Thursday, February 11, 2010

Scared or Mad

Badges asked me to discuss the difference between how I knew the difference between an angry horse and a frightened horse and how I handled each.

This is a loaded question in more than one way.

I learned the difference between a frightened horse and an angry horse by having to train both kinds and having to learn to tell the difference in order to stop myself from getting killed.

When I started training I had a tendency to be tender hearted with every horse that came my way. I was a hard core advocate for the horse.

As time went on I found I had to truly understand how a horse worked in order to be their advocate. I had to quit putting my human emotions on the horse and try to put horse emotions on them instead.

I learned more about being kind to horses from the hardest horse trainers I have ever worked with.

I learned more about cruelty to horses from the softest, sweetest, weepiest woman I ever worked for.

In order to explain this I'm going to tell two stories. We can talk about this as the stories go along. One I've already started. It's the one about Tally.

I think you guys are all aware she was afraid.

The other horse was the angriest horse I ever worked with.

The most important thing to remember is both horses started out the same. They were big eyed foals who approached their first experience with a human the same way they all do. With their little ears pricked forward and their eyes wide with the excitement of it all.

It's funny. I don't even remember his name. He was a runty, 3-year-old,red, stud colt.

My boss pretty much took the job for me. She worked in the same office as Stacy, the woman who owned the colt.

"The colt is out of my favorite mare. She died last year, so he's all I have of her," Stacy's voice trembled a little.

"I haven't had the time to work with him and with my little boy I can't focus on him like I should," she continued.

The young woman had a lively 4-year-old boy and was an at-home mom on a busy alfalfa and cattle farm.

I could sympathise.

Stacy had owned and shown some pretty fancy paint reiners before she had gotten married and her horses were well bred and professionally trained.

We made arrangements to meet at her place, "I don't know if I can get him loaded," she told me.

I pulled up to her barn and sat parked in the yard until she came out of the house, her little boy was buzzing around her heels.

"He's in here," Stacy said.

We walked up to a large barn and she pulled back a big barn door.

The barn had been converted to an equipment shed. I felt the movement rather than heard him. He was back in a dark corner behind a couple of wired together heavily dented and bent panels. He was standing in about two feet of manure, it ranged from wet muck to powdery piles that sent rivulets of dust running as he paced from corner to corner.

"Hey son," I said.

The colt flew at me. His ears were flat and his teeth were bared as he snaked through the bars towards my stomach.

I stepped back and he resumed his pacing. His ears stayed flat.

"He's been like this for awhile," Stacy said, "I don't know what happened."

"Is there a reason he's a stud?" I asked.

"He's really well bred and he's all I have of my mare..."

"He's a breeding stock?" I pressed.

"Well, yeah," she told me,"but like I said, he's really well bred."

I opened the door wider and we backed the stock trailer as close to the colt as we could.

My boss and I undid the panels and used one to press him against the barn wall. Once he was smashed against the wall tight enough to keep his head still we worked a halter and my 25 foot rope on him.

He squealed and struck and bit the panel until his mouth bled.

I had the owner take the lead rope and run it through the slats inside the trailer at about the halfway point. She came out, put her son in the truck and then settled onto the end of the rope.

We eased the panel off and ran as the colt jumped free and came charging after us. He came like a freight train until he hit the end of the rope. Stacy squeaked as he sucked back and pulled her into the wall of the trailer. She was tougher than she looked though, she hung on.

My boss went around to help Stacy hold the lead rope and I got my longe whip out to work his legs.

The first time he felt the whip against his fetlocks he whirled and charged straight at me. He squealed when he hit the end of the rope. He surprised the boss and the colt's owner so much they almost lost him.

"Jeez, hold onto him!" I yelled.

"Imagine what he'd have done if you actually whipped him," my boss said.

We got reorganized and started again.

He reared and roared and kicked in the deepest rage I had ever seen in a horse.
This time they hung on and I was able to keep flicking his fetlocks until he jumped into the trailer.
I slid the gate shut and he immediately began kicking the trailer apart.

"Whew," I said and leaned against the door. He came running to the back of the trailer and tried to ram his nose between the slats.

I jumped and turned to look back at him.

He stood spraddle legged with his sides heaving. His flared nostrils were pulled back in a snarl and his eyes glittered hard like marbles.

"How long has he been in the barn?" I asked.

"Well, a while. I haven't been able to handle him since he was a yearling."

