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Dream Horse Not So Dreamy Now. fearful rider


Dear Franklin-

I have a lovely 3 1/2 yr old colt "Stinky", who I just had gelded yesterday. My vet jokingly called it "brain surgery". I will start at the beginning so you have plenty of background info. Stinky is a still growing 16.1 hand half-Arab; the other half is a good standard bred mare that I also own. We were there for the birth, imprinted the foal extensively, and basically handled him on a daily basis his whole life. He is a very easygoing, docile and obedient horse with the exception he would attempt to nip if you weren't watching, like many playful colts. I understand that this could be a respect problem, though.

When he was a long yearling, we leaned on him, and my daughter sat on him quite often. When we started him at 3, he'd been so accustomed to having people on his back while being led to the arena to be turned out, he never dreamed of bucking. We started him in the round pen lunging under saddle, and then event ally progressed to my daughter mounting up while I held him. He was fine with that, so I led him around, saddled up with my 18 yr old daughter on him. Then, I let go of him and walked alongside him in the roundpen while Deanna quietly rode. He was fine with that, so I basically stood in the center and let my very capable daughter ride him while I held onto the lunge.

It was a beautiful thing. In my whole lifetime I never dreamed starting a baby could be such a wonderfully joyous experience. Over the first week, Stinky did so well, Deanna was able to ask for a lope and all went well. This horse was like a miracle!! The second week under saddle, I rode his mama out on trail and Deanna rode along on Stinkie. We showed him the world was a great place and he was so awesome, like a sponge. He wanted to learn, loved being ridden. We wanted everything to be perfect with this perfect horse!

He is my "lifetime horse", the horse I'd always dreamed of breeding and raising up. No one could believe that a stallion, greebroke could be so easy. I put off gelding him because of that.

Up until a month ago, only my daughter was his rider. But I handle him on a daily basis, though; turning out, hotwalker, grooming, stall cleaning, feeding and watering. I am 40 and weigh 260. My daughter is 18 and 160. I was afraid I weighed too much to ride Stinky yet, but I'd gotten on twice and walked a few minutes in the arena with him. He seemed a little hesitant, but all went well.

Last week a key seemed to turn in his head. There is another stallion in a large pen across from the arena, and there is a certain spot in front of that pen he has balked and half reared before on his way to work in the arena, but that was over a month ago, and Deanna kicked him forward and made him go on toward the arena s successfully. Since then, I can see he's THINKING about balking at that special spot in front of that other stallion, but Deanna doesn't allow him to hesitate there.

Last week, I decided it would be fine if I rode him. I went to the mounting block, and got on him with no problem. I was a little bit tense until we began to walk toward the arena. As we got to that special spot he has balked before at, he suddenly reared and bucked twice. I fell on my back onto hard packed earth and cracked my helmet in half. My sacrum is severely bruised and I am soooooo afraid to get back on him now.

My daughter hadn't ridden him in 5 days and I didn't turn him out prior to that, but still, that is no excuse, is it?

So a few days after my accident, Deanna saddled him up and prepared to ride. She couldn't BELIEVE what he'd done to me, thinking I must have weighed too much or done something to have made him want me off. Well, I watched from 10 feet behind him, and sure enough, at that exact same spot, he reared and bucked his way over to that other stallion! Deanna can ride very well, and stuck on him and kept kicking and whipping him with the ends of the reins, but Stinky had his butt up against the other stallion's pen and I screamed at Deanna to GET OFF THAT HORSE! She jumped off and kicked him in the belly and made him run in a circle around her, right there in front of that other stud. I intervened and said to get in the roundpen immediately. He was wound up like a top, springing and prancy like a dressage horse, and even in the round pen, bucked and reared several times while I very tensely watched. Deanna rode him through it and made him work in that roundpen after his outburst. It took several minutes for him to not be doing a coiled spring kind of trot, and his eye finally softened and he leveled out. Deanna only walked and trotted, not wanting to push too much.

After 10 minutes of being "good" we stopped and put him away. We were so saddened that such a perfect horse could come undone with a one-week time frame. That was all last week. Stinