Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Ol' Yank N' Spur - Part Two

"So, when you see a trainer or horse owner using a method that you find abusive and/or unacceptable, what do you do? I'm asking you personally, Mugs."

"I want to own that stallion who stands in a crowd without lifting a nostril.. but I don't want to put my horses through what it took to get (the majority)of them there. I have ridden some "good" horses but most (not all) had very little personality.. or at least didn't show it.
I want my horses to be rock solid citizens.. but I enjoy it when they are individuals as well.
So, right now, I own some brats with manners. Stuck in the middle..."

These two comments dovetail straight into the crux of what I'm working through here. It makes me happy to see I've got people thinking and wondering like I am.

First, I'll answer the question, and get that out of the way. There is a HUGE difference between abuse and methods I find unacceptable.

Abuse? Starvation, treatment that causes crippling or death, behavior that endangers other horses or people, I call the authorities. That might be the police, a barn manager, the show representative at a horse show, local animal control or a newspaper. I ask what is going to be done and when, then I follow up to see that it happened and what the result was.

I have only been in a situation where I had to physically intervene twice. I was on a walk in a neighborhood I didn't know very well. A group of very young (four or five-years-old and down), very dirty children were torturing a puppy, chained in the middle of a yard, with sharp sticks. Not only were the children jabbing him repeatedly in his belly, but the violence was increasing at an incredible pace. The puppy was screaming,  the children were laughing, then I was shouting at them. There wasn't an adult in sight.
I went in the yard, knocked on the door and waited until a very disheveled, vague woman came to the door. I told her what the kids were doing, she went in the yard and started yelling at the kids. There was no food, shelter or water for the puppy. I left, went home and called our local Humane Society and DHS. The puppy was relinquished, the "daycare" was shut down and the woman and her own children were dealt with by Social Services.
Another time, I stole a dog tied to the side of a trailer on a two-foot chain. He was standing up to his knees in poop. Again, no food, water or shelter and he had body sores from foot to belly. I took him, trained him and a year later found him  home, where he lived happily for the next 12 years.

If I see a horse starving in a field I will watch him. If after 60 days I don't see an improvement I call my brand inspector, who is more than willing to wade into the legalities of letting livestock starve.

Methods I find unacceptable? I only comment if I am asked my opinion, and then only to the person who asks. In the old days, my students and clients heard me loud and clear, because that's what they paid me for. Nowadays, I have to be much more careful. I've made the mistake  of offering my insight in response to behavior or approaches I clearly saw as misguided. They were met with massive resistance and a touch of hostility. So, even though I was being told the story, my input beyond, "Uh huh," was very clearly unwelcome. If I alienate someone, I lose my chance to influence them. So, I don't offer unless specifically asked anymore. I just write.

Which brings me back to my original thoughts. How do we decide what is abuse, what is tough training, what is unacceptable and what, in the long run, might have been OK? I am eternally confused on this one.

Here are some of the scenarios that have made me slow down my conclusions and rethink lots of my former opinions. I'm writing these in no particular sequence.

1. This 10-year-old horse and 40-year-old rider came in for training.
"My horse was abused before I bought her. She is head shy, freaks when she's tied, can't tolerate being brushed, having her ears or poll touched, is terrified of men in baseball caps, ropes and loading in the trailer. She will only walk when I ride her, she rears if  I try to trot."
The owner was brand new to horses. For her first horse experience, she had gone to the local auction and bought two of the most starved, spooked, panicked animals of the day -- neither were ridden into the sale pen. The mare she brought me had had a foal a few months after purchase. She had owned them for a year when I began working with her.
She left the mare, with lots of kisses, tears and fuss. The mare pinned her ears and threatened to bite.
After thirty days the mare was fine.
After 60 days she was great, as far as her crappy conformation would let her be anyway. WTC, calm, safe.
I never needed to do anything beyond my normal training. I treated her like an unbroke youngster, she responded, and there you go. She sucked back one time on the tie rail. I ignored her, she stepped forward and that was the end. She was tied next to the guys while they were drinking beer and playing H.O.R.S.E., er, practicing roping with the plastic cow head stuck in a hay bale. Suddenly, ropes and men were moot.

2. I came into the arena on a colt. The Big K was riding Buck, a teen-aged cow horse K had owned and trained for his wife. It was very clear K was in an absolute fury. Buck had his superiors in both the AQHA and NRCHA, and a AQHA World Championship under his bridle. He had been fat, happy and retired until his new owner, a primary client of K's, had written a check so big they couldn't turn it down.
So, I was taken aback to see K beating the crap out of Buck. He spurred him forward, yanked him into the ground, spun him with a jerk to his heavy bit, whipped him heavily with his romel, you get the picture. The owner stood at the rail, silent, miserable, almost crying. By the time K was done, Buck was trembling, exhausted and white-eyed. He was also upright in the bridle, collected, soft and compliant.
K stepped down, his face red, his eyes cold and snarled at the client. "If you would ride him right I wouldn't have to do this."
He left Buck standing in the middle of the arena and left. His rage was obvious, it took a second before it registered that it was directed at the client.
"That should hold him through the weekend (coming show), then she can go back to loving him until the next time he pisses her off," he said in passing. He didn't come back to work for an hour.

