Friday, April 9, 2010

Scared or Mad/Cupcake3

“Cupcake is turning out to be a royal pain in the ass,” I told Rainie.

“At least he’s gelded,” she answered.

“Wish he’d figure it out,” was all I could come up with.

Cupcake had finally conceded to letting me come into his stall and haltering him. But he still constantly teetered on the brink of attack every time I brought him out.

He screamed and went after every horse he saw. His anger was so great the other horses in the barn hid in the back of their stall when I led him by. Even Madonna, the teasing imp of the barn, would retreat when he was in the alley.

I couldn’t relax with him for even a second. He would charge me without warning. I had resorted to a stud chain to control him, a piece of equipment I had never had to use before. His chin was raw and bloody and I barely had him. It was a matter of time before he decided to run through it.

“This horse is wearing me out,” I said.

There had come a time in my life when I decided my days of riding pukes were over. This colt definitely qualified as a puke. I should send him home. My boss was being tolerant of the time he was taking from her horses, but she wouldn’t stay that way.

But I was stuck. Maybe it was his pretty little Arab head. Maybe I had read too many of Walter Farley’s The Island Stallion series. The hard reality was this little red colt had not hit the ground like this. His ability to flee had been stripped away from the get go and his solution was anger.

I admired the mean little shit in an odd kind of way. He was fighting tooth and nail for his freedom. He needed to learn he would get it through cooperation with me and I only had 45 days left.

“I think it’s time to borrow Shelly’s serreta,” I told Rainie.

“Really?” She asked, “I thought you said you wouldn’t use that thing.”

“It works,” I said, “I have to get moving on him.”

The serreta is a wicked little training device (What’s in your Trainers Tack Box? May 12 2008) from Spain. It is a pretty standard tool for training Andalusian/Lusitano bull fighting horses and is sometimes used in the U.S. for dressage training.

It is made up of a metal, leather-covered noseband with a hinge in the middle. The leather chin strap cranks down the nose piece until the same delicate facial nerves the bosal works are crunched down on like a nutcracker. There is a ring in the middle for longe work and two on the sides for riding.

I had learned about this piece of equipment when I was helping a fellow trainer keep up with an assembly line training project she had gotten caught up in.

She started Gypsy Vanners for an importer as they came out of quarantine and were ready to be put up for sale. She never knew what she would get, from cobs to drummers, but universally they weren’t broke to ride. Shelly had come to me to help her stream line her program and get as much training into the horses as possible before they were sent off into the wild blue yonder.

“These horses have one thing in common, they’re strong,” Shelly said.

“The buyer's getting $30,000 to $75,000 each for each one of these and wants them started as a courtesy,” she continued, "the problem is theses horses are being bought up by very wealthy people with little or no horse sense. They buy them for kids, or lawn ornaments, or because they see them in parades. I just know they’ll end up dumped if they don’t behave.”

Shelly had started using the serreta in self defense. She simply wasn’t strong enough to control the drafty beasts when they first came in.

The serreta put her in control from day one. It was a brutal but very effective way to get any horse’s attention. The Vanners were for the most part a docile and amiable breed, but the newly gelded five-year-olds were what brought in the big bucks, so she had a lot of attitude in every truck-load.

We worked out a system. They had two-days of ground work under saddle and carrying a ring snaffle under the serreta.

On the third day Shelly got on while I worked the serreta and longe.

The fourth day we added reins to the serreta and introduced left and right turns.

The fifth day we put the reins on the snaffle.

The sixth day we rode without the serreta.

On the seventh we were riding out in the arena.

We started 5 at a time and worked the horses every other day up until we were out riding then we rode every day until they shipped out. It was an amazing period of time.

I found myself chipping away at the way I rode and how I worked. I became as bare-boned as possible in my methods and as clear and fair as I could possibly be under the circumstances.

Shelly and I could turn out 15 to 20 serviceable horses a month this way on top of our regular training loads. I came away from the experience knowing that Gypsy Vanners are pretty nice horses and that by using a serreta I could bring a 1300 pound horse to his knees with the snap of a longe line.

Cupcake still didn’t weigh 900 pounds but if we didn’t get things straightened out he was headed for the Calhan sale. No horse I had ever known deserved to end up at the Calhan sale.

I called Shelly the next day and asked if I could borrow her serreta.


Fantastyk Voyager said...

