Monday, October 5, 2009

Mouthy Mondays


by amarygma

I apologized to my husband. I don't think he understood. When I said "I was NUTS about horses as a kid," I think he believed the "as a kid" meant it wouldn't come back. Whoops.

Minnesota's great; it's like I'm an addict at a half-price crack sale compared to Connecticut, where I'm from. I couldn't afford horse-related stuff as a kid (with non-horsey parents), but I can here. After a visit home, when an airline offered us free vouchers and an overnight hotel stay if we bumped our flight until morning, Husband thought I had lost it when I turned to him and said "But, I'd miss my lesson!" I knew I had to pace myself. I had a semester of lessons or so under my belt. And, I needed to practice what I knew before investing in more lessons.

I found an ad on Craigslist: "Beginners to advanced, Five free lessons with a 6-month half-lease: 90 dollars/month." I was sold. Cheaper than lessons alone but with bonus ones! I called the woman up and asked if she had a beginner horse available. She did. I explained my level, I could get a horse from pasture, groom, tack, and safely walk/trot and was learning to canter and do teeny weeny jumps. She mulled over 6 or 7 possibilities. Did I want odd or even days? (Odd, of course, some months have 31 days!) I met her at the barn where the horse was boarded. I was directed to find her at the outdoor arena.

He was a sleek, black Arabian gelding, and they were whipping around doing tight circles. She told me how smooth he was. I got on. We did not click.

He was very responsive, and very small. I hadn't ridden anything that narrow, or jumpy. I didn't feel secure. How did he move so much just walking!? I have wide hips, and I still do not like riding narrow horses, even with a better seat nowadays. I probably could have worked it out with time, but was so self conscious with her watching me. What would I do if she said I was too bad to ride her horses? She said to never fear, she has the perfect horse for me coming back from horse camp. Come on Thursday. I showed up Thursday, still feeling like an intruder, and also kinda dumb. I failed at that horse, how bad was I? With 60+ horses on the farm, I kept waiting for someone to tell me I was unauthorized. I came around the old barn to see the largest horse trailer I've ever seen (to this day). I see her lead a very pregnant, grey Arab off the trailer, handing her over to an old farmer. She spied me. ”There she is, Roger, give her to Robyn!" And she hopped into the truck and drove away with how ever many other horses were inside. Roger handed me a cotton lead.

"Here you go." The Arab mare began to dance around me screaming for the 10 or so friends who just left and at the 60 strange horses around her. I held on, afraid I'd lose her, or she'd run right over me. "What do I do with her!?" I asked, frantic Did someone really just hand me a horse and leave? A horse that's throwing a fit? What do I do with it?

"You can put her in a stall for the night, she'll get a herd in the morning."

"Where?" I creaked out, not taking my eyes off the blowing, dancing Arab. I had no idea where anything was on the property. Which building had stalls? Which stall? Again, why had the owner just upped and left? What if I hadn't been early? Why is she screaming? Roger showed me to a stall, and his wife, the BO helped set it up. For all I knew at the time they were kind strangers.
"You can go in there with her if you want."

"Okay," I followed direction, but honestly was a little nervous jumping into a confined area with a large animal that was obviously upset, stamping in circles and hollering out her little window.

Someone handed me a brush, someone else found the light switch, and I sat with her for a couple of hours until she was calmer.

She was gorgeous. 15HH, typey head, ears alert, neck arched, nostrils wide. She had a large melanoma on one side of her face, and where she had scars on her butt, they grew in as black dots and squiggles. She kept looking at me. Her name was Jessie. Damn. My husband's name is Jesse. I couldn't do that.

"Off to ride Jessie!" "Jessie was being a pill so I had to use a crop" "This bruise? Oh, I fell off Jessie." No, wouldn't do. I showed up to be shown her stuff and to test-ride two days later. Her owner was tacking her up and I was taking mental notes, the differences from my lesson horses in the tack used. No baby pad and numnah, she had just the baby pad. How to bridle at a hitching rail instead of cross-ties. When she showed some resistance at being bitted, the owner punched her in the head.Wait, WHAT!? Yup. "I know people say you shouldn't hit a horse in the head because it makes them head shy but I do and none of my horses are head shy," she offered as a quick explanation.