3. A consistent national champion trainer (top five in the country for many years) was unloading horses at an event at about 2 a.m. There was a huge ruckus in the trailer. Those who were awake were immediately drawn to the show. He appeared at he loading ramp, beating an equally famous stallion with a logging chain. The fight and the beating went on for another few minutes until the stallion submitted, head down, quiet, licking and chewing. The horse was heavily blanketed, there would be no marks.
Nothing was said, a few eyebrows were raised, but it all took place at the training barn.
The next day the duo won the whole shebang. The trainer is still a top winner and the stud is sound, retired, loved, and a million dollar sire.

4. A young, decently bred horse was bought by an intermediate rider who wanted to raise and train a horse using Natural Horsemanship methods. The plan was to do it without assistance other than local clinics and videos. Two years later the horse threw the rider into a fence, resulting in some pretty serious injury. All work stopped for another year. I was called in to consult (free mind you, I was retired).
I met an amiable, soft, 16.3 hand 1300 pound spoiled monster. He bumped, nipped, stomped, pawed, shoved....I could go on. He gave his head like a cotton rope, right up to his lock and loaded shoulders and legs.
One 30 minute round pen session told me the horse was kind, biddable, interested and athletic. I evaluated his behavior, watched how the owner handled the horse and said I couldn't help, they needed to invest in a trainer and take as many lessons with said trainer as possible.
Two years later, the horse was 7, still not broke and being put up for sale. You see, he was kicking and injuring people now, and was too dangerous to handle.

5. A couple of boarders were trying to load an unwilling horse into a trailer. They had a huge crowd of "helpers." The situation was escalating. The horse was rearing, kicking, falling over know, trailer loading nightmares.
One of the helpers came up to me and said, "Do you know what to do?"
"Would you go help them?"
I was very hesitant, the actual owners hadn't asked for help, and I said as much.
"Somebody is going to get hurt, please go help them."
I approached the chaos, and offered to help.
The owner spun around, and said, "If I had wanted help I would have asked."
Her clenched fists told me all of her anger, frustration and embarrassment was about to be unloaded on my face. I turned to go, her horse unleashed with a double barreled kick and caught the owner in the kidneys.
The horse was eventually loaded, the owner was OK. The horse also, eventually, learned to load reliably and I was forever blamed for the owner getting kicked.

There you have it. I have left out my opinions then, my opinions now, and the conclusions I came to. I am really interested to read your thoughts and reactions. Next post I'll come in with what I thought then and what I think now. Even if it's the infamous, "I dunno."

Oh yeah,
"I want to own that stallion who stands in a crowd without lifting a nostril.. but I don't want to put my horses through what it took to get (the majority)of them there. I have ridden some good horses that had very little personality.. or at least didn't show it.
I want my horses to be rock solid citizens.. but I enjoy it when they are individuals as well.
So, right now, I own some brats with manners. Still a mugwump..."

I changed this comment just enough to make it mine. Of course, I have a feeling my idea of manners might be a little different than the original author's.


  1. Mugs, thanks for sharing these thoughts and examples with us. I am and always will be too green to wade in. I appreciate being the beneficiary of your and others experience and thinking about all this.

  2. A while back a friend of mine (who is not a professional trainer but who I think maybe should be. He seems to have a certain way with horses) said to me, "Cindy, have you ever noticed that all your horses seem to have the same issues? Do you really think it is just a coincidence?"

    I have 4 (more than I should have, but hey they have it pretty good so they get to stay)

    The issues he speaks of are, a little rude and pushy at feeding time, hard to catch in a pasture, and no brakes. There may be more but it is all I can think of that time.

    Each one of them had at least one of these issues, if not multiples, when they came to me, but at the time he said this, they all had every single one of them.

    Have I mentioned lately that I hate how much when other people are right about when I am wrong?

    One of the reasons he brought this up is because one of my horses is a sweet little mare who he had been working with on and off for/with me for a couple of years. I think he was more than a little irked that if left without supervision I was undoing all of his hard work. I also think he had every right to be more than a little irked.

    Some of the things they do don't really bother me that much (like pushy at feeding time) but I also recognize that it can be dangerous to others, and also it can escalate if left addressed.

    So with that in mind, I work on all of it...all of the time. The respect stuff is easy, the "brakes" are a completely different matter. But I still work on it and on me, consistently. By working on me, I in turn work on them. I know now that I am the common denominator with all my horses, whether it be for the good or for the bad.

    Some of them did have major issues that I did not cause, and I/we have some how managed to over come those. but I don't know that it was because I knew what I was doing. I'll call it dumb luck. I keep muddling along, seeking out help where and when I can, from people who are the kind of horsemen (women) I feel like I want to be.

    I think that is all any of us can do. We figure it out as we go. Hopefully our equine partners don't suffer too much in the process.

