Monday, May 26, 2008

Captain three

I've got a mare in training that flunked out of the reining program of one of the big boys. The longer I have her the more I'm beginning to understand why. She's a fruit loop. A bonified idiot.
Her Shining Spark blood can't save her.
I just found out that this mare had been on Regumate since she was two. When she got tossed out of the program the owners took her home and bred her.(Of course) To a pleasure horse. Someone please explain that to me.....They brought her to me after they weaned.
I do not have her on Regumate. She is a blazing freak when she's cycling.
My question is this, did the steady diet Regumate screw up her hormones?
Or is it possible that since she has always been on it she has never been taught how to cope without it?
Or is she simply the PMS queen of the quarter horse set?
Is this a training issue or a chemical problem? Any thoughts?

Captain Three

Captain found he could handle me getting on. He would walk around a little as long as I didn't try to pick up a rein. Or move my legs. Or scratch my nose.
He was still absolutely phobic about any kind of containment.
I understood that my sitting on him was pushing him to the limits of his claustrophobia.
I figured we would add the elements of riding one step at a time.
I didn't figure that he wouldn't let me off.
But he wouldn't. The little pixie.

Forty minutes after I got on I was still trying to ease off.
Every time I shifted my weight, his skinny little neck would hoist that big old, bug eyed head even higher. His butt would sink and he would skitter forward a few steps, I'd shift back, and he'd relax
Talk about keeping to the middle!

I knew I could do an emergency dismount and get out of there.
I also knew it would scare the crap out of him.
He really was trying to be good.

The Big K stuck his head back through the window. "You're going to be riding colts 'til midnight at this rate. Isn't it broke yet?"
"No it is not broke. I might be if I can't get off it."
"Good grief, you are such a gunzel."
The Big K never swears, but he might as well. Gunzel my butt.
"Take a deep breath, make sure you have just your toe in the stirrup, and swing off from the middle. Don't let your weight shift." He said.
"I meant today!" He added.
That's a tall order for an old, sweaty, fat woman. Ever obedient I went for it.
I hit the ground on my feet, Captain launched into space, but turned and looked at me when he landed.
"Hmmm." I said.
Captain snorted.
I'll be darned. There's reasons I put up with the Big K.

Inch by inch Captain started to relax. We were walking around the indoor. I could guide him by lifting one rein at a time. I never gathered him up or tried to hold him. I kept my legs soft, an imaginary quarter inch of air between him and me. I stopped him by, well, waiting for him to stop.
Then I would sink my weight, pick up on my reins, (they only changed position, I never pulled) and say whoa.
It still took at least ten minutes to get off him.

I tried to respect his fear. In return he really tried to cope, and cooperate.
I realized Captain was eager to work every day. He had become interested in what we were doing
Score for me.

We began to trot. Lo and behold, it was the loveliest, floatiest trot I had ever ridden. The increased speed seemed to soothe him. I tentatively began to ride with my seat. He became willing to accept my gentle direction. He had a natural cadence and drive that made me think there might be something to this boy.
I finally added my legs, one at a time. I could rest my calves on his sides and get a response by just tightening my muscles.
He would stop when I exhaled and said whoa. I began to make light contact with the bit.
I had bitted him after the first ride. While I normally ride in a side pull for the first ten or so rides, Captain had made me pee myself, just a little, but still... I wanted a snaffle. I needed to know I had some potential torque whether I could use it or not.
It had only taken two days of him thrashing and banging his head against the tie rail to get him to accept it.

When it was time to lope I couldn't do it. I was just too afraid. The ramming into the wall had made more of an impression than I could admit.
Every time I would encourage Captain to transition up he would gather himself and start chugging almost in place. Remember, I had my reins thrown completely out. He felt like I was hanging on his face, and getting ready to blow.
I sucked up and asked one of the other apprentice trainers to do it. I have slowly watched my pride leach away over the years.The need for self preservation has overcome most of my stiff necked inclinations.
Lucky for me, the other junior trainer was only too happy to show me how much better he was than I. It always works for me when somebody's high self esteem is matched by an equally low I.Q.
I should be nice. He did get up there. He did get Captain to lope.
After they blew around the arena two or three times, and bounced off a few walls.
Once again, kudos to Jr. Big K. He hung in there. He helped me.
He wouldn't get on him again.

I called the Morgan trainer that had started him. I asked him how it had gone with Captain.
He wouldn't give me much, but I did find out that he had longed him in the full bitting rig they use to teach the Morgans that high, pulled back, head set.
He made him stand for hours in his stall bitted in that rig.

