Sorry guys this is going to be a long post. I am going to tell you all the story of Max, the first horse I bred and brought on myself. The reason I feel compelled to write this is because I want to know what people would do differently. Bear in mind that I had little to no experience in this situation and I was learning trial by fire. I am interested in alternatives and constructive ideas. Also could someone tell me what personality type he would fit.
OK, so I had decided that I wanted to create my own perfect horse, I had no riding horse of my own, my original pal was in retirement seeing that he was thirty yrs old. I really liked my neighbours QH stallion, he was a little short coupled and too compact for my taste though, so I decided to put him over a TB mare which I purchased primarily for this reason. She was very quiet and sweet and got pregnant very quickly. The guy who owned the stallion wanted a colt out of the match and this colt was to be the sire fee. The mare had her foal and it was a colt we decided that it was the stallion owners and I would have the next foal. This was fine as I was pregnant myself and not in a great rush. To cut a long story shorter I had a number of tragedies in my life including the death of the mare carrying my foal, the stallion owner felt sorry for me and gave me Max.
Even though Max was not mine I spent a lot of time with him in the first couple of months that he was born including catching and haltering him when he was four days old, he was only little but he fought like crazy. Most of my time was spent just watching mare and foal though and what really struck me was how naughty Max was and how much his mother put up from him. He would rear up and scissor kick her, he would bite her and would gallop past her and lash out at her, all of which she ignored. This surprised me because the other mares with foals in the area didn’t tolerate that kind of behaviour at all from what I had observed. Anyway Max was a very boisterous little colt and inclined to be cocky and cheeky. After a couple of months I reconciled myself to the fact that he wasn’t mine and didn’t really see him again till he was gifted to me when he was about a year old.
Max was a handful from the get go. I really wanted to do well by him and expand my own knowledge and horsemanship. I purchased Parelli DVD’s and books and set about getting the ground work under way. I couldn’t get it to work. I tried the porcupine game and ended up having to use a sharp stick to get him to move at all. Then once I had made him move I couldn’t get him to stop, most of my time was spent hanging on the end of my 12ft line while Max bucked and reared madly around and over me. I ended up getting a Parelli instructor who was excellent (though expensive). What really intrigued me was the level of pressure that Max forced the instructor to go to, he ended up on his back more than once as the instructor had a neat trick to dissuade Max from trying to run him over. He would drop his arm so the horses head was forced down, the instructor would step behind the horse so the rope was wrapped behind its hocks, then pull as hard as he could and Max would fall over. I would honestly never have thought of that! After three and a half hours the instructors description of Max was insolent and disrespectful. What he found most difficult was the fact that Max had a way of doing what was asked but with a real “Up yours” attitude, he would yield to pressure and then a bit more. Ask him to move his bum a step and he would have to take two. Ask him to back up and he would have to take a forward step first. I learnt a lot though about how to gain respect or so I thought.
Max had been excellent with his feet and then suddenly he wouldn’t have a bar of it. I was able to wrangle him for his fronts but the hinds became a real problem. He never got nasty, he would just kick his back feet. Not kicking to get me just shuffled his feet backwards and forwards enough to stop me catching and holding them. This behavior happened literally over night. One day fine, the next uh-uh. It was as if by being thwarted on one level he had to find another way to exercise his independence. There was nothing nasty in his actions his whole demeanor was totally relaxed, he reminded me of a kid kicking their heels on the back of a stool and whistling just to get a reaction. Fortunately a good friend of mine showed me how to leg tie. That was fun watching Max fight until he fell over. I had to continue with tying his legs for four days and then suddenly, like the sun coming, out he was back to being great with his feet. I carried on with ground work, refining lunging techniques, pushing him around on the ground. Every now and then though he would suddenly have a fit and I would have to start back at the beginning. I carried on until he was three and a half and it was time to have him broken. I didn’t have the confidence to do it myself, a friend recommended her trainer so it was time to teach Max to load on a float.
I must admit my first attempt to load Max was feeble. I took one look at him and I could see the writing on the wall. I called back the Parelli trainer. It took roughly two hours (and several hundred more $) for him to get my boy on the float, it was quite a battle that included Max throwing himself on the ground and having a couple of tantrums. And then suddenly he walked calmly on the float, on and off, on and off, he ended up loading in true Parelli style – with a wave of the hand he would climb aboard . He went for a little drive and showed nothing but polite interest in the whole experience. Yay! He was float trained the trainer assured me he was done. I had arranged to borrow the float for a couple of days I had already made plans for a short journey the next day to cement the lesson. So the next day I went out confident in getting my horse on the float and Max took one look at me and went “yeah, right – you and what army?!” Three Hours! For three hours I fought with that horse, I did everything that I had been shown the day before and every time I put more pressure on he would up the ante further. In the end I was in tears of frustration and humiliation, I stormed into the house and demanded a rifle – yes I had lost the plot! My husband took one look at me and told me to get back out there, give the bloody horse a hiding and get him on the float. And I said its not that easy and if he was so smart then HE should get out there and do it. So my husband who is not a horse person went out grabbed my carrot stick, pushed Max in a couple of circles, belted him across the arse twice, pointed to the float and Max walked on like he had intended to the whole time. I was mortified!