    So what does this have to do with your post? I don't know, probably nothing. But when I read this one the first thing I thought of was the words of my friend pointing out that the biggest problem with my horses was me.

  3. Cindy D. It has everything to do with this post.

  4. Several thoughts.

    1. There are both hard and soft ways to ruin a horse. Any natural horsemanship aficionado could give you a boatload of true stories about horses who were seriously compromised, if not damaged beyond repair, by hard handling, the same as any skeptic can provide an equally long and truthful list about horses who were coddled and played with until they were dangerous or useless.

    2. I noticed that the "soft" people in your examples were both amateurs, while the others were professionals. While I agree that the flag-waving "horsenality" crowd is, by and large, a bunch of loonies, the failure of someone who doesn't know what they're doing (and, especially if you've spent your life in lessons, you can be a darn good rider without knowing much about how to handle a horse that doesn't come ready-made, let alone one with issues) doesn't tell me anything. Even the right tools won't work in the wrong hands.

    3. And that brings us to the big problem for amateurs such as myself: whom do you trust? Everybody you meet has advice, everybody you meet is always right and knows exactly what to do with your horse. Most of the horse people I run across, on the internet and in real life, have stories along the lines of #5 - the "I could have fixed it in five minutes if they'd only listened to me." Some of them are right. But it's so hard to tell, when you didn't get the chance to learn as a kid and 90% of what you know comes from books. It ain't hard to find your own huge crowd of 'helpers.' How do you know if the person offering advice is a competent horse person or a misguided schmuck? Is it credentials? Do you say "Oh, this guy is a champion trainer, so whacking my horse with a chain is a great idea!" Is it the behavior of their horses? Mine has excellent manners, both on the ground and under saddle, but that's only because he's an exceptionally kind, willing horse; I couldn't train my way out of a wet paper bag.

  5. I don't normally comment - what goes on here is well above my level of experience - but I couldn't resist this one.

    1. Horse sounds like she has confidence problems. Horses with confidence problems do best when their handler a) is decisive, clear, and unambiguously in charge (which is why they fall apart with completely unexperienced people, but they can do quite well with the right confident & competent beginner) BUT b) treats the horse as if it didn't have any problems. I would wager a guess the owner was afraid of or at least timid in working with the horse, reinforcing the confidence problems.

    2. Can't guess what's going on without more information about the person involved.

    3. This doesn't give me any immediate misgivings, although it might if I had more information. I think there are horses of certain dispositions that are prone to episodes of shitheadery and/or totally distraction, even if they are competently handled and know how they are supposed to behave. In such situations it seems to be best for everyone involved to use whatever measures are necessary to retain control until the horse's mind comes back to earth, including whacking it with whatever object is handy.

    I remember a dog I used to know that was over-friendly and would jump on people (it was a lab, so much to large for this to be ok). Its owner told me that one day when the vet came the dog jumped on the vet and the vet punched it in the nose (hard). Dog never jumped on the vet again. Moral of the story: with some animals, if you scare the shit out of it once you never have to enforce the lesson again, which turns out better for everyone involved in the long run. Of course I don't know that that's what was happening with the stallion, but I'm willing to believe it was without more information.

    4. Ah yes, the spoiled brat. I've had to fix one of those, although he wasn't quite as bad as it sounds like this horse turned out.

    5. Just a very unfortunate situation, for which the owner is entirely responsible (should have gotten help when things weren't working).

  6. Interesting thoughts come to mind.

    Story 1. I have heard a lot of people with rescued dogs, whose history they know little to nothing about, talk about how horribly their dog must've been treated in the past. There's a lot of the same 'oh you poor baby' attitude toward the dogs.

    Problem is, pity doesn't help the dog. Training does. If your dog acts as thought he's afraid of men, you don't pet and cosset him and tell yourself and everyone else how awful his past must be. Animals don't live in the past. What you do is desensitize the dog to men. There are lots of ways to do this, but I recently converted a beagle who was terrified of water into a dog who'll jump into the bathtub and walk into the shower spray all on her own.

    I sense a theme in some of these stories. "Don't spoil your horse." Hell, don't spoil your dog or your children, either. 'Firm but fair' is the rule I try to live by dealing with all sorts of animals.

    Story 5 reminds me of a saying I read somewhere. "If you try to load a horse as if you have all day to do, it'll take 30 minutes. if you try to load a horse as if you have 30 minutes, it'll take all day." Also that too many helpers isn't always a good thing.

  7. I enjoy watching my horse be a brat when I don't have a halter or saddle on him. When tack touches his body, I want him to be a perfect gentleman. He isn't perfect yet, but I don't use chains.

    I remember a post you (Mugs) did years ago where you talked about working with a horse, and wanting it to believe that you might decide to eat it, and today might be the day if they didn't behave. Although I might not decide to eat my horse, that's kind of what I want. I want to be soft all the time, but I want the horse to know I don't have to be, and if he acts up, I will get rough. There have been a few times I've had to be very hard on my horse, on the ground and under saddle, and I always feel the way the Big K did after he worked that gelding over. But, I only have myself to cuss at.

