Monday, July 20, 2009

Mouthy Mondays

Good morning boys and girls..
Ignore me, I had a crazy week-end. Colics, county fairs, couple of good rides....action packed to say the least. The colic is over, we're all good there.

On to Mouthy Monday

FD wrote this one, it's a great discussion piece I think. She doesn't have a blog (yet) but writes so well I think we should start hounding her. Hee Hee.


The One That Got Away. (Metaphorically speaking.)

Do we all have horses that we look back on and wish we could have a do over? Mugs has mentioned it in passing, and god, I know I certainly do. I look back at the patient horses I rode in my teens and cringe, because I’d been taught to fiddle, (it took a dislocated shoulder to break me of the habit) but there’s one horse in particular from about ten years ago that really haunts me.

Bob was a lop-eared, woolly-dread locked chestnut with no shoes, a fat belly and a surprising amount of feather. I don’t think he’d ever seen a dressage arena and he certainly wasn’t ready to compete. We reckoned the dealer he was bought from had seen his (novice) owner coming. He was, according to his papers, genuinely a TB. But he was of a peculiar type of TB – the bog-Irish type, and incredibly ignorant with it. He went upside down, he was dead to the leg, no mouth to speak of, and he had a bone-jarring trot and proper leg-flailing-wall-of-death canter. He wasn’t the most prepossessing event prospect.

On the other hand, he was sound, clean legged, quiet to handle, with a nice pop in him and seemed pretty much bombproof.

Streams? Okay.
Umbrellas? Whatever.
Braying donkeys? No problem.
Double-decker lorries full of sheep? Pfft.
Clippers? He wanted to know if they were edible.

He endeared himself to me forever when he’d only been at the yard three days by standing fast in the face of a couple of dozen 6ft by 6ft square sheets of polystyrene packaging sailing over the hedge at the bottom of the field and flying towards us. I braced the lead rope across his chest, and used him as leverage in order to (successfully) hang onto the other horse I was leading.

So, as far as I was concerned, he was off to a good start. The days turned into weeks and then months. Bob changed shape, his coat gleamed, his (horrible) feet grew out, and his way of going improved immensely; he learned to canter circles, and what a lateral aid was. He retained his goofy quality to handle on the ground and adored being groomed and fussed over.

There was just one fly in the ointment: sometimes for no discernible reason, he’d throw a wobbly. Now, don’t get me wrong, he was never going to win any rodeo awards, we’re talking buck, prop, spin, bolt the length of the arena before stopping and looking foolish territory. But it was disconcerting, in an otherwise dead quiet horse and rather frightened his owner. After one of the girls nearly fell under a HGV, we put him in a market harborough to hack out; if you were quick enough and strong enough you could boot him forward and haul his nose back in when he began to whirl. As a temporary solution this worked, but you can’t ride a test in one. I thought at first it was spooking or a confidence issue, and then I wondered if he was testing us, but it didn’t seem to make a difference how may times you corrected him or how forcibly.
It would come out of the blue, in no particular area and without prior tensing. We couldn’t find a pattern: not weather, not the tack, not the skill level of the rider, not particular movements. We looked at whether it was coming, going, being alone in the arena, being in company, in the lead, middle or rear. We even tried blinkers at one point. Being fresh or tired made no difference. Sometimes he wouldn’t put a foot wrong for weeks and then suddenly, I’d have to kibosh thirty or forty attempts in under an hour, and he’d still be trying it even when he was foamy with sweat. Other times, he’d do it once, then not at all for the rest of the ride.

And yes, we had him checked by a vet. And the dentist. And we checked for nutritional issues. And he was seen by a physiotherapist, and a chiropractor and the saddle fitter and we had his feet xrayed. (Two different chiropractors in fact. Also the black box man, the magnet pusher, the horse psychic and the crystal-healing lady. But those are stories for another day.)

He improved on the flat and over fences to the point where he could credibly do a Novice event, and started going out and about. He did OK, but with this quirk he had, he was not quite what you’d call reliable. One particular event, his owner came home in tears. He’d done a workmanlike dressage test, and a lovely clear cross-country. Unfortunately, he’d thrown two wobblies in the SJ arena and dumped her warming up.

She decided to sell him, and I can’t say she made the wrong decision, although I was frustrated. He’d been with us the better part of two years, and capable though he was, he wasn’t consistent, and that’s what she needed – she’d come off a few times and he was beginning to affect her nerve.