I sighed. My boss gave me a troubled, apologetic look.

I peered in at the colt. His mane was half rubbed out, the rest was a mass of mats. Dry, sparse winter hair stood up over his ribs.

He snorted and tossed his head up and down.

"Well hello there Cupcake," I said, "let's go home."


Leslie MacDonald said...

I hope you continue this story... I am intrigued and can't wait to find out how you handled him! I worked with an angry horse once (though not nearly as angry as this), it was quite an education. Much different than the fear which many horses exhibit on some level.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I'm sitting on the edge of my seat. This is going to be an interesting story. I can tell!


glenatron said...

This is going to be really interesting, I really look forward to hearing how this works out.

I do wonder ( and I was asking about angry horses on the start ) whether we tend to overcomplicate this distinction to fit us and maybe horses just kind of get emotional without it necessarily thinking to separate fear, anger and so on. But then my horse does seem fairly annoyed a lot of the time, especially if I'm not being firm enough with him, so I could be trying to oversimplify. Almost certainly I'm overthinking...

Kate said...

Now here's one for you on this subject - is there a point at which a truly angry horse should be put to sleep? Particularly one who has been "fixed" by careful, patient handling and retraining, but then all of a sudden the wheels just fall off - and not due to anything much having happened - just snap, like that, one day the horse was fine (and had been so consistently for 8 months)- easy to handle and ride, engaged with people and other horses, and one day later, back to the enraged, checked out horse she started out as a year ago. All it took was someone going in her stall who apparently startled her - the horse kicked her and reverted to the rage state - nothing bad (from the human point of view) happened to the horse. It seems that all the work and training didn't penetrate to the inside of the horse, but just was on the surface - and there was some signs of this - the horse expressed some anxiety under saddle by constant bit-chomping. We know this horse's entire history, and there is no evidence of abuse or mistreatment. Can some horses just be miswired? The horse was also heavily imprinted (not by us) and we think it may be the case that it was "over-imprinted" to the point its sensory system was overloaded. That's what the horse seems like - unable to bear touch or close human presence, like it's overwhelmed - but it's rage, not fear - in fact the horse has no normal fear responses even with other horses and is "pasture dead" - other horses can kick and bite it and it doesn't move much or respond. If you don't want to take up your comments with replies, you could, if you wish, reply to me privately at ayearwithhorses[at]me[dot]com. Or not, your choice.

Jayke said...

THIS is why I love this blog. I love how you can tell such an engaging story, yet also fill it with training philosophy and wisdom.

Can't wait until the next instalment.

Golden the Pony Girl said...

That is one angry colt. I didn't believe horses could be angry until I met my first truly angry horse. I think that most of that anger stems from fear though, something in his past showed him that fight works just as well as flight. Also I have read that frustration and anger are emotions born from confinement. Horses are flight animals but will become enraged if cornered or contained. I have seen this happen in a few extended stall rest cases. We have all seen that anger in the show horse I think. Interesting subject for sure.

glenatron said...

Kate, I could imagine that the "imprinting" thing might result in a horse that assumed it was a human or that humans were horses and that either way the interactions between them could be horse interactions rather than being different because they were humans. That might be a very difficult thing to unlearn if they got it in at an early age.

Several of my teachers have said that the most dangerous horses they worked with were ones who were overhandled as foals.

Holly said...

Did the stud get 'socialized' with a band of broodmares? (best solution I've ever seen, if he wasn't good he went back with the girls)

Well, I have to point out that the fear response and the rage response both stem from the same place: this is a prey animal. That fight or flight response? Some horses react with the fight. It is basically flight in the other direction.

Kate, would you put down a spooky horse? Or would you put an advanced rider on it? Is it more okay to be scared? Honestly, there are some people that, when you surprise them you get hit.
I do have a suggestion for the horse tho: find a pasture and some 'I love humans' horse friends. Put horses into pasture. Visit daily. I've heard it called 'turning away a horse.' Takes one or two months... watch out for founder.

The theory is that the horse gets to see 'normal' human/horse interaction. And she gets to be a horse.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Thankfully I've never come across a horse quite like that!

Poor, poor thing. Poor you having to deal with him!

DarcC said...

I've never experienced anything like that, even in the rankest stud. I hear about them though, through my track friends. I do have lots of experience with cranky show horses - in fact my now 22yr old Morgan gelding used to be one. To this day he pins his ears as you approach. But he's really a marshmallow. They just learn to look tough at some point.