    I really like what Anon said, "There are both hard and soft ways to ruin a horse." I wish that was done in needlepoint or cross stitch and hung in every barn. I've had some really big arguments with "true believers" of some of the gurus who don't believe you should even say the word "ruin," you should always be so soft and squishy that you don't ride unless the horse tells you it's okay. You know, the horse is so sacred and beautiful that anything it does is wonderful. I better stop before I get mean.

    I've stepped in and stopped abuse twice, I didn't think about what I was doing at the time, it was a gut reaction and I just did it. I would rather call 9-11, but didn't have a cell phone at the time.

  8. as an amateur and novice of just 4 years i can only comment on the amateur stories, and Cindy D. captured the cruxt of it. I think most of my horse's issues started as my issues. luckily i have a good trainer that works with me weekly or more. how do i know she is good? because my horses are improving and thriving and well-behaved now. the training is challenging, but not stressful. i am held accountable and my missteps are explained to me in detail, and i practice exercises under her supervision til i can be trusted to practice alone. it initially sucked to see my brat behaved so perfectly with the trainer and not with me, but it clarified the problem, no chance to rationalize it away. when i boarded at a busy barn i got lots of advice from all sides, but you don't always get it in context or in a way that can help you in the long run. finding a trainer that can stick with you is the key.

    the only reaction i have to the professional examples, is that i am now have a better understanding that pain/harsh discipline needs to be in the training spectrum for some situations, but i cannot presume to judge the ones you present. I do buy into the thought that it is better to deliver a quick, hard correction than to "nag" with light taps of a whip/spur over and over.

  9. I think so much of the need for BIG actions in your examples (or like the lab punched in the nose) is because the majority of people cannot recognize (or don't have the feel) the need for small actions that could prevent the need to get big. Most dogs, you can tell they're going to jump before they launch and that's the time to act, not post-launch, which is way too late. I never realized everyone couldn't feel what an animal was going to do before it actually did it until I got married. My husband loves animals but he doesn't act until the animal is in the thick of doing the undesired behavior. It will make me so mad, because i could see it coming way before it happened. I have to recognize he didn't grow up with a dog as his best friend, immersing him in every book about animals that the local libraries had.

    I am torn on the issue that the original commenter had made, about having horses who are "brats" with manners. My two geldings are healthy, well cared for and don't want for anything. I think they're pretty well behaved...the barn workers all tell me how much they love my horses and how nice they Are to have around. That has been the case at all the facilities we have boarded at. I don't think they would just say that. But I'll admit I sometimes wonder what you would think of my boys, Mugs. I feed them treats and like a "pocket pony". My TB gelding gives kisses, licking my face like a dog. I don't like a horse that swings away with the lightest contact so it takes a firmer push to move them over. I don't know what my point is, mostly just musing I guess as this topic brought topics that I think about a lot. Am interested to read the dialogue that ensues.
    Maybe my question is, in your experience as a trainer and horsewoman, did you have owners who were pretty competent horse people whose horses were a little spoiled but overall good citizens? I think maybe my horses are just trained to the boundaries I prefer, but does that mean they're disrespectful or this could disintegrate into pushy disrespectful horses?

  10. Mugs, thank you for continuing with this line of thought.

    I think I would have lost my shit if I found someone beating their horse with a logging chain. There's no reason, no excuse, nothing that makes that OK. Nothing. A professional should have better tools than that.

  11. Jen, what you have said about not everybody being able to read animals is right. Some things in my life I have been able to figure out, and when I was young everybody expected me to become a horse trainer, but young as I was, I realized that I could not train a horse to do what it did not want to do, and sometimes the ower wants the horse to do something that particular horse just doesn't want to do.

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  13. I am so interested in this series of posts because I am currently working at a hall of fame cutting trainer's barn. I am even more interested in your thoughts on the examples you gave of trainers.

    I know personally one of my "issues" is babying my horses. My own gelding can be a little pushy and a little snotty, and I know it's because I baby him. We have three stallions here, one is out of aged events and has won more money than I can think about. He's well behaved and well trained, he has his moments but you glance at him and he's done. The second is three and will be at the futurity this year, he's prone to baby-stallion moments, but is learning and again, is pretty good. The third is brand new to the barn, trained by someone else and a nightmare.. came off the trailer striking and pawing. For the past few days since he's arrived he's been tied almost all the time. Our farrier told us he knows the horse and that he is a brutal kicker in the loping pens... I would say all three have much more personality than any of the geldings we have at the barn, which I like.

    However, I know to never endulge those personalities. Furthermore, I recognize my own faults and I doubt I will ever personally own a stallion, because of my babying I'm sure my stallion will be a lot more like stallion # 3 than the other two.

    So, do I see a lot of the example of that famous trainer and that multi-million dollar sire...? Oh yes, I see it all the time, and sometimes it's hard for me to wade into the waters of what is wrong and what is right because I'm so new to this world.

