Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cupcake/Scared or Mad

When I came into the barn the next morning Cupcake had his head out over the stall door like everybody else. His ears were pricked forward and he didn’t disappear from view with a snarl as I brought his morning feed.

I stood and waited until he backed away from the door before I undid the latch and entered the stall. He stood against the far wall, as he had been taught, waiting for his breakfast.

His expression was quiet and patient.

I couldn’t believe it.

I put his hay in the feeder and dumped his pellets on top of it. I turned around and looked at him again. I was transfixed. Same peaceful, polite, bright eyed expression.
He finally nickered when I stood too long.

I almost jumped, but I caught myself. Cupcake didn’t need me to scare him, he needed me to move so he could eat.

I stood at the door and watched him. He would turn and give me a long, measured look periodically, but there was no tail swish of impatience, no stomp of a foot or squeal.

When I cleaned stalls he simply moved out of my way as I worked. I found myself humming the same mindless tune I hummed around my own horses. The tune I often hummed when I was completely relaxed and safe.

I pulled him from his stall as soon as Rainy pulled in the driveway. I knew she would still help me, but she was running out of patience with my Cupcake project. She wanted my focus back on her own colts.

I put the rope halter on first. Cupcake stood perfectly still with his nose stuck out high and to the side as I slipped the serreta on over it.

His jaw tensed when I tightened it, but it was the only sign his nose was sore.
I had lead ropes on both the halter and the serreta as before and made sure the serreta had plenty of slack.

Cupcake followed me out of the barn quietly. I walked steadily and I hoped confidently, but my skin crawled and the muscles on my back clenched into knots feeling him behind me. I had to fight the impulse to look behind me.

Rainy came up to the arena just as I clipped the long line to the serreta.

“Is he sick?” She asked.

“Nope, just very careful,” I said.

I played out the longe line and sent him out. He trotted to the right, carefully tossing his head up and down a few times, then settling into a cramped, stilted trot.

I asked him to stop and he slammed on the breaks before I could even tweak my finger.

“He’s a new horse!” Rainy said.

“I don’t know about that, but he’s sure smart enough not to fight with the serreta anymore.,” I told her.

I eased him down to a stop and swapped the longe line over to the halter.

Cupcake moved out and flipped his head when he realized the pressure had eased.
The serreta banged his nose and he immediately dropped back to the careful, measured steps he was taking before.

“OK, it’s time to give him a break,” I said, ”I ‘ve had about all I can take with this thing.”

I brought him down again and unbuckled the serreta. I eased it over his ears and hung the evil thing up on the fence.

Cupcake stepped out again and he lengthened with each stride as he felt the freedom of the rope halter.

I stepped in and he floated away, I stepped toward his head and he slowed.

The best part about the whole deal was his relaxed eye and the ear that swiveled to stay on me as he trotted around.

I let him trot for another ten minutes before I brought him down. His neck was sweaty and his nostrils puffed in rhythm with his heaving sides. He lifted his head into the breeze.

“He's enjoying himself,” Rainy said.

“This is probably the most exercise he’s had in months,” I said, “that didn’t involve trying to kill somebody anyway.

“It will be nice when I can turn him out,” I added.

“When do you think that’s going to happen?” Rainy asked.

I walked up to Cupcake and put my hand up on his forehead. He snorted once and raised his head not quite out of my reach. I scratched him gently, old hair and scurfy dead skin came loose in a flood. He looked at me steadily and his tight little chin began to relax.

“I’m thinking pretty soon,” I said.


  1. Mugs, when I open your blog and see a new story it's like someone gave me a little gift to brighten my day. :-)

  2. Very cool! K - so this is probably a really stupid question I'm sure but WHY does this happen?

    The new found respect from the pain when he fought and not getting around the work because of the method used? It happens that fast? Good = release and bad = work and unpleasantness?

    The change can happen like that?

    Loved this post - thanks Mugs.

  3. Amazing! I was so happy to read about Cupcake doing well for a change!

  4. Thank you, happy happy joy joy!

  5. Awww, that made me tear up even. I can't wait to learn the rest!

  6. Shanster- He didn't change. He just finally understood where he and I stood.
    He wasn't a pocket pet. I just got through to him with the serreta.
    He was a small domestic paint breeding stock.
    He was never meant to be the raging psychopath he was being.
    At that point in my career my timing was very, very good. I also was able to assess a horse pretty well.
    Even though I was respectful of his anger and he scared me more than once, I was never afraid of him. Does that make sense?
    Also, I would have knocked him down to the ground again if I had needed to. Horses tend to pick up on that sort of thing if the punishment is fair.
    He was trying to hurt me and I showed him he couldn't. It was just the first step.

  7. I am so, so, so relieved that he at least figured out that respect was key, and so quickly.

    I know exactly what you mean about being scared by him (or more likely, his actions) but not actually being afraid of him.

