Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A new step

Last night I started reading a new book, Discovering Natural Horsemanship by Tom Moates.  It's not a step-by-step how-to book, it's more the story of one man's journey falling in love with horses, trying to learn everything he can to improve his relationship with them, his successes and failures along the way.  Even though it's not a training manual there are lots of great nuggets of horse sense to be gleaned from it's pages and when I finished devouring it this morning I found that more than anything else it made me rethink some of the things I've been doing.  For instance, I've been so in love with having horses I can actually ride I haven't stopped to consider if I should ride them. 

I completely passed up any groundwork with Tina and Traveller.  It's pretty obvious though that their previous owner not only didn't do groundwork with them but by and large let them develop bad ground manners, walking off, being spoiled and pushy.  In the months we've had Tina and Traveller I've fallen off of Traveller once when he bolted, he bucked me once, Tina acts like she'd like me to fall over dead, and Traveller isn't interested in hanging around me unless I have cookies to offer.  Something fundemental needs to change in my relationship with these two in order for me to have the type of connection I want to have with them one day.  If groundwork is the foundation and I basically skip it I'm building on a faulty foundation and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how that's going to end up!

When I went out everyone come up to the fence but when they figured out an early dinner wasn't forthcoming Traveller and Tina wandered back over to munch on their hay.  I totally ignored them and spent some extra time brushing and petting Brother then Nugget.  By the time I was halfway through grooming Nugget Traveller had come up just behind her and was watching me.  By inches he got closer and closer to me and I kept right on fussing over Nugget pretending that I didn't notice Traveller at all.  When I was done with Nugget I turned and just started brushing him.  Normally unless he was haltered and tied off he'd move around too much trying to nose me for cookies for me to be able to groom him but this time he stood fairly quiet.

Then I took out one of the little broken up bits of cookie I had in my pocket for him.  As soon as he took it I turned my back and walked off towards the round pen with him following.  There are two things I've learned about Traveller so far, he's scared of whips, crops, stick and strings, or pretty much anything that resembles them  and he hates being made to go round in that round pen.  So my goal for today was to not use any kind of tool but myself and a few cookies to get him to enter the round pen of his own free will and maybe have a little fun.  When I got to the round pen I stood in the gate.  Traveller stopped before I reached the gate, safely out of arm's reach, and was looking at me again.  He really seemed to be thinking whether the bit of cookie I held out was worth getting any closer to that hated pen but after a few moments his mouth won and he came over to the pen for his nibble.  Then I went into the round pen, held out a bit of cookie, and after a moment he again followed.  He was in!

I've always loved watching people with their horses at liberty when the horse willingly follows the person around even tossing their head, kicking out their feet, playing and just genuinely having a good time together.  I don't know how they did it exactly but today at least I was using Traveller's cookie lust!  He stood and watched as I walked two horse lengths or so away.  I held out a cookie bit, he walked up to get it.  I walked off a little ways again, held out a cookie piece, but this time when he started towards me to get it I started walking away.  He stopped right away and just stared at me with a "what the heck" look on his face.  He recovered from his surprise pretty quickly though, started towards me, and I again walked away.  I went faster and faster until he was chasing me around the pen at a trot.  That didn't last very long, I'm not very fit right now, so he got his cookie bit! lol

Because he's so pushy with his head I decided to work on him yielding different body parts starting with that.  I remembered what I knew about stating with very light pressure and increasing it only until they gave even the tiniest bit and then releasing right away.  I touched his neck right up next to his head with my fingertips, pressed harder till he barely moved his head away and removed my fingers the instant he moved his head.  He caught on to this pretty fast, I only had to push my fingers in fairly firmly a few times before I only had to touch my fingertips to that spot and he'd move his head away.

Then I went to his shoulder.  This one seemed much harder for him to understand for some reason.  Several times when I got to the point of pressing very hard he'd try taking a step back.  I tried to stay consistent holding the pressure if he stepped back and only releasing if he stepped either front feet even a little bit to the side.  He sort of got it, not very well but I didn't want to make the mistake of boring or frustrating him by asking him to get it perfect before I let up. 

When I got to his rump he turned into a horsey genius!  I only had to press firmly a few times before I was following his hindquarters in a circle with only a light touch.  I did the same three spots on his other side, played another quick game of chase-me-for-the-cookie and stopped.  He's a very intelligent horse, you can just see him thinking when he stops and watches you, and hopefully I engaged his brain and curiousity a little today.  I think it was a really good session!  Now if I can just figure out the best approach to use with Tina!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Oh Brother!

