Friday, March 5, 2010

Scared or Mad/CupCake

I slid back the heavy barn door and the horses bobbed their heads up and down over the tops of their stalls.

They welcomed the bright sunlight pouring across the dirt floor and up the walls as much as the thought of their breakfast.

I loaded up my arms with hay and headed down the aisle throwing flakes of heavy alfalfa into their tubs as I went.The dogs crisscrossed from the feed room to the hay stack, hoping to scare up a mouse or a ground squirrel.

“Yip!” Charlie the mighty rat terrier cried. “Yip!”

He buried his head between two bales and began to dig.

“Get out of there,” I hollered at him, “your tearing up the hay!”

He backed out and wrinkled his lips in an embarrassed grin. He knew he wasn’t supposed to be digging in the hay stack. I grinned back at him, knowing he would be right back at it as soon as I left the barn.

I came down to Cupcakes stall. He looked just like he had when I left him the night before. He stood pressed against the back wall with his head lost in the shadows.

I lofted his hay over the door the same moment he came striking at me like a snake. The hay hit him square in the head and exploded into the air. His teeth clicked just a hair from the sleeve of my jacket. Just as quick he pulled back into the shadows.

I jumped out of range, shaken and stared at him glaring at me. Cupcake ground his teeth.

I went over to my yellow mare’s stall and slipped inside. I gave her a quick scratch on the inside of her hind leg and sat on the floor. She turned and snuzzled my hair, lipping at the alfalfa leaves that covered my head and the front of my coat. I relaxed into the warm stall,the friendly horse and the rhythmic sounds of her chewing hay. My heart slowed and my hands steadied.

I called my boss.“Is she going to geld the colt?” I asked.

“Where are you at?”Rainie replied.

“Hiding out in Madonna’s stall,” I said and told her how my morning had started.

“We can kick him back to her,” Rainie said, “she said she’d run him through the sale if we couldn’t get a handle on him.”

“Well now that just pisses me off,” I said, “there is no way this is his fault. Do we have any history on him?”

“She ducks most of my questions,” she answered, “but she put him in the barn when she weaned him. I’m not 100% sure, but I think he’s lived there since. Nobody has handled him since he was a yearling.”

I felt my energy for the day ebb out into the straw on the floor.

“But she’ll geld him?” I asked again.

“Yes, she will, but I don’t know why you’re worried about it,” Rainie said, “he won’t figure out he’s gelded until well after he goes home.”

“I’m doing it for him,” I replied, “ he doesn’t have a prayer of making it as a stud.”

“Don’t work him until I get home,” she warned, “I don’t want to be cleaning up Janet parts.”

“Fine with me.”

I dug my dressage whip out of my tack box and threw Cupcake another flake of hay. This time most of it managed to get it into his tub. I saw he had put away almost 20 gallons of water since the day before. It made me wonder how long it had been since he had been watered before I picked him up.Whip in hand, I leaned against the door and watched him. He stood bobbing his head, his ears pinned and his nostrils flared back.

“Go ahead, look as mean as you want,” I told him, “I’m ready for you.”

Five minutes later he walked over to his hay and took a tentative bite. I leaned the whip against the door and stepped to the next stall.

“Hello there you,” I sweet-talked Cupcake's neighbor for a minute. The willing little colt flicked a friendly ear at me as he ate.

It was a good thing my other rides were going pretty well, the little red colt interrupted my thoughts all day. Except for Cupcake I had an easy string. My youngsters were all broke enough to not throw out surprises anymore and my show horses were about where they needed to be.

My lesson hauled in and we passed a pleasant few hours.

"Hey,do you mind hanging around for a little?" I asked my student.

"Sure, what have you got?"

Lyn was a good enough hand not to start screaming if things went south and she could dial 911 with the best of them, so I took advantage.

Once I got Lyn safely situated on a hay bale I gathered up a sturdy rope halter with a tie on lead and my dressage whip.

I walked to the stall like everything was cool and put my hand on the door lack.

Cupcake came flying at my hand and I let rip with the dressage whip. I caught him hard enough to stop the attack and he whirled back into his corner.

I opened the stall door and he flew at me again. I let him have it across the head again. He whirled away a threw a quick kick. The brunt of it hit the door and I caught him another lick with the whip on his leg.

"Are you all right in there?" Lyn called.

"We're doing just fine," I said in as normal a voice as possible.

We eyed each other across the stall.

I stood in the doorway and kept the whip in plain sight.

