Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cupcake’s Comeuppance

I fitted the serreta under Cupcakes halter. I tightened it down until he tossed his head, waited a few beats and tightened it down again.

“Jeez, don’t you think that’s enough?” My boss asked me.

“Shelley warned me this thing can do some damage if it’s too loose,” I said as I eased in and squeaked out another hole, “ I don’t want the metal banging around on his face.”

Cupcake stood still as I fussed. He knew he wouldn’t get out of the stall unless he was quiet. I was happy with his progress, but time was ticking away. I had just over 30 days to get him under saddle.

I snapped an extra lead-rope to his halter and one to the top ring of the serreta.

“Let’s balance him between us with the halter, “ I told Rainy. “I’m not planning on getting into it with him in the barn.”

The boss’ husband had a habit of storing all of his farm equipment in the barn. He had a lot of it. I would weave my horses through tractors and spreaders and buckets and sometimes his semi to reach my arena.

Cupcake was still impossible to lead once I led him out of the stall. He would lunge at horses, dogs, other people and eventually me.

He had never had a friend in his short little life and I never could figure if it was the kind of horse he was or the way he’d been treated that had turned him into this mess.

He didn’t seem afraid of anything, but I kept thinking an angry horse could still think things through. Cupcake had no thought processes I recognized.

In the early mornings when the horses were eating and I was cleaning stalls he had gotten to where I could scratch under his Rastafarian mane. He would raise his head from the feed tub and close his eyes, happier with the scratching than the plentiful feed in front of him.

I would stop, he would sigh and I would continue to clean his stall. For the few minutes while I picked the stall around him I felt totally at ease. I couldn’t quit him yet.

Cupcake walked a few steps before he squealed and struck at the horse stalled next to him. Rainy yanked her end and I held strong on mine.

We maneuvered him into the arena without hitting the Serreta once. I snapped the end of my longe line to the top ring in the serreta and another line on the rope halter. I undid the lead ropes and took a deep breath. I planned to give him every opportunity to be civilized.

Rainy sat up on the fence with an expectant grin on her face.

“You want me to wait so you can go get some popcorn?” I asked her.

“Gee, coudja?”I snorted and worked my way to the middle of the arena.

Cupcake stood frozen as I backed away. He worked his lips and ears,confused by the room I was giving him.

He looked at me, tossed his head and quickly paused at the weight of the serreta. I was almost to the middle of the pen when he bolted. I held both longe lines in my left hand, the one attached to the halter slightly shorter than the one attached to the serreta. I held the rest of the line away from my body and clear of my spurs with the other.

I scrambled to get to a good angle and yanked the longe line on the halter, pulling his head slightly to the center.

Cupcake sped up with every tug and was getting harder to keep up with. He was going to get ahead of me and b able to get his shoulder into the line.

“Here goes!” I finally hollered and snapped the serreta hard.

Cupcake slammed to a stop, his head high in the air. I hit the line again and he reared. I hit it again before he came down.

He stood spraddle-legged, head to the ground. He snorted hard a few times.

We stood watching each other carefully. The red hide was dark with sweat and foam already speckled his neck.

Cupcake squealed and launched himself at me, ears pinned. I snapped the longe line like an out-of-control fly rod and he fell to his knees.

He was up and running before I could think and I snapped him again. He launched into the air and I hit him again.He froze and stared at me, his eyes white and rolling.

He was terrified. I felt sick.

“I can’t do this anymore today,” I said.

“Do you think you’ve got him?” Rainy’s voice was a little shaky.

“I don’t know, I’ll find out tomorrow. But I’m done for now.”

I turned so my shoulder faced him and let him blow. His head was slung in the air, but he carefully maintained some slack in the line.

Cupcake finally lowered his head. His jaw was tight and his chin was clenched so hard it looked like a walnut. I walked up to him and rubbed his neck. His head dropped a little more and I was able to loosen the serreta. He held his breath as I eased it over his ears and off his head.

He led quietly to his stall and I piled an armload of grass hay into his feeder. He needed something to keep him busy until he cooled.

I grabbed a beer out of the fridge and watched him over the stall door.

Rainy called from the arena, “Do you want to ride a couple?”

“I’m done for the day,” I hollered back.Rainy didn’t answer so I knew she was mad.

I leaned my elbows over the stall door and took a swig of my beer.The sweet smell of hay twined with sharp sweat and shavings. Cupcake snorted and flicked an ear at me, but he kept his head buried in the hay.


  1. I'm freaking out just reading this. Looking forward to hearing more. Will you please just write a whole book so I don't have to wait for posts?


  2. Oh Mugs...I know why you were done for the day - I'd have been done in too. To have that much rage directed at oneself - he'd have killed you in that moment if he could have. The resulting "stop" and the "what did I just do" feeling in the pit of the stomach. Ow-ow-ow...........Wow.

    He let you walk up to him in the open space; he let you scratch him............he led back to his stall quietly. Quietly? No striking, no squealing - quietly.

    Now to see if you have his respect only if your back isn't turned or if he actually goes on to consider you "safe".

    Great story!!! WOW

  3. I'm exhausted just reading it. Whew!

  4. I am in awe. How do you always keep us on the edge of our seats, eager for more, often with tears in our eyes? Worried about the horse, worried about you, we will wait for more. ?Book?Book?

  5. Great story! much better thanthe Tally one, whim I stop reading because it makes me mad at the human stupidity.

  6. OMG!!! Freaking out is right. I can't wait to hear what happens next. Be safe and good luck with him. Don't keep us waiting long.....

  7. Wow.
    The way you tell a story makes me feel like I'm there. "Being there" in this one makes me feel sad, scared, relief, sick....drained.

