Tag: handling

Don’t Be a Screaming Sue

Open the gate, open the gate!!!!

No-one stopped in their tracks, conversations were not interrupted, tea drinking did not cease mid sip either. By now everyone was accustomed to Screaming Sue and her daily routine of turning out her horse. Sue’s somewhat unconventional method of taking Bargy Boris (BB) to pasture always started in the stable, albeit with less volume, but still clearly audible.

During those moments it was clear Sue’s nickname was entirely inappropriate considering what we could ascertain from Sue’s rather guttural grunts and groans. During the rugging process which took around 35 minutes, a more apt name would have been Squashed Sue. Offers of help had ceased long ago because apparently Sue could handle BB’s rambunctious personality, and no-one but her would cope. The main event however always started when the stable door was opened. This was always BB’s cue to announce his existence to the world. The door would fly open so hard it would hit the outside of the stable wall and shake the entire block. Buckets, grooming kits and various yard equipment would either be scattered or shattered.

His large chest would quite literally sweep Sue to one side with the power of a tsunami. With head held high one would question whether Sue was holding the rope or swinging from it. It was always at this moment that Sue needed a volunteer. Not help you understand, Sue didn’t need help, but a volunteer. Everyone knew the routine by then, and one of us would scurry off ahead of Sue and the 4 legged tsunami to go and stand by the field gate. I say scurry because no-one in their right mind would trust Sue to hold onto that horse behind you. Trying to run forward while simultaneously checking behind to ensure BB wasn’t about to bulldoze over you was no easy task.

The victim, or volunteer would barely make it to the gate before Squashed Sue rapidly evolved into Screaming Sue. BB would soon give up on walking and break into trot. It would be at this point also that Sue would start screaming Don’t you dare! which was quite lost on BB, and in fact the entire yard. It was apparent that BB actually did dare, considering this same routine had been played out for almost 14 months. It had occurred to me that if Sue should ever want a powerful trot in the arena the only aid she would need would be her voice, and shouting Don’t you dare!

Sue, who would now be running/swinging alongside her horse would already be reaching up to undo the head collar. The head collar and rope would come clattering to the floor with a hapless screaming Sue doing her best not to trip over it. BB would be free and almost at full gallop during the last 10 meters to the gate. The woeful volunteer would have that gate wide open while standing on the post and rail just to ensure their own safety. They would invariably get splattered in mud as a galloping bulldozing tsunami would pass them at near on 25 mph.

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While this tale of Screaming Sue and Bargy Boris may seem fantastical, fictional or at best farcical I have more than once seen this ‘method’ used when turning out a horse. I have a theory that some owners do not accept help because they are unaware they need help. The situation and their horse’s actions become so familiar to them they become almost blind to the issue.

But in my view this situation was nothing less than downright dangerous. Anything or anyone could have crossed BB’s path during that last 10 metres and the outcome would no doubt be catastrophic.

The horse was actually only doing what he has been trained to do. In his eyes this is merely how the human turns him out. It’s part of his daily routine and in some respects BB is doing exactly what is expected of him. Horses like to comply, they feel comfortable when they understand what the human is trying to communicate to them. They are very easy to train, so be very aware of what exactly you are training them. There is absolutely no legitimate reason why BB could not walk to the gate in a calm, safe manner. Well, there’s one reason – Sue. Yet the issue is nothing to do with turnout.

When an advert reads easy to do in all ways take note, and consider if your horse is also the same. Mild inconveniences to downright dangerous behaviour should not be accepted or tolerated. Many behaviours are not down to his personality, a horse may be rambunctious but he can be trained not to be when with the handler. Issues may develop slowly through fear, anxiety or miscommunication, but that’s the time to seek help, before the problem becomes huge. It’s not a failing to ask or accept help and advice, it’s an opportunity to expand your knowledge which in turn will give you a fantastic partnership with your horse.

Too Windy For Turnout?

Turnout was cancelled. I was keeping my horse on part-livery which included hay, bedding and a groom that would do all the turning out and bringing in. 20 plus years ago part-livery used to include everything apart from someone exercising the horse. You could expect all the mucking out to be completed, the horse groomed, even the tack would be cleaned. If an owner is doing more than actually tacking up and riding, then yards have no right to call it part-livery.