As we both began to relax I carefully set the whip down in the corner, coiled up my halter and rope and held it secure in my hand. If I had to make a run for it I sure didn't want to trip over my rope.

I took a few steps forward and stopped when he raised his head. I tried to keep my breathing deep and relaxed. I stayed ready to bolt, but I sure didn't want Cupcake to know it. We squared off a few minutes and then he relaxed again.

I leaned towards his hip and kept a little pressure on until he moved a step. Then I relaxed. I leaned to his head and when he looked away I leaned a little harder. He flicked an ear and I relaxed.

Inch by inch I worked my way to him. Every time he pinned his ears I stopped, but I didn't back off.

I finally was standing beside him. His ears were back, but not flattened He vibrated with an anger that seemed more fearful and desperate than dangerous.

I gave him one firm and gentle stroke down his neck and backed up a step before he jumped. I didn't look at him.

When his head dropped a little I stepped up and stroked him again.

I stepped forward, pet, then stepped back maybe five or six times before he quit looking like he wasn't going to run me over to get past me.

Finally I stepped up and haltered him. I kept it businesslike and to the point. His head shot up and he froze, but he didn't fight me. I resisted the urge to look him in the eye.

I tied my knot, took a deep breath and turned and walked out of the stall.

I latched the door and finally looked at him. He stood in his corner with a thoughtful expression. He licked once or twice, pinned his ears and glared at me, then went back to his thoughts.

"Phew," I blew out all my air and let my shaky legs plunk me down on the ground.

"How did it go?" Lyn asked.

Better than I thought," I said.

"Are we done?"

"You might as well head out, Rainie should be here any time," I told her.

"What do you still have to do?"

"I've still got to take the damn halter off him!"


Reddunappy said...

Thats so sad, hopefully he will come around, there is no excuse for a baby to be so afraid of people. Your writing reminded me of the "Horse Whisperer" story.
Good luck.

Deered said...

Wow, what a messed up wee horse.
Going back to your last post - your comment to me was "just get on and ride" thats basically what we did. If there was something that too us was odd for the horse to spook at (ie saddle blanket catching the wind and flapping when you put it on) we'd wave it around a couple of time the next few times we got on. They got used to things happening because we rode, and we worked them on the flat in a "quiet" part of the paddock until we had the aids established, then you delt with things as they happened.
We were known for having smart, horses that just got on and did their job, and were very light to ride, and for bring able to handle the "stupid, flighty ones" and get them calmed down... mainly by teaching them to relax on a long rein and realise that the long rein (remeber english rider here - closer contact is "normal") means time to relax.

Breathe said...

Amazing. Glad you were gifted with more than the usual amount of patience.

Or stubborn determination.

I suspect a horse like this required a significant bit of both.

nagonmom said...

More!! And I do not think this is like the "Horse Whisperer". Yes, the descriptive writing is precise, and evokes exactly what is happening. But Nicholas Evans was a professional writer writing about something he had researched. Mugs is writing about what she knows as a professional, writing about it in a professional way. I can learn horsemanship from Mugs. Not Evans.

lopinon4 said...

Amazing stuff. I feel a sense of relief that he is already giving you a little respect. I was worried there for a minute!!

Great writing, as always, Mugs.

Hey, what's going on with Loki lately?

mugwump said...

thanks for seeing the difference nagon

Both of these stories are difficult for me. I made some wicked mistakes in one of them (maybe both). If nothing else you'll see the hard side of training, at least for me and the horses.

Loki is coming to my barn this week end for a few months of riding.After that I haven't a clue. I am very happy at the thought of having her to ride for a while though.

mugwump said...

Deered - the conversation is still going on down below at the previous post.....

gtyyup said...

In your comments here Mugs you mentioned some mistakes...this horse is a life or death or be eaten. Split second thinking on your part to stay alive. We all just learn from our mistakes thankfully. But I can understand how this can be difficult to write. I appreciate your boldness to write the story for us to read and learn from.

Jenn said...

How the hell can anyone justify locking a horse up like that and not interacting with it? Jebus, that poor horse.

CR said...

You can so tell a real horse person has written this becuase of the details. That part about picking up the rope so you wouldn't step on it comes from someone who almost did and learned from it! I love it!! I can feel you there when you write. I've been there (though not as much experience as a trainer)in those moments, almost like you are dissociated but get the job done! And afterwards, all wobbly legged. I wish your stories were longer :)

Shanster said...

