Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cupcake Gets Some Learnin'

Look what I found! This is Stormy....and also why I think there's something to be said for Foundation Breeding.

Cupcake had begun to put on weight. He tolerated my touch enough to pull the last of the patchy dry hair. A shiny red coat began to appear.

I used my fingers to untangle his mane and tail. Little by little I pulled out the burrs and loosened the Rastafarian coils. He learned to tolerate mane and tail conditioner and to appreciate fly spray.

His cotton top forelock hung over his eyes and half way down his delicate Arab face.

I spent at least 30 minutes a day grooming him with only my hand.

He had become friendly and eager for my touch. He accepted a saddle with little fuss. The long time he had spent in isolation had made him yearn for contact, so his progress became quick.

Unless he was around other horses. He became incensed when he came anywhere near them. He would squeal and strike unless I was near to keep him in hand.

My usual method of simply tying him to the tie rail with my regular line up wasn’t working. He would bloody himself trying to climb over the rail. His pinned ears and violent screams infuriated the studs and terrified my other horses.

He was going to hurt himself trying to get at them.

“I swear he’s a Jack Russell terrier,” I told the boss, “and he thinks the whole world is a rat.”

“I’ve seen horses which have never been socialized before, but not like this,” the boss said.

“He needs the shit kicked out of him and some manners knocked into him,” I answered.

I had once taught a three-year-old stud his manners by leaving him overnight in an indoor arena with a group of old pregnant broodmares.

There is nothing crankier than a pregnant broodmare dealing with an ill-mannered colt.

But this colt was the rankest thing I had ever come across. I wasn’t sure what to do.

“You can turn him out with Stormy if you want,” the boss said.

“Really,” I was surprised, “you’d do that?”

“He couldn’t hurt him and Stormy won’t do anything to him,” she responded.

Stormy was a beast of a Foundation Quarter Horse. 15hh and 1200 pounds of old fashioned bulldog style muscle, the venerable grandfather of the bosses breeding program was a sweet tempered, easy to handle guy. He was also built like a rhino.

“ I guess it could work if we turn them out in the arena. It’s neutral ground and will give each of them room to get away from each other,” I said.

The idea made me nervous, but again, I knew Cupcake’s time was running out.

“Lets give it a shot, I guess we can break them up if things get nasty.”

So the boss went and gathered up Stormy and I went to get Cupcake.

We turned Stormy out first and gave him a chance to roll and snort around before we turned out the wild child.

Stormy was pretty to watch, his massive muscles rippled under his glossy chocolate coat and his large expressive eyes snapped and crackled with fun. He had a beautiful head, heavy jowled, a small muzzle and little fox ears. He also came with the tiny useless feet of the 1970’s Quarter Horse, which is why he had been pretty much retired from the breeding game for several years.
He still drew in the occasional client looking for color, Stormy sired grullo, dun and buckskin babies at about 90% and so his popularity wasn’t entirely diminished.

After the old stud had settled I brought Cupcake out and slipped off his halter.

I scooted under the fence and the boss and I leaned on the rails to watch the show. I took off my spurs and hung them on the gate. If I had to get in there I didn’t want to trip and be tangled in a heap under their hooves.

The dogs sat at the rail panting heavily. Their ears were pricked and they quivered with anticipation. This looked like it was going to be good.

Stormy and the colt immediately high stepped to each other, with their heads flung in the air and tails flagged.

They squealed, Cupcake struck out a forefoot and Stormy…turned and ran.

“Well this is working out great,” I said.

Hmmm,” the boss answered.

For half an hour the little colt herded Stormy around, it looked like a horse fly chasing an old mama cow.

Stormy zigged and zagged, mostly at a trot, but once in a while loping along, while Cupcake buzzed from one side to the other, nipping his flanks and trying to mount him when he slowed.

We let them go, in an odd way they seemed to be having fun, Stormy’s eye was calm and serene and I could see Cupcakes already inflated ego growing by the minute.

“At least he’s getting a workout,” I noted.