Even though my husband, Eric, was seriously injured when Brother threw him we never held it against Brother and the big, loveable ham has taken up a very special place in our hearts.  I could be in the worst black mood ever then go outside, take one look at the big goof smiling his butt off begging for a cookie and not be able to hold back a giggle.  He's simply too funny to resist!
And at mealtimes he just seems so downright overjoyed to see us!  He makes all kinds of silly happy noises that just make me laugh and warm my heart all at once.  While the horses are eating I always refill their water, they can suck up half the trough just between lunch and dinner in this heat easy.  When he's done Brother ambles on up hoping for a cookie but the really wonderful thing is even if I don't offer up a cookie he's perfectly happy to just quietly stand around with me like he genuinely enjoys hanging out with me.  I know he'll do great things with us one day if we can manage to get everything to fall into place because this boy has a few issues to address.

It's hard as anything to get weight on him and keep it on!  The vet insists that his weight was ok when we first got him a little more than a year ago.  You could see his ribs but he was otherwise well fleshed and muscled.  In the above picture you can still see his ribs a smidge and that picture was taken after we'd put a little weight on him but not a whole lot.  And since that picture he's put on even a tiny bit more so that at times I can still make out his ribs barely but only at the right angle.  He's got free choice, good hay and we're putting a ton of Strategy into him but the weight comes on in teeeeeeny little bits S-L-O-W-L-Y then drops off of him all at once if something so much as startles him! 

I think he also has some minor problems with his skin and coat.  After last winter his winter coat just wouldn't shed out when it got warmer.  Brother was sweating and miserable a long time after Nugget had dropped her extra hair!  Finally we started adding a supplement of some kind to his feed, an oil of some sort that I can't remember the name of just now, and along with some diligent brushing he finally shed.  Now with summer almost at it's end his coat looks fried!  It kind of looks like the very tip of each hair has been somehow frizzed or something.  It might seem like something minor but I'm not concerned with how it looks.  I look at it as one symptom of a larger overall problem, a clue to what is going on inside of him.

Which leads us to his biggest obstacle to training, his feet.  When he first came to us he had four, lightweight racing shoes on but lost two of them very quickly.  Since our place is mostly very hard dirt with loads of rocks and his feet had been babied for racing we kept shoes on him at first to help him transition to this rougher ground.  After a few visits the farrier thought it'd be ok to try to get him used to going barefoot.  He was understandably a little tender footed for awhile so we didn't ask anything out of him except that he get to his foot bucket under his own power.  Since then it's been a very on and off again thing, he'll seem perfectly sound for a few days then start limping for a little bit in one leg or another then be ok then not really limp but walk a little "ouchy"...  It's really starting to worry me.  I thought in time with routine farrier visits he'd be ok but he really doesn't seem to be breaking out of this cycle. 

Until we can figure out how to fix him up I just can't bring myself to work him.  The answer to his weight and hair should be completely controllable with diet if I can hit upon the right mix for him.  I believe his weight is simply because of his genes, he has a very high metabolism.  His feet would probably improve at least some extent with diet too but I just know it's going to take a lot more than that to fix it.  I'm trying to learn everything I can about their feet but it's such a huge, controversial subject!  It's easily as bad, and probably worse, than learning about training!  I'll keep pluggin away at it though in the hopes that one day we can amble on down the trail together, both grinnin our butts off.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Professional trainers, ugh!

What lead to me finding and posting the links in my previous post was seeing this amazing video over at Teachings of the Horse.  I was pretty much in tears the whole way through.  At first it was knowing the same feelings of hurt and frustration it seems Carry must've gone through watching a horse she loves and cares for yank away from her so violently and seeing the absolute terrified panic in Pony's actions.  It hurt my heart wondering what on earth they must've done to that poor horse to make him so frightened.  Through the rest of the video they were tears of an emotional journey from hope as the first tentative bond began between Pony and Robin, to hopeful excitement as I saw that bond slowly grow, and lastly to grateful joy as the connection was made.

For many years of my life I ran an animal rescue and took in damaged souls like Pony.  I accepted any animal I had the resources and knowledge to care for which was mostly dogs and cats but we had a few ferrets, even one rat and pink-toed tarantula.  Over the years, though, I became well known for being able to find ways to communicate with even the toughest dog cases, especially those no one else would take because they'd been labelled viscious or aggressive.  I simply soaked up every bit of knowledge from every source I could find and spent time really watching the dogs, seeing what applied and how they interacted with each other.  I didn't follow any particular training method but instead simply let each dog guide me in what pieces of knowledge to use to help them work through their individual problems. 