It was a tall young woman who was striding past my stable that yelled out the news the horses would spend the entire day and night stuck in a 12 by 12 feet wooden box. I had only been at this yard for 2 days, and had chosen the place specifically to get extra help with my horse. I was looking forward to having more quality time, rather than spending time doing all the chores.

Continue reading “Too Windy For Turnout?”

The Strict Routine

My horse was very strong on a hack recently, and while we may have only been walking, it was still necessary to correct the speed. I hadn’t asked for this fast paced walk, in fact I was looking for a nice amble across the English county-side. The walk she had chosen felt hurried and anxious, and when I applied pressure to my reins she totally ignored it. Now I could have got home 30 minutes earlier than planned, but this needed correcting. Situations like this are no more than a nuisance at walk, yet my horse ignoring my pressure and deciding her own speed at trot and canter could prove a lot more dangerous.

Very frequently situations in the saddle are not always just connected to riding, and situations such as mine are a consequence of everything else an owner does around the horse. Yet I see very little evidence of people making this connection, I often see just the opposite. Problems in the saddle are just that, it’s a schooling problem, a bad temperament, the horse is in season, it’s the spring grass, the saddle needs re-flocking or a stronger bit is required.

A very sad situation occurred recently in which a young rider was thrown from her horse and received a fatal head injury. I may not know the exact circumstances but the article I read stated that the girl had finished riding and put the horse in the stable. For reasons unknown she brought the horse back out the stable and mounted the horse again. The hat had already been removed, as the saddle and she mounted on the concrete base. The horse bucked her off.

This is a set of circumstances in which having a strict routine could get someone hurt or killed. We see the same routine every day in which someone has finished riding, untacks the horse, grooms and feeds, or some variation of that, but usually some sort of routine is established.

Returning to my own situation of my fast paced anxious hack; this was resolved by giving some thought to what I had been doing the last few times I had both handled and ridden my horse. I had done this very same trail the last time I hacked and when I had finished I untacked my horse, groomed, fed and turned her out. I had unwittingly trained my horse that if we just get finished she will get a bowl of feed and can get back to her herd sooner. Schooling wise, I did correct this pace while riding but this was just 10% of what I needed to do to change this behaviour. I didn’t want a stronger bit, and ideally I wanted my horse not to be anxious when hacking.

The next time I handled my horse I fed her first, then groomed and did some groundwork. Some days I didn’t provide any hard feed and I avoided riding the same trail if I had hacked that way the last time. Sometimes we didn’t hack but rode in the arena, or did some road-work. Fundamentally I always did things (everything) differently than the last time. My horse is now in a situation where she cannot predict what is coming next.

Is she anxious? No.

My horse is calm because she is not in control of the situation, and if she is not in control then the person who is calling the shots…is me.

Be wary of livery yards that seem proud to advertise their horses have ‘a strict routine’. No don’t be wary, just avoid them. Ideally you want a yard that lets you mind your own business, which is entirely possible in my experience. The horses you see and hear in the morning kicking the stable doors wanting to be fed are not calm and contented horses, they are anxious.

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A strict routine has a knock on effect with everything someone does with their horse which involves riding and handling. The added danger is when you do something that suddenly breaks this routine. If you have ridden your horse at 4 pm every-day for the last 2 years then one morning decide to ride at 7 am, you may very well have a horse that throws a tantrum. It isn’t the bit, it isn’t the saddle, and it isn’t because your horse is mean. It’s because you have trained your horse to expect breakfast at 8 am and to be ridden at 4 pm.

I was made aware of a horseman a couple of years ago, although I do not know his name and I have never met him, all the same I tip my hat to him. He purchased a ‘dangerous’ horse. This horse was turned away for many months while the horseman just observed him. During this time the man could see nothing physically or psychologically wrong with this animal, so brought him back into work. In my mind and without a doubt I feel sure this man was bringing back balance to this horse’s brain. He was undoing years of bad horsemanship, routine, strong bits and uneducated handling…by just letting the horse be a horse for 6 months.

My partner hunted this horse several times after been cared for by this man, so you can believe me when I say this horse was not dangerous and was good as gold when ridden.

Throw that routine out, good horsemanship is not just about sitting in a saddle. Give some thought to what you do around horses. The rears, the bucks, the napping and being strong when led may just have nothing to do with your tack or because the horse is dangerous. It may just be better not to invest your money in changing tack, but investing your time in understanding horse psychology.