The next day Max was severely lame. All the time I had spent fighting him had left him with a badly damaged shoulder. I was so upset and was told by my husband that it was my own fault. If I had just been willing to get on top of that horse when I had first gone out that morning instead of trying not to hurt his feelings he never would have had the chance to injure himself. It didn’t feel any better knowing he was right. Max was lame for 12 weeks and cost me a fortune in vet bills and Bute.
Finally a few months later he was recovered enough to go back to float loading. I found that by going straight to aggressive body language and a smack on the bum he loaded no problem. We did lots of float practice and did every thing that I could think of to make being on the float a good place, lots of cuddles and food etc. Then the guy who I was paying to break him rang to say that he was going to be in my area and he would come and pick Max up in his truck. I was confident that things would go well.
I was really impressed with my new trainer, in the three hours it took for him to get Max on the truck he never once lost his cool or got upset. I do recall though at one point as Max lay on his side having a tantrum and Kevin sat and watched from a folding chair he kept in his truck, drinking a Kentucky bourban and smoking a roll your own cigarette, him saying in a laconic way “he’s a stubborn little bastard’. Kevin rang me from his place once he got home, about 2.5 hrs away from me, and said that Max traveled really well. He has a camera in his truck and he said that once Max was finally on board he to all intents and purposes settled down and enjoyed the ride. The sweat and lather he had got into fighting to not get on the truck had dried by the time he was at Kevin’s and he walked off the truck like he did it every day of his life.
I got my broken horse back three months later. The first couple of months riding were ok and then it went pear shaped. Riding Max became an ordeal, he was reluctant to go forward and resented any pressure to make him do so, he would get sulkier and sulkier and eventually this would lead to rearing and bucking fits. I couldn’t sit to his bucks they were always random with no warning and very explosive. In some ways that was fortunate as I never hurt myself when he threw me because it happened so fast I never had a chance to try and save myself. As for the rearing there was no mucking about, these were straight up vertical rears that scared the crap out of me, a couple of times we nearly went over backwards. I didn’t even have time to get off him between rears, as fast as his front feet hit the ground he would be going up again. I started carrying a 12ft line and 2ft of plastic hose pipe. As I got to know him better I was able to gauge when it was time to bail and start disciplining from the ground or when a couple of good belts across the bum could make him change his mind. I came to know if he was genuinely concerned about something – he would stand absolutely still with head high, ears pricked and would relax quite quickly. If he was heading for a game of silly buggers he would start to shuffle sideways and the tail swishing would begin and the ears would flicker, back and forwards rapidly. When he started doing these things it was time to hang on and get ready for anything: bucking, rearing, head throwing, spinning or shying. With a couple of good smacks I could get his attention enough to able to begin spinning him which eventually got him over his freak out. Or if he froze on the spot and began to tremble it was time to get off and get 12 ft away from him because he was going rodeo on me. Every time I went for a ride I had to psych myself into it, where I was willing to ride him depended on what I felt up to dealing with on any given day. Oddly the best rides I had on him were the ones on the worst tracks in the area. He was fantastic on really rough terrain he was brilliant with gnarly creek crossings it seemed that if he had to concentrate on where his feet were he didn’t worry about tantrums. Putting him in a large open paddock though was always risky.
I battled with him for two and a half years I had long stopped being scared of him but I didn’t like him one little bit. I got so sick of the pattern - every ride would start ok, he would then get sick of being made to go forward, we would have a big fight, I would end up belting him and win the fight and then we could continue. A friend of mine got so sick of hearing me complain about my horse. She felt that something was wrong with either my gear or me. She felt that I must have been nervous and timid and that was what Max was picking up on and why he acted the way he did. Or my saddle was hurting him or my weight was. She asked if she could take him for a while and try him with a different saddle and a smaller rider also she is an extremely competent rider and felt her confidence would transmit to Max. I felt like anything was worth a crack although I didn’t think I was nervous on Max, I had long got past nervous and was now just angry. I felt like I rode him very confidently while at the same time I was always prepared for what ever he chose to throw at me. So she took him, the first time she rode him she couldn’t get him out the first gate, he performed in true Max style. She had him for a week and never managed to ride him further than 500mts. I know it sounds nasty but I was really happy to know that at least I had been able to get out doing proper trail rides on him even if we did have fights along the way. Her advice to me was to sell him.