  8. UGH! Mugs, you do need to write a book. These cliffhangers are going to be the death of us.

  9. It sucks when you are in a position that it seems like you have to hurt a horse to save him doesn't it. :( It sucks that the lady who is having you train him, put him and you in this position. I'm glad that you aren't giving up on Cupcake.

  10. Yes, I'm with the others - feels like I was there and I know what you mean by that feeling in the pit of your stomach. Hard hard work... for BOTH of you. I'm anxious for the next installment in this series...

  11. I feel, sitting here in my chair, like I imagine how you felt after getting him back in his stall - sick to my stomach and a little wobbly in the knees. Wow - very powerful story!

  12. I had to go back and re-read it, and I had the same thought that I had wondered about during the last installment of Cupcake - Do you think that properly introducing and then turning him out into a pasture situation with a herd would have helped him? It seems to me that he has absolutely no socialization skills, which makes sense if he was kept isolated the majority of his life. He doesn't know HOW to be a horse or, as you said, how to THINK like a horse.
    I know you were there to do your job in a certain time frame, but did you ever consider turn-out with him? I imagine it would have taken a lot of time and patience (and safe fencing!) to even introduce him to a herd, but I've seen some pretty screwed up horses become completely different temperament-wise after being turned out in a pasture with a herd for a year and left alone.

  13. Mugs.. PLEASE PLEASE write a book so I can read it from start to finish? PLEASE!!!!

  14. Half-Dozen - 1. Have patience 2.I had 60 days. He was going to the local kill buyer friendly horse sale if he wasn't broke to ride.

  15. This made me so sad for Mr. Cupcake. What his owners did to him. There is no excuse. It makes me sick. I hope that you were able to help him. I'm nervous that he went ahead to the sale anyway.

    And as always, I love to read your descriptions. I can see in my mind's eye what you did. Did I already tell you that your writing (description-wise) reminds me of Laura Ingalls Wilder? Amazing stuff.

  16. I agree that it's the owner's fault, but I can sympathize with them. They were obviously in over their head--- and I dunno. With a "lesser" horse they might not have had this problem. There are plenty of neglected young studs in this world who don't resort to people-killing. Who knows? Cupcake might have gone from only slightly bad to REALLY bad seemingly overnight.

    I don't excuse it, and it's never right, but I can sympathize with people who "freeze up" when things go wrong. After all, consider all the abuse cases you've heard of--- what made Cupcake react with rage instead of fear? I've seen horses come back from worse with much better attitudes. I'm not negating the terrible situation that Mugs found him in, but his extreme reaction is an interesting concept to ponder.

  17. I think BECKY has made a good point. Cupcake must have been a LOT of horse and his owners could not cope.
    In abuse case, it helps to have a bit of empathy for the owners to understand why it happened, and then in the future to work for avoiding the situation to repeat.

    But in general rule, it is a case of ignorance of basic horse care, or handling for "MORE" horses. I was the owner one of this MORE horses, I worked with three different trainers, it took me ONE year to find the perfect owner for my mare, who was too much for me AND the others three professionals who worked with us ....

    Some horses are more difficult than others.

  18. Heartbreaking but, as ever, beautifully described.

  19. Mugs - Sorry, I'm working on the patience thing! :)

  20. Is there a picture online of this contraption? I'm getting dressy stuff with a google search.

    Morbidly curious.

  21. Becky and Muriel,

    You two picked up one of the things I was hoping to get across. Cupcake was a very tough horse.

    I was not completely unsympathetic to the owner. She had owned horses for years and rode really well, but had never raised a foal. All her horses had been professionally trained for her, so she hadn’t actually trained a horse before, she had learned to maintain a trained one.

    She also had a 3-year-old son and a husband who wanted her to get out of horses.

    I saw how this had happened. I was also completely angered by it, but I learned early on you don’t keep clients by pointing out what morons they are.

    She was at least trying to get him trained before she gave up on him.

    Also, I had never encountered this much anger in a young horse who wasn’t in pain. I had worked with abused horses who attacked because they were afraid. But I could tell they were frightened. Cupcake seemed to be just pissed.

    He was Skipper W bred on one side and paint reining stuff on the other. I am not a Skipper W fan. They seem to be thick, easily irritated, slow to start and prone to navicular. But none of this defined Cupcake. I don’t know if it was a bad genetic mix or what.

    These thoughts floated through my mind, but as you know, I feel like there’s always a reason, but never an excuse for bad behavior in a horse. I didn’t dwell on the why’s much.

    Jenn - Serretas are very harmless and "dressy" looking. Until you realize the leather covered nose piece is a hinged metal nut cracker.

  22. Ah, I see it now. The lead goes right on top of the nose. So when you send that wave down the line, it lifts and drops the metal piece. So all that tightening was to make sure you wouldn't really be banging him up more than you needed to to make the point. Got it.

    Is this the same nose area the hackamore works in? Or is that a different 'pressure' point?

    Thanks for you patience with odd questions!

    I rode at a hack english girl scout lessons barn for years, learned to love horses but not much more than simple set up grooming and tacking up, walk trot canter - decades later I'm as interested in the stuff surrounding horses as I am with the horses themselves.

    Someday I'll take lessons again. These days I do Agility with my mutt mix terrier!

  23. Jenn- These are good questions. The top section of the seretta is hinged where the top ring goes. Some of them have two more rings on the side for riding.
    The iron pieces fit along and work off the same nerves a hackamore (bosal) does.
    Except it is very heavy and very tight. The snap of the longe line hits all of those nerves, hard.

  24. Whew.
    I am all out of breath here.
    And I just have to chime in with the book comments.
    More, please!

  25. That would have been so hard for me to have done also. But I definitely think you stopped at the right moment. It'll sure be interesting to read how he reacts after that eye-opener. Patiently waiting for more~~