I can understand how they would get like that though, as my paint mare and her daughter, while very well-behaved and willing, are definitely more fight than flight. They're just not afraid, and if neglected or mishandled I can certainly see how it might turn into this over time.

Mugs, your comment about a foals' first experience with humans really struck a chord with me, my filly is coming two and I remember like yesterday the first time we saw each other. While a tender moment, it is a most important one!

Tammy said...

The horse wasn't allowed to be a horse. Just a caged animal. Poor thing. Quite anxious (and scared!) to see how this one turns out.

Kate said...

Holly - thanks for your comments and suggestions - the mare has been and is in this sort of group living situation and it seems to make no difference. She really isn't much interested in or interactive with other horses - she doesn't seek out their company and hardly reacts when they are aggressive to her. Spooking is normal horse behavior, and some riders can deal with it and some can't. A seriously dangerous horse, for me, is a different matter, and I don't think this is in the range of normal horse behavior - I've handled a lot of horses, including some who could be pretty aggressive, but this one is the worst I've experienced. I'd hate to sell her to someone - she's a good looking horse with excellent breeding (oddly her sire was known for good temperament) - and have her seriously injure or kill someone.

Lulu said...

@Kate.... I truly believe a horse can be miswired.

Back in my day, I broke colts for people. A sweet mother/daughter combo brought me their very colorful 2 y/o paint filly to start. The girl was 12 at the time, and wanted this filly to be her 4-H show prospect. They ladies raised this foal from birth with tons of kisses and hugs and all of that crap.

This filly was NOT abused. Ever. But she also never liked humans. She tolerated the attention, but would never seek it out. She was perfectly happy minding her own damn business out in the pen or pasture.

I started working on the basics....saddling, etc....and could tell the filly was plenty smart. She took everything in stride, including me getting on for the first time. We accomplished walk, trot, lope, back, and things were really taking shape. Though I could tell she didn't care for me, she just "tolerated" the process.

Then she blew. I thought the first time was a fluke or a spook. I figured something scared her, and we needed to take a few steps back. She blew again, at the trot....and this time she came after me with hooves and teeth.

Again I assumed she was scared. I backed off, and went back several steps. She blew again, and literally tried to kill me.

I called the owner and told her that if she valued her daughter's life, she would sell this mare by the pound. Of course she coulnd't believe that their home-raised filly could be so dangerous, so they took her home. Two months later I had her back, in a stock trailer, on the way to the first loose horse sale I could get her to. I never asked what they did in that two months....and I don't want to know. That mare was beyond dangerous.

I guess I just didn't see a point in taking chances with a mare like that when there are plenty of pocket ponies out there.

The girl in this story is now nearly 20, and is successfully showing APHA on a big, sweet gelding.

CR said...

Wow, never dealt with a horse so angry.

I think anger comes from either past pain or fear.

Someitmes a horse can have a chip on its shoulder that's a lot more subtle.

I had a very green filly that would go through the motions of what was asked of her, but she always felt stiff and her ears were perpetually back, not pinned, but slightly further back than the "I'm listening to you position." She flet pretty shut down at her young age. She was also balky which is really a red flag there is a bigger issue somewhere. "Sticky front end" some people call it.

Turned her out for almost a year with other horses and restarted her. Then I saw the fear, not an abnormal amount, but sort of like she woke up. I formed a relationship with her and more importantly watched and responded to her body language. Gradually the grumpy facade went away and she became more compliant. Now she's a forward perky mare, ears forward and willing.

In some ways these hard to read horses are more difficult, as they hide and put up with things until one day they explode. Now she wears her heart on her sleeve so I feel so much safer with her, as I know if she's afraid, or just being cranky.

One time I heard draft horses are like this. They internalize things until they are so bothered they explode and are very dangerous. I don't know how true it is as I have never worked with drafts.

Shanster said...

WOW! I can't wait to see how this goes.. thanks for writing it Mugs! I feel exactly the way Jayke does!

HorseOfCourse said...

Aaaaarghh. You just can't leave off like that!
Please don't let us wait too long, Mugs. Then I won't have any nails left.

If I understand you right, that horse was left in a dark corner for two years?
No wonder he was grumpy.

Heila said...