    I am continually wondering through my work day... can a horse with personality also be a high level show horse? I hear about horses with "personality' that are world-champions, but I wonder if trainers consider personality to be the same thing I do... and now i'm wondering if what i consider personality to be more bad-behaviour than anything? So much to think about! So please keep writing this series! I am fascinated to know what you, yourself, as a trainer thinks!

  14. Hmmm, thought long and hard before I wrote.

    Case #1 - I see alot of that with my SO and his horses. I treat them like real horses when I have them at my place and they fall into line real quick but it's a never ending "tough love" job. SO does have a "wacky" mare...really do believe she has some mental issues because of her harsh training (gait or die mentality). I can ride her but don't feel confident enough to really push the envelop with her w/o a trainer. Thankfully, SO is sending her to my trainer so that will help but, again, she will probably go back to either this case or "Buck's" case.

    Case #2 - I'm assuming that the owner just let the horse do whatever he wanted and he started to "ignore" his rider, hence the Big K's rude awakening. I'm sure Big K was sick to his stomach, having to get after the Buck like that but it had to be done. Question often did he have to do it or did he just throw in the towel?

    Case #3 - Llike someone else a professional trainer, he should have had better tools to deal with a rank stud. The other comment that you grab whatever is handy to deal with a rank horse is true but makes me wonder, who carrys a logging chain around in a horse trailer? I'm sure the chain was used more often than not and that is sad and, blanket or not, abuse.

    Case #4 - Owner abuse through kindness/stupidity...similiar to Case #2 but owner didn't have a trained horse to start with so, whereas Big K just had to remind Buck what his job was, this horse didn't know his job and it would take a true investment (time and money) with a trainer to get this horse trained...which, of course, didn't happen.

    Case #5 - We've all have days like this when you need a horse to load and they're like - Hell NO, we won't GO. Crap happens but I, like you, have learned NOT to offer help unless asked. It looks like the owner did take the time to teach the horse to load. BS on getting blamed.

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  16. Thank you for the stories Mugs. My personal equation is very clear - if 'doing well' requires me treating my horse in a way that he 'loses his personality' then I want no part of it.

    I found most of the scenarios you outlined incredibly sad. The saddest I think was the one about the horse Big K was 'tuning up for his owner, because both the owner and trainer sounded to be doing things that hurt their hearts because that was the best they knew - there are alternatives.

    Anonymous asked how you tell the good from the bad when there is such a huge range of contradictory advice.

    From my experience, an important starting point is to understand the kind of person you are, and then to find a way of being with and training your horse that is congruent with the kind of person you are. If you are 'soft' (like me), using a 'hard' way is likely to get you into trouble because you won't have your heart in what you are doing - at least that is what happened to me. Changing to a 'soft' method based on positive reinforcement and with pressure used only to stop unwanted behaviour has improved my relationship with my horse enormously. By contrast, I know 'harder' people (not cruel or rough, just no-nonsense and expecting others to get with their program) who very effectively use the methods that caused me so much trouble.

    It may also depend on the horse's temperament, whether they are too timid or determined to accept 'hard' handling, as mine was. Over the last couple of days I have had the great privilege of watching a very gentle woman with her herd of five horses, one of whom is a 10 hand pony with a past. He had ended up at the doggers (slaughter for pet meat) and been rescued from there with another mare by a nice woman experienced with horses who works well with with pressure-release approach. The mare has gotten on fine with her, but this little guy became increasingly 'aggressive' and 'dangerous', despite her calling in a professional trainer who used the 'join-up' technique with him. It got to the point where the woman was reluctantly considering that euthanasia might be the only solution. Then someone suggested he might do better with a different approach, and his current owner was contacted and he has been with her about two months. She uses a similar very gentle technique to the one I use use. The little horse I saw was somewhat wary, not as relaxed as her others, but in no way the aggressive dangerous horse he was before, and his previous owners are amazed with his progress.

    So I think there is no one way, what works depends on the horse and the person and how willing the person is to give the horse the time it needs and to put the horse's needs ahead of their own wants (eg to do well in shows). If you are a softie like me I strongly recommend exploring the positive reinforcement-based techniques - FT, clicker, CAT etc.

  17. This is a bit repetitive of things other people have said, but I think it lends additional support to the ideas you're trying to get to.

    I coach High School kids as part of a program called OHSET. Every Sunday, I spend 3 hours coaching kids through everything from riding drill to handling their horse on the ground.

    One of the things I repeat endlessly is this: "If you don't want to ever have to get rough with your horse, don't ever spoil them." Sadly, not everyone listens to that advice.

    In my experience, there's a fine (but firm) line between loving on your horse and spoiling it. My horses get treats after we ride - if they've behaved themselves. I'm pretty sure the horses don't know why they get the treats sometimes and not others, but it makes me happy. But the deal is that after work is really the only time they get treats. And, if they get obnoxious about asking for treats - the treats stop immediately.

    I think that's where the line is - the "get away with it" part. I hug on all my horses. It makes me feel good. For them, it's about them allowing me to confine them for a moment. But for me, its about the hugging. If they pull back - we work on hugging, because (as their leader) I need to be able to touch my horses wherever I want, whenever I want.

