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Crazy horses

Horses can be wonderful teachers: particularly those that shatter your convictions

This winter a young gelding came into Halcyon Acres® for starting under saddle training that presented a host of challenges. He was dangerous to himself and the people around him because of the way he processed (or didn’t) information.

His reactions to imperceptible stimuli were explosive, yet he’d handle things with ease that would freak out a typical young horse.

It was obvious he was a kind horse, but that didn’t reduce the angst whe

Somtimes horses are just plain crazy

Sneak Peak excerpt from Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners. Due for public release in 2010.

Red

Red came to us after having been “broke” by a girl who had little experience and less heart. She gave up after this four-year-old filly began flipping immediately following her hopping in the saddle. Apparently this went on for awhile, and this steed learned she could immediately and successfully end the lesson

with this strategy.

We spent some time on the ground with Red, as it was apparent she needed some preliminary guidance that had been skipped. We also wanted to establish communication benchmarks. She was actually responsive and compliant when we proceeded to under-saddle lessons in the round pen. Once we moved out of the confines and routine of this space, however, the flipping penchant resurfaced. In this case, we were able to step off as she went past perpendicular and hop back into the saddle while she was still on the ground, staying with her as she returned to her feet. That was the last time she flipped.

We had another week or so of good progress with this filly before her behavior deteriorated, and this time, she decided to lay down after we stirruped up. She was flat out on the ground and wouldn’t move. We sat on her neck (this is usually referred to as sitting on their heads, but that’s not really where you want to put your weight – horses cannot get up without their head and neck to use for momentum and the back of the neck is the safest place to be for both you and your horse) to immobilize her with a strategy designed to discourage this behavior in the future.

Horses tend to panic when they can’t get up and trapping an intentional flipper immediately generally teaches these horses to never go there again. She didn’t care. Red lay there, on the ground, perfectly content being stuck. This was a first. There was something really wrong with this filly. We didn’t have

enough information to determine if there was some major underlying physical problem that was causing this behavior (she traveled sound and seemed to be unencumbered by pain, but we didn’t dig too deep) or if she just had a major screw loose.

Either way, this was one of the few we quickly determined was best to toss back. We called the owners and admitted defeat.

They decided to forgo any future starting attempts and bred her instead. We’ll let someone else tackle that progeny beauty when it’s time to start riding lessons.

Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners sneak peak

Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners due for public release in 2010. Discounted bulk pre-publication orders now being taken.

 

 

Chapter Eight

Sometimes they’re just plain crazy

On occasion, you really do find yourself burdened with a nut. While preliminary bad breaking definitely exacerbates problems, when you strip it all down and finally get past the baggage, there are times you must admit that the horse you’re working with is simply just not right in the head. Interestingly, these critters can be very predictable in what sets them off, but how they react is never a given. Surprisingly, they can usually handle distractions and circumstances that should make a sane horse blow, but freak out with stuff that shouldn’t be a concern.

Crazy horses rarely give you an opportunity to completely relax. There will always be issues that make them occasionally frustrating and often dangerous. Horses that are totally governed by fear rarely consider their own welfare when reacting, and this is a common trait of equines who are nuts. Mean horses are always limited with what they will do by a self-preservation instinct, making them at least predictable in how far they will go. Not so with crazy horses. They’ll crash through fences, impale themselves, flip, run off on unsafe ground, and have occasions when they go deaf, blind, and oblivious to immovable objects that cross their panicked path, while reacting to ghosts in ways that make no sense.

Sometimes, you’ll encounter a psycho that has so much talent it seems worth the effort. Usually, it isn’t. Still, we’ve had some success with crazies, and some failures too. Most, ultimately, leave you shaking your head on the time and money spent to get them two strides forward and ten steps back, wondering if the sanity issue extends beyond your equine’s behavior and if there’s a white jacket in your size.

While it seems prudent to try to recover your investment, sometimes it’s best to cut your losses. Time and money gone is just plain lost — and putting good money after bad is rarely a good idea.

If you’re determined to proceed, the anecdotes below may help guide you in your quest.

Flash — hurdler extraordinaire

Flash was a narrow, five-year-old, 15.1-hand Thoroughbred that somehow wound up as a lesson horse at an area riding stable. He was a terror with students, running off at will and occasionally unseating the brave kids who dared to try to conquer him. One of our former riding instructors asked us to take a look at this horse. She was considering buying him. He was deemed unsuitable as a lesson horse (imagine that) and was on the block. We hopped on him in the arena, and after a brief flatwork primer, pointed him at a 2’6” line (there was something about this horse that squealed natural talent over fences). He cleared the fences easily, correctly, and with a ton of finesse. He had never jumped. We leapt off immediately and said “buy him.”

She didn’t, and we landed the prize for $500.

The next three years netted unimaginable nightmares. We figured he had just been mishandled, poorly started, and conditioned to react inappropriately. Certainly, with patient and skilled guidance, he’d transform into a cooperative steed. We were wrong.

We’d spend minutes or hours working with this horse one day, progressing to a new understanding, only to find those lessons not only lost but problems magnified by the next day.

Compounding the frustration was the fact that this horse would willingly clear jumps of any size placed before him, but was out of control after hurdling the fence, not to mention during flat exercises. We progressed to the point where we were competing in events, and if we didn’t get eliminated in dressage (this was a common occurrence — he had no qualms about hopping over the arena perimeter, particularly when the judges used a horse trailer for shelter), we were sure to go clean during cross-country and stadium, almost always finishing in the ribbons. Consequently,

we were thrilled if we were able to complete the first phase. We were also convinced his incredible talent over fences made it worth the temporary embarrassment and extreme frustration borne while we worked through his issues.