My chair broke when I was halfway through this story. I got up, rubbed a couple of sore spots that will be bruises tomorrow, and balanced on what is left of the chair to finish reading. As we say here in South Africa: Ag no man!. Roughly translated as Oh no. How can the story stop there? What is if she is too busy to write the next chapter and we have to wait another week???

gillian said...

I am sooo glad you're taking this topic on. I look forward to hearing more.

badges blues N jazz said...

Looking forward to the rest of the story. The reason I asked about "mad" horses is because my trainer once said that about Jazz. That she is a very "angry" horse. Those were her exact words. She is not mean and would never charge anyone, she just is "angry" at having to work under saddle..

badges blues N jazz said...

Oh, i just wanted to add as far as Jazz's history: Born and left "wild" till weaning. Halter broke, sold. Lady who bought her did nothing with her for 6 months. I got her.

Was a happy, if a bit spooky/herbound horse until I sold her for 4 months. She was out of my care for 4 months and she came back ANGRY. Tail wringing/ear pinning pissed off horse. Tail wringing etc has never stopped. Teeth/saddle fit etc checked.

little K said...

I've also seen overhandled foals grow up to be angry and unpredictable. I've always found they are easy to start. They happily accept brushing and saddeling and the beginings of lunge/round pen work. But as soon as you begin to push them and ask them to work they blow. I think it really unsettles people because the horse always seemed so friendly and all of a sudden turns into a monster. I think overhandled foals think people are their friends and have no real fear of the consequences of misbehaving, unlike more "wild" ones that really have no idea how scary humans can become when crossed so they err on the side of caution and do as they are told.

Btw, great story mugs. Can't wait to find out how you worked with "cupcake" and tally!!!!

Funder said...

Yeah, the only truly psychotic horse I ever met had spent his whole life in a dark stall, turned out into a round pen maybe once a week. He was a stud (of course!) completely unpredictable, and extremely dangerous.

My best buddy back home was so hard on his horses, but he had amazing timing and they loved him. He had abominable hands, but he was amazing at everything else. I learned a lot riding with him.

Jasmine said...

Can't wait to hear the end of this!!!!

I met one of these horses briefly. The family had a small breeding and racing operation. They kept a couple of broodies, couple of youngstock, an old retired riding gelding, couple of racers on "break" from the track and The Beast.

He was homebred by them and had been the kind of crazy-angry you describe since he was a yearling. The woman had kept him "to keep an eye on him". She would have felt responsible if she'd sold and he injured someone. Only one of their homebreds over about 15-20 years of a few a year that turned out this way.

They tried sending him off to a big pasture with other horses where he could run but he was sent home--quickly. When I saw him he was in the situation you describe this red colt as being and about the same age. She said she had some "new-agey natural horsemanship" types that were going to take him. They were apparently quite experienced (and well-warned!) and would only have the 1 horse to concentrate on.

Never did hear what happened to him.

Justaplainsam said...

Hey Mugs! This is great, comming just when I need it.

HorsesAndTurbos said... too! I plan on blogging about Starlette and her behavior just lately. Not like what you are writing about, but seemingly angry. Hmmm...need to think more. Re-reading Mind of A Horse. And thinking some more.

Oh, my word verification is Wines. Maybe I need a glass?

Bif said...

Oh, Mugs, you've sure had to deal with a lot of interesting humans. This story annoys me no end, as it sounds like she probably had him ISOLATED (worst sin for a youngster) with no exercise for quite some time... gee, wonder why he's psycho? If he's a horse that under the best of management would be difficult, he probably went over the edge in that kind of situation, never to return to full mental soundness. Poor horse, poor Mugs, poor Stacey.

I've dealt with a number of stallions at a few different breeding farms, and some wacky youngsters (and older mares, too) at the TB sales, but by far the scariest situation I had ever been in with a horse chock full of rage was a horse named "Petunia" (name changed to conceal identity).

She was shipped in to be bred (homebred TB) to one of the TB stallions and was spoiled lovingly by her owner. She mentioned the mare was aggressive at feeding time with people other than her, but not much else.

Poor dear horse was spoiled. Poor dear horse was also afraid of the stallion when she went to tease, and had silent seasons. Poor thing had to get palpated/ultrasounded several times to determine ovulation. Poor thing was left with an Arab companion in turnout field because she was too crazy and aggressive to go out in the broodmare band while we waited the two weeks to see if she'd caught.