(CAUTION: There are rather broad, sweeping generalities ahead!!  I'd like you to know ahead of time that I know that there are exceptions to each of the generalities scattered in the rest of this post.  Don't panic! lol)

The results of training my way were amazing!  It's hard to describe the incredible rush of joy seeing an animal that has been so brutalized by people healed, trusting again, and finally happy through your patient diligence and I honestly don't think I could've gotten the incredible results I did with any one method of training.  The real strength of the way I trained was if one thing didn't work I simply dipped into my store of knowledge to find or adapt something that would work.  This is the real weakness I find in most of every horse training method I've looked into so far.  They have a set way they train, step by step, and if the horse doesn't respond to a particular step in their program they try to force that step on the horse.  If that doesn't work they give up saying that the horse is just too damaged or untrainable for whatever reason.  In my opinion, it's a poor trainer that blames the animal for failing to grasp the lesson.  I believe that there is always a (non-abusive!) way and it is the trainer's responsibility to find that way!

My other issue with a lot of horse trainers I've seen is they try to convince you that their method and tools are unique and supremely better than all the rest.  I have seen some variation but overall it seems like there's really two training methods going on dressed up and labelled different ways in order to try to lay claim to being completely different from all the rest, the command-their-respect method and the sweet-talk-em-into-doing-what-you-want method.  And my friends, I believe that a string on the end of a stick is a string on the end of a stick no matter what color you paint it, material you use to make it, or how many pretty ruffles you put on it.  There are certainly different ameneties available on some, my husband particularly likes the little hook on the stick-n-string offered by Dennis Reis, but overall their claims to being so much different and better sound like nothing but snake oil to me.  I'm just the sort of person that not only refuses to buy snake oil when I recognize it but I'm offended by the insult to my intelligence, angry at the attempt to cheat me.

In the best of all worlds I'd learn all the methods from all the different trainers, the good ole boy down at the feed lot, the do-it-yourselfers working it out with their horse at home, the pros, blogs, dvds, in person, you name it!  I'm afraid that's not very realistic though in time or cost!  I could spend the rest of my life learning and never get around to actually training at all.  I guess all I can do is take a rather broad sampling of the most recommended pros then stir in healthy doses of common sense, determination, sensitivity, patience, listening to the horses, and lots and lots of love.

Training possibilities

Why is it that everytime I swear I'm going to get to bed at a decent hour something happens and I end up being up later than usual?  I'll make this a really quick one so I can get some sleep!  Being up late at least gave me some opportunity to browse around looking for training ideas and information at least.  I've been watching all the "big names" on RFDTV like Dennis Reis, the Parellis, Clinton Anderson, and a few others.  Basically I like really throwing myself into anything like this by digging up anything and everything I can from anyone I can then putting together the bits and pieces that work from all of it.  In my web surfing tonight I found these of interest...

Horse Conscious

Westfall Horsemanship

Liberty Horse Training

Carolyn Resnick Horsemanship Blog

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Get it together

Now that school has started it's even harder to find a good time to work on the horses.  Because my sweet hubby has such a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep we're the sort that don't usually wake up until the crack of noon which means that horsey time is in the cooler part of the evening.  But that means that we're trying to pack feeding horses, kiddo homework, eating dinner, going to pick up our oldest son from band practice, and riding into just a few hours.  I could get up early to work with them but that means that dear hubs gets left out.  Ah well it's starting to cool off so I'm sure it'll get easier and easier to go out more in the afternoons.  How do others deal with this, I wonder?  I guess after work they just tough it out whatever the heat is and do it.  I guess we gotta get our act together!

Sweet hubby definitely wants to regain his riding skill and confidence plus riding would be so good for him so I definitely want to include him in working with the horses as much as possible!  Yesterday he graduated to riding on his own outside the round pen for about a half hour or so.  Yay for my sweetie!!  He thinks it's kinda funny because we actually got Tina for me and Traveller for him but where he's at right now Traveller intimidates him a bit so he's been riding Tina.  I can't blame him, if I stop to think about it Traveller intimidates me a bit!  Which is exactly why I don't allow myself to stop and think about that part of things while I'm riding him! lol  He's just young and green still, I'm not so young but just as green which could be a bad combination.  Thank goodness he's really a very gentle horse that just needs a little "continuing education."