That made the light bulb go on.
When I was asking Captain to go forward he was expecting to hit the restraint of the rig.
My poor claustrophbic psychopath had spent five months in a straight jacket and a cell.

I continued to ride Captain with almost no contact. It's not that far a stretch from how I start them anyway. He just brought out the, "please, I want to curl up in a fetal position and grab on with everything I have" in me, so it was harder to do.
I would take him left or right with a single rein, or light pressure from my legs, but never both at the same time.
I stopped him with my seat. If he didn't stop I would wait until he did, then reinforce my relax, exhale, legs off , whoa cue.
I asked him for forward with my calves, and let him find his lope on his own time.
It was beautiful.

He wanted to lope with his nose almost to the ground. It was a little unnerving, but his back stayed relaxed, (even if mine didn't) so I let him have it. I have always figured he was playing with the freedom I gave his head. Or just messing with mine.

He began to back! I would ask with a tightening of my reins in a left, right motion, after he stopped, and he began to take a step or two.
It was my first attempt at containment with my reins, and he accepted it.

His owner called and asked if he had a good turn around.
I screamed something intelligible into the phone.
She added a nice bonus on my next paycheck.

Now that I had a handle on why he was so freaked by any kind of hold, I felt like I had a base to work with. I kept alternating my cues, but made them stronger and more definite. I expected him to respond to me, if he didn't whoa off my seat, I'd give him the back cue. Discipline! He accepted it with grace. We were on our way. I began to relax. Big mistake.

I had forgotten Captain was deranged from day one. I had been happily blaming the Morgan guy for all our problems. I had put Captain in a category, a slot, a place I felt safer in.I was trotting Captain along the arena wall. He was motoring along at a pretty good rate, he was soft in my hands, with light contact. I was drifting off, enjoying his wonderful trot.

There was a series of windows, about five feet off the ground, that went the length of the arena. There was a pen of horses outside windows. A horse stuck his inquiring nose through the window as we passed by. Captain looked at him, nickered, and tried to go through the window. He got his head and front legs through before I grabbed hold of the reins. I jerked hard with my outside rein and pulled him to the ground. Typical Captain, he didn't spook until he had all four back in the arena. Then he bolted.

That was the last straw. I was over it. I sat quiet for about four strides, and then pulled his head to the wall. I kicked hard with my wall side heel. He actually responded, disengaged, and did a respectable turn We did about six of those before he settled into a working lope. I let him have a few turns around the arena and asked for a whoa. He stopped, rocked back and ready, so I backed him five or six steps. Then I slid off. For once he didn't spook. I bent over, hands on my knees, and took some deep breaths. I felt him nibble lightly at my sweat slick T-shirt.

From that day on I rode Captain like any other young horse. He was ready. Still really strange, but ready. I never let my guard down. He kept trying. He kept things interesting. At the end of 120 days he could ride inside or out. He stood tied. The farrier and vet could handle him. He knew his leads. He had a pretty decent turn around. We were down to only five minutes until I could dismount. I sent him home.

A year later his owner brought him back. Nobody would buy him. She had tried to keep him ridden, but was afraid of him."He's never actually done anything, but I never feel like he's all there. He won't let me dismount."

"Yup." I said.

So now I was supposed to tune him up, get him used to other people riding him, and keep him until sold. I had Captain all summer. I rode him. My daughter rode him. My upper level students rode him. My dressage buddy came and rode him. She loved his floaty gaits, said he was "feely". He made everybody a little nervous. Nobody bought him.

The owner took him home in the fall. He spent the winter tearing down fences. His owner spent the winter tearing out her hair. Nobody bought him.

She brought him back for one more shot. He nickered when he saw me. I rode him for a few weeks. He was actually pretty good.

She found a potential buyer. A way too green one in my opinion. I was testily informed that she worked with a trainer and would be fine. When she mounted she lugged herself up, and kneed him in the flank. Captain jumped, the potential buyer hit the dirt. I rode him until he was no longer white eyed. She wanted to try again. Captain wouldn't let her anywhere near. Smart Captain. I called a halt to that one.

A few weeks later the owner called to say she was bringing out somebody else. Their John Lyons certified trainer was coming with.

"That might work."I said.

The afternoon they were coming I got him out and took him through his paces. His ground work was solid. I rode him for about forty five minutes. It was all good. One of my best students was hanging out that day. She is one of my best friends, and a hand. She had ridden Captain before.

"Hop on him for a minute or two would you?" I asked. "I want to make sure he's over that spooking crap with other riders."