Girls fed her and Arab every day, had lots of trouble but didn't tell anyone. Mare also gave them problems when they went to get the Arab out, but didn't tell anyone. A day comes when they try to take the Arab out and "Petunia" launches her assault, scaring them silly (and the one is a fairly ballsy girl). NOW they tell me they've had problems, and will I catch her so they can pull the other one out.

Fortunately, I walked out with her halter and a lead with a chain, or I have NO DOUBT I wouldn't be alive today. Petunia charged, stopping mere feet from me (and believe me, I am making myself big to keep her out of my space) rears, strikes and snakes all at the same time. I have no where to back up (hot tape fence right behind me), besides I really hate to back down to aggression. I swing the lead at her head. She rears and comes down closer, and snakes again. I seriously (sadly) probably belted that mare in the face with a leather shank and chain five or six times, each time she did that series of rear, strike and low snake at me, before she finally backed away. I hollered and drove her farther off. I then circled around her new position quietly, went up to her shoulder, put the shank around her neck and haltered her, and told her what a good girl she was.

I lead her out of the field, had the ballsy girl come get her, instructed her to take her to the main barn and brush her with whatever brushes she liked best, and hand graze her for at least 15 minutes. I instructed them we were doing the same thing everyday with her until she shipped out.

I can't blame her for being upset, or feeling that everything involving humans at this strange place was detestable. I tried to have as much positive interactions for her to build up the "bank balance" so the bad things (vet, teasing) were a smaller deduction so she'd still have some good will left in the trust account.

The next few days I was the one that caught her. Everyone else was too afraid, and that's seriously the most afraid I'd ever been of any horse, before or since; if I hadn't had the chain she would have trampled and maimed or killed me. The leather lead alone would never have stopped her... Within a few days she calmed down that the girls could go out and catch her. She liked being caught since it meant only good things. And I could never send someone's mare home in a completely "reverted to feral" condition like she was.

She was an inately angry mare though, and spoiled to think things should only be her way; an aggressive bitchy thing, and considering the stud, I bet that foal came out with devil horns.

mugwump said...

Turbos - we all need a glass me thinks.
Kate- I'd rather talk about this here. Especially this subject. I think this kind of thing needs input from more than one source and I also think we have a trustworthy bunch here.
Advice will be thought out and considerate and there are some very horsaii minds around the Chronicles.
Anyway, I truly believe there can be psychotic horses. Whether we make them or they are born it doesn't really matter. Remember, I'm the one who firmly believes there are always reasons, but never excuses.
Horses cannot hurt people. If they want to live to be old they must get along.It's just the way it is.
There are lots of nice horses waiting for homes right now, there is no reason to own a dangerous one.
That being said, I have worked extremely hard to untie some very complicated and probably dangerous horses.
I have to give them a chance.
I have never made the decision to put down a horse without having another trainer who I respect and a veterinarian involved.I would never presume an attitude of, "If I can't do it nobody can" As a matter of fact I desperately hope somebody else can figure out a horse I can't.
But I have reccomended a horse be put down.
Now that I'm helping at the rescue I'm guessing it will come up more often.
We can hit the ground crazy, so can they.

Bif said...

And when I say worried for my life, I've been reared on top of (squeezed up against the horse and no where to go but into his chest so I at least wouldn't be struck in the head by the flailing hooves, thanks to a small track stall and an idiot coworker), reared into and knocked ten feet away, reared into and ended up FACEDOWN ON THE GROUND IN BETWEEN THE FRONT LEGS, right at my waist so I couldn't wriggle forward out of it. I was down there at least 45 seconds to a minute. It was comical, as the other groom in the stall with me froze up, not sure how to help. The horse was puzzled and still scared, and fortunately stood very, very still. I was at a loss. Fortunately, a very intelligent coworker was able to slip quietly into stall, lifted up one front foot and my ass scooted out of there). I was very fond of that colt, it wasn't his fault, he just got afraid and confused. If he had wanted to hurt me though, he very easily could have by stomping or kneeling, although if he'd moved a leg to stomp, I was already planning to roll quickly in that direction.

I've been kicked in the head by a horse who was cast, kicked all over in way to many other places for less good reasons on the equine's part; I have helmeted myself to assist a horse hung up on a wall by a hind leg so that both hinds were dangling up off the ground, and of course flailing, but we had to get in there to give her purchase to kick up off the wall.