He went to a professional re-seller, who was definitely cautioned (I know, because I warned him myself) and was sold once, that I know of, to a semi-pro, who sent him on after a couple of weeks. The next I heard of him was some months later and rather sad news – he’d put a dealer in hospital with a broken back. Apparently he’d been taken out cross-country to be shown off for someone, and something had gone horribly wrong. I don’t know where Bob went after that, but I doubt it was anywhere good. I didn’t tell his ex-owner, who went on to have a hell of a lot of fun with a sweet Welsh/TB cross.

So what went wrong? I don’t know and that’s why he’s stayed with me – out of all the horses I’ve handled, I think he’s probably the biggest failure, and certainly one of the end results I’ve regretted most. And the bugger of it is, even now, I don’t know what I’d do differently.

18 comments:

quietann said...

I've tended to assume that horses with problems like Bob's had some sort of neurological issue, and these can be very hard to detect. I know two personally and one just kicked his owner in the face after 15 years of life as a pasture pet. His history was that he was fine on the ground but as soon as a saddle touched his back, he was on his way to exploding. The few times a person got on him, same thing but immediate. A relative of the owner took him off the track about 16 years ago as a project, assuming this was some sort of evasive behavior, but eventually decided he was not going to get better. The current owner took him on and retired him to life in a big paddock with a shed and some chickens and goats for company. She's been thinking about putting him down for a while because he's gone lame, but she genuinely did not want to.

So... last week or the week before, the owner was not riding him, saddling him or anything like that when she got kicked (she has not tried in years), and she doesn't remember what happened, but now she is in the process of getting her nose reconstructed and she's going to have scars like crazy.

Scary.

My own mare, for all that she can lose her brains, does not do so without some sort of warning and at least a few seconds' chance to prevent her from falling apart.

HorseNoob said...

Well I have some decent news. I went "camping" at my barn this weekend- a continually downgraded excursion that began as a camping trip, then trailer woes of people wanting to go made it camping in the back 40 of the farm, then cold turned into a potluck/bonfire with me and a girlfriend crashing in the spare bedroom.

We were going to tool around in the orchard with some other folk until dinner was ready, I sat on Dante bareback with a halter, not unusual for dinking around.

I had told the trainer to take him on a trail ride out alone before the weekend and he had texted me to say he did very well, tried turning around in the beginning but eventually WTC'ed and was a good boy.

A bunch of people wanted to go on a quick trail before dinner, so a good 3 of us were now "underdressed" as it were. Me, my friend on the borrowed alpha (of 45 geldings) bareback appy pony, and the barn owner on a bareback pad, who admitted that she hasn't ridden bareback in 2 years because she always falls off.

Anyways the horses were all angels. Dante didn't show one bit of hesitation, and the worst he did was keep grabbing at grass as we went, especially when tall, or the little purple flowers (Is my barn growing crack? Sure seems it). One of these days he's gonna kick himself in the head. We walked and trotted and later that evening we even threw him in the trailer without fuss. I think we're only in about hour 7 or 8 of training, so he's still got 22-23 more, a bunch of which will be with me riding him.

quietann said...

HorseNoob -- your post reminds me, my mare had a big breakthrough yesterday. We take a short ride on the road after our training rides; she's road trained but not exactly calm about it, usually.

Yesterday not only did we ride farther than we ever have, but she was relaxed enough that she wanted to graze. And you know? I let her, in a safe spot, because this is the first time she's been that relaxed on the road.

Redsmom said...

Ah, I love Bob, just from your story. He reminds me of my Dude. I'm at the phase of thinking its evasive behavior, but I dread finding out he's just "got snakes in his head" as my farrier suggests. "So much potential," I keep thinking. We try so hard to give every horse a chance, but those things that happen to them, even as little foals, stay with them forever and we can never know if the barn fell down that day they were first saddled or what.

Redsmom said...

Noob, congrats on the success. I haven't barebacked in years. Sounds fun.

Redsmom said...

Ann, is that the same horse you've had for awhile? I thought you had a bay. Beautiful Palamino, by the way!

mugwump said...

FD- Sometimes there is just something wired wrong. I had a horse in training once who had similar behaviors. I have searched and searched my brain and heart over what I could have done different (I was a new trainer) but I think the horse was the problem, not my naivete. I was lucky not to get hurt by her, you probably were too.

kel said...

I took on a paint horse that seriously injured a friend of mine. It wasn't one of my brightest moments. He had two blue eyes and he was a nut job. But what I ended up believing is that he couldn't see well. It could be anything from a butterfly to a parked car and it MIGHT spook him. If the light was just right, or the sunlight was hitting something differently he would booger up over something he had seen a million times. He could be in the arena, trotting around like he had a million times before and all of a sudden he would turn tail and run. You could get him stopped easily but then it would take 15 minutes to convince him that it was no big deal - and its hard to convince a horse something is no big deal when you don't even know what the something is!!!