She got up without any trouble. She walked him around for about ten minutes. The farrier drove up.

"Just trot a circle and we'll make sure you can get dismounted." I said.

My student, my friend, clucked to Captain. He bolted. As he came through the corner he actually picked up more speed. He slung her into the iron rail of our arena. She ended up in ICU for several days. She had 6 broken ribs, a deflated lung, cracked vertebrae, a broken shoulder and clavicle. I called the owner and told her to get him off my place within the week. No one was to ride him. I didn't want him touched until he was loaded into the trailer.

She gave him to the John Lyons certified trainer. The trainer was sure any horse could be trained if approached the right way. She had a lot of confidence in her abilities.. She thought she was pretty hot stuff.

It turns out the John Lyons trainer was not quite certified. The first and only horse she had ever trained had come up lame before she finished. She planned on using Captain to finish her course.

Captain never made it. I heard stories about how smart he was. How quickly he picked up on his round pen work. (Well duh, he could lead change, half pass, stop and spin) Then nothing. The last I heard the new trainer tried to ride him. Once. Captain is now a pasture ornament. He is fat and shiny, and teases them as he races by with his fluid, beautiful gaits.

Score a big one for Captain.

I guess.


LatigoLiz said...

I think every person at some point in their horsemanship journey comes across their own version of Captain. I have. Friends have. And I have found that (in my experience anyway) that horses with the name Captain have their own "issues" just because of some weird thing with that particular name. At least the ones I have encountered in real life or via other people's stories, have all had very interesting histories.

As to the regumate thing...I don't think it matters much. I have a mare that should have been spayed. I know of another mare who IS spayed...the crankiness and awful heat cycles are just a part of the way they are wired. The spayed mare (racing bred QH lines) still has heat cycles in stressful situations (trailering). My mare, never ended up having it done. Doesn't matter much anymore. I learned what to do to manage the situation. She was fine under saddle while in heat, but still a bit cranky. She would destroy pens, buildings and trailers if confined during her cycles. And she would also go into heat because of stress. Soon she will be free of all stress and pain. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Wow.. what a story.

Kudos to you for riding him as long as you did - I don't know that I would have gotten on at all. In fact, I would have given up much sooner than both you and the owner did.

I haven't encountered horses like Captain but I have met a few dogs like him. Much like you and Captain, I was able to get them serviceable, but I never felt safe around them, even after all that training. They always felt like they were going to snap -- and they did, not long after training ended. And then they'd come back. But never be fully put together. I wonder if they can ever be fixed - or if they're just too unstable to ever be "right".

I wonder what causes that - how it could be different. If it's just breeding or if it's early life experience or if it's training. If Captain hadn't had that Morgan rig, would he have been OK? Or would he still have had that screw loose? I wonder.

Thanks for sharing this story, mugwump. It was a good read, however it turned out.

Anonymous said...

Amazing story. Because I ride and board my mare at a training barn, I've seen a few Captain-types come through (more in the past few years). There's always something in their history, but...there's also always something wrong with the brain wiring.

As for the mare, how old is she? My Chocolate Chic Olena mare had weird cycles through her 5th and 6th year--no Regumate, no breeding for her, though. She started settling down and mellowing out at age 7 and now I can't really tell, except that she is a lot more aggressive under saddle during her cycles, and seems to prefer hard riding during that time (of down and dirty "let's use yourself!" sort, lots of loping, lots of long-trotting, anything that doesn't require a lot of leg, because she gets pissy about that, tail-switching and kicking at the leg at the slightest touch).

SunnySD said...

Well, Captain got his happy ending -- a pasture ornament he may be, but he's not dog food, which is where he might have ended up.

Kudos for hanging in there. I've always thought the scariest ones are the ones that wait for a just the right moment.

One big no-color paint gelding I used to ride had a nasty habit of blowing up, but never for any particular reason we could determine. He's fine, usually for weeks between episodes. He not cold-backed, is easy to catch, no teeth problems, no saddling or saddle-fit issues, isn't foot sore or uncomfortable anywhere, never fights the bridle. He has 24 hour turnout on pasture, regular riding in the arena and on trails, and isn't on grain. He doesn't care who rides him, is easy to get along with, and never balks or goofs around at the start of your ride. He's big, pretty, and smooth. If you were looking for a horse to match with a beginning rider, he'd be perfect - almost.

Periodically, he'll just flat out explode and pile you.