Oh...kay. I didn't want to argue with someone more knowledgeable than me just yet, but secretly vowed I would not start hitting horses in the head like that. Surely, nobody would make me.

We went down to ride in the outdoor arena again, and I got on. Much better. I felt very secure on her large lumbering self. She refused to trot for me, continuing to stumble around on the rail, so the owner wanted to get on and school her for a minute. I had seen instructors school horses for being naughty before, so I hopped off, figuring she'd just get her to do what I had been trying. Nope, That poor, pregnant horse was galloped around the arena HARD. Stopped HARD, and turned HARD.

I was confused. Was this because the horse was normally ridden Western? "She needs a stronger bit, I'll bring one up next time," she told me, hopping off. I didn't like that. Seemed like the wrong answer.
"Okay," I said, again, not wanting to argue. I got back on and could sense her anxiety. She still wouldn't trot, started this half-walk half-trot stumbly pace. "Kick harder!" she yelled to me. I kicked. I didn't want the horse to be schooled again so instead of the squeezeing and nudging, the gentle cues I'd had to give school horses, I gave her a good kick.

"HARDER!" she yelled again. I gave a desperate fwap, having to raise my feet out almost to hip height to kick harder. We did this several more times. I hated it. Something just seems very wrong about kicking a preganant horse hard. I get anatomy pretty well but it felt like I was kicking the baby. She went into a breakneck trot that was at least wide enough for me to post well, and ignored the bit until we got to the gate where the owner waited.

"I love her, she's perfect," I called out, lying. At least she was slow and smooth. I didn't want her to get into more trouble.

"Good!" She smiled. I wrote the check.

Over the next four months I managed to never set up my lessons. I didn't want to ride that way, it didn't look right, didn't feel right. It looked fast and mean. I figured the horse wouldn't mind either.

Every time I came out, she would be eating. I called her "Piggums." I was in love. I would graze her and groom her for 40 minutes before riding, brushing and grazing her afterwards, too. I think she loved me a bit as well. If I was picking her feet and there was a tasty morsel out of reach, she'd go down on her knee to get it before taking that foot away from me.

I became increasingly annoyed with her owner. I would be told to tell the owner that she needed her feet done, needed a blanket (pregnant and not terribly hairy), and would relay the message dutifully.

Someone at the farm trimmed her feet out of pity for me, the BO found a blanket off one of her horses for her. I, who wanted a horse to learn to post and sit the trot on, and be practicing a balanced seat, found myself spending time getting her to stop when I asked since I didn't want to switch to the harsher bit that luckily never made it's way to the farm.

I just kept turning her into the fence until she stopped making me do that. I used a crop to gently tap-tap her on the shoulder to trot instead of wailing on her, until she didn't need even that, a simple shift in the saddle like the schoolies or a cluck.

I had to convince her that I wouldn't hit her on the head, because she was head shy.

She seemed sad all the time. She'd perk up every once in a while, but she kept burying her face in me, hiding from the world.

I decided to save some money, and discontinue my lease. I switched to a smaller grey, arab mare who was offered to me for a free full lease. A beautiful dressage kid's horse. Very funny, lively, and happy. Happy. It almost didn't seem right. She had her own physical problems recovering from an injury and had EPM years before, but was safe and sound to ride and free made more sense than paying.

She was so willing and smart!

Plus, I didn't have a clue what to do with a foal when it arrived. It made sense. I told myself this. Nobody else rode Piggums, or visited her, but since I ended my lease with her I didn't want to be seen getting her out without paying for the privilege, in case someone told her owner.

I would sneak into her paddock at night, or later her stall to groom her in secret or let her out roam around in the arena, to pet her and love her. I always found a carrot for Piggums. The barn owner knew, as I'm sure she noticed the piles of hair around the suddenly clean horse after knowing I'd been around the night before.

One day, someone left the arena door open to the stall area. I could see her little face pressed against the birthing stall bars, watching me mount the little grey arab. She looked even sadder than normal, her big eyes longing.

I rode on the rail, the little mare needed more of a warmup. I passed the door, and Piggums neighed. As I rode around, she kept neighing. Nobody else noticed that Piggums called out twice for each lap I made in the arena, once as I went past the door, once as I passed opposite of the door. Each time she could see me, she'd call. I felt horrible.

