An Old Mare Teaching a Filly New Tricks
Hey all, I'm Liv. I'm 18, I have nine horses, with two on the way. I've always been a bit more "in tune" than the other people I know, since I was introduced to my first lesson horse about 12 years ago. I also have an affinity for the horse no one else likes, or the one with the screaming obvious problem no one else sees but me. This is represented in my mostly unbalanced, but getting there herd. I love each and every one of them (I'm really trying to love Delite, I'm really trying!) in my own way, and love the things that they have so willingly taught me.
Listed below, in order of them coming into my life and with a story attached to each, is my herd.
Tikki was my first horse. She wasn't what my mom wanted, she wasn't what I was looking for, but she was free. A spunky 6yr old dapple grey QH/App mare that was too smart. She could break out of a stall in 17 seconds flat even with the best of locks, eat seven acres to the dirt, solo, in less than four days, and loved kids. Her only rider had been a 3 yr old that was sat up on her back for a few minutes. Tikki is handicapped, but she doesn't let it stop her. She has a severely clubbed hoof, and according to everyone is a pasture ornament (a job she does well). She is the first one to the fence, and hobbles around after me when I have a halter in my hand. To Tikki, a halter means we're going on a grand adventure. She has a huge heart. A story I tell of her often happened with my neighbor's disabled grandson, who is wheelchair-bound. When he was young, she bent down, stuck her head and neck through a three board fence, and let him pet her until he tired of it. She has this amazing ability to liven and lighten up anyone's day.
Beau (Old Man) was my second horse. Old man is about 25 now, and there is only one horse alive who doesn't hate him and constantly try to kill him. We'll get to her later. He is always underweight, despite being fed 3x what my pregnant mares get. His food is watered down, mashed, specially bought, and even then he still looks like he's been forcibly starved. He thrives on structure, but that is something that is hard to give at my farm. Beau is an Anglo Arab who's name used to be Razzle Dazzle, and used to be a show jumper and dressage horse. He taught me how to ride, took me over low jumps until I was 14, and taught me that a canter can be really, really, REALLY, fast. He taught me how straight a straight line can be, and how perfectly you can pull off a circle. He is happiest when going the same pattern over and over until my brain melts. When I would ride my TWH gelding across the fence, Beau would trot on the the other side, showing us how it's *really* done. Amateurs. My old man is being donated to a hippotherapy center this summer so he can be happy with a very set schedule, going in a circle, carrying a light load and helping disabled children.
Delite. The horse that I can never seem to get along with. She is my mom's horse, a sorrel 21yr old 15 hander Tennessee Walker with an attitude rivaled only by Satan himself. Not that anyone else sees her as that. She is a perfect angel on the ground around every other human in existence. Just not me. At her core, she is extremely insecure. She has been abused in the past, and unlike my other horses, she really clings to it. She's terrified of men, people with sunglasses, etc. She is incredibly aggressive to other horses, but loves all people. Except those who try to draw her out of her shell. My mom loves her so much she bred her last year to A JFK's Monopoly, a horse I love dearly, and we are expecting a foal just about any day now. I'm going to attempt to imprint him/her, as I believe most of Delite's problems were caused by people, not bred into her. But she is my mom's horse, and her choice. I've learned from her that everyone and every horse handles abuse and neglect differently.
Angel, my horse mom, is another Walker, and reason I've referred to myself as the filly in the title of this thread. A little 14 or so hander, she LOVES being pregnant. I mean, LOVES it. She flirts with my poor geldings until the day she gives birth, and just about jumps on them when the foal is born. I call her Mom sometimes, as she's adopted me as her foal. From the moment she knew me, she would correct me for doing stupid things. She would nudge me with her front hoof, or nuzzle me on my back to get me to do something "correctly." She doesn't really like people, but isn't aggressive. She simply likes to be left alone, and loves to take care of foals. Angel does not have time to mess with fools. I've seen her buck and hit my 17hh mare in the head, all the way from down there. Her babies are smart little things that get her determination, sense of humor, love of other little ones, and tough nature. Her filly, Boss Lady (which we will get to later) is one of the smartest animals I've ever met. I suspect if Angel would get her one track mind off of getting pregnant, she would rival her daughter. She's due to foal any second now.
Maverick, the sweetest and slowest creature ever. My obese dog with a pin in her leg and a pronounced limp is faster than him. I bought him from a very sweet couple in Gallatin, TN. They had spoiled him beyond belief, and had to sell him as his owner's hip broke years ago and she wasn't able to climb up on his huge 16hh frame as well as she thought she could. I rode him for a while with her partner, who kept having to slow her smaller mare down to catch up with us. Mav isn't lazy, she let me know. She's worked construction for years, and had killer calves. She'd never spurred him, but had done everything but hurt him to get the guy to move. Mav was just the very incarnation of a Tennessee *Walker* and took it seriously. To this day, I have seen him gait maybe two or three times. He's easy to love, with a head belonging to a draft horse that is far too big for his body, and a gentle disposition. I taught him to give kisses early on, and he loves giving them. I get slobbered on just about every time I'm on the property, regardless of how clean I'm trying to stay. The big guy constantly reminds me to stop and smell the roses.
