Thursday, April 2, 2015

To Spook or Not to Spook, That is the Question 1

My new student pulled in and unloaded her horse from the old stock trailer. I sat on the bench against the tack room wall and watched her get ready. I had a great view through the wooden slats.

She pulled a helmet out of the back of her Suburban and put it on.. Then, she unloaded her gear and set it on the bumper. Brushes, pad, saddle, bridle, all in a row.

The paint gelding faced her behind the  closed divider. He wasn't wearing a halter and he whinnied non-stop. She slid open the divider a few inches and he jammed his nose into the space, trying to muscle his way out. She talked to him in soothing tones.When she raised the hand carrying the halter,  he spun away and pressed his nose into the far corner. My student now faced his crouched and quivering butt. She stepped away and peered through the slats at me.

"Have you hauled this horse before?" I called.


"Have you unloaded him by yourself?"


"Then go on, unload him," I said.

She stood still. The horse turned back around and started pawing the floor. Even in the shadows I could see her flinch away.

She came back out of the trailer and dug around in the back of her car for a bit. She found what she was looking for and toted at least 10 lbs. of horse candy back into the trailer. I could hear her start in sweet talking him.

Five minutes and at least a pound of treats later the horse was haltered and she brought him out, headfirst. He hopped out of the trailer, planted his front legs, snorted hard and spooked a mile.  He was almost on top of my client trying to run off. She screamed a little -- not the there's a zombie trying to eat me kind of scream, it was more of a found a dead  mouse in the water tank scream. He spun away and slammed into her chest, first his shoulder and then his hip. She went ass over tea kettle. He jumped back in the trailer.

"Do you want some help?" I asked.

She stood up and dusted herself off. "Nope, I'll get him."

I gave her points for sticking it out and settled back to enjoy the show.

She went through another couple pounds of treats, but got him unloaded and led him to his tack. He spooked again as they approached the tack and bolted. She hung tough and he raced around her in circles on the end of his lead rope. It took another ten minutes before he quieted enough to be groomed.

She didn't tie him, she just looped the rope over her arm and wrestled with him. He spooked at the curry. She held it out for him to sniff. He spooked at the brush, the saddle pad, the saddle an she let him sniff each and every one, but she got him saddled.

Finally, I thought. I went to the tie rail and saddled my horse. I swung up and trotted into the arena to warm up. My new student was still leading her horse. He spooked at my horse. He spooked at the chutes, the arena door, the railings, clumps of dirt and a pile of manure.

That horse about yanked the arms off of that poor woman while she led him around the arena. When they had spooked at every nook and cranny she came over and reached to pet my mare's nose. The gelding stepped around her and goosed my mare in the flanks. She squealed, the client, now pinned between the horses, cut loose with another scream. This one was definitely a zombie's got me scream. The paint spooked.

"Can I use your round pen?" she asked.

"Sure," I answered.

They jumped and skittered their way to the pen behind the indoor.

I had two more ridden before she came back. I kept thinking I should go check on her, but she'd cut loose with a zombie scream once and again, so I knew she was fine. By the time they came back, she was bright red, soaked with sweat and out of breath, but she was on her horse. The paint was barely damp. He stood with his head flung high, eyes bugged and his tail kinked a little to the left.

"What are we going to do today?" she asked.

"Oh, your lesson time was up before you headed to the round pen," I told her. "We'll try again next week."

She still paid me, so I gave her a couple more points.


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Ugh I can't even imagine. I've read about horses like this one and I can't believe their owners put up with that crap. They basically are training their horses to be over reactive to every little thing.

And, they hauled their horse without a halter on? I feel like that's all sorts of dangerous, especially with one with so little respect for personal space.

Heather said...

It's so cute to see a horse training their human so efficiently....

battleshipdestroyer said...

This makes me both sad and happy. At least she's coming for lessons, and that means she wants things to get better. That horse needs a good refresher on manners and she needs a refresher on confidence and managing her personal space. I've been the person with a similarly-behaved horse and it takes a lot of dedication and perseverance to change yourself enough to change them. Always makes me sad though, to see a person who obviously so loves and fears their horse.

DockStart said...