I'm happy that one of our son's, Stephen, is developing an interest in riding too.  Stephen always had severe asthma and some minor heart problems, SVT, and so was never a really athletic kid.  Thankfully he seems to have outgrown the asthma pretty much and last year had heart surgery which seems to have cleared up his bouts of SVT!  If only changing his couch potato ways was as easy!  But the last two nights he's gone out with me to ride Tina some and says he really enjoys it.  I'll be so relieved if he continues to come out and ride so that I know he's doing something nice and active finally!  But that also means if the two of them keep riding more and more on Tina the more we'll probably need another horse.  Tina is in her teens and I don't want to push her past what she can comfortably do.  So I'll have to dive back into training Brother and Nugget which once again means I gotta get it together!  Whew, I wish I had someone to worry about pushing me past what I can comfortably do! lol

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Yesterday we took it kinda easy.  We tacked Tina up and Eric actually got on her!  This was his first time back on a horse after nearly being killed in a fall from Brother.  I lead him around a bit for him to remember the feel and he did wonderfully.  I was so happy with Tina for being on her best behavior for him!  It helped him start to feel safe in the saddle again.  After just that very easy, short ride we made a big fuss over her then let her amble over to the others to share in their evening hay.

Tonight I was pleased that he wanted to try again and it went just as nicely.  I lead him around the round pen a few times and then he felt comfortable enough to take the reins on his own.  When Tina's in the pen where she can see the other horses she has an excellent whoa so if he started feeling at all unbalanced he asked her to stop which she did immediately.  I think that really helped him a lot in feeling safe and starting to regain some confidence.  Even in this heat she wasn't sweated at all with such an easy ride so we just untacked her and let her loose again.  Then came Traveller's turn.

From the very start he was being oddly twitchy.  When Eric put the saddle pad up Traveller suddenly spun his hindquarters to the side as if trying to avoid it and wouldn't be still for the saddle either.  I figured it's just been a few days since I've ridden him so he was just being a stinker about going back to work after a little break and he'd settle down.  We just did walk-trots in the round pen for awhile.  He has a very jarring, fast trot so I've been working on getting him to slow down and smooth out a bit.  I honestly don't know how you're supposed to teach them how to do this but whenever his trot gets fast and bouncy I've been pulling back on the reins, immediately giving him slack reins for a slower, smoother trot, occassionally stopping him when he's giving me a nice trot for a little breather.  It seems to be working as far as I can tell!  It still needs a lot of work but he's giving me the nice trot more often and for a bit longer than when we first started working on it.  Encouraged by this small success I decided to be brave and at least try a bit of a canter.

I waited until he was giving me the nice trot then cued for a canter.  He broke into a really fast, long legged trot just shy of a canter, I could swear I felt a stride of canter maybe, so I pulled him back down to try again.  When I thought his trot was good I asked for a canter.  I might've gotten two strides of a canter before his back end flipped up and I was on the ground.  He bucked?  He really BUCKED?!  Ugh!  When the initial overwhelming ow wore off I discovered that I wasn't injured.  A scraped elbow, two fingers, and the suspicion that I'll probably be a bit sore tomorrow makes me pretty darn lucky!  So I secured his reins and started working him around the round pen.

After only a few times around at a trot he decided that he'd like to go the other way so he simply turned his happy butt around.  W-R-O-N-G!  Right away I jumped in front of him with a big "uh uh!", smacked the ground in his path with the lunge whip and turned him back the way I had asked him to go.  Now he acted a bit agitated and looking to the sides for a way out so to distract him I stepped in front of him and asked him to reverse.  Very soon he tried to reverse on his own again and again I made him keep going the direction I wanted him to go the same way as before.  Suddenly he stuck his whole head and neck through the bars of the pen and with a big push and buck he tore right through our round pen!  The cry baby ran straight to Nugget and half hid behind her like we'd been beating him!  When we went to get him he ran tossing his head and kicking up his feet but thankfully he ran right into the side pen.  It took a minute of chasing him around before we caught him.  I couldn't believe how he was acting! 