Another day I came out to ride the little mare, and I saw Piggums out in the round pen, with her little black arab baby!

The BO wanted to bring them back into the stall for the night, and asked would I lead Pig while she wrangled the little Piglet? In the stall the BO had me lay on/next to the foal to help imprint since Piggums liked me most and would resent it less, and of course THAT moment was when the owner showed up. "Hi." I looked up.

"Well," she smiled, mildly accusatory "What are you doing there?"

"Ah," I stammered a bit, then smiled brightly back "Here's your baby! She's gorgeous!"

I jumped out of the stall, out of the barn, and hid in the pasture for a bit "looking" for the little grey mare. By the time I got back to the barn, the owner was gone.She stayed long enough for a couple of photos and left. I tried keeping up my visits to Piggums in her stall at night. The foal was a terror. The BO was halter breaking her, to lead them out for the day, and in at night.

"Worst foal ever!" she declared.

“They're normally sweet and lovey. This one's a little shit!"

We picked her up, we laid her down, she was horrible. I stopped grooming Piggums in her stall, the foal had aimed both back hooves at me and clipped me in the kneecap. She bit me. I saw much more of her butt than I cared to.

The owner never came out. They were moved to their own paddock. Piggums hated her foal. She'd let her nurse, but the foal would then kick and bite her and chase her around. Piggums always called for me, abandoning her baby to run over if I so much as walked by. I visited her in the pasture while the foal busily tried to defeat the hot wire fence or strike out at neighboring horses.

She'd put her face in my chest and sigh. Broke my heart. I figured they were leaving soon, mom and baby. Where the owner had her other horses (and two stallions), she could keep them for much cheaper.

Turns out, she was behind on board. Very behind. I looked into my finances.

I decided: If she defaulted and the BO took possession... I would bail her out. I would keep her, and I would make her happy. No more broodmare duty. No more horse camp every summer.

I asked the owner how much for the horrible foal. Five thousand. No way. I waited.

One day I arrived to the farm, and they were gone.

The owner came up with enough money to bail her horses, probably short for board somewhere else, and just led mom onto the truck, with baby following loose, because she couldn't be caught.

The BO had refused to help load, I think hoping she'd have to stick around.

Piggums was gone.

It's been two years. I have a fat quarter horse, who I love. I still ride the little mare on occasion. But some days especially, I miss Piggums. I know where she is, kind of. The owner leased a field, sans any shelter (no shelter no blanket in MN winter) , not too far from the farm. I could drive around and find it, maybe.

Last I heard she was up to 64 horses. She lives in a rented room in some old lady's house, with her teenage son. She buys horses every spring and sells every fall, making money on the ones that go to horse camp.

She told me if she liked the horse, she finds them a good home. If she doesn't like them, then she doesn't care where they go. The last of her horses that she boarded at my farm was so skinny he had ribs and hips popping out like crazy, and people were upset.

I keep track of her website, waiting for the word "liquidation." I'll be there with a trailer and a wad of cash in a heartbeat, but she's one of her "favorite" mares, and not likely to go anytime soon. I've asked her offhand in an email how they're doing, and she says "fat and sassy." But I wonder...


amarygma said...

Dunno why the pic didn't go. Here is a direct link:

Rumor has it she had two horses seized by the vet for being too skinny... at the end of summer. :(
I have emailed her and told her if she ever needed to unload Pig I'd see what I could afford.

onetoomany said...

Love this story, and that woman sounds like too many horse people in MN. Reminds me so much of when I got my already bred Arab mare from a yucky owner. Luckily I was able to buy her (at an inflated price). Almost sounds exactly like the same woman in fact... Thanks for sharing.

mugwump said...

amarygma- it didn't go just because I was in a hurry and couldn't get it up....I figured it was just a matter of following the link.

Amy said...

:( I hope you get to spoil piggums again soon... Sounds sweet, and like you two were made for each other.

OneDandyHorse said...

