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.

Ask Farmgirl 2.0

As Holly has already noticed, I put an email address up on my profile. (Sorry I didn't answer the questionnaire one, Holly, but I've seen sooo many of those they make my brain hurt. The other one was cute, though!)

Since I'm not feeling particularly creative lately, and have been spending a lot of time just talking about my horse and my riding classes, which some of you are loving, and some of you aren't, I've decided to have another Ask Farmgirl session. You can ask me a question in the comments here, or email me at the address on my profile.

Ask me any question you like, and if I get a bunch of them, I'll pick some to answer. If I only get a few, I'll probably answer all of them.

So tell me, what are you just dying to know?