Stormy was barely breaking a sweat, but the red colt was getting foamy. His crazy charges were slowing and he was mostly just trailing along.

Stormy suddenly hit the brakes, spun around and squared off.

Cupcake almost whacked into his butt when he stopped and then they were nose to nose.

Cupcake squealed and struck again, this time Stormy sidestepped left, dove into the colt, grabbed him by the crest of his neck and threw him a good five feet.

Cupcake landed flat on his side in a heap like Bambi on ice.

Stormy stood looking at him, ears pricked and his eyes bright.

Cupcake pulled himself up. The sandy arena dirt covered his sweat soaked side. He blinked rapidly trying to get the mud out of his eyes. Cupcake looked completely confused.

Stormy dove in, ears pinned and bared his yellow, grooved teeth. He grabbed the colt by the throat and shook him hard before he tossed him again.

This time Cupcake hit the iron rail and slid, stunned, to the ground.

I slid into the arena and headed toward Stormy, swinging my rope and yelling.

“Hey, hey, hey!” I shouted.

Stormy snorted and shook his head at me before he started to back away. He feinted around me and went to close in on the dazed colt. The dogs came in nipping and barking and helped drive him across the arena.

I stood between the horses and called off the dogs.

Stormy snorted at me a few times and I kept swinging my halter.

“Hey now, hey now, easy, you big jackass,” I crooned.

Cupcake staggered to his feet and peeked around me at Stormy. The huge stud relaxed and looked out over the rails.

The little red colt was scraped raw in a few places, but for the most part he was OK.

I went to crawl through the fence again and Cupcake shadowed me. If he could have squeezed through the rails with me he certainly would have.

Stormy walked towards Cupcake and he flew away from him in earnest.

“Stormy won’t run him for long,” the boss commented, “he’s too fat and the sand’s too deep.”

She was right. Stormy approached the foam flecked red colt a few more times. Once he was satisfied he would run like hell every time he headed towards him he ignored him.

The boss and I relaxed. The dogs threw themselves down in the sand and dozed. The tension leaked out of the air. By the time we started putting horse up that night Cupcake was following Stormy around like a lost weanling. He worked his mouth and tailed the massive stud everywhere he went.

When I caught him up and led him to his stall he walked past the other horses without a sound.


  1. Well, that was certainly worth the wait! :)

    Wonderful, vivid story, thanks!!

  2. Wow! Glad I checked in today. Always a pleasure reading your blog!

    Any suggestions about an ear shy horse? I have been using slow desensitization/clicker training and that really hasnt worked at all.

  3. WOAW! Brilliant story! I loved it. AHAHA Cupcake got a lesson. It is also very interesting pint of view horse behaviour.
    thanks very much for sharing it with us. You have made my day ;-)))

  4. I laughed out loud at the image of Stormy suddenly laying down the law.

    Always glad to read another one, mugs.

  5. Awesome! It was a great read! Cant wait to read more!

  6. Awesome. Good grandad stud. Good dogs for knowing when to be on alert and when things were going to get dull. I guess sometimes it takes a village huh?

  7. Yep, old and crafty will beat young and energetic every time!

  8. I've seen what a bunch of broodmares, pregnant or not, can do to manner a snotty stud colt. This was a great installment. Glad you're back to writing.

  9. This was great! Recently found your blog and enjoy your stories. Wished I had my own horse but I'll have to settle for your stories for now-:)!

  10. Amazing. I saw Cupcake flying through the air. Now there's a lesson that you can't be as hard on a horse as they are with each other.

  11. Thanks Mugs, I really needed that laugh! (Bambi on ice, great description!) Seriously, you must write a book. And reading this, I thought "Wow what an awesome job!". I know, no money, physical stresses, hard work in all weather but still, to have set that up and actually seen it work, wow!

  12. Dude---- writing at its best. I'm getting to the point where I'd follow your blog even if it wasn't about horses, just for the chance to see great writing like this :)

    Is it evil of me that I was rooting for Stormy? Go, Stormy, go. I would have paid good money to see that.