I've been run away with, fallen on in a rotational fall at a dead gallop by a crazy runaway who'd figured out he if he couldn't buck me off (he had already put one girl in a halo) and couldn't run me off he would just fall on me... but none of those was as scary as the Petunia, who really just wanted to KILL me.

mugwump said...

glenatron-of course we complicate these things...this is why I'm drawing this out into stories and chapters.So we can hash it out, step by step.
I have no idea if the conclusions I have come to are right. Another reason to get these out.
This comes down to reading our horses and ourselves. A tough, tough,thing to hash out.

mugwump said...

Bif- You have been in tougher situations than I have ever been.My training career was mainly made up of slow, quiet, methodical work. Even on Sonita.
I have never been a particularly physical trainer.
The mare you had attack you sounds terrifying.

mugwump said...

Back to Kates horse- The thought this horse is unresponsive to other horses pounding on it is really a concern. This freaks me out a little.
I have a hard time believing too much imprinting did this.Can a horse be autistic? I really don't know. But doesn't the no response/violent response sound kind of like it?

badges blues N jazz said...

any thoughts on the Tail wringing ear pinning MAD horse that pain has been ruled out?

Bif said...

I have read some things that seem to say yes, they can be autistic. Of course, none springs to mind to site for you here. *eyeroll at myself*

I liked ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION by Temple Grandin(sp?) but knew people who couldn't read it as her writing followed very much her train of thought... I found much of it resonated with me, things I already knew but haven't expressed or thought out, and perhaps that's why I do so well with beasties, or perhaps I am a little Aspberger's (on the scale of autism)... anyway, it's a great read for anyone who's interested in seeing more how animals probably really view things and sensation wise "feel" about things.

Back to horses being organically mentally ill, I think sometimes it's man's selective breeding, like line breeding, that allows things to pop up that natural selection wouldn't have allowed to gain strength.

Maybe some of these non-adaptable horses wouldn't have made it in the wild (the one that lets the other horses just beat her would have been driven out of a herd and been vulnerable). And there are variations in mental health and what is required for mental health in all species, dogs, humans, horses, gorillas, you name it. Some can tolerate things outside their "norm" for the species, and some would need to live exactly as their instincts tell them to in order to be sane.

I'm not always sure we can change that, help ahorse that is maladapted to our way of life. I do think it is OK to humanely destroy them if there is no way to give the horse a comfortable life with its "infirmity"or failure to adapt to domestication, whether due to limitations within the animal, or a lack of funds to provide extremely special circumstances for it to thrive.

Mugs ~ I have just loved horses since I was a little kid, and chased my dreams (didn't catch any), so have been a few places and worked some weird and cool horse jobs... but I am not a trainer, although I heartily believe "every time you interact with your animal you are training it, for better or for worse".

I've been so lucky in my horsey pursuits. I've ridden a horse (many years after) who represented our team in the Seoul Olympics, ridden a horse who made it around Burghley and I believe was Horse of the Year once in England (best feeling from that mare as I've ever ridden.. she made me understand how people trust their horse to jump a 6' high 8' wide hedge, cause that mare could have done it, I was so honored and humbled to ride her... sigh...), held horses at sales that at times in their careers sold for over $4 million, worked as barn manager for one of the top names in my desired sport, and quit because I didn't trust his judgement...

At the boarding barn, I help anyone who wants to learn more, and really try to learn from everyone I meet (sometimes if only what not to do!); I keep my mouth shut if people don't ask advice, and unless they do something truly negligent or abusive, you let things ride because it is a boarding world. I help a lot of friends with their horses, have started a few from scratch and some retraining, but have never received a dime for any of that so I can't consider myself a trainer in the true sense.

I also know I wouldn't be a good trainer for pay, because people drive me nuts more often than not, and I like to do things a lot slower than paying clients would want... so I help friends and learn all the time from the horses and can bring them along at a pace I like.

I really respect all the years you've put in into making solid citizens for the equine world. It is NOT an easy task, and my hat's off to you and all of the trainers that break horses day in and day out.


mugwump said...

Badges- Sonita was a tail wringing, ear pinning bitch. I ignored it. It did not go away. She was not in pain.She was also really cool. Sometimes you have to take the crabby with the cool.
My friends will all tell you it's a toss up with me.Ahem.

Bif- You have a trainers line of thought.You don't have to take a paycheck to be a trainer.

Promise said...

An article on Autism in Animals. Interesting. I had never considered it a possibility.