I could not help but laugh at this story. It is so real. So honest. I think there is a definite lesson in it, and if we are being honest with ourselves, a little bit of that person in all of us at one point or another in our horse ownership/riding careers. At the very least we've probably all witnessed a well intentioned but miss-led horse person like this once or twice. I love your response to the "start/end" of her lesson that day. Brilliant and well written.

emma said...

yikes... tho is it terrible that i kinda hope this isn't the end of the story?

Anonymous said...

Oh, Mugs, she's coming for lessons and Lesson #1 could have been how to unload. As in "Um, I've hauled him before but I'm having trouble." But no. She had to maintain status quo. Why is it that some people are so slow to figure out that 99% of what we (the hobbyists) do with horses is on the ground, not on the horse? Amy in Ohio

Becky Bean said...

I like her.

She's a woman who loves horses enough to still want to be around them, despite being scared of her horse - who honestly sounds like a complete a##hole.

There are a lot of horses in the world who put up with scared beginners and/or re-riders until they gain confidence. Her horse sounds like the opposite - a grade-1 jerk who is having a lot of fun taking advantage of her fear.

It's really hard to admit out loud when you're lost - Anyone who says differently never went through that moment of awful silence of waiting for someone else to raise their hand in math class when the teacher said, "Got any questions?".

It always surprised me how fast the questions flew after someone asked the first question - but man, that first moment of having to admit how dumb you felt in front of other people...

It's rough.

I like this rider. Good for her.

sarahfromsc said...

The human ego; the Achilles heel of our existence.

When we let it go, the world opens up.

I was going to give her kudos for sticking with it; but decided not to because she didn't learn a damn thing because of it.

Heather said...

Having cogitated on this one overnight, I now wonder: Did the horse have her this well trained from the start (e.g. She bought him this way.) or did this situation slowly evolve over time. (Thus my earlier comment about efficient human training.) I'm reserving judgement until we get more of the backstory. But yeah, at least she paid you for your time....

Anonymous said...

Heather..I like both your comments (see, Facebook thumbs up likey-like)!

I did the same thing. First impression, but then thought about it. Because I've seen the well behaved horse that reverts to total buttheadjerk because owner allows it. And then becomes scared of it. Which multiplies the problem 10 fold, until we see her practicing (BigNameTrainer) method with Horsie trailing a 12 foot magical rope on a swivel snap and helpful rope halter - all over the damn barn eating everything in sight as she chases Mare with brushes. Because, mare has gone from pretty darn solid to not standing tied (paws, pulls back), running the hell over you...Well. Basically like the horse in this blog. Because it has been allowed, and has now learned, and is now borderline dangerous for anyone who allows her to get away with the first minor misbehavior she tries.

In this case, owner also got some training help. But, never really changed. Horse became an overfed pet, until she tragically shattered her leg playing in the pasture. So, who knows whether a breakthrough would've ever actually come.

Sally said...

That's harsh!
She clearly is in trouble, has a spoilt horse, doesn't know what to do, and is coming for help in the form of lessons. The impression I am getting is that you could have given this girl help but instead decided to shame her for the whole situation?
This does not sound like the Mugs I thought I knew?
I'm confused.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Becky Bean -- I like this rider. Hope she found some help somewhere

Anonymous said...


"do you need help?"

That was an option she didn't take. Sometimes, the sooner we accept help, the sooner we can get on with the lesson.

Sally said...

Coming for a lesson is asking for help!
Why else would she have come there and tried that hard?
According to what I read she was asked if she wanted help once early on. Said no, she's got it and went on working hard to manage. So that deserves a "sorry lessons over" even before it began?
Sorry I just don't get it at all?
I would have never ever expected that this was a MUGS lesson. It just sounds irresponsible and kinda cruel actually.
Like I said not like the kind careful thoughtful always helpful MUGS

Sally said...

Plus -- "sat back and enjoyed the show"?
Since when does MUGS enjoy watching a frightened person struggle with a horse?

Anonymous said...

good for you Sally, I wanted to say that but have been thoroughly chastised for saying similar things before.

Sally said...

