Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What I Learned from Captain

Thanks for the input on the Regumate. I'm going to work with my hormonal little wack-job for the next few weeks. I'll take her to a day show this week-end, and to an AQHA show in June. If I haven't ironed things out by then I guess I'll cave to her owners and dose her back up.
It just tweaks me to think that the poor thing has been chemically altered since she was two. How can she cope with her emotional little self if she was never given a chance to learn? Isn't that like putting toddlers on Ritalin because they like to run around screaming? Oh yeah, I guess that happens.

What I Learned from Captain

1. Sometimes my ego gets in the way of my common sense.
Captain was dangerous. I have other horses to ride. A daughter to bring to adulthood. A family to make dinner for. A very healthy credit card bill that needs to be paid every single month.
I had no business riding that horse. He intrigued me. He was very engaging in a hopeless sort of way. I wanted to be the one who fixed him. I wanted to be right. It turned out I wasn't.

2. I need to trust my instincts.
I was afraid of Captain. I was working in an atmosphere that continually challenged every core belief I had about horse behavior and training. I felt incompetent because I couldn't get a handle on him.
Part of what makes me a strong trainer is the fact that I continually doubt my abilities. I constantly question every move I make, and worry that I could have tried one more thing and that would be the magic formula.
Part of what makes me a weak trainer is the fact that I continually doubt my abilities.
I should have listened to my gut. I was afraid of him for a reason.
Even when I had him riding well enough to let other people tool around on him, I never truly relaxed. In my heart I knew he wasn't right.

3. Not all horses deserve to be saved.
When a horse is willing to injure himself in order to escape what he perceives as a bad situation, his rider will NEVER be safe.
If he has no regard for himself, you can bet you will never cross his mind in a high stress situation.
The first horse I trained for Reined Cowhorse competition was more athlete than I was rider.
On one of our fence turns I lost my seat and started to come off. She stopped and waited for me to find my seat, and then continued down the fence. She was considered an extremely unreliable and rowdy horse. I trusted her implicitly. She always knew where her feet were. She always knew where I was.
Captain didn't know what planet he was on.
There are a lot of good minded horses that end up at the sales. There are too many people tying themselves to bad minded horses and losing out on the joys of owning a good horse. There are more horses than people who want them. You might as well go with a good one.

4. Horses can suffer from psychoses.
He tried to climb through a window with me on him. 'Nuff said.

5. All horses deserve a chance.
I believe this with all my heart. I will never regret riding Captain. My regret comes from letting it go on too long. Unfortunately I was really fond of the stupid bastard. I have notoriously bad taste in men too.

6. Just because I can ride them doesn't mean I have to.
Captain got me over (forever and ever) the notion that I had to ride every horse I have brought to me. I have finally learned to call the owners and say "Come pick them up." It took me years to get there. I even have a list of other trainers I'll send people to. I've lost a few customers that way, but none that I needed to keep.

7. If a vice has succeeded for a horse in the past, it can always rear it's ugly head again.
Captain was a bolter. Some will buck. Other's will rear or flip over. I have learned the hard way that you can think you have completely rid a horse of a vice. Captain had not bolted since the very first rides. Not once. Until he almost killed my friend.
If any horse feels their life is in danger, and if nothing else is going to make them safe, they will return to the behavior that they feel worked for them. I don't care if they haven't done that behavior for fifteen years. It's still there.
If you can't handle them at their worst, then you shouldn't kid yourself that you'll never see it again. Be honest with yourself and your horse.
Most horses don't bolt, rear, or flip over. Really evaluate if you can stay safe with one that does.

8. I can really stick a horse when I'm terrified.
Captain made me realize I'm a pretty gnarly rider. He tested levels of flexibility and balance that I hadn't tried for years. He pushed my patience to the limits, and made me stretch the boundaries of my training techniques. I still like to think he'll end up with the right rider some day. It's a shame to waste that floaty trot.


  1. >>He intrigued me. He was very engaging in a hopeless sort of way. I wanted to be the one who fixed him. I wanted to be right. It turned out I wasn't.<<

    I think you just described my love life!

    I do think women who try to fix difficult horses also try to fix difficult men. I truly am trying to stick to horses at this point...they will F up your life a lot less.

  2. Irony of irony, at this point in my life I am quietly, permanently sticking to my steadfast, reliable, quiet and gentle, white haired old hippie freak. Kind of getting that way with my horses too. If he reads this I'm toast!

    Someday I'm going to write more about The Big K. Talk about effing up your life!

  3. mugs,

    I am certain I would like to have a few drinks around a campfire with you someday. I have been slacking on my own horses and blog(s) lately due to getting some real work done (wish I was riding for work *sigh*).

    Every single one of your items on your list is/was on mine, too, and probably a few additional ones.

    I don't recall ever wanting to "fix" the menfolk in my life, but I certainly am blessed to have a supportive balding sports nut (who will be riding someday) and a cute as a bug son who wants to ride as soon as I have a GENTLE horse for him to bomb around on.

    I look forward to hearing about the The Big K! I bet it's going to be one awesome read, no matter what the content turns out to be. You are quite the eloquent blogger and I find myself checking in often, as do some of my good horsemanship-minded girlfriends!

  4. Trust me Liz, riding for your job isn't that much different than any other job. 90% is shoveling poop no matter how you earn your dough. I probably get to ride my horses as often as you do....

  5. Latigo Liz- Thanks!! It wotked!

  6. latigo liz said, "You are quite the eloquent blogger and I find myself checking in often, as do some of my good horsemanship-minded girlfriends!"