Thanks for the great post Mugs... loved this one. I could definately feel that big whoooosh of air and the wobbly legs when you were out of the stall.

nagonmom said...

Seriously Mugs, I could read your stories all day and long for more!! And they would form a narrative of how to actually approach horses, and horse care. Unlike the "put a hot potato" in their mouth technique described in Walter Farley's books to discourage biting. I think of that now and laugh, but I studied those books as a horse starved horsaii of about 7 years old. Sometimes books are all kids have to feed the hunger. Yours would be a more honest depiction.

Katharine Swan said...

I find myself very interested in this story because of its similarities to my horse's story. Although Panama wasn't locked up in a barn, we are pretty sure he hadn't been handled at all when we rescued him as a baby. We stepped in after he and his mom were in a trailer accident that claimed his mom's life. He was a handful for 8 months to a year after we rescued him, and your story of Cupcake makes me wonder if it was partly anger. Luckily it was nothing that love and training couldn't fix, and now (at 4 1/2) he has the personality of a sweet, goofy, but devoted puppy dog.

HorseOfCourse said...

More. Please.
Your stories are just getting better and better.

foxtrotter said...

Man I was holding my breath when you went in that stall. Like someone said, you can tell you write from experience. The part about the rope got to me too. I've tripped myself enough times to know.

AareneX said...

new award for you on my blog.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Gosh, you had me really worried. It's a good thing you are very careful, patient, and prepared.

rockymouse said...

Mistakes or no mistakes, thanks, Mugs, thanks for continuing to show us how things are done. I don't have a trainer, I don't have much of a horsey network and I'm learning as much as I can alone. I'm probably not your only reader in this position - and it's satisfying to realize I'm making baby steps of progress.
A quick question: my little mare tries for me and I appreciate that. When we first start riding in the pasture, she jogs and tranisitions beautifully from walk to trot to stop and back. That's all great. When I ask her to lope, she jumps right into it. Here's the issue: she doesn't come down off of the lope easily, as in, she won't come back to the trot without what I feel is heavy-handedness on my part. Then, after that first lope, her trot is overly fast and strung out and she gets eager/antsy/chargy anticipating the next time we lope. If we do lope again in that session, it's too speedy, nearly a gallop.
I think I've read all your posts. Have you addressed this? Or can you point me to a solution?

Heila said...

Rockymouse, here is what very amateur me would do! (I've had the same problem.) When you go from the canter back to the trot and she doesn't want to trot quietly in the rhythm you want, make her work. Turn small circles, leg yield left and write, make her neckbend, whatever. When you go back to just trotting in a straight line, if she insists on going too fast, do it again. Keep it up until she is trotting the way you want to before you let her canter again. She is enjoying the canter, and that's ok, but it must be on your terms.

You could also go back to a walk and do trot-walk-trot transitions until she settles down. This will work on balance, which could be the problem with the down transition. I ride English so I'm not sure if my terminology makes sense, but do lots of half-halts to slow her down before you give the aid for the down transition.

Heila said...

It should be "left and right" of course.

Katharine Swan said...

I have the same problem with my horse as rockymouse, and I agree with the suggestions Heila made. The mare is getting excited and is anticipating the canter, so get her doing something else -- both so she gets her mind off of it, and so it's not as easy for her to anticipate when you are going to canter. When you canter more often, she will probably stop getting so excited, but she also needs to learn to settle down and let you call the shots.

My point of view is also an amateur's though, so I'm interested to hear what Mugs has to say.

rockymouse said...

Heila and Swan, thanks for your input. Great minds think alike! What you all described - circles, bends, bringing her down to walk-trot transitions til she's calm - this is what I've been doing. I've also tried loping and loping and loping til she would rather go slower, though none of this really seems to work super great. She just seems to stay pretty chargy. I'll keep trying!
Heila's comment that there may be a balance issue, too, rings true. It finally struck me a few weeks ago that the mare was having *fun* loping and that's why she wanted to go back to it. I don't know why this hadn't struck me before, but I was oddly touched by it.

Heila said...

Loping and loping and loping just gets you a fitter horse, hehe. What are you feeding your mare?

rockymouse said...

Heila, she gets coastal hay. She gets a smidge - like half a pound - of Safechoice a day, but it's virtually an all-hay diet.

mugwump said...