We took him right back into that round pen!  I lunged him for awhile then Eric lunged him around when I got tired.  Traveller was literally dripping sweat (weren't we all!) and we'd raised a huge cloud of dust in the air when he finally started really licking his lips and acting more obedient.  I was done in but made myself get back up on him.  When we walked past the big hole in our round pen he really tried to go out through it but after about three or four times in each direction of me very firmly not letting him slip out he only looked out as we went past.  We untacked him, gave him a really good hosing off, a cookie and a pat before going inside.  Whew!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tina still hates me

It's been 100 degrees plus here in Lampasas for awhile now so I haven't done as much with the horses as I'd like.  I actually enjoy warmer temperatures but even for me it's been just a bit too hot and I feel a little bad asking the horses to work at all right now.  But I suppose I'm really just being an overprotective spoiler.  I mean I wouldn't want to go gallop them around for an hour or two at mid-day but surely asking a half hour or so in the morning or evening wouldn't hurt them any.  Besides, Tina and Traveller still need to lose some weight!

Yesterday evening I took Tina out riding.  This is the second time I've taken her off our property to ride a little and she reacted the same way, like I was killing her.  Just before we got out of sight of the other horses in the pasture she stopped to look back and I let her stand there for a minute but sure enough, as soon as we got out of sight of them she was acting up.  The whole time we're out she tries to stop, turn around, go when I tell her whoa, and go faster and faster.  Last night she added trying to bite my foot and jerk the reins out of my hands!  So a simple ride turned into me wrenching my arms out of the sockets trying to keep her pointed in the direction I wanted at as close to the speed I wanted as possible.  We rode back and forth past my driveway as I tried to get it through her head that I would NOT go back until she did it at a walk!  And if she acted up too much I made her take a few steps backwards which she really seems to resent! 

I'm not unsympathetic and I do realize that this is very common and normal.  Her head is telling her that her safety is back with the others and that I am very literally putting her in danger of losing her life.  Since a past owner cut up her mouth with a bit I even use a side pull (bitless bridle for any that don't know) on her and if we're near the other horses that's all I need to control her.  The next time we leave the property I think I'll have to try a bit on her, though.  She's just fighting me so hard that I can't find a place to let off the pressure so it's nothing but "punishment" for her the whole time which is not going to help the situation at all.  Maybe with a bit I can find places to reward her for good behavior so that eventually she can realize that she's safe.  I sure would like to reach a point in the future where I can have a fun little ride around the neighborhood with her.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

He just followed me home

Yesterday's little excitement is very typical in my life.  I swear animals recognize on sight that I have a soft spot for them and they communicate this through each other across the area, maybe across the world!  It's how I've ended up with most of the animals I have already.  I really would not be shocked to go to the other side of the earth and have some animal come right up to me asking for some kind of help.  It's like a big animal Underground Railroad.

"When you get out head to central Texas and look for this place overgrown with cedars and follow the gravel road.  The paint was peeling last time I heard and there was a van out by the workshop waiting to be fixed.  It don't look like much but that's cuz they spend all their money on pet food and toys and treats and they'll letcha in the house...yeah right up into the house!!  There's a/c, soft places to lay..."

Lately our son Stephen has become a real couch potato.  After a little incident he's grounded from playing video games so what's a child to do?  Apparently he believes the logical choice is to spend all day in front of the tv instead.  W-R-O-N-G!!!  I didn't bother to go into my speech about playing outside with friends at his age, swimming, bike riding, having to practically be dragged indoors in the evening and just told him to go get some exercise of some sort for heaven's sake.  He came back a good while later red faced and sweaty.

Stephen: "I found a donkey."

Me: "You did a what because of who now?"

Stephen: "I found a donkey!  It followed me home!"

I knew it had happened again so I just heaved a sigh, asked him to go grab a halter and horse cookies, and went to see what kind of pitiful stray we had this time when he shouted from out back, "he's back here!"  Sure enough when I went around back there was a little donkey cozying up to the horses!  He was a friendly enough little fellow who let us halter him after leading us through the thickest part of brush he could find.  He followed on the lead just fine, happily took cookies from us, and let us pet him.  I had to admit that he was a nice little guy and cute as could be.

We took him round to a few neighbors with no luck then decided it was too darn hot for a foot search of his owners.  He seemed content enough to be put up in our pen with some fresh water, hay, and a handful of Strategy at first.  I watched him while Eric went to talk to more neighbors.  The horses all crowded the fenceline wanting to see him but he calmly investigated his surroundings then told me by trying to paw down the gate that he'd like to see the rest of the pasture.  By that time the horses had lost interest so I just shrugged and let him out.  Traveler chased him off their hay pile once just to let him know who was boss but then everyone was fine. 