Thank you! My comments are meant sincerely and for the purpose of learning & I'm not afraid to express my opinion. I have learned a lot from this blog, and almost always love what I hear.
But this whole story just seemed so unlike the usual kind & thoughtful MUGS I've grown to love & respect.
Unless this girl is perhaps a mean bully from MUGS childhood who was cruel to MUGS as a child or maybe was cruel to MUG's child then I just get this story.
It sounded more like a fugly story.
I'm hoping MUGS will say more about this.

Anonymous said...

I like to read stories that are told with uncompromising honesty.

SB Zenith said...

I'd like to see how this pans out. Yeah the girl came for a lesson, and she got one, just not the lesson she was expecting. I'm hoping it opened her eyes to how much of a shit her horse was, and she comes back with a much more open mind and asks for a hand

Lara said...

Oh come on. This may be a harsh lesson for her, but Mugs was learning a lot about her new student.

Anonymous said...

New student?
I wouldn't be surprised if she never came back. She was probably nervous at having a first lesson at a new place, with a horse that she was finding a handful, yet she persevered and all for nothing. I'd have felt upset and humiliated in her position, and too embarrassed to show my face again the next week.
Even experienced people can come across a horse that knocks their confidence, and sometimes it's even worse then because you know that you should be able to cope and feel a failure when you can't do so.

Jody said...

Some people are amazing horse riders and can train horses very well, but have trouble passing on that learning to their students.

It happens often enough.

The amazing person is the one who is all three - an excellent rider, an excellent trainer and an excellent teacher of human students as well.

But we can't all be that.

There's no shame in it, but its often a good idea to stick with the things you excel at, and leave the rest for others.


Unknown said...

When you pay for a lesson at a time, you need to be ready for your lesson at that time. This woman wasn't, she was pissing about getting her horse "ready". She was there for help, so she should have accepted the help on offer, rather than wasted her time and the trainers by faffing around.

I used to have an OTTB that was a bit scatty - I'd ride her in before I left home - about 30 minutes of a long working trot then load into the float (trailer) and off to where the lesson was. I have saddled up in the trailer because at 17hh + if she was super distracted by something (such as the venue being close to an airport running learn to fly lessons) her head would be stuck too far in the air for me to bridle until she got used to the idea that things buzzed around in the sky and were not flies.
I'd get on and repeat the trot exercise until she'd burnt off enough energy to regain a brain. Sure that might mean I'd turn up over an hour early for a lesson, and she'd get a break to relax if she calmed down in time.
As a lesson attendee you obligation is to turn up on time with a horse ready to work, or to learn how to work through the issues you have before getting on the horse, if they are so major that you cannot get the horse ready at the appointed time. To turn down assistance from the instructor when you are obviously having issues speaks of a certain level of ignorance, arrogance and the fact that they rocked up after using the facilities to get ready, expecting the lesson time to be changed because they couldn't get their shit together speaks of a certain level of self entitlement.

Anonymous said...

Hah! The School of Hard Knocks & Uncompromising Honesty. Lol
Only for students who already know what they are doing :)

Anonymous said...

"Uncompromising honesty" isn't about the student, it's about the storyteller. How can you whine and complain when the story isn't done? No doubt this all happened years ago, this student might have become Mugs best friend. Who knows? It's over. Mugs doesn't teach or train anymore. Nothing you say now can change the past, so let her tell an honest story. Capisce?

Anonymous said...

Depends on the facilities though. I wouldn't want to be paying for a lesson where the person due after me turns up early and spends an hour working in their crazy horse right next mine, thereby ruining MY lesson.

Perhaps this lady's horse was not usually this bad, and when she turned down the offer of help she genuinely thought she wouldn't need it (or maybe thought the instructor would think less of her and she'd start her lesson on the wrong foot). Instead of saying 'need help?' and putting her on the spot, maybe a "here, let me help, I can see he's upset and I'm on a tight schedule today" would have been better.

burnttoast said...

All that sugar must have increased the horse's hyperactivity. (JOKE)
The student needs some basic human/horse self-defense lessons. One of mine is "Don't turn your butt to me unless you want it hit". My horses all know this, and teaching it was not difficult.

Anonymous said...

I had to double check to see if this was maybe an April fools joke?

Unknown said...