Could it maybe stem from a hearing problem? Maybe slightly deaf or even with over-sensitive hearing?

Kate said...

Some more info about the mare - my daughter's had her for about a year - and over that time has brought her back from a horse that was alternately crazed and violently aggressive (you had to have a weapon in hand to even approach her) or completely checked out and unresponsive. Over about a 5 month period she was worked with every day until she was acting just like a normal horse - you could groom her, feed her, ride her and all was OK - other people could even feed her while she was loose in the pen, which had been her biggest problem. And she began to come out of her shell - nickering, and the beginnings of some responsiveness to other horses. Under saddle, she was always perfectly behaved - no bucking, bolting and rearing - in fact she was easy to ride. She's been to a number of horse shows and has performed very well. Along the way she was treated for severe ulcers (we thought that was the cause of her behavior but I increasingly think the ulcers were just a symptom of the underlying issues), and has had extensive chiropractic and dental work. All of this good work stuck for about 7 months. Then, when stressed just a little by my daughter having to leave for a month, and by an incident where our barn lady went into her stall and either startled her so she attacked, or she just attacked - I don't know, the wheels fell off. She's not all the way back to go - she can be haltered and led and minimally handled, and will allow her face and neck to be rubbed when she's haltered without showing any aggression.

Who knows what's the issue? I suspect a sensory processing problem, where physical pressure - either touch or too close contact - just overwhelms her and she blows. It may have been caused by excessive imprinting, or she may have come that way. Or she may have been an anxious horse to start with and imprinting make her initially easy to handle but then she couldn't deal with adversity - some horsepeople I trust think this can happen.

The big issue for us is whether she can come back - I think she could for my daughter - but my daughter does not want to keep her forever and the question is will the work ever stick or will the underlying problem reappear whenever she is not with my daughter or otherwise stressed. She has been evaluated by some very experienced horsepeople we trust a lot, and my daughter's effort with her is a last chance for the horse.

I can see glimpses of a good horse in there, but it's very hard to know what to do. I very much appreciate all the thoughts and insights.

Juli said...

Horse can come in crazy. Any animal can. But it's rare.

A friend had what I term a truely crazy mare. She would do whatever it took to hurt you. She'd bought the mare as a six month old baby who was "challenging" according to the breeder. She was extremely well bred and well handled as a foal. My friend raised the mare as well as anyone could, regular, firm handling, good feed/nutrition, and 24/7 turnout. She just got scarier and scarier.

They did get her going under saddle, but she was unpredictable. Sometimes she was a fine riding horse, winning in WP against some very nice horses. Sometimes she was a bronc, and if you fell off, you'd better run cause she was coming after you. You didn't handle her with a big stick. She was smart enough to know when you did and did not have it.

After she dumped and trampled my friend, she was sent to four different trainers, the last being a "bronc buster" type. He was almost killed by her. She was put down that week, and everyone who had ever been around her heaved a great sigh of relief.

That was a well bred, well handled mare who was just frickin' nuts.

Bif said...


The mare had bad ulcers at one time, you said. She was probably pretty stressed when the constant and trusted human wasn't around for that month, and she may have a recurrence. One thing about horses and ulcers is they can have them in the colon, not just the stomach.

I think I would have her back on whatever you did to treat the ulcers first time around, and for the hind gut, the only think I know of is Kombat Boots, which is a yeast product that helps feet (thus the name) and does a lot of good for hind gut health... if she does have ulcers there (which doesn't show on an endoscope like stomach ulcers), it may help...

Bif said...


Sorry, you may also want to look into quiessence, or e&se, or other things that can help restore electrolyte balance and nerve cell membranes, in case it is a sensory, "nerves fried" kind of thing for her where everything causes pain or just "rubs her the wrong way"... a hated feeling.

She may have real issues about static and "electric fields" which are obviously worse this time of year, depending on your climate. If being touched causes a minor static zap, or just that crackling coat, many horses get quite out of sorts. and she is obviously more easily triggered than most...

TCavanaugh said...

What a nail bitter! Tell me more!

Leah Fry said...

Haven't been here for awhile but the subject was too provocative. I can't wait to see what's next.

When I first got my horse, I thought he was mad. It took me a long time to figure out that it was fear instead.

Promise said...

Kate -
I have to agree with Bif here. I would explore the ulcer thing a LOT more before making a decision about this mare.

