Friday, January 13, 2012


What in the world was I going to do with this horse?

The big dun mare had problems way beyond my experience. It was like she was a marionette with her strings cut.

I insisted on an evaluation from the vet.

He had me trot her around (I use the word trot very loosely) until I was as wobbly as she was.

DixieAnne wasn't lame. She wasn't sore. Her feet actually wore evenly. She didn't seem to be progressing, so he ruled out most illness. She was bright, alert and pretty happy. He finally came down to "undiagnosed neurological issues, probably due to injury."

Now there's a big fat heap of nothing.

We discussed her breeding. She was heavily line bred back to Poco Bueno. He was known to produce a lot of pacing quarter horses. Te vet wondered if this was part of her problem.

"This is not what I would call pacing," I pointed out.

"Mmmmm, no, me neither. There seems to be kind of a pace in there somewhere though."

"You know, if we're going to blame this on breeding we could go way back."

"What do you mean?" the vet asked.

"From what I understand some of the dinosaurs were so big they had more than one brain distributed in various parts of their bodies. So one brain could work one part and the other would work another."

"Uh, I'm not getting your point."

"DixieAnne might have more than one brain rolling around in there."

"I see," he began to laugh.

"...and they're fighting."

"It's as good as anything I've got, good luck with this one."

If that was all he had then I guess it was time to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

The first few weeks I planned to just ride around on her, thinking, feeling and generally being very confused. I tried to figure out what was actually happening with her. Which led us directly into teaching her some manners.

DixieAnne was a big galoot and had no interest in personal space. She was easy enough to catch, I have to give her that. I would walk into the broodmare pen and she would come shuffling, waddling, swaying over to me, on me, over me. All I had to do was stick out the halter and she would slap her face in it. Then the music would start and I'd start doing a pretty fancy impersonation of a clogger trying to keep my feet clear while I buckled her in.

DixieAnne would push into her halter, shoving at me with her head and cuddling up as close as she could. Her tongue would begin to wag, foam would start flying and she would lip me in wild affection. During the entire display of undying love she would wing those wonking feet in closer and closer to my own.

"She sure likes you," Marilee said.

Maybe so, but I felt more like the poor weenie guy that gets picked on by the outlaws in a spaghetti western than Roy and Trigger.

"C'mon little feller," DixieAnne seemed to say. "Ah think it's time for you to dance." Her feet were every bit as effective as any bad man's Winchester.

I ended up doing sort of a reverse Ray Hunt. I didn't teach her to join up, I took my longe whip with me and taught her to join the hell OFF.

I would go to her pen and drive her away from me. When she moved off a few feet I'd relax the pressure. When she moved in I put it back on her. There could be no steady pressure with Miss Dixie, she would immediately lean into it. I had to flick my whip, tap my fingers, kick her in the butt (very short kicks mind you), anything but give her a place to lean.

When I haltered her I would send her off the second I felt weight in my hands. When I saddled her I would move her three or four steps away from me every time she leaned into the pressure of the cinch. As I swung on board I would hang on her side and bump with my knee until she curled her ribs away and stepped away agin.

It took the butt of a crop to get her to truly understand that when I said off, I meant OFF! Always an optimist, I would give her the gentle touch I wanted her to respond to, followed with a firm bump with the end of the crop, followed with a steady poke, poke, poke until she would finally shift away.

As long as I never let her slide and always made her move at least three or four steps from me, things progressed slowly. If I let her go even an inch, it was like we were starting completely over.

When I rode her it was more of the same. Nothing worked on DixieAnne the way it should. Her head bobbed up and down and to the side. She shuffled, she jerked, she popped in the air. She couldn't hold a line or a circle. She was amazing.

One afternoon we were wandering around the arena. I would lift one rein and wait to see what happened. Bump, bump, bump, eventually she would turn and her nose would drop a bit. I switched to my leg. Bump, bump, bump, she didn't respond. Bump, bump, bump. She stepped in, she stepped out, she came into my leg and then tripped as she stepped out.

I had felt something though. I emptied my mind, and deepened my seat. I stated relaxed and simply focused on her crazy movement. I went back to bumping between hand and leg.

There. I felt it again.

DixieAnne had two, separate, different responses between shoulders and hind. She wasn't one crazy unit. She was two off balance ones. I shook my head. She really was a dinosaur. It certainly seemed DixieAnne was working off two brains.


whisper_the_wind said...

OMG...She sounds just like my App filly. We call her Blondie for a reason. She is as sweet as can be, but nothing connects. Does this mean there is a solution, cause I'm sure not bright enough to figure it out.

redhorse said...