    Heartily seconded!

  7. mugwump said...
    Trust me Liz, riding for your job isn't that much different than any other job. 90% is shoveling poop no matter how you earn your dough. I probably get to ride my horses as often as you do....

    Oh, I am sure you are right. Right now, it's been since March since I have ridden. And if I could get paid to shovel poop (literally and figuratively) and ride and learn, well, I certainly would enjoy it. I have done a few little gigs like trailer loading and ground work schooling/teaching and I have enjoyed them all. And I am sure my hubby would like me to get paid to ride. :)

    Glad the HTML fixes worked for you. Looks much better! you can always go back and edit posts like that. I STILL find errors in my old writings. I wish Blogger would add a similar edit function to the Comments area!

  8. #3 is a tough one but it's the truth.

  9. What a gripping story, and quite a twist ending. It left me wondering though, do you think he was always going to wind up as neurotic as he was? If he had been started differently, or something, would he still be a bolter?

    It also got me thinking about a horse at our barn. He outranks captain, since his name is Colonel, and he's been off for almost a year and we're re-starting him this week I think. He was shoved to the back burner because I wasn't around and my friend wasn't riding him because he reared up on her, flipped over backwards and broke her pelvis in two places. When she was healed enough to try starting him again he was absolutely wild, which she couldn't really handle, with her limited time and, quite frankly, fear of the guy.

    I rode him a while back and its not her, he is unsafe to be around, he bolts, tosses his head, he's stopped doing the thing where he gives a little hop on his front legs when he gets angry but I imagine it will re-surface at some point. He had never done anything like this before, and he's 15. I really hope he doesn't turn out to be a lost cause. Especially because I'm such a sucker for a lost cause.

  10. I love reading your blog and learn a lot from your stories and insight.

    All points are really spot on and make a lot of sense. Everyone needs to know their limits and abilities as well of those of the horses they ride.

  11. I have to agree with you on all counts. I quit training for a living for multiple reasons. One of them being, "why the heck am I risking my life on someone else's piece of crap while my lovely animals rot in pasture?"

    I have not had my leg on a piece of crap in years. I watch others ride them.

  12. Hi, i've been a lurker for a while on fugly and here.

    I'm from the UK and do a similar thing to you, I mostly get them AFTER someone else has tried and F-ed them up, and rarely get an unspoilt one.

    I have a bolter at the moment, and she is the one I do first, and get it over with. Three days out of four she is great, the fourth she goes batshit crazy and does Wall Of Death around the arena twenty times.

    It used to be every day, so progress is being made! No trigger I can see yet, which makes it all the more terrifying. But you know, can't let anyone see I'm anything less than fearless and shit hot!

  13. gilliian- a fifteen year old horse who flips over and bolts? A friend with a broken pelvis? I'm sure something in his past messed him up. I'm sure you're intentions are good....but horses are a walking invitation to get hurt, even the good ones.I would never quadruple my risk to try to solve a problem like that. I have too many good horses to ride yet. If I'm dead I can't save the ones worth saving.
    anonymous-be careful! as I get older I find myself more and more willing to admit when I'm scared. Out loud. If you ignore your fear you could be ignoring a very important gut instinct you should be listening to.

  14. Aaaah another lurker! <_<

    A friends mare was on regumate. She was a total capital B.I.T.C.H when she was in heat. She would rear at random after standing still and seeming relaxed.
    Anyway they sold her and the new owners had the vet put a marble into her uterus and I guess it works (no drugs involved except the trank to help the vet not get kicked)
    Last time I seen her she seemed totally chilled out even though theres a stallion three stalls over from her.

  15. awesome blog. I look forward to more!

    I am not a trainer and have no desire to train, ever. I'm justing trying to figure out how to ride better and better. Thank god for those of you who make the horses so I can then learn to ride them. Captain sounds like he has a screw loose and maybe always will.

  16. Mugwump, you have eased my mind and heart more than you can know. Captain's story makes me feel better about how things turned out for me and the first horse I had. I tried for a year (with a great deal of help from a very good trainer) to reach a happy place with that gelding. I gave him away when I realized I felt like I was married to an alcoholic. Thanks to your story, I now think I did the right thing.

  17. livedtotell-
    I'm glad, you have to remember you gave it more than just a try, I hope you've found a good one. I've got a couple:)

  18. Great story, Mugwump. I especially like your thought #4. LOL. Um, yeah. There's a hint.

    I think I am hooked on your blog now. :)

  19. I'm the one Gillian was talking about, who had Colonel flip on her. It was unpleasant. I want to ride him, I liked riding him, but I'm terrified and I thought that was a spiral- I was tense, he spooked, I got more tense, he wondered what was about to eat him and spooked harder, etc.

    Thing is-- there is a 99.9% chance nothing has happened to him to make him do this. He's had the same owner since he was in the womb. His owner trains sensible horses. This one is just a freak. Someone tried to teach him to drive by attaching chevrons (blocks of wood as I understand) to lines that he would pull. After months he'd let them be put on no problem, but every time they made any kind of noise he would flinch.

    He was getting to be really good before our accident, and he was even pretty good up until winter break, but since then it's all downhill. You can lunge him, he likes that, and that's about it. Now he rears if you're leading him and a horse passes behind him.

    It's awful, because I feel like I should have done something, but I don't know what. At that point I couldn't deal with him, and I don't have the expertise to do it now.