    I happen to have a foal (my first horse foal!) in my barn at the moment. I hug on her and pet her. But if she gets unruly, she gets in trouble. I've dumped her on her butt several times when she's tried to do foal things like jump up on me. She's learned that I'm bigger than she is, and that she cannot be disrespectful. With any luck, I'll be able to keep it that way. Some day she'll be 1200 lbs, and I'm going to need her to still believe that I'm bigger than she is. I need to be her leader and she'll need to be respectful of me.

    I'm pretty sure that's the crux of most, if not all of the situations that you described, Mugs.

    For me, most issues with horses seem to come down to respect and work ethic. Horses have to know that they need to respect you and that it's easier to do it the right way. (The Right Way being whatever it is they were asked to do, in whatever way they're asked to do it.)

    I am in no way a professional trainer, but I know that, if I'm working with horses, I'm training them (whether I want to or not.) And those people that I work with and try to help, don't seem to understand that.

    The common thread seems to be that they commit the worst and most basic set of errors: They don't act as a leader for their horse, they unconsciously reward the bad behaviors, and they don't understand that every time they touch their horse, they're training it in some way.

  18. Great post! Already a lot of interesting discussion.
    1. I have heard the 'he is fearful so he must have been abused' story about horses and dogs, and studies have shown it really isn't true. They will act true to their temperament. A dog that is fearful or men, or afraid of noises is a dog with a shy temperament who has not been taught how to deal with his fears. Same with horses. A spooky ear shy horse is a horse who has not been properly handled, not necessarily mis-handled. I'm not saying abuse couldn't cause bad effects, but it's not the major cause of things that people think.
    2. Well, I would have refused to do what Big K did,but I understand what he was doing. He was trying to teach a lesson to the owner, and he stressed the horse, and made him work, but didn't hurt him really. I just don't think it would work, and owner that clueless isn't going to admit they screwed the horse up.
    3. Yeah, been there, done that. Thing is, if you haven't handled a stud, you just don't understand what a powder keg you can have sometimes. If you don't stay on top of them, they can hurt you, others, themselves. A horse can kill a man, and fast. If you have a meddlesome stud, and he is getting hot, you have to get control NOW. You use whatever you have on hand, and you use it hard. A tantrum in a horse trailer can turn into horses seriously hurt fast. A logging chain is just a big heavy chain, I have one we keep around in case we have to tow something super heavy, so reasonable he could have it around. Or he might have known it would take something like that to get the stud's attention.
    4. I have raised quite a few foals. Most have been lovely. I'm firm, they respect me, training is relatively easy. But right now I have a 16 month old filly we had to hand raise (mare refused). We have never allowed her to mouth, bite, paw, kick, etc but still we have to re-inforce that we are in charge. She is exhausting. We will have weeks where she is mannerly and nice to handle, then suddenly she has to test us again (always about food) and I end up smacking her with whatever I have (leadline, crop, bucket, etc) and making her MOVE THOSE FEET until I tell her she can stand and blow. I'm not looking forward to training her.
    5. Yeah, I don't offer advice. If they want me to load the horse, then I will. After I've told all the 'helpers' to get lost and sent the owner for a bucket of grain. I saw a friend try to help someone who was having a difficult time. The people didn't listen, their horse ended up with the back legs under the trailer scrapped all up and somehow it was my friends fault even though they didn't listen to her.

    All of these are difficult, and could be seen in different ways. I have seen people give me the wide eye when I've disciplined my horses, but they also are the same people who say "oh, I could ride on the trails/jump that log/go to a show if I had a horse as well mannered as yours."

    I also was appologising to my vet for my filly, because she was a bit wiggly, and looky when the vat was here and I was working with her to stand still by training so it was taking a bit longer. (I refuse to use a chain over the nose, twitch or any stuff like that. hate seeing babies with that lump on their noses.) The vet laughed, and said my baby was great. Most people couldn't even lead their foals.

  19. Nope. Still don't see a reason to repeatedly whack a horse with a logging chain.

  20. I've had the good fortune to handle many stallions. I like them. I find them to be very true to themselves, and if allowed to be horses, in some ways they're the most predictable of all horses as they follow their instincts so closely.

    The rankest, most dangerous stallions are ALWAYS the ones who live in stalls, and the calmest, best behaved ones are usually well-socialized pasture-dwellers.

    Isolation is harder on them than on mares or geldings and it makes their domesticated lifestyle that much more unsatisfactory, I think. I often feel a bit sorry for stallions, honestly. Not that I don't feel free to remind them who's in charge. Loudly (not noisily!), if necessary :)

    This line of thought is def OT, but since it came up... ;)

  21. I will comment on the Big K part of the post, as it is eerily like an instance I asked Mugs about recently. :)

    I board at a barn where the owner wants to be a major national contender in NRHA, not just regional. She recently hired an up-and-coming performance horse trainer to work out of our barn.

    Since he was new, he had some open training time.