  13. oh Mugs, what great timing!
    I am devoted to your writing. And admit to getting a little itty bitty cranky about no cupcake stories. And then you turn around and deliver with a BANG!

    I was watching with you wondering and worrying and whooping at the end. ha ha ha ha!

  14. Awesome!! Thanks for the laugh.

  15. That was awesome!

    I did something similar with my colt a couple years ago. I put him out with my friend's 15yo Percheron gelding. He's that sainted old babysitter type that will lay down the law, but not seriously injure while doing it. My colt was used to being big bossman of the field (he was out with a few young geldings until we put Czar in there to teach them all some manners.

    Its funny, my colt had a similar reaction. Challenge, submit, then follow him around like a little adoring puppy.

  16. I'm always so happy when you post a new chapter! Thanks for the good read.

  17. That was awesome!! Cupcake stories are my favorite! It's funny, I *almost* deleted your blog from my favorites list since I figured you wouldn't write for awhile. But I decided to give it a few days longer- and man am I happy I did!! Great writing, thanks.

  18. Great story--wonderful images of the whole thing in my [addled] mind.

    Just want to thank you, Mugs, for telling the WHOLE story, and not stopping halfway through with another cliff hanger. I think I woulda jumped off the cliff!

  19. Awesome, that was worth the wait!! Hope you are still enjoying lots of riding and horsey time this summer Janet.

  20. I loved this! That would have been hugely entertaining to watch.

    I was looking around for a blog on dealing with bucking and only found your parking lot quarter pony april fool's blog entry. I would love to hear how you would handle a bucker. This one blows when you swing your leg over. He doesn't bolt, just bucks like a bronc. Any ideas? (and hell no, I'm not the one trying to fix this. just thought I'd try and get your insight.)

    *heh heh, my word verification is "reread". Guess I will....

  21. Gillian- My dogs became useful working dogs over the years. My bosses dogs at the ranch were young, and therefore a pain in th butt.
    They did learn to help though.
    We were not very good dog trainers, but they picked up wht we needed in spite of ourselves.

    TB Dancer- Gotta love those broodmares. My colt was raised with mares. He is one well
    mannered boy.

    Breathe- Exactly! Horses understand consequence. We don't need to toss them to the ground or make them bleed, but we do have to be willing to make a point.

    Becky- Dude. It was fun in retrospect. In reality it scared me so bad I almost peed myself. I might have, just a little though.

    Candy's Girl- I don't think it's odd you got the same response. I think it's how things work...another traning tip from observation.

    Evensong- I swear, you guys and your cliff hangers. It's not on purpose, ever, I'm truly not that evil. I think about the next major step with these stories and write it, really. No evil intentions, I promise.

  22. Great story to echo everyone else. Did you read about Wimpy? Mark and Michelle Schols turned him out to a pasture with cows and a good quiet gelding. Is it possible that the show world is learning that horses need to be horses? I just about peed myself when I read the article. Wow. Kudos to Mark and Michelle. I know that we create these monsters by trying to keep them bubble wrapped all the time. My intact three year old lives with geldings, reins, trail rides and ponies mares in heat and I believe that the tunning he recieves from the other horses makes this possible.

  23. Mugs, your comment:
    Breathe- Exactly! Horses understand consequence. We don't need to toss them to the ground or make them bleed, but we do have to be willing to make a point.

    IS the most reasonable and the hardest to keep straight!
    Dam! even your commnets are insiteful writting!

  24. Ah. My favourite story.
    Builds up like the ageing of a quality red wine, this...just getting better and better! Love it!

  25. Stormy is/was a handsome boy!

  26. Anon - Is. Stormy is alive and well.

  27. Great. I could picture it all in my mind.

  28. Amazing. It's like living life without a framework - and then having snap into focus. Here. And here. And here.

    Great story.

    Lucky Cupcake.

  29. Excellent!! I love to watch the interactions with herd hierarchy...learn something every time. Well done!