    I can't wait for the next installment.

  8. It's sounds like he really needed boundaries, good, well-defined, and fair boundaries. He was one of the lucky ones, he ended up with a trainer that knew how to establish those limits, without damaging him, anymore,in the process

    Good for you!!! What an amazing story!!

  9. Thanks Mugs - it just sounded like such a drastic/rapid change in attitude.

    I know you'd been working with him and I understand he wasn't an overnight pocket pet but it sounds like all of a sudden he stopped with the intense anger and trying to harm, he respected your space and was "normal".

    So it was the fact that he could NOT try to harm and if he did there was a consequence (completely fair in my mind) and he did not get away with an inch...

  10. "Mugs, when I open your blog and see a new story it's like someone gave me a little gift to brighten my day. :-) "

    DITTO!! :)

  11. You must have had, I bet you still have a very good timing. From my experience, I have understood that horses accept very harsh corrections as long they are fairs, but the trainer must have a perfect timing, because even a light tap with a sensitive horse at the wrong moment can be disaster.

    I think that Equitation is one of the simplest thing on Earth, however it takes more of a life time to developp the feel and the timing to make it easy! Some people are more gifted than others. You must be in the gifted category!

  12. Mugs--it's interesting that he was from Paint stock. Some of the craziest rank types that have come through my trainer's barn have been Paints. I saw a brain-fried Paint mare get POed and blast through a rail panel--and all that was going on was that she'd been turned out with a saddle on, bitted up and left to think. Not for very long, either--she just got pissy. A few years before, I helped G try to ground drive another Paint of that ilk. I'd seen that one stand, bitted up, in the round pen, tail tucked in, refusing to relax, refusing to pay attention to the horses being ridden around him. Unusual in that most other greenies going through the barn at that time would unlock and start watching the show around them. But he stayed locked into the sulk, refusing to move, for a full hour.

    When G and I ground drove him, he exploded and it got pretty exciting for a while. G worked with him for quite a while but never got through--but he didn't resort to the serrata, either.

    On a lesser scale, one Paint filly that came through the barn was of that unpredictably explosive ilk. Not as bad as the two above, but she'd be going along fine, then blow.

    OTOH, one of the nicest young horses that came through was a big gawky Paint gelding who looked like an ostrich or a camel--not a pretty boy, ewe-necked, straight-shouldered, high-headed. But he had a good mind, was honest and true, and put up with a lot of fumble-handedness from his greenish owner. Never bucked, never freaked, was a packer from day one. An exception in my experience of Paints.

    Then there was the pretty little breeding stock Appy who had this habit of pulling her right leg up high and stomping the ground as hard as she could with it when she got mad about something. I remember the breakthrough with her, because I was the one who rode her through it. She got so mad at me (for making her work and yield to the bit, and not letting her spook in the corner) that she was doing her stomping trick at the trot--without missing a stride, either. Talented little girl. And after that temper tantrum, she was a total sweetie. She went home soon after that.

  13. I like the story of the cheeky Appy. Here the coloured-breeds : Paint, Appy have a real bad rep, as they say they are bred for the colours not the head.
    OTOH .. Gunner is a great stallion and his products are doing well in reining : Gunnatrashya

  14. joycemocha- I have always preferred red horses. Sorrels, chestnuts and bays. I also prefer geldings over mares.
    But until Leland hit the ground I have owned nothing but mares and the horses I have now are buckskin and palomino.
    So much color I'm embarrassed to walk in the show pen.
    Because it's the horse, not the color.
    Muriel brought up the Trashadeous line. A spectacular line of paints which comes from an astounding cutting mare, Miss White Trash (I think) which AQHA rejected because she had too much white. A decision they have regretted since APHA got her.
    I am on the side which applauds the elimination of the white rule in AQHA. It's the first logical acceptance of horse over color I have seen in years.
    I have also talked about the studies I've seen about what happens when breeding specifically for white spots in any's not good. So my Mugwump status stands, I guess.

  15. Sounds like Cupcake has turned a corner, even if he's not really a "changed horse." But hopefully, he's on his way.

    Speaking of the QH excessive white rule, what I'd like to see now is the AQHA accept those Paints with not enough white! They're all the same basic bloodlines. But I'm sure the politics will never allow that kind of cooperation between the organizations.

  16. Even though I had a POA as a kid (it was the only pony we could afford and therefore I decided doesn't count) I never imagined owning another colored horse. I'm all about a big dark bay or gray warmblood. Which is why everytime I see an old riding friend again with my black and white tobi paint I kinda want to die. Regardless of the color, I like the horse. Go figure.

    That and I don't know that I want to show AQHA. It's too cut throat. The APHA shows are still a little more laid back.