Thank goodness Eric did find his owner who came later that evening to pick him up because after spending all afternoon sitting outside petting and playing with him I had him named Buddy.  It turns out Buddy is actually Benny.  We waved goodbye to Benny.  "Come back to visit sometime but not anytime soon!"  I miss the lil guy.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Plus two makes a herd

While my husband was recovering from his broken ribs I met a lady on Facebook with horses and we hit it off.  Not very long ago she decided that she needed to cut back on the number of horses she had for health reasons and asked if I knew anyone who might be interested.  ME!!  ME!!  PICK ME!!  Of course I told her I was interested!!  She offered me several wonderful horses and I wished I could take all of them but hopefully I chose wisely.

One was an Egyptian Arab gelding that simply took my breath away with his beauty, I admit that I have a soft spot for the look of Arabs, but he was young, just green broke.  With regret I passed on him thinking that at my utter newbie level of training and really rusty riding skills he and I would probably not be the best match. 

Another was a lovely little Paso Fino mare.  She was bred to a drop dead gorgeous Andalusian and who wouldn't want an adorable little foal too???  *sigh*  I turned down this exciting two-for-one too.  The mare was wonderful but I felt like a foal, while loads of adorable fun, wasn't the best choice for us.  If something went wrong with the delivery the vet bill could get insanely expensive, I'd feel so awful if the mare or foal weren't ok, and again, at my rank beginner level of training I didn't want the added work of training a foal.

She really wanted me to consider Tina, a Paso Fino mare.  Tina was taken out of an abusive situation with a lacerated tongue and deep dislike of people.  Carol babied her and worked hard to bring Tina back around.  She said she really hoped I'd take Tina because she knew I'd be good to her and she really needed to know that Tina was safe and loved.  After running my rescue for so many years I knew exactly what she meant.  We want that for all of our animals, we'd never purposely rehome them into an abusive situation, but when you take an animal out of an abusive situation, work that hard to heal their body and mind, and make that unspoken promise that they will never, ever be treated so badly again it somehow just raises your desire to protect them. 

My husband was most interested in Traveller, a Mustang/Quarter Horse gelding.  Carol warned us that he had an extremely dominant personality and would almost certainly insist on being boss of any other horses.  I worried that he and Brother might clash.  He was also fairly young so I was concerned about being able to continue his training.  I have to admit, though, that I just loved his looks, very sturdy with nice legs and these wonderful, huge, tough hooves.  Not only was he exactly the type of horse that my husband liked he was also the spitting image of the Mustang my husband rode as a child which brought back sweet memories for him. 

In the end we agreed on taking both Tina and Traveller home for a trial period just to see how things would work out.  We had a good laugh about just how much Carol babied her horses and that she didn't call her place "The No Rib Ranch" for nothin!  Tina and Traveller were both rather roly-poly!  We got home, got them unloaded into the pen we had prepared, and waited breathlessly for the first muzzle to muzzle meeting with Brother and Nugget over the fence.  It was nothing unusual but still a thing of wonder to us with lots of sniffing, squealing, bitey-face play.

We had planned on leaving Tina and Traveller in the pen for at least a week before trying to introduce Brother and Nugget without the fence between all of them but within a few days they were all so calm and easy around each other.  They all stood close together just relaxing as if they were already a group and the fence wasn't even there so we decided to see what would happen.  We took Nugget into the pen first since she has a very passive personality and were delighted at how easily the three took to each other!  Traveller insisted on pushing her around the pen a little but Nugget didn't seem to mind so they all calmed down very quickly.

Then we brought Brother in holding our breath along with various ropes and whips that we hoped we wouldn't need.  Traveller started marching purposefully towards Brother.  Brother turned his butt towards Traveller and I swear I could hear him thinking "yep, you come right over here and I'm gonna show you who's boss at this house!"  When Traveller got close enough he turned his butt towards Brother backing up the last step.  Brother got his kick off just a split second before Traveller but when Traveller's kick landed Brother jumped out of his skin in complete surprise and ran like he'd been scalded!  We felt bad for Brother's injured pride but couldn't help rolling with laughter.  When everyone settled down we seperated everyone back out and went inside.