Funny things about Max, like I mentioned, amazing on rough terrain! No matter how bad the footing he would just float, I would just drop the reins and let him go for it and he never put a foot wrong. He never baulked at a creek or something nasty, he thought nothing of sliding 2mts on his haunches into a muddy creek then jumping up the bank on the other side. He was completely bombproof, he wasn’t scared of any type of heavy traffic or machinery, blowing plastic, gunshots, road bollards, push bikes, motorbikes. He was AMAZING in the arena. The arena was the one place we never had fights he was a natural show horse. He was the softest horse I have ever ridden, when we were in the arena schooling it was as if I just had to think of a direction and he would do it. Backwards, forwards, sideways all with the lightest of touches. I didn’t know anything about flying changes but he did it naturally I didn’t teach him he taught me. He had the most beautiful collected canter on what ever lead I liked. It was bizarre I could ride him for a couple of hours at a time in an arena and he never resisted.
By the time I decided to sell him he had markedly improved. He hadn’t reared in months I was riding him on nice long rides, yes we still had fights but they were noticeably easier to deal with. Unfortunately there were things that I wanted to do but wouldn’t even consider doing them on Max. I never rode with more than two other people, he was way too excitable. I wanted to do the annual horse ride we have in my area, 70 to 100 horse and riders participate each year but there was no way I could do that on Max, he would be way to dangerous for me and others as well. Although he had improved in some ways he was totally unreliable.
I decided to sell him to a performance home, he was stunningly beautiful I had him on the internet for two days and he was sold. I sold him very cheaply and was totally honest with the lady who bought him. She wanted a team roping horse and I honestly felt that Max would be perfect, he was an amazingly athletic, well balanced horse and I had done some stock work which he seemed to enjoy. Also most of his time would be spent in an arena. So his new owner drove 7 hours to come pick him up. By the way I had spent quite a bit of time over the last couple of years making sure that Max loaded well and was good on a float. Anyway Eve decided that she wanted to put Max on the float herself to get an idea of his personality. He fought like a mad thing for three hours. It was as if he had never seen a float before in his life – I was mortified – again. Only this time he had discovered a new trick, go on the float then bolt back off it as fast as possible. The battle included us sitting in the shed (it was getting dark and raining) having a hot cup of tea listening to Max have a tantrum on the floor of the float where he had gone down, again, because Eve had had to tie him in to stop him bolting out. I thought I would be sad to say good bye to my boy but after watching his last performance I couldn’t wait to see the back end of him. The last update I had about Max from Eve was that she loved him in the arena he was the softest horse she had ever ridden. He had learnt to do a rollback in 15 minutes (I don’t know if that is a good thing or a great thing but she was happy) and his turn of speed is impressive and she is thinking of getting into barrel racing with him as well. Unfortunately when she rode him out of the arena he was rearing and refusing to walk forward. She was now riding with a stick and spurs which was helping.
To me, it sounds like he knew he had a job, and it was not messing around on a trail!
Maybe I'm just as crazy as he is, lol but there had to have been a time before you sold him when you looked back at what he was when he started and what he was at that time and been extremely proud. I would have been.
I was definitely able to see how far we had come. On one hand I finished up feeling super confident that I can ride anything after Max. On the other hand though I worried that his so many issues were my fault and I was scared to get another unbroken horse and start again incase I ruined that one as well. I was so worried that some of the reason he disliked trail riding so much was because I am over weight and was too heavy for him. So the next horse I bought was a draught horse to eliminate that as a potential problem.
I have read the WHOLE story and there is just on denying that you have had a tough go of it.
It is kind of like you got thrown into the deep end of the pool without a life vest.
I hope that you can move on and find a horse that you can just have fun with.
I don't know if it helps or not but I have heard of a few stories like this and I always feel so bad for the people that go through it and for the horses also.
I think you are on the right track by reading the Buck Brannaman books and there are a couple of stories in there that it is pretty hard to keep a dry eye.
I would love to hear what you think after you finish the read.
It is real easy to loose your way when raising a colt and one day they are this little helpless furry ball of joy and the next they are trying to kick you in the head.
It just kind of creeps up on a person that has not done it a bunch.
My hope is that some people will read your story and think twice before breeding.
We have probably raised about 60 foals here and I learn something every time.
There is a lot to be said about bloodlines and some are a lot easier than other.
Here is a picture of our last one and I hope it cheers you up a bit.
Yes it was definitely tough going. The irony of it was the reason I had decided to breed my own horse was because I had seen so many horror stories watching friends buy horses with a tonne of baggage and problems, problems often created by a lot of different owners. I thought that I would be starting with a clean slate and could write a horse to my own needs. At the end of the day Max was just too much horse for my level of experience, having said that though my level of experience certainly increased rapidly.
I now have Phoenix, I have broken her in myself, it has been a very easy and painless process. Perhaps I can attribute that more to her very calm easy going manner than my own horse skills. One day I would very much like to get a foal out of Phoenix but that is a long term goal, there are large gaps in my equine education that need to be filled first. I know things with Max could have been different had I had knowledge and skills in other training methods. You know, alternative ways of doing the same thing rather than only one way and having to make him do it my way because I didn't know any other. Isn't hindsight a wonderful thing?! That is why I like this forum so much I am learning that there is a lot of help out there.