One day I went into his stall to feed him and I put his feed in the bucket, ran my hand down his back as I was walking out and the F'er kicked me - hard. I was pretty close to him, but he nailed me good. For no apparent reason - he had his food, his head was in the bucket and he never raised it. Just fired. That was the end of that. I have no use for a horse that is dangerous. I had a friend who had been asking me to take him to be a pasture companion for her old horse and I told her what she was getting and she took him anyway. Not her brightest day either. She says he has been fine. Of course no one rides him and the only time he is really handled is for vet care and trims. But what she has noticed is when she throws hay to him, he spooks and then walks up and has to sniff it out - everyday. I think that kind of confirms that he doesn't see well.

For a long time I thought about what I could have done differently. But in the end, I think that he has some issues that are just bigger and deeper ingrained than any human had the ability to cope with.

gtyyup said...

FD, you do write very well and it's very interesting to read your accent through your words! (I know, you don't have an accent...I do, right? ;~)

But, I can sure feel your frustration in that situation...I had bought a little red dun to train and resell and he turned out to be a bucker like I've never seen before...way beyond my physical ability and knowledge. A guy bought him knowing exactly what he was getting (because he saw him in action in my round pen) and was going to try to make a calf roping horse out of him...I'll never know if he made it or not. I just keep thinking good thoughts that he and the new owner worked it all out.

quietann said...

Redsmom -- this is my one and only horse, a Palomino Morgan mare named Mythic Feronia. I bought her last year. She's 11, she was not a good choice for a timid re-rider at the time... but after a lot of training, I absolutely love her and have learned to laugh when she gets silly (spooking at a butterfly, for instance!) I love the Morgan breed but they have a well-deserved reputation for being smart, opinionated, and tough.

I'm on the net in various places, though, and there are photos of me riding a friend's big bay grade/TB gelding, and the same friend's small bay TB mare. I still ride the gelding occasionally.

AareneX said...

FD- I've had issues like this, with a mare who came to me when she was 22. She was the sweetest horse on Earth on the ground and practically perfect under saddle *almost* all the time.

Unfortunately, when the roulette wheel spun up her magic (random) number, you'd fight for your life to stay aboard as she battled enemies that only she could see.

Her owner sold her out from under me to a newbie horse owner (ow), who got injured and sold her to another newbie (ow-ow) and I'm pretty sure she ended up in a can.

I never regretted not buying her myself because I can't have a horse I can't trust, but I find myself curiously mourning her loss at the end of March each year, the anniversary of her loss-to-me date.

heater said...

Someone told me once that horses can be introverts or extroverts, like people. Obviously that refers to personality, but also to the way they react to things. I can't remember who told me this, or if I read it somewhere, but it came about when we were training one of our carriage horses. All of our horses are broke to pull & drive well when we get them. It's usually our job to get them traffic safe, unless they were Amish bred.

Then we got Sampson. He was a drop dead gorgeous, dark, dapple gray Percheron. HUGE horse. Could have been close to 19h. We took him out several times, day and night, for 2 months (gradually at first). He saw semi trucks, buses, dump trucks, street sweepers, bikes, skate boards, and all the usual horse eating stuff. He never batted an eye. He seemed too good to be true. He was fast, and somewhat nervous or eager, which is normal. The relaxation comes with time. But Sampson never spooked.

Then one day, when he was almost ready to be sent out as a real, tour-giving carriage horse... he bolted. He drug his drivers for 4 blocks and across 2 very busy streets before they stopped him. He tried it several times again on the way back to the barn. The odd thing was, there was nothing he could have spooked at. He was on a quiet street. There were no cars around, or anything that other training horses spook at. He had never spooked at anything before.

We gave Sampson a few more chances. We even hobbled him (a carriage hobble only takes away one leg to prevent bolting), and he ran on 3 legs. We ended up sending him back to the dealer in trade for something older and well-seasoned.

Our theory about introverts and extroverts is that we think Sampson internalized his fear. He bottled it all up until he exploded. Normal horses spook and get it over with. Not Sampson. He really WAS scared, and never reacted until he just couldn't take it anymore. I wouldn't really call him one that got away... because after he bolted, I wouldn't have driven that horse if someone had offered me the lottery.

Our Horse Curly said...

My first horse has turned out to be a little unreliable - not a good fit for a middle-aged, timid beginner! Just like others have said about their horses, he can be an angel on the ground and even while riding sometimes. But push him just a bit too far, and he'll try to buck off his rider. Luckily, he does usually give some warning (starts shaking his head), but I'm not a strong enough rider to handle some of his tricks.