A little later that day we heard a commotion and went to see what was going on.  Traveller was out of the pen chasing Brother and poor Brother was running like the devil himself was on his tail!  We put Traveller back up and watched.  Traveller promptly went to the gate, did some amazing horsey-limbo thing that I'm still not sure should be physically possible to squeeze under the bottom rail, and was right back on Brother's tail.  Well we had tools, opposible thumbs, and big brains so that would be no problem to fix!  I guess no one told Traveller that he wasn't supposed to be able to outsmart us because our fix absolutely didn't hold him in!  We fixed and fixed all that day until finally we had a pen that would hold Traveller in as long as we were watching him and discovered we didn't need the pen anymore since Traveller stopped chasing Brother.  We turned them all out together, watched for any signs of trouble for awhile, then dragged ourselves inside to lick our wounds.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The dream turns into a nightmare

When we started actively looking for a horse I was rather dismayed at our prospects at first.  We ended up looking at so many half starved, sour, barely trained, no-manners-havin, sullen, dead eyed rejects I couldn't believe it!  Heck, even the "rescue" we went to was so awful I left in tears wishing I had the resources to take every single horse out of there just to save them!  It was heartbreak after heartbreak.  Then one day out of the blue the trainer I was working with mentioned that she knew a guy that was looking for a good home for a few of his horses.  Since we were first time horse owners the trainer agreed to go with us to advise us so armed with a professional we figured it couldn't hurt to just go look.

The owner was an older gentleman who raised Thoroughbreds for racing but was ready to retire.  The first horse he pointed out was a mare that was munching hay among several others and a cute little donkey.  When we approached her she flattened her ears back and moved away from us quickly.  The trainer muttered to us under her breath that the mare had a bad attitude so we should pass on her.  The second was a gelding, Brother Anthony.  He seemed to be a nice enough horse and there was a fast connection between him and my husband. The owner said that Brother was doing well at the racetrack when he somehow got a leg hung up in his halter leaving him with a slightly bowed tendon which should heal just fine with about six more months of pasture rest for the kind of casual riding we wanted to do.

When we consulted with our trainer she felt he'd be great if we wanted to take him.  The owner said Brother was "dead broke" and the trainer backed him up saying that she knew he didn't just ride his horses at the track, he rode them all over his ranch too.  She also assured us that his injury should heal leaving him perfectly sound and added that she always had good luck with these off-the-track horses.  We asked how much.  When the owner replied "free to a good home" we couldn't believe it!  Really we felt we didn't have anything to lose!  But just to be safe we took him straight to the vet who did a checkup and coggins test for us.  The vet also agreed that the tendon injury was very minor and he should be fine for the kind of simple riding we wanted to do with nothing more than a little rest.

We got him home and proudly turned him out into our newly fenced pasture and he went plumb berserk!  He was racing up and down the fence calling for herdmates so frantically we were terrified he would kill himself!  After calling we went right back to the owner who said that the sour mare was also free to a good home.  Easter Nugget "roared" and when surgery didn't correct it they simply kept her for their own riding and never raced her.  We figured even if she never sweetened up and hated us with a passion at least she could provide Brother with company. 

Nugget was also "dead broke".  The owner told us that very recently someone wanted to ride (a child or grandchild or something I can't exactly remember) so he pointed out a few horses that they could use.  When he next looked out he realized that they were saddling Nugget by mistake but before he could say anything they jumped on up and rode off so he figured they'd be ok.  We were hopeful that this meant many happy trail rides in our future, my husband on Brother, me on Nugget, but we weren't worried about riding her since she was just meant to calm Brother.  Once again we took her to the vet who cleared her health-wise and we took her home.  We were very pleased and relieved when Brother settled right down when we turned her out with him.

The vet said six months pasture rest but just to be safe we didn't try any kind of work with Brother for about eight months.  I must admit, though, that we couldn't resist the children's excitement and several times let them get on Brother bareback holding him by a lead rope just to sit there which he took completely in stride.  We doted on them finding out what treats they liked, spending time with them, long grooming sessions, and generally trying very hard to impress them.  And we were pleased that it seemed to be working!  Far from sour, Nugget was turning out to be a very quiet, gentle, sweet soul once convinced that we weren't going to interfere with her food and Brother's true silly personality started to shine.  So we were confident when the day came that we decided to try riding.

We thought we were being very careful checking and adjusting the tack just so, slapping at the saddle, putting a little weight in just one stirrup, and on and on taking little baby steps watching the reaction the whole way.  When we put any weight at all in the stirrup Nugget would immediately start bucking wildly so we knew right off that if she was going to be rideable we had a lot of work to do first.  When we did the same with Brother I was able to get on him and walk in a small circle but he seemed VERY hesitant and shaky.  We thought that he'd be fine as long as we were careful riding him to help him learn that we would be gentle, trustworthy riders.  After all this was very different from what he was likely used to and I was giving feather light cues testing his sensitivity but surely with kind treatment he'd get used to it. 