Rockymouse- I think your getting good advice. There's a funny glitch here when it comes to how I train. We lope. A lot.
I use a lot of trot work in my youngsters to create balance.
But, I walk in the arena, start trotting, get that done and get to the lope.
So I don't do a bunch of transition work.
Now that I've retired and can think a little more I have been transitioning more. It's helping them get underneath themselves.
I do lope until I feel them want to come down. Yes, I'm one of those. But remember, my horses have been taught to hunt a stop from the beginning, so it works for me.
I think we need some input from the western pleasure folks and the dressage people. They are transitioning fools.
If they don't show up here we'll bring it up tomorrow....

Red Horse said...

Rockymouse- I have a mare with a similar problem. It's not a training issue, she definitely knows how to come back down; but she'd rather not. One exercise I've been doing lately is asking for the lope to jog, and if she is rushing I halt and back up, then walk on. Wash, rinse, repeat. This reinforces that the only time we are going to go is when I say and how I say. Also, along the lines of the earlier advice of getting her to focus with maneuvers, make sure they are correct and relaxed before you move on. So, if you ask for a circle make it small enough that she will HAVE to balance, then hold it until you feel her relax and bring her hind end underneath, then move on. I see a lot of people try to use this as a tool but they only circle, they don't wait for the change in the body. Try to stay as balanced and relaxed as you can, at first you may have to stay on that one circle for a while. ;)

stilllearning said...

Ok, I'll say it...transitions will help with the balance issue and will build the muscles that let her step under and stop, along with helping with that "yippee, let's go!" reaction.

I'd ask her to canter on a large-ish circle and transition to a trot halfway around that circle, even if it was ugly. Then back up to canter, back down to trot--working up to 4 or 5 trot-canter transitions on a 20-meter circle. Keep the goal of having both transitions come from your seat (it won't happen at first). Even green horses seem to realize that you're going to let them canter again, even while you're asking them to trot, which helps channel their anticipation into listening to your aids.

That said, I also allow them to just canter sometimes. I'll ride the edge of the field, settle into it, and we canter until they want to stop cantering, then go just a tad longer. (Especially if I was the one anticipating problems at the canter.) Or you can ask for variances of speed within the canter while going large (sneaking in more transitions).

Doing transitions gives fairly quick results. You'll see a difference within a few rides, I'll bet.

Slippin said...

I agree with everyone that is saying about walking in circles. My cutter gets excited at the walk, trot, and lope. When I get on him he immediatly goes into a jig, so I walk him forward and when he starts to jig, I SLOWLY ask him to walk in a tight circle(almost like a pivit on the hind end) until he RELAXES. when he puts his head down and walks slowly, I let him out of the circle. when he starts jigging again, I walk the circle again. I do that at the trot as well until he will trot around with his head lower and mind relaxed. I don't lope him much because all he wants to do is run like a race horse and like someone said, "loping and loping gets you a fitter horse."LOL
I do lope him, but thats after a long episode of trotting and getting him relaxed in the circles. When we do lope though, he is nice and relaxed because of all the work I have done before!
Thats my two cents! LOL

badges blues N jazz said...

yippy! another cupcake installment.... its monday, where is the next one? lol

DeeDee ( said...

Badges, I couldn't have said it better! Mugs, are we too pushy? Have you created assumptions/anticipations/addictions? We wants more!!!!

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Argh! Now you've got me thinking. I loaded Starlette a few weeks ago to go to an indoor...and it took me 2 hours. Finally got her on, we had a pleasant ride, she loaded right back to go home. Two weeks later, I could not get her on, no matter what. There was ice everywhere, and she slipped a few times...nothing major. I finally got her to step on the ramp, but that was about it. I put her in her stall to calm down, and she chewed/bit the crap out of it.

I thought she was being stubborn and pissy/angry, but now I wonder if she didn't get really scared slipping, and I wasn't listening.



mugwump said...

DeeDee, well I'm rushing into my upward transitions a bit....

Fyyahchild said...

Rockymouse- About the heavy handed thing. Make sure your seat/body cues for the downward transistion from trot to walk are solid first. Use the same for canter to trot and if she doesn't respond to them then correct with your reins if you have to but get in and get out. Bump her and then expect her to respond...make it count so you're not just pulling on a horse who is setting their jaw against you and pulling. And lots of transistions...with my hunters I want the trot to be the safe place we can go to relax. Us english folks trot a lot. Sometimes I only ask for a couple strides of canter then down until I get a relaxed trot. Oh, and if a horse is stubborn I halt and back then start over.

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