OMG, "reverse Ray Hunt," had me laughing so loud I feel demented. Glad to see DixieAnne back. She's so sweet, I hope you can do something with her.

Kel said...

I didn't picture a horse while reading this, I was picturing a big, slobbering St. Bernard for some reason...with independent drive like a ferret (front end goes one way, back end goes another, but eventually the whole unit gets there).

mugwump said...

Kel - that's pretty much DixieAnne...

zebradreams07 said...

This might sound way out there, but is it possible she was a chimera - a pacing horse and trotting horse in the same body?

I rode a Quarab once who would bounce back and forth between trotting and pacing - add the fact that I was riding bareback in an uneven pasture and it made things REALLY interesting.

IndyApp said...

DixieAnne sounds like my cat. Ms. Heloise Grace Wobbles, who was also diagnosed by the vet with undiagnosed neurological issues, probably due to injury. Although with Ms. Wobbles we had a clue as to what happened to her, found her in the barn when she was around 4-5 months old all battered but surrounded by bunny fur. We figure she took on a full grown rabbit and had the crap thumped out of her with those back legs. Couldn't leave out in the cold barn so she is now a chubby house cat. She is the most uncoordinated thing, many times her back end tries to pass her front end as she hussles down the hall. On top of that, she must have her tail up in the air, if you pull it down, she'll fall over. She too is very loving.

plantingoaks said...

I don't know if the DixieAnne stories are my favorite of the different horses you write about, but they are certainly the most amusing to picture. Somehow, I see her with crossed eyes like a cartoon.

Did the owners think you were ruining her by making her respect personal space? Or did she even bother to do it with anyone but you?

DarcC said...

Thanks for the belly laugh. Reverse Ray Hunt - epic. As always, can't wait for more of the story!

Nancy C said...

Wanted y'all to see this.

Working Cow Horse gone wrong... Cow is working the horse!

Kel said...

Nancy C: OMG that is too funny! That cow certainly had his Wheaties in the morning. It didn't seem like the guy riding the scared horse was all too upset about it, which is good.

Anonymous said...

There was an Appy gelding at college who was a jumping fool - safe and clean - it was between fences when you took your life in your hands, praying that he would stay upright and keep going in the general direction of the next fence....his name was Elmo.

Bif said...

zebradreams, ROTFLMAO!!!!

As to the poor horse with the hell-calf... it's bad enough being defeated like that, worse to hear the screams of laughter from beaucoup humans witnessing your humiliation.

"He never cut again."

mugwump said...

Nancy C - I can't find the video!

Anonymous said...


Almost sounds like Cerebellar Hypoplasia, actually.

I've had a couple "galumpagus" horses. Both geldings, both licky, horrible about personal space, clumsy with their feet, and the most uncoordinated monsters that I've ever had the joy of handling in the ground or from the saddle.

They were also both big, thick, guys. One was an old-style TWH (exceptional bone, big head and built like a brick shithouse) and the other is, presumably, a Foundation QH/TB cross with maybe some moose thrown in.
Neither of them seemed to understand where one part of their body was in relation to another. Nor were they horses that responded to light touch. Everything had to be "loud" and constantly repeated.
They weren't stupid.. but nothing seemed to stay.

My only theory was that they had little horse wiring in a big horse body. There just wasn't enough connections firing where they should be.
Didn't help that both had been weaned early, not kept with an open herd until we got them, and made complete fools of by over-permissive handling early on.

Anonymous said...

Little blurb about cerebellar-hypoplasia. First time I became aware of it was when I stumbled across the video of Charley.

It apparently occurs in other species and seems to be primarily related to an in utero exposure to disease or infection.

LittleBlackMule said...

I really hope this ends well, because I have a DixieAnne!! Well actually a Standardbred gelding called Merlin but otherwise the description fits.
The vet suggested nerve-blocking to isolate any lameness, but admitted he wouldn't have a clue where to start...
Then I got a physio out, who said it was trying to treat two different horses as there appeared to be no connection between the back and the front...
And there is definitely a satellite delay to the brain!

Kel said...

Mugs: copy/paste this into your browser; it's a shorter URL and might not have the wrapping problem. It's the video Nancy linked:

Jennifer R. Povey said...

Was she hand reared?

FD said...