Anon - I was able to easily work my horse away from the main lesson area - the lessons I went to were in a roped off dressage arena, with the rope about 1 ft off the ground in the flattest part of a 20 acre paddock... yeah - I was able to work away from the other lesson! It would be as rude to be a distraction to another lesson as it would be to turn up late or not ready!

Anonymous said...

Okay I'm calling "April Fools" - even if it's a day late this simply cannot be a true story - it's gotta be a joke.

She starts off just peeking thru the slats of the tack room as her new student arrives, instead of going out with a friendly greeting?

She then watches an awkward unload, and then sees the horse spook into the new students chest and knock her over?

She exercises 3 different horses never once checking on her new student in the roundpen- even though she can hear her screaming several times??

Then charges her for a lesson!!!

Sorry - this just can't be true.

April Fools day 1 day late! :D
Gotta be.

Heidi the Hick said...

Weighing in as an instructor.

I haven't ever had a student trailer a horse in but I regularly go to other barns. Usually it's to a farm family with a backyard horse. (Most other coaches can't be bothered to drive around for one horse in a dairy pasture. But these are my people). It's not rare to get there on time and have to wait while the horse plays hard to get. There's no point getting cranky about it. I just let them know that I have to leave when the time is up. I might have another lesson at home and need time to go catch my own horse. Generally things are ok but sometimes I feel like there's no learning going on, and it can be discouraging. I got in my truck to have this rider basically ignore me? Luckily that doesn't happen often. And I always get paid. I have to.

I think sometimes the student needs to figure out that the coach's time is valuable. Be ready. If she offers help... Take it! That's why you're there!

In this case, I think the rider is a determined person who I'd expect to turn out ok eventually. Just maybe needed to watch and see how a horse CAN behave and that her snookums needs some manners. I'll give her credit for showing up. If my horses were that difficult ult I couldn't be bothered to load them up and take them anywhere. Seriously. I am too old for that crap. Even though it's a potentially dangerous situation though... I have a sinking feeling she didn't get severely hurt. I figure this horse was just spooking at everything because he figured it's what he's supposed to do. What a pain. I hope these two got sorted out and look forward to the next part of the story!!

Heidi the Hick said...

Let me clarify - that sinking feeling is that the horse could continue to act like that, she continues tolerating it, doesn't get hurt bad enough to make big changes, and so on. Not that I want anybody to get hurt!!! (If anything I tend to be way too soft on my students for that reason.)

mugwump said...

Dear Anon - I wasn't peeking through slats in the tack room. I was sitting in the sun, on a bench, watching the new client get her horse ready. If you're gonna hate, at least get your hate straight.

Anonymous said...

Mugwump -- "My new student pulled in and unloaded her horse from the old stock trailer. I sat on the bench against the tack room wall and watched her get ready. I had a great view through the wooden slats."

I guess there are several ways to interpret this?"

Why would you say "hate"? That's a little bit overly sensitive for a person who seems to believe in dishing out "tough love" or "tough learning experiences".

No hate intended or felt. Just feedback submitted respectfully - which is usually the purpose of blog comments?

Or do you only allow comments that are praising and in absolute agreement?

mugwump said...

Oh for goodness sake anon. I had just watched The Rock lip sync Shake it off.

Whywudyabreedit said...

I was beginning to think that these comments were coming from a leftover troll from the Fugly days. Seems to be confirmed.

If you do no longer care for what is being served here, you know where the door is.

If you don't place folks up on a pedestal then you don't have to worry about them falling off and disappointing. There are certainly horse trainers out there that would love to be looked up to in such a way, they are out there!

Be free, find your people!

Gillian said...

All this talk is getting irrelevant and getting boring.

I agree with mugs that the student who came to her with that useless horse deserved what she got - nothing. I mean who let's a horse get away with all that. She doesn't deserve to be taught anything with an attitude like that. Let's her horse walk all over her.
Let's people walk all over her. Needs a big lesson in self respect. Needs a big lesson in respect for teachers.
Who does she think she is wasting a trainers time? She should just mail in the lesson money and save herself the gas.

Good on you mugs!
Students like that just take advantage.
Gillian Peters

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