    I have a 15 year old, not gonna compete because he's way too old, not dangerously bad for me since I have more riding ability than sense, but set-in-his-ways and occasionally very stubborn and opinionated, QH. I may be the source of, or at least one of the sources, for the "I want my horses to be rock solid citizens.. but I enjoy it when they are individuals as well." sentence in the post. :)

    Anyway, I asked this man to work with him.

    I emailed Mugs after a session in which my horse refused to do something he was perfectly capable of doing, knew what was being asked, but just said "I don't WANT to", and the trainer basically *made* him do it. It took a while, and he was panting, dripping sweat, and had blood from the spurs on his side.

    I understood that it wouldn't have happened if the horse hadn't been such a butthead. I understood that he was a butthead because I'd allowed him to be "opinionated" and if I didn't really have a strong opinion myself about the subject, let him make the decisions. It still horrified my that my horse had blood on his sides. And the peanut gallery of other boarders were all looking disapprovingly on as well.

    Well, my horse just finished 60 days of training. During it, I took lessons on him as well. He listens, he's softer, he just about sits on his ass when I say whoa (the trainer jokes that I should put sliders on him) and he still has his personality.

    Now it's my job to not fall back into bad habits. I'm definitely motivated.

  22. Hmm. That really wasn't a comment on the Big K part, so much as a "this is kind of like the Big K part of the post"

  23. As a kid I never gave any thought to anything. I got on kicked yanked on reins and off we went. I had some very forgiving horses. The first horse I purchased after many years of no contact with horse what so ever was a sweet old brood mare. I still have her. I thought that I needed a “well trained horse” and younger horse. I purchased him he was 6. He and I have run the gamut because of my complete lack of knowledge. Yup Mugs I could easily be one of your examples of stupid. I can say this horse has changed my life, changed me. I have learned so much from him. The things I thought I knew well he sure showed me otherwise. I have had many different fair trainers to help me along the way. I have one “session” I wish I could take back. It was early on and what the instructor told me to do I did, even thou it sure didn’t feel like the right approach I did it anyway. In looking back it was not even so much what the instructor was telling me to do it was my delivery and mindset that was all wrong. I wish I could have a do over on that day.

  24. I have questions (possibly stupid ones) about Big K's behavior. I thought it was best if emotion was kept out of the equation when disciplining a horse. (and I'll admit that I am still working on mastering my emotions, and I'm not sure I'll ever succeed). Would the horse be able to tell that the rage was aimed at the owner and not at him? Or would that matter to the horse? Although the owner probably had motivation to change her riding behavior after watching, did it help her understand how she should ride instead?

    Regarding #1, I have a fellow boarder that always has many reasons why her horses have less than desirable behavior (he's claustrophobic, he doesn't know how to tie, etc). My trainer once asked her in a clinic: but what are you doing to help him? I think the question really surprised her.

    The experts I know do not offer advice either unless asked. How unfair for you to be blamed for the owner getting kicked. The horse certainly would have had a better experience if they had let you help. Even though the horse now loads well, it seems like he would also remember the path taken to get him there. I wonder how that colors his view of every new thing that is asked of him.

  25. Along the lines of spoiling your horse- When I got my first horse, she came after a lifetime of waiting. She is beautiful and kind- maybe because I live in a house full of boys, but I wanted her and I to have this amazing bond= Black Stallion fever I guess. Anyways, she started pushing me around and I let her cause I didn't want to fight. At the same time, I didn't feel like we had all that great of a relationship. It wasn't until a good friend of mine got in my face about it ("Why are you letting her do that? SPANK her! Quit trying to be friends and demand some respect from her!)that I started taking a harder line with her. And over time, I feel like the bond I always wanted has developed.We really were connected in a special way. She wanted some leadership from me, my strong self, not my weak self.
    Now that she and I are competing, I had to readjust my thinking and our relationship again- more trust in her, less trying to do it all, letting her carry her own weight in the team. I still have to offer my strong self though, or she would take over. I think its a mare thing, and one of the things I like about mares- by necessity, they can bring out the best in us. Wyo Faith

  26. Well, I wouldn't have used a logging chain, but I also wouldn't have brought a horse (any horse) to a show that wasn't a solid citizen who didn't need a 'come to Jesus' moment just to get out of a trailer.
    From what Mugs said in the follow up post I have to wonder if the stud was really flying off the handle, or maybe just spooked, and the guy felt he had to 'teach him a lesson.' If that was the case, all the poor stud learned was you get beat in trailers. Bet he had fun loading him to go home.

  27. Shadowrider -- I agree here. We've all had our horses surprise us with bad behavior, and trust me, I've had many a surprise from my nicely trained horses over the years. Most of them happen away from home, but losing my temper has never been the key. And I agree, there were probably some interesting loading issues waiting with that million dollar sire.