Sadly, he recently bucked my step-dad off, causing a broken pelvis. So now I'm trying to decide if I should sell my horse or if a little more training (for both me and the horse!) would be enough. Have to admit that I no longer trust the guy....and I hate to pass a "problem" horse off to someone else.

Ponyice said...

Well we had some colic here this weekend as well thanks to all this heat, but our old guy is doing fine after some banimine and a nice tubing :)

I have one that I am glad got away, she was a witch and turned me off mares for a while (I know that is prejudice) her name was Flash. A friend who had no idea about horses, just LOVVVVEDD them, called me one day and told me she was buying an untouched almost two year old appendix mare. I told her it was a bad idea and was more than she could handle, of course upon deaf ears. A month or so later she calls me in tears and asks if I can take on her horse because she can't do it (big surprise). Well I am not a trainer but I have horses in training so I took her on just as a charity case to help out a friend, since I at least did own horses and had a barn etc.. So I go to pick up this mare who is underweght with baling wire all in her tail that won't let anyone touch her and bring her home (I think two hours to get her in the trailer is all it took). So I work with Flash on the ground for a few months, still did not trust anyone to pick up her back feet as she would fire both guns at least once, but as long as you weren't cleaning her back feet she was ok and shod her only in the front.
Well its time to start her at about three and I send her to my roping friend who has started many horses, the night we get there she takes out the fence. He starts her anyways and says she is going good. Then she gets an infection and I have to bring her home to get her well and so there are about two months of no riding. Well my boyfriend (now husband) loves her and wants to ride her. Bad idea, but hes tough and goes anyways. She would go fine out but as soon as they left eyesight of the barn she would start bucking for no reason (spooking and barn sour), sometimes she brought my boyfriend back to the barn sometimes she came back alone.

Once he was riding her out back and a cow (who was her pasture mate) spooked her and she bucked so hard the latigo broke and he came off in the saddle. Oh I wish I would have had video of that one, funniest thing ever (only because he wasn't hurt). Pretty much gave up on her after that and offered her for free to good experienced home only. Big Bucker is how I advertised her.

A man who did volunteer search and rescue came and took her full knowing her attitude (and lack of training I know) Never heard from her again, until a few years ago my friend who originally had her called me and told me the current owner had contacted her about transferring the papers. Turns out she is going along as an english horse now (my friend with no clue was not more specific) and has been bred and is a wonderful horse. Glad for the new owner and I am sure with the right training she was a good horse but I never clicked with her and have not regret here. About that one...

rockymouse said...

The OP's story made me wonder if Bob had a neurological issue. I suspect that horses sometimes have sight issues that we don't know about. Like, for instance, I sometime get migraines. And those migraines are usually preceded by 20 minutes of impaired vision - flashing lights, tunnel vision, firework-like splashes - and a touch of mental confusion. Who knows if horses get migraines? Maybe they do, some of them.
Last year I had to help a friend whose mare had been turned out on the range with a band of ranch horses for some months. The band was gathered and her horse looked terrible. I helped get her in the trailer to the vet, and she was staggering around and staring so much that it dawned on me that she was hallucinating. An hour later she tried attacking us and the vet at the vet's office. It was loco weed...though she was tested too for rabies. She was mercifully put down.
So, maybe sometimes otherwise horses are seeing something that we literally can't see. Just a thought.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Hmmm...is it possible that some of these horses are not "sound-minded" as riding horses, but would survive quite well in the wild? That they connect (perhaps randomly because we are handling them) with that survival instinct that we are trying to overcome? Not good for us, but in the wild good for the species? Obviously not the unhealthy ones, but the buckers spookers in particular stand out to me.

Just early morning musings...

Jackie

autumnblaze said...

I think some truly have neuro issues - I mean what percentage of the human population has mental health issues? There has to be a percentage in horses, dogs etc. Sad but I think that's the case sometimes... or Horses and Turbos, you have a good point too. Maybe their instincts just tell them not to trust us or what we're asking?

Great story though! Good for thought.

badges blues N jazz said...

A FRIEND OF mine had a paint gelding. She owned him since he was two. At four years old, he was going beautiful. He was so athletic and he would lope the most beautiful circles.
The problem with him was also random bucking. He would go two weeks or more, then one day, just explode. My friend had another person ride him for 3 months. Again, he would go along just fine for a few weeks, then explode, then go along fine etc. He ended up breaking the girls wrist, so my friend finally just sold him AS IS to another friend that wanted him.
The girl that bought him, was really enjoying him. He seemed to have quit with the bucking as it had been a few months. (he was 6 years old at this time) Then one day, he exploded so bad the cinch broke. That girl hauled him to the vet and had him put down.
He was just way to dangerous. I too think there are just SOME horses that probably have a screw loose.

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