I guess the prevailing opinion is something neuro-muscular, but I wonder, (since I had the impression she improved?) if it was something more like a girl I taught, whose posture was terrible, I mean, AWFUL. One of the first questions I (gently) asked her was has your doctor checked you out for scoliosis/hip issues etc? However, she was physically normal just crooked - somehow, she managed to be shoulders back (result of constant parental reminders)and hunched forward, and pigeon toed, but braced though her shins/thighs and what in a horse I'd call over at the knee and her pelvis was tipped forward, and her back hollowed. Honestly, I have never seen anything like it before or since.
She was horribly uncoordinated and off balance - her feet would strike her legs when she ran and her arms positively flailed, which meant she would frequently trip herself up. Not surprisingly she found physical activities painful, tiring and stressful. The reason she was riding was because her school required her to do a sport, she quite liked horses (on the ground) and she hated all the standard ones, being completely unable to get her limbs to do what she wanted. Mentally she was a bit in knots too, as trying and failing and being pushed to do things meant that she now anticipated failure so much that she was rigid even when asked to do the most basic of physical activities. She'd had about a years worth of lessons when I first started teaching her and could, w-t-c, for certain values of w-t-c.
What I did was carefully introduce core work under the guise of 'games' which I explained as bein less boring for them both than school figures. The idea was to slowly start building the strength for her to start riding in a more naturally correct position. I had to disguise what I was doing at first because her mother had pulled me aside to tell me when she began that the reason they'd switched was that she had gotten so stressed at the constant unachievable position corrections that her last instructor had tried to have her make. She worked out what I was doing after a bit, but because she'd started to improve she didn't mind that the 'games' that were supposedly for improving her control of the pony were actually aimed at improving her.

She taught me a lot about how trying can actually hinder performance, about looking at the body holistically, and how goal based exercises can often be more efficient than working directly on a problem.

Anonymous said...

@mugwump - I can't help but wonder how your Sonita would have reacted to that calf in Nancy C's vid!

zebradreams07 said...

Off-topic, but this video came up next after the crazy cow. All I can say is WOW!

Kel said...

@zebradreams: It's like a trail class on crack. Gorgeous animal!

mugwump said...

Anon - Sonita would have driven the cow from the back...with a little help from her rider....until it quit trying to face her and ran. Then she would have been able to put said cow in the pen.

The situation you're seeing isn't all that unusual. The cow has been either worked several times, or been handled by people too much and has learned it can't escape by running.Fight or flight...

It wants to go back the way it came to escape the arena, quite logical if you're a cow, the majority of the cattle are penned away from where they are trying to get her to go.

The horse is either young, has only worked with cattle in competition, or both.

Being faced off by a cow is dangerous,especially if they're horned.Even when they aren't an angry cow can knock down a horse and kill a rider.

The horse was being smart. It was well aware the cow could, and would, knock it over.

The rider (I know the guy BTW) should have known better than to force his horse repeatedly into the situation. He will have a fight on his hands the next time the horse works cattle.

He knocked out the trust between horse and rider that is needed to work cattle.

His horse now understands (probably for the first time) that cattle can fight back. He now also knows his rider won't keep him safe.

The cow wasn't crazy, the horse wasn't weak, wrong or stupid (I'm saving that for the rider), I found the situation unprofessional and sad.

Bif said...

I was confused watching the video, in that obviously what they were trying wasn't working, and it seemed to keep setting the horse up for failure.

The whole time I kept thinking ~ this isn't working and you are going to ruin this horse. Having you explain what was going on a little more clearly makes me dislike that rider even more.

um... Thanks!!


Jenn said...

Really wish you had video on this horse. Must have been something to see.

Anonymous said...

Did any of her foals have the same "gait"??

Anonymous said...

Thank you for breaking that down for me and giving me a better idea of what was going on in that vid.

honeyfish said...

Seems like that cow would have been a total loss if that other fellow hadn't come in and calmly saved it.

Unlike the palomino, his horse didn't seem to lose any confidence over the situation.

Sad, sad, sad.

Anonymous said...

This is late but I have to say my horse (which is a Walkaloosa-part Appy and part Racking horse) has a "special" gate other than her smooth 4 beat gait. I swear she is gaiting on one end and doing something completely different on the other. It's the most absolute rough, choppy, jackhammer of a ride. There's nothing wrong with her, she is smart as a whip and has won numerous blues in crazy obstacle trail rides. I just have to keep her in her correct frame and collected to be smooth. If I don't and let her slip, she will break gait and go all jackhammer on me.

Anonymous said...

I think I found a picture of Dixie Anne on Google image,typed in Dixie Anne horse,found a really rough/uncordniated looking b&w photo of what I take to be a Dun..

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