He can go from an easy lope or a flat footed walk to a snorting, plunging maniac in a spit second. Not crow-hops, but rodeo horse nose to the ground, heels to the sky moves. He's dumped pretty much everyone whose ridden him for any length of time -- it's not personal, he just seems to lose it. You might have been riding for 20 minutes or be three hours in to a trail ride. Watching him, it's almost like an epileptic seizure -- something clicks, and he's gone. He doesn't telegraph it, it doesn't build up. There's no eye-rolling, jigging or antsy dancing. Afterwards, he's completely calm, easy to catch, and you're safe from another episode for an extended period. His owner still uses him. The kids ride him. I don't anymore - he makes me nervous.

mugwump said...

fssunnysd- I had an appy come in once for that very same reason. It turned out he was going blind. He had partial vision in each eye. So the visual world around him kept changing. His response was to explode.
Of course, some horses are just pukes.

mugwump said...

joycemocha, latigo liz,
My hormonal mare is seven. She is a screaming, sweat covered, lactating mess when she cycles.
I can put her back on the Regumate, but I keep thinking if she had time to learn to cope she might....
I'm probably nuts, but she's almost unrideable for about 7 days out of 30.
Even my dramatic mares learn how to settle down enough to get ridden.
I hate to use anything chemical on them, can you tell?

LatigoLiz said...

fssunnysd said...
but he's not dog food, which is where he might have ended up.

Yep. Highly likely. And I know my mare would have. One of my mentors (possibly the same one as mugwump's) recommended "canning" and "turn her into chicken feed" more than once; it's not something that he says lightly at all. I just couldn't do that, and it was before I knew about slaughter for human consumption. It's not their fault they are the way they are. Man created them, either by breeding or by handling. They don't deserve an inhumane and cruel end. Those ones, especially those ones, deserve the most respectful and kindest end possible.

Has a vet palpated or ultrasounded to determine if her follicles are unusually large?

And I am sooo with you on the regumate thing. Don't want to touch the stuff. And I am past wanting more kids and still don't want to be near it.

Only other option might be to try red raspberry leaves or chasteberries. Some people swear by them as working. I had mild success with the chasteberries (in extract form) and will find the name of the product I used. Funny, it was also helpful for Cushings/pituitary function on the same mare.

Oh, one more is some sort of implant. I think folks in HJ/3day/dressage circles swear by it.

LatigoLiz said...

Found the product:

Emerald Valley Equine Evitex

Smurfette said...

I agree with Liz, "Captain"s are everywhere. I had one named Eclipse because he was born on the night of a full lunar eclipse, and, like Captain, he was a psycho from the moment he first drew a breath. Halter breaking took three people when he was barely a day old, hoof trimming took at least 2 people, and two different farriors before it could even sometimese be accomplished at all. Loading? another battle, I strong-armed him into my 4 horse trailer at 9 months old, and shipped him off to auction. I couldn't have him around my place any longer. I warned the buyer that he was difficult to handle, and the guy showed up on the farm 2 weeks later. I tried to hide, but it turned out that they bonded (probably told stories about how badly he had been mistreated), and that they were very happy together. Go figure. Never heard from him again, so I don't really know how it turned out, che sara sara.

On the mare issue. I have always believed that being "marey" is a discipline issue, but your discription takes the cake. Maybe it is not always a discipline issue.

SunnySD said...

Hmmm -- mugwump, will pass along the vision possibility. That's one thing I don't think they've had checked. Same family had a moonblind Appy gelding (no relation to the paint, though) for years that went so calm and quiet you'd never have known his vision was impaired. They worked cows and did speed events on him routinely before discovering that he was having problems (he sulked when they stopped taking him along) and he continued to be an excellent trail horse until they lost him.

On the mare thing -- I've heard some of the older horsemen out here here talk about using copper bit inlays or copper plating for evening out a hormonal mare. Not a bigger, badder bit: the same type as she's used to, just copper instead of stainless or sweet iron. Some of them swear by it, some of them dismiss the possibility. (Although I've noticed that the later tend to ride

Personally, I've never noticed it making a big difference, but if nothing else is working, it might be worth a shot....

verylargecolt said...

Wow. What a story.

The problem with the Captains of the world is that you probably could have ridden him for a lifetime - but the fact is, you're in the top 1% of riders. And scarily enough, I suspect I am too. Or at least I was at one time in my life.

MOST riders are not quiet enough for a hyper sensitive horse.

MOST riders are not aware enough of their weight - how they're balanced through their seat bones, if they're weighting one stirrup more than the other.

MOST riders are not aware enough of how to use hands, legs, seat independently on a super sensitive, difficult horse.