Great story, kind of brought tears to my eyes. It's such a disgrace to see people like that in the world! Piggs is the sweetest thing on four legs! Look at that face!!! Sad to see horses suffering. I know of a man that has 4 horses in a small 40 x 60 paddock, one gelding needs his teeth done and is getting thinner by the minute, I don't think he'll make winter (Canada + no blanket, no shelter). They rode a yearling filly and they run her HARD, she is lame on FR and can barely pick up her feet for cleaning (in pain). They also use a hack-bit combo that hurts her little nose, breaks my heart to see her, she is such a sweet horse, not a mean bone in her. I would gladly rescue all four (a quarter horse mare just cut her back leg badly and it's infected) but I already have two rescues on hand (they are getting way better) and a mare that I had previously to rescuing... I don't want more than 3 or four horses... having 7 is not something I plan to do, plus, I would have to train them all, because none of them has manners and can actually ride. The kids plop up on their backs, but it's an accident waiting to happen. I know how you feel... you don't need to hit a horse (I correct mine with a quick smack or a kick, when they try to bite and kick at me... didn't happen lately). I hope Piggs makes it to your farm sooner than later! Good luck!

chamoiswillow said...

Oh that's hard to bear! My first horse was a flea-bitten grey arab gelding - Piggums looks similar, same Polish head! I hope you are able to reclaim her soon! Winter's coming, maybe she'll offload her to buy hay. I'd call her and make a reasonable offer, maybe tell her she can breed back to her for a foal, to sweeten the deal at no additional cost to you. Not that you want to make another horse for her, but odds are she wouldn't be able to afford the stud fee anyway and it would never happen. Just be sure to put a time limit on it (i.e. within two years). Or tell her if you for some reason cannot keep her you'll give her back to her for nothing, and then never let her go!!!

kel said...

Great Story. Hopefully someday Piggums will get the home she so deserves.

Mugs... Thought of you this weekend. I went to the Snaffle Bit Furturity in Reno. What a show! Right up to the end. It is hard to believe those horses are only 3. I am sure that most will be broken down basket cases soon enough but wow... it is pretty impressive. I thought the winner Zane Davis did a great job, I hadn't heard of him before but he rode for his life that is for sure.

badges blues N jazz said...

oh amarygma, that story is so sad. I hope Piggums can come home to you soon!

mugwump said...

Kel- Think how much more exciting it would be on sound 10-year-olds. By that time of their life they would be out-of-this-world competitors.

kel said...


I came home and started looking for working cowhorse trainers in my area. I have my 11 year old paint that I want to try. He has taking to reining like a fish to water so maybe he will do o.k. going down the fence. If I can just keep his teeth off the cows we should do o.k.!

And how does one ride 4 horses for 4 owners - Todd Bergen must have nerves of steel. I was sitting in the front row about 25 ft from him when his horse (who was leading going into the cow work) went down and he came off, the look on his face was complete and utter disappointment. 100K down the tubes in less than a second. He is such a pretty rider too.

mugwump said...

Kel - Trainers at that level have nerves of steel and very strong (ahem) egos.
There are a lot of talented riders out there who won't make the big time because of a lack of either of those things.
Todd didn't even think about the money. Money worries are for owners and spouses to deal with.He was upset because (1) he lost his chance to win and (2) he didn't get to show his horse.

mugwump said...

Oh, and Todd would be pretty shovelling out a hog pen after first spring thaw.

kel said...

mmmm, mmmm, mmmm...That is one of my favorite parts of going up to Reno and the Snaffle Bit - appreciatin' the fine men folk! Maybe next year you can make it up there and we can appreciate them together.

It does amaze me that some of the other "top names" ride like "a monkey on a football" as my horse shoer likes to say!

rockymouse said...

Amaryga, oof, what a story. I hope you do get Pig someday. I also admire your ability to set boundaries. Makes me happy that you've got a fat QH to mess with. Sounds like you're doing good things.
I've got a question for you smart folks. Our 8yo son's little horse goes Western in a full-cheek snaffle. It's what he was riding in when we bought him.
Lately he's been doing the Naughty Pony routine. After about 10 minutes of riding (and always near the gate) he'll start ignoring my son's cues to turn/circle/move out. You can practically hear him sing out "I can't HEAR you!" I'm not one to immediately jump to stronger bits to solve a problem, but I'm thinking that this is a situation where one is needed, at least for a time.
(I do hop on him a couple times a week to keep him tuned. He'll try this once or twice with me and promptly give up.)
Suggestions on bits for us? I've never used anything but a French link or simple snaffle on any of our horses...
Thanks much!

