Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wordy Wednesday

Hey guys, I have an idea. It seems I am buried on Monday and Tuesday on a regular basis. Then on Wednesday I'm ready to go. So if nobody minds I'll switch to Monday for the blogger stories. That will give you something other than dead space to look at, ya think?

Here's a cool story about a freebie who actually worked out.

You know the old saying, "Never look a gift horse in the mouth."? This tale is about the horse to which I owe a great deal.

I received Darlin', a small gaited mare, as a gift about thirteen years ago. She was a working ranch horse and because she was not stabled near where her owners lived, they seldom saw her and were unaware that she was being ridden and abused by the hired workers.

One of the first things I discovered about Darlin', was her extreme mistrust of people. Unfortunately, a rock that had become lodged in the bottom of the hoof had worked its way up and out of the top, leaving a gaping hole. Darlin' was so afraid of our farrier, it took us nearly an hour to calm her down enough for him even touch her. If she did something wrong, she retreated to the end of the rope, expecting punishment. Also, in those first few weeks, I learned that she was almost impossible to catch. When she saw me coming, she would immediately gallop in the opposite direction. I tried luring her in with grain, but when I tried to approach her, she would become alarmed and take off. After so many years of mistreatment, she no longer trusted humans. The only way I could get near her was to herd her into a small corral and corner her.

Not only was Darlin' difficult to catch, she was also hard to ride. The people who had been riding her rode hard and fast, and they used severe equipment. They ruined her mouth making it was very difficult to stop her, and she frequently became a runaway. I had to resort to more and more severe equipment and restraints to be able to control her. This frustrated me, the "trainers" I asked would simply tell me to go to a stronger bit, or a tighter tie-down.

Darlin' was also very “head-shy". She expected to be punished for everything. She was absolutely nuts, it was a fight every time I tried to ride her. The more frustrated I got, the more difficult she became. She was a danger to everyone around her. The trainer told me to get rid of her, that she was crazy and it wasn't worth it. She had so much "GO" and so much heart; it seemed a shame that she was really unrideable. After a year of fighting her, I was ready to give up, but I couldn't bear the thought of sending her back. For all her faults, I still liked her. There was something special there; I just had to find a way to let it out. I finally decided start "reprogramming" her. I began retraining her, and since her mouth was ruined, teaching her to respond to voice and leg aids.

As the training went on, with positive reinforcement, she began to slowly respond. She began to trust again. She stopped expecting punishment. With this breakthrough, training suddenly became easier. Darlin' learned quickly and enjoyed every new thing I taught her. However, all of the positive steps Darlin' made were at home under controlled circumstances. When she was around other horses and crowds, she reverted to her old behavior. She seemed to feed off of the excitement and tension. I had tried entering some speed events with her and she placed well, but she would still become dangerously excited. We went back to just riding at home and on trails, doing a lot of schooling. She was still progressing, becoming easier to handle and had become an extremely sensitive horse. She responded to the slightest touch, and faced each new challenge with startling intelligence, she was fearless. She was developing into an amazing horse.

That being said, I had pretty much given up on ever being able to take her anywhere when something happened to change everything. Every year our town has a festival, and I planned to ride my other horse in the parade, but a minor injury sidelined him. So, I decided to take Darlin' instead. She made it through the entire parade without mishap. She did it because she trusted me. I discovered that I could take her anywhere; as long as I told her it was O.K. I decided to try showing her at a local show. We did well that day, and although we did not win every class we entered, we were in the top three every time. There we were, with the same people who said we could not do it, and we did it with trust.

Darlin' remains a wonderful, loving, and trusting friend. Though she can be somewhat distant, she is very expressive and, at times, seems almost human. I can now ride her without a bridle and control her using voice commands and light touches with my legs.

Darlin' is now 27 years old, and is still full of life. She still gets upset with me if I don’t take her out for a ride. She and I have such a deep connection; we have learned so much from one another. As a result of my relationship with her, I have developed a deeper understanding of the equine psyche and have learned some useful horse training skills. Rehabilitating her taught me that nothing is hopeless, and that perseverance and patience pay off in the end.


  1. Great story, really emphasizes that sometimes, it's all about patience.

    Monday Musings......hmmm. I like that. :)

  2. I have goosebumps. Great story!

  3. Oh, fantastic story. Really encouraging!

  4. That was an awesome story. I'm always amazed that animals can learn to trust again after so much abuse from humans. Kudos to you for all the time and patience you put into it. Sounds like it was very worth it!

  5. Wow, thanks for posting our story Mugs!

    Here is a link to some recent pics of the Gift Horse

    She is the 3rd pic down and in the last one on the right.

  6. Oh, what a great story! Patience truly is a virtue. :*)

    Good for you both!

  7. Sounds like a wonderful partnership ! Yay for you and Darlin

  8. Great story. It gives me hope that I might be able to reach and retrain Dude someday. So, did you start all over with saddling, etc.?

  9. I love stories like this. I think about Mort, who was one of these horses, but not as timid. He became a friend of a lifetime. I'm always amazed at how quickly a horse will forgive and go back to learning once he understands you're going to be fair.

  10. Redsmom...

    No, I did not restart saddling and everything (really I did a LOT of bareback and firmly believe that allowed me to more closely connect) and used a sidepull. We just went SLOWLY with everything. She didn't like me touching her head, so I did that a LOT. Simply walked up, plopped my hand on her poll, and held on. It was NOT fun and took years, but in the end was very much worth it. I have spend a great deal of time just being with her, as odd as that sounds. A lot of hours just wandering around the woods. Email me and let me know what issues you are having with him and I will see what I can do to help. My hate mailer from Tacky Tack is now riding her mare that she HAD to use a big nasty bit on to stop her and couldn't control her in the arena with a snaffle and stopping her WITHOUT REINS. Fancy that, she took some time to work with the mare, stayed calm and lo and behold, better behavior.

    Hope I am not stepping on Mug's toes...You can email me at if you have questions about issues with Dude that you think I might be able to help with.

  11. It's often astonished me just how incredibly forgiving animals can be, given the chance. And how few horses actually turn mean despite the treatment they've had.

    Lovely story and kudos to you scaequestrian, for the persistence and patience that it must have taken.

  12. Wow, what a wonderful story. Its amazing how animals can overcome terrible abuses and learn to trust again. Its lucky for Darlin' she found someone as patient as you!

  13. SCA, I sent you an email with a link to the blog. Dude, what can I say, I think he is over being traumatized and is just too smart for me. Anything you can suggest would help.

  14. I just wanted to say how much i have been enjoying/appreciating your blog posts. Your generosity to the horses and the people, giving all the benefit of the doubt makes your insites and humor that much more enjoyable and enlightening.
    I am a city girl and have needed one of those stick guys to teach me enough that I can appreciate and use what you are sharing.
    As for critique, love the writing. Feel like we are talking with friends. In short, Thank you very very much. DeeDee - originally from DDetroit.