All you have to do is surf youtube to see the amazing amount of just horrifyingly bad riding out there. And in between that is a lot of decent riding but with certain flaws that would make the Captains of the world go ballistic - i.e. a loose lower leg or slightly inconsistent hands.

So you can train all day, but the fact is the horse isn't going to ride for someone who doesn't ride like you do. I have ridden OTTB's in the past where you had to sit so, so super quiet or they got upset. You did not touch them with your legs. You just didn't. Your leg better damn well be quiet and away from their side or you were going for one hell of a trip. These horses worked out for polo, with time, but they wouldn't have worked for anything else, and they were never going to be able to be ridden by anyone who couldn't be super quiet.

There'll never be enough homes that can ride these horses. Again, one reason I promote breeding horses with amateur-friendly dispositions. That's the market.

Re Regumate, I do have a friend who has a mare on it all the time and it has helped her a lot. I have never had a mare I had to use it on, but apparently hers is just batshit crazy without it.

mugwump said...

Does anybody know why I have that big gap between my last line and the comments section? And if so, how do I fix it? Thanks..

Kemo Sabe said...

Wow, that's an amazing story Mugwump, but I so didn't see it ending like that. Good on you for giving it your best shot, I aspire to one day reach the training/riding levels of you and Fugs. I've had my share of problems with a not particularly difficult filly because I bit off more than I can chew but we're coming good now. I'm blogging about it at

At least it was a happy ending for Captain, I'll bet he has no complaints about how the tale ended :)

LatigoLiz said...

mugwump said...
Does anybody know why I have that big gap between my last line and the comments section? And if so, how do I fix it? Thanks..

In Blogger you can go back and edit your post. Change it to the HTML view once you are in edit mode for the post and then you can probably see lots of < p > or < br > and maybe a & nbsp ; (without the spaces around the letters) codes. Just strip those all out. Let me know if you can't figure it out.

SolitaireMare said...

Hi Mugwump,

Just a thought for you on the mare. The last horse I had was a "marey" mare. When she went in heat it was awful and messy and she was definitely crankier than usual. I found that the more I worked her, for instance, riding for 4 days, lungeing with training gear on for 2 and one day off a week improved her disposition. If she had to go on time off for any reason, such as to recover from an injury, the longer she was out of a steady work program, the sooner she'd go back to being a crank and a nutcase.

Then after a few years, something occurred to me, when I would get my period, the first few days I really needed Motrin to get through it. Well, why wouldn't a mare feel crampy and uncomfortable too? So I tried giving her bute, 1 pill in morning feed and one in evening feed for about 4 days the moment I noticed she was starting her cycle. Her attitude did improve, and I felt her attention span was better. Granted, this was not always easy to do, since I was competing and you have to be very careful not to have anything in your horse that might show up if tested. But when it could be done, I did it. If your mare doesn't have any stomach problems, maybe the bute would help her out?

Good luck, hope you get some good solutions!

Anonymous said...

Love your blog my personal fav. and you are a great writer.

When I was a kid 6 or 7 my sister lived with a "working cowboy" for lack of better terms. He had cattle worked cows was a pickup rider at a local rodeo and a farrier not to mention a kind and all around good guy. Now I was horse crazy from birth and this relationship got me my 1st horse. He was beautiful a long legged sorrel with a star (It was love at first sight for me). He was 4 and the previous owners did nothing with him he was basically a pet. He was very friendly decent ground manners halter broke and would tote a child around bareback via lead rope. So my sister's cowboy buys this pet for me he's a stud (never covered a mare) step one he's gelded. Now the first time a saddle was placed on his back and he takes one small step forward he instantly rears and flips over backwards (horrified me looking on) broke the saddle tree. Cowboy is calm as can be gently unsaddles him and back to the pasture he goes. I never saw him again and never asked what happened to him I was devastated.

Now the cowboy's brother owns a rodeo in a small Midwest town.

My 2nd horse is rodeo stock (not a fabulous bucker) he was a mule eared big headed thing (not love at first sight even for a 7 year old) he could drag 3 people thru the dirt to avoid a bath and initially tried to bite HARD anyone that wasn't looking. He was trained by cowboy, my sis, 7-year old me and "fine tuned" by trainer friend with me onboard (backing up and getting the correct lead our biggest challenges). That horse and I did everything together he was this kids dream come true.

I think of him often the mule eared big headed guy and hope he had a good rest of his life. The pretty sorrel I think met a better end then he could have thanks to the cowboy.

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