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

That's a tough story. Horses that speak to you like Pig are ones you never forget. I've passed on a few that were screaming my name and can still remember every one as clear as a bell.

For Pig's sake, I do hope she finds her way to your barn.

Anonymous said...

Damn, thats heart breaking. Amarygma, thanks for shareing that story.

Mugs: A furthur question about bits, before you started using hackamore, how did you go about transitioning a horse from a snaffle to a solid curb bit? Also, how have Martin Blacks' videos been?

Jayke said...

amarygma - what a heart wrenching story! I sincerely hope Piggums finds her way back to you, and when she does be sure to let us all know about it. There are so many horses like her, and not enough people like you.

mugs - I'd also like to have a detailed answer to anonymous's question about transitioning from a snaffle to a curb, since I'd like to finish my gelding *some day* as a bridle horse, or something faintly resembling a bridle horse.

autumnblaze said...

rockymouse - Does your pony need a stronger bit or does your son need a crop? Just a thought...

amarygma - Oh, I do hope you get Piggums. Good luck!

i know nothing said...

We were sitting at the west end so we could get a good view of the fence work. Just watching those horses at a fast run and then screeching to a slow down and turning the steer into the fence is nerve-racking. One of our friends totally drools over Todd B's riding. She SAYS it's his riding anyway.

Out of the top 25 horses, 9 were by Shining Spark, 5 were by Very Smart Remedy and 2 by Dual Rey. One of the Dual Rey horses won and Todd B. was leading and riding a Very Smart Remedy when they slipped and fell. So now we know what horses to buy/breed to when we have the cash to compete in the SBF. haha!

~ C said...

Rockymouse - it sounds more like a lack of "go forward" issue than a bitting issue. I would second the crop suggestion.

Another question - my young guy has the follow the nose thing down pretty pat, he's very soft and responsive, but his neck is straight as a board and very stiff still. He turns his nose, but the bend is coming from the base of his neck and his poll, not his actual neck itself. He will do a one-rein stop (I know mugs doesn't really use this), so he CAN and WILL bend his neck if I really crank him around, but how do I get just a nice soft curve to follow the line of our circle?

HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for the story, amarygma.
I hope she finds her way to you one day. It sounds as if she means much to you, and you to her.

Rockymouse, I second ~C and autumnblaze; why don't you try out a stick?

~C, just a thought from the dressage corner.
If a horse seems stiff in the neck, the cause might lie in lack of engagement of the inside hind leg. How does your horse work on a circle?

mugwump said...

kel-the great thing about cowhorse is it's not about pretty. How much money did those "monkeys on a football" win?
rockymouse-I'm with the crop club on this one.
anon.-I go from a snaffle to a hackamore to a curb.
Now that I am comfortable using a hackamore I a two rein to get my horse in a curb.The colt wears the bit and I just use a 1/4 inch hackamore, then I use both with the hackamore the primary control. Then I switch to the bit being the primary control. Then I go to my curb.
Keep in mind this is to carry a spade or a half breed.
The hackamore teaches the colt to neck-rein and a curb isn't painful, so I just put it on them and go.
I pay attention to my colt and work things out as we go.
I know nothing- the favorite bloodlines will change every few years. I would go for a horse I got on with over a popular bloodline.
C - I'd be softening through the ribs and shoulders, the neck is usually tight from resistance.

kel said...

I used to ride with an cowboy who started all his horses in a bosal, then to a snaffle and then to the two rein. He was in his 70's when I was riding with him and he said that was the way the old cowboys did it. I find it interesting that now adays that you go from the snaffle to the bosal and that is the accepted way the old cowboys did it. He could make one hell of bridle horse and won alot with them.

What is it that you like about the snaffle bit first?

rockymouse said...

Thanks, all, for the advice on the naughty horse issue.
Today it seems clearly that it's persistence and go forward that are needed and not a bit change.
That's why this (and other) blogs are great - gives me all sorts of perspectives/experiences/advice and support.

Michelle said...

This story broke my heart. I can just picture Pig calling as you rode by. I was so hoping for a happy ending, but I guess that's just in the movies.

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