Ah, Bossy. My first foal, and lil sis. There is no greater ego check on God's green earth than a 100lb grey filly who thinks she rules the world, and you are her servant. She was "halter trained" by day 3, and could "longe" by two and a half months. Now, I put quotes around those, because they weren't exactly the normal versions. They were Bossified. I would teach her something, and she would get it perfect, then look up at me as if saying, "Wait, that's it? You're so stupid, anyone could do that." The next day, I would come back and try to repeat the exercise. But it would be Bossified. What was the day before a straight line from the Birch tree to the water trough became a wavy line done backwards with me trying to convince her that her head was supposed to go in front while walking. Or putting on her halter. Oh, I never knew it was this complicated! She would stick her nose in the first hole that presented itself, and would not let me take it out. Boss Lady would then begin to walk backwards, again, with no lead rope on and me not with her, until her butt hit the fence. She'd kick the fence, race around until the halter came off, and I'd have to catch her all over again. I honestly thought we'd never get along, she was too headstrong and smart, and I was about the same. Flash forward to now, as a yearling, where she is an amazing horse. She's calmed down, loves the halter (adventure!) and we walk almost every day. She plays with the dogs, and is fed with my two 16hh geldings because they're the only ones who can hold their own against her. She's the only one that likes Beau because she is above him in the herd, even at her own 13hh. I love that little filly to death, despite wanting to kill her half the time. She is absolutely bombproof, except with the farrier, but we're getting there. She's ended up a black minimal sabino with three white socks, but nothing will ever replace the memory of the little grey filly who fell asleep in my lap after arguing with me for two hours.
[Separated because the post was too long]
Harper! My horsetwin. My sweet 17hh leggy cherry bay Tenn Walker mare is ADD personified, and at 7yrs old, it's to be expected. I met her at a barn in south GA, where she showed performance (different for Walkers than other breeds, please look it up). She was a show horse, to be sure, and had never been outside of a barn except to show. Born in, and raised in, a stall. It was godawfully hot that day, but we were there to look at a truck and trailer. A horse was never part of the equation. Let alone one as handicapped as Harper. I was at one end of the LONG barn, petting the nose of a tall black gelding. Every horse in the whole barn was black, with a few snips and stars down the row. I was intent on the guy in front of me, and I felt like I should turn around. I ignored it for a minute, but finally relented. I looked around, but didn't see anything. I went back to the gelding, but still felt like I was missing something. Again, I turned around, and my eyes landed on a pink nose sticking out between the stall grate. Oh, god. I do not need another horse. I stood still, while out of nowhere a barnhand walked to her stall and let her out. They had trained their horses to just walk out of the stall and follow them (not through the gentlest means, I'm sure), and this hugely tall mare walked out behind him. She was over 18hh with the pads on, easy, and met my eyes with those gorgeous forward facing ones as she walked into the aisle. We literally froze, I have no clue how long, until the barnhand yelled, "MARE! Git over here!" And she ran over to him. I looked inside her stall, and saw that she had been cribbing. She had torn up her bottom eyelids from boredom, and had obviously been banging her head back and forth to try to alleviate that. She'll never grow back the bits of skin she's torn off around her eyes, and they constantly water. I walked over to her in the crossties, and saw them soring her legs with a kersoene mixture. She looked at me again, and I knew she wasn't going to take much more of this. She'd taken so much to be only 6, but that she was going to hurt someone, and herself, if she didn't get out. From that point on, my life really did change. I couldn't get her out of my head, and when I heard we'd bought her I nearly cried. I couldn't tell my parents what it was about her that was so different, so incredibly special. What made her different than any of the other rescue horses (Beau and Delite) we already had. When she got to my farm, she had her first encounter with a field. Her 4" shoes were newly off for the first time since she was 2, and she was tripping everywhere. I hung on Tikki's neck and really did cry when, for the first time in her adult life, my gangly, tripping, beautiful mare galloped. She really ran. She had friends! She'd never had friends! Mav was ALL over her, and having never, ever, been around horses before, she loved it. She didn't speak horse, but learned with the help of Old Man and Angel. Angel quickly taught her that you get 5 seconds of pinned ears warning before a kick or bites follows. Beau had to help her with plants, and mutual grooming. She still amazes me everyday, and I hope to always maintain the sense of childlike wonder she constantly has. My sweet girl would chase a butterfly off a cliff. But I will miss her and always remember what it felt like to see her that first time, and how she looks today. A bit scruffy, but with friends, with love, and a smile in her eyes.