Wow, drastic measures,'s been used successfully for centuries by some very experienced horsemen. I think if it's used by someone knowledgeable then it doesn't take more than once or twice to get the message across, right?

Patricia said...

I want to let you know that I lurk, but really look forward to your entries. I learn from every one, and appreciate the honesty of your revelations. Please keep it up.

Breathe said...

Can't wait for part 4...

gtyyup said...

I've never heard of this piece of equipment...and after Googeling it, I don't think the images or descriptions that Google came up with are anywhere close to what you described. Can you point me to a photo or website that is similar to what you used? (trust me...I don't want one, I just want to know what it is!)

nagonmom said...

Yes!! A story!! I get a childish thrill of excitement when a see a story title!! More! Thanks!

mugwump said...

Gtyyup- Search Equus Libris- then go to the halters and serretas section.
Patricia - Thanks. My road to becoming who I am as a trainer was very convoluted. It was not a single continuous ribbon of success.

HorseOfCourse said...

Yes! More Cupcake!
...but ending too soon.
More! Please!

Becky said...


Melissa said...

Hm. The serreta doesn't look that evil at a glance. No chains or huge levers or anything, just a partially metal noseband wrapped in leather. But it looks like it digs into the the top of the nose pretty well if either party pulls.

I'm interested to see how this one ends. Cupcake is a piece of work.

Shanster said...

Thanks for the post! As always great writing and so interesting... I hadn't heard of a serreta either til now.

Sounds like in capable/knowledgeable/fair hands it is like most the wrong hands awful. In the right ones, effective and you move on, not using it for torture...

We have a Gypsy Vanner farm down the road about 1/2 mile from us. They DO seem like very nice, pretty unflappable, stout horses tho' spendy!

mommyrides said...

Hey Mugs! Good to see you back again! I feel sad for Cupcake and I'm glad to see that you are staying with him, at least in this point of your story.
"The hard reality was this little red colt had not hit the ground like this. His ability to flee had been stripped away from the get go and his solution was anger."
I've seen a lot of kids like this too. It just makes me sad cause it's soooo much harder to fix than if started correctly, kids and horses. I really, really hope you were able to get a handle on this little one.

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5150 said...

Thanks for staying with Cupcake; hope he gets the message-soon. I am rooting for the both of you. Any pics I missed of His Sweetness? Please stay safe.

mugwump said...

5150- I don't have pics of the majority of the horses I worked. I only took photos if I was helping the owner sell them.

glenatron said...

Ouch, the Serrata is a pretty strong tool. They're used a lot in Spain- from time to time you meet an imported iberian horse here that has been trained using one and usually it is a training tool that requires a degree of rehabilitation after use.

Not the case in your hands, I'm sure, but then whatever comes of their riding traditions, the general Spanish attitude to animals, women, latin americans and more or less any other group that they be perceived as weak in any way always comes across as that of the relentless bully.

Fyyahchild said...

"The hard reality was this little red colt had not hit the ground like this. His ability to flee had been stripped away from the get go and his solution was anger."

This made me think of Andrew Vachss, the author I got my stranger blogger name from. I just blogged about him recently. Kids/horses/ get what you raise.

lopinon4 said...

Looking forward to the next installment. I have had to use a similar piece of equipment before. Sometimes, you have to choose safety over your own death.

quietann said...

gee, and I feel bad just about putting a chain over my mare's nose while I am handwalking her... but she's recovering from suspensory surgery and spent far too much time looking for things to spook at and flying up in the air on Friday and Saturday. (A friend calls this "the Palomino kite!) I added the chain on Sunday, and she's like, "Oh, you mean business now!" Her head came out of the stars, she relaxed, and it was just easier. Spooky things just got a look, and she was even easier on the cross-ties (with no chain obviously...) I'd rather use the chain than tranq her for every walk.

I remember seeing a trainer using a serreta when I was a teen, and in *his* hands it was just a tool like any other.

badges blues N jazz said...

oh yippy! cant wait for the rest.

Half Dozen Farm said...

Here are pics of serretas:

The bottom three...the ones at the top are bits!

Maddywithay said...

Question.. whats the difference between a lunge cavason and a serreta?

Maddywithay said...

add on to last comment: I ask because the dressage trainer at my barn today had a lunge cavason which had the jointed metal piece and 3 rings attached (similar to this

BritnieAnn said...

ohhhh I'm in serious suspense! Cant wait til read the next!

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