Then my husband wanted to try.  Brother gave a few more of those unsure steps then did a strange wiggle-hop and exploded!  Horrified I ran to catch him but before we knew it my husband came up out of the saddle and back down on Brother's rump just as Brother's rump was coming back up.  Husband met horse rump and he was literally catapulted probably close to 20' in the air before landing on the tough Texas ground with a sickening whump.  At first I thought he just had the air knocked out of him but when he finally did manage to drag in a breath and let it out in a roar I knew it was bad!  When all was said and done he had most of the ribs on his left side each broken in more than one place and needed a chest tube to drain the blood from his damaged lung.

When my husband was healed enough to move around the house on his own I went back to work at the stable.  Neither one of us blamed anyone really, least of all Brother.  So when the trainer angrily dressed me down and told me to get rid of Brother and Nugget right away before my husband or I got killed I was shocked!  I calmly told her that we didn't believe in "getting rid" of an animal just because there was an issue to work through.  When she continued to argue and yell at me over it I honestly didn't know what to do because I didn't understand.  So they needed some work!  Why on earth would she be angry at us???  If anything it should be the other way around!  My husband was seriously hurt and could've been killed due to her mistakes!  All in all it took over a YEAR for him to fully heal and recover!  She especially yelled that she never said the horses were broke, never said we should ride them.  Maybe she was afraid we'd sue her???


That is what passes for a professional horse trainer?  It wasn't very long before I decided that maybe I didn't really want to learn from her example and left.  I'd rather stumble along trying to learn on my own than perpetuate that pitiful excuse for a "professional" anything! 


Friday, August 13, 2010

Training for the dream

In preparation for horse ownership I decided that I needed to brush up on my very rusty riding skills at a local arabian stable offering lessons.  This stable was fortunate enough to employ a full time trainer and I soon had dreams of training horses running through my head as well.  The stable owner and trainer put their heads together with mine to work out a deal in which I would help out around the stable doing chores I knew how to do and in return the trainer would allow me to practice my riding and teach me some about training.  I thought it was a deal made in heaven...at first. 

There were a few bumps in the road here and there and I was a little bit uncomfortable with how harsh the trainer was with the horses every once in awhile but I felt we smoothed through the bumps fairly ok, my riding was improving, I was learning a little about training, and though maybe a little harsh I couldn't say the trainer was abusive except for two occassions.  One time while riding a wonderful, gorgeous horse named Brass she just lost it with him really yanking and jerking as hard as she could on the reins over and over screaming at him leaving Brass visibly shaken and with raw, skinned spots at the corners of his mouth.  The second time she was trimming stray hairs around Brass' feet.  He kept lifting the foot she was working on until she again completely lost her temper, stood back a little then kicked him hard in the gut repeatedly.  Both of these times I was shocked and horrified!

I ran my own animal rescue for many years during which I became a very good professional dog trainer.  So while I didn't have any horse training experience I wasn't completely new to animal training concepts and those two incidents really bothered me.  I'd taught pet owners over and over again that if they're getting frustrated they need to end the lesson quickly on a good note and walk away for awhile.  It never does any good to lose your temper!  But I tried to keep my own cool, told myself that anyone could have a bad day, and kept trying to learn all I could.

Sometimes I wonder what became of poor Brass and feel an awful guilt that I let him down by not saying something.  What it would've changed I don't know, probably nothing, but in not speaking up I may as well have sided with his abusers.  I'm so sorry, Brass.

To be continued...

How it all began

Ever since I could remember I was wild about horses.  I read about them, collected models of them, drew them, and dreamed about them.  Before I ever got on a horse I knew how to ride and exactly how everything felt.  When I rode my bike I imagined that I was riding a horse.  I fantasized that from the way I sat my bike people could just tell how great I'd be on horseback and someone with horses would stop me to ask if I'd come riding.  I was completely horse crazy.

When my family moved to Beaumont I met a girl down the street who loved horses too and we became fast friends.  When I found out that once a week she went to take horseback riding lessons I was desperate to take lessons too but my parents refused.  Determined I scraped up every cent I could get and rode as often as I possibly could.  Throughout my childhood I was always stressed and unhappy living with two abusive, alchoholic parents but for the precious moments I was riding I was in heaven!  While I was riding all the fear and pain vanished.  I was free!  I could fly!  Nothing else existed except the horse, me, and learning to move as one.

Naturally the ultimate fantasy was to own my very own horse so when my husband and I bought a sweet little house in the country with 12.5 acres finding the right horse was hot on my mind.

To be continued...