Pi, my Romeo. A tank of a QH gelding, about 16hh. Giant, sorrel, it feels like riding a mountain. He has one beautiful blue eye, and we're pretty sure he's rigged. He's also afraid of small dogs and squirrels. And butterflies, and fireflies. He runs about 15 feet, then realizes, "Wait, that was tiny. I can take it!" and runs back to murder it with his manliness and Fabio looks. He's the angriest eater I've ever seen, and seems to love telling sweet feed who's the boss. And yet, sweet thing he is, Boss Lady runs him all over the place. He's my mom's horse, and is really the perfect gelding. If all QH were like him, I wouldn't be raising Walkers. He hates Beau with a passion, but has come to like him a bit. Harper constantly feels the need to protect me against him, though I've yet to understand the reason. He's a great guy who keeps all of us grounded.
And we come to my newest girl, Massy. She's a gorgeous stocky TWH mare, about 15hh sorrel sabino. She looks like an overgrown strawberry roan children's hunter pony. I'm currently working with her to overcome extreme introversion. According to everyone, I'm messing with a good thing. I'll be posting about it in upcoming writings. Hers is short because, quite simply, I haven't known her very long.
So that's my herd, my family, my life. I'm leaving all of them for college in the fall. I'm going to try to get Harper up to KY with me, but I can't get her up soon enough to be there every day from the beginning. For the first time in my memory, I'm leaving my horses. I've been in contact with them nearly every day since I was 6, lesson horses, neighbor's horses, and my own guys. But now, I am going to have to find friends who have them near Louisville. I'm an equine business student starting this fall, and I'm trying to make the transition. It's slowly breaking my heart, but I know they'll be here when I get back home. I'll be finding a rescue center or OTTB retirement home to help out at starting spring semester.
Until then, this is my training diary. Where I'm going to keep up with everything, and share with everyone. Hopefully you can give me some feedback and share your own experiences.
If you've read this far, you're an angel! Thanks!
When I got Massy, she would constantly defer to her handler for every decision she made. From what I can see, this must have stemmed from something that happened to her when she was very, very young, like a bad first trainer. If she was presented with an obstacle that most horses would just walk around, she had to be told to walk around it. Every time a person would get near her, she would freeze, and wait to be given a direction before doing anything. She felt like she had no free will around people. Literally she had be handled by very experienced people because she simply didn't react to basic things like a car horn, a tree branch falling, etc. Not in a bombproof way, but in a way that lacked any sort of will whatsoever. She would not react, even if she was in danger. But if off a lead and without a halter, she would react like any normal horse. If you haven't seen it, it's hard to explain. I put her in a field with my Harper that was weaned at 3mos, and Tikki. She mothered the Harper like her own filly, and fell in love with Tikki on sight. She actually started not to like me because I wouldn't tell her what to do, and gravitate towards my mom who really enabled the behaviour. Slowly, I've started to draw her out of her shell.
I started with sprays. I use an aerosol sometimes, and others a spray bottle. Every time, I would put the flyspray on a fence post, and walk about 40ft from her. I would take a step about every minute or so until she noticed me. I'd keep up the pace until she walked to me. Every day, it took less time, until she walked up to me as soon as I set the spray on the fence post. Before, she would focus on eating until I touched her, and then would instantly hang her head, and pretty much surrender (best word I can find). When she came to me, I'd drape the lead around her neck, slide the halter on, and tell her every time I was going to do something. I'd hold the flyspray out 3ft to the side of her head, pointed towards her hindquarters. "This is what this looks like," and I'd wait until she looked at it, "And this is how it sounds." I'd spray once. If all went well, I'd start spraying her legs with saying "I'm going to spray your legs." and each time announcing my intentions.
Now this mare is just in a daze around people, really. She just does what she's told, doesn't notice anything. About three weeks ago, I stopped putting the halter on, and just left the lead draped over her neck. It took her three days to realize that I wasn't putting her halter on, and it was on the ground in front of her. She looked back at me, as if wondering what I was doing, and the went back to zonking out. I about jumped for joy at that moment.
Over time, we've discovered that the halter (or anything on her head) immediately puts her into that mindset. So I took a light cotton lead, tied it loosely around the base of her neck, tied it up so she wouldn't step on it, and clipped a lead to the clip on the other lead. Yeah, that made sense. Those that have done this before know what I'm talking about! Now Massy is currently unbroken at 21yrs. She was broken at some point, but remembers nothing. I hopped on her and learned this, when she didn't understand the signals, and rein opening/pulling caused her to pull her head back to my shoe.
We are currently still working with halterless leading with the neck lead. I'm basically trying to untrain her, then retrain her to deal with my signals in a healthy way.
Make sense? Kinda?
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