long in any case. As the horse gets used to me, I can get away with more and more. I guess it's really no different making progress on the ground to making progress riding... it's all important. I don't claim to be an expert and riding beats not riding. Take into consideration that the bulk of the horses I've been around, it seems I watch their owners start fights, hold out long enough to "win" in their own minds, and then point to their newly-made slave/enemy and smugly say "horses are dangerous". This is why I'm kinda the outsider in my area's horse crowd. And I also think of that "perfect world" where there's understanding of a horse's thinking and time to better deal with it.


knitalot3 said...

Thanks for answering my question. I agree with you. I have had some horses that had bad habits and were very challenging, but I've only met the one that wasn't worth the trip home.

We had a donkey we used to saddle up and ride. She would be very patient and gentle for a while, but when she got tired of us, she would just rub us off on the fence or take us under a low branch. That was her way of telling us she was done. We were too young and inexperienced to train it out of her.