  28. #1 - Mugs, as a (former) trainer, weren't these types of people your bread and butter? This just seems extremely common to me, in horses and dogs. I'm not sure you can fix these types of people - the horses, sure. I have a previously abused (without a doubt - confiscated by AC) dog that is scared of men with deep voices. When a man tries to approach her, I do generally explain that she was abused and is frightened of men, and the man will generally change his behavior to be softer (squatting down rather than bending over, and offering a hand to smell instead of trying to pet and play). I can then proceed to properly introduce them at the level that suits her for now - a lot of praise and encouragement to show friendly behavior towards the man. I do believe that animals live in the present, but I think you also have to acknowledge any previous (real) abuse, but continue to work towards the proper behavior/response. People who make up abuse stories to make excuses for poor behavior are not doing the animal any favors.
    #2 - I would have been really upset to see this in person. Poor Buck. I can only hope that his owner got the message from Big K, loud and clear, and didn't let it get to that point again. It is very unfortunate that the Big K just didn't say to his client "you're not ready for the show this weekend" which would have given them all time to fix the problem without resorting to that level of correction. Also, Buck knew what was expected of him, knew the Big K so their was no confusion there, so it kind of surprises me that the Big K had to go to these great lengths to get him back into shape. Hmmm...
    #3 - I have mixed feelings, but again I probably would have been really upset if I witnessed this. I firmly believe that sometimes you need to correct dangerous behavior immediately and with whatever force necessary. But a logging chain? Really? That's pretty much the last "tool" I would consider grabbing - if it ever even crossed my mind. That it was at-hand inside the trailer makes me suspicious that it was routinely used on the horse. Just not good. However, the end result was the horse was calm, submissive and uninjured. Hmmm...
    #4 - Again, a "bread and butter" client, but it seems they couldn't afford a trainer? It's a shame. I hope the horse caught a break with its next owner. It seems the horse could have been turned around ok.
    #5 - Never get involved unless asked. I would have told the person who asked me to go talk to the owner themselves about getting my help. The only exception I make to this rule, is when my mom is trying to load her brat mare who loads perfectly fine most of the time, then all of a sudden doesn't want to. Mom will then start "click training" her to get her to step on the trailer. WHAT? She KNOWS what to do and is just yanking your chain! I get the dressage whip, tell Mom to get in the truck, and the mare is loaded in 10 seconds. LOL!
    I enjoyed reading all the comments - most I totally agreed with.

  29. I made the mistake(?) of confronting my ex boss one day when she shanked a horse so hard on the face with a chain she drew blood and the horse backed up so hard she kicked a rear leg with a front and drew blood. Why? Because the horse rushed through a gate to get away from another horse crowding it.

    She wouldn't respond to my polite enquiries so I lost my temper and told her she was cruel. That hit the mark. Unfortunately it didn't stop her, she had to carry on doing it to justify herself. I ended up telling her vet, farrier and everyone I knew in the horse world how she was and finally managed to leave.

    I detest confrontation but I detest unfair treatment even more. Best and worst thing I ever did there.

  30. I made the mistake(?) of confronting my ex boss one day when she shanked a horse so hard on the face with a chain she drew blood and the horse backed up so hard she kicked a rear leg with a front and drew blood. Why? Because the horse rushed through a gate to get away from another horse crowding it.

    She wouldn't respond to my polite enquiries so I lost my temper and told her she was cruel. That hit the mark. Unfortunately it didn't stop her, she had to carry on doing it to justify herself. I ended up telling her vet, farrier and everyone I knew in the horse world how she was and finally managed to leave.

    I detest confrontation but I detest unfair treatment even more. Best and worst thing I ever did there.

  31. Half Dozen Farms - Unfortunately, I had too many of these clients, but this one was the worst.Also, she was indeed, a long term client and even bought one of my personal horses. As time went by I began to lose patience with this type of horse person.
    Having one of these, still not riding well or much, but now hanging her shingle as an instructor, because "I've been a student on Mugs for 7 years now," is NOT good advertising for a program. Reading that the gentle, sound, broke,broke, broke retired show horse you sold her out of your personal string was "finally learning where to be on a cow" during a clinic with an NH'er who didn't show, well, that gets you rethinking who is a good client or not.
    Did she actually hurt me? Just my tetchy pride.I felt like her failings were mine, but the other trainers who went on to work with her were only sympathetic.

    Was my former horse hurt in any way? Nope. She looooved being massaged, chiro'd and having her chakra unblocked. And really loved never having to work for her oats again.
    But, I was very relieved to move up a teensy notch on the trainer scale and begin riding for small-scale breeders and teaching riders who actually rode.Riders like her needed to butter somebody else's bread, I had lost patience.

  32. Peanut and Half Dozen - K wasn't perfect. He made me think, always, but not because I wanted to grow up just like him. He had a temper, and it wasn't always handled well.
    Buck was a tough horse, not a pet, and kind of a shirker. The new owner knew all this, Buck was kind of famous for being, well, a jerk.
    When she bought him, it was with the understanding it would involve work to show him. She was plenty capable of riding him BTW.He wasn't mean or dangerous, you had to think and feel to get him ridden. It just occurred to me, this is an awesome horse story, so I'm shutting up now.

  33. Thank you for the clarification Mugs. It just goes to show that you can learn a lot from someone even if you don't agree completely with them (including that you want to do some things differently).