My mare recently developed an ulcer after being on stall rest for 6 weeks due to a collateral ligament strain and 2 wks straight of bute at the beginning of that lay up. It took nearly 2 months for an ulcer to develop. And when it did, she all of a sudden reverted to the behavior she had when I met her -- terrified of anything and everything human, like she was being abused all over again. And the change was basically overnight.

Once the ulcer was treated with gastroguard, it only took a few days for her to return to her normal personality, her eyes softened and she stopped being so jumpy and skittish. I also purchased a supplement from SmartPak to maintain the pH in her stomach to prevent more ulcers.

Holly said...

First: I never really liked the idea of a horse in a stall (and cleaning it daily...but holy crap I don't want to go into anything smaller than a 12x24 now.

Kate: does your stress monkey have any areas that she is picky or jumpy about being touched? you mentioned that the 'head through shoulders' were okay. No touch behind the withers?
And, was she sensitive about this before the OMG moment?

I've never had a horse with ulcers, but one of mine has a VERY sensitive nose. To the point that if you shake the lead to bounce that halter on her face it freaks her out. If you don't stop it she rears (I assume that her next step is striking out.)

Significance is two fold
1) If the horse doesn't want you there something it is likely physically uncomfortable
2) The feeding lady may have been back there and your stress monkey overreacted.

Also, don't ulcers cause pain during feeding time? I don't have my horse husbandry book w/ me.

PS i'm sorry if I came off as witchy in my last post, I just came off 'rehabing' a hackney gelding that the owners were going to put down because he was 'underweight, angry, kicking biting and bolting under saddle.'

Real problem? the owners had a massive bit and about 18" of rein between it and his mouth. Good news: 6 months with my 2 geldings and a snaffle bit no problems (he is now a pony clubber).
Bad flashback.

Kate said...

Bif and Holly - thanks for your comments, and Holly, I didn't think your comments were at all witchy. I believe the ulcer issue is under control for now - she's had a full course of treatment and is on daily ulcer meds, although if she continues to be stressed things may get worse. Up until the incident with our barn lady, she was completely normal, including at feeding time, and then she reverted almost instantaneously. She's also on several calming supplements - B-1, chromium/magnesium/selenium and also Mare Magic (raspberry leaves) - haven't seem much effect in her case (she's not particularly marish, oddly enough). Our barn lady, who is both kind and gentle and experienced with horses, clearly did something that perturbed her - it may have just been the physical proximity of a strange person.

I also agree that not wanting to be touched and behavior problems are almost always due to pain issues. My daughter's systematically worked through all of them, so at this point we're inclined to think it's a sensory processing issue rather than pain that can be fixed, since we've tried to address all those. It's hard to communicate in words how weird this horse is - I've been around many fearful and angry horses, including some that have been severely abused - and this has a different feel, and the eyes look different too when she's in a rage - the eyes go from normal to dead in an instant. Like mugs, I find the checked out behaviors, combined with the hypersensitivity and aggression, to be really strange. When the aggression reappeared, the checked out/lack of interaction stuff also came back simultaneously.

I think she may have gradually become habituated to being touched and handled by my daughter, but may not be able to accept touch or physical proximity from other people. It'll be interesting to see what she does when my daughter gets back.

cdncowgirl said...

'kay I need to clarify something... Mugs you picked up that colt as a 3 year old? And the owner hadn't handled him since he was a yearling... was he in the barn all that time?!

paint_horse_milo said...

Wow great thoughts from everyone here. Many of your posts, Mugs, have always triggered a lot of thought, sometimes thought I dont always want to approach...

I havent ever experienced this level of angression, from any of the horses mentioned on here. But I have seen aggression that gets bottled up than an explosive response.

Someone I know (will stay anonymous) rides her horse into the ground on a daily basis, both mentally and physically. The horse is allowed no expression. Very mechanical riding. The horse is always pissy and very angry towards others, but obviously knows if she acts this way to the owner, she will get severe consequences. Anyway, one day I guess all of this repressed emotion boiled out and the horse saw a moment of unattention from the owner and stuck out in quite a severe bite.

Horses need to be treated like horses. And when humans are interacting with horses, we need to act and think as horses do. We cannot expect our horses to act as humans because they are not. It saddens me to see ill horses due to human error in working with them.

But all in all, great thought provoking post Mugs, and everyone involved!

mugwump said...

cdn- Bingo

Denali said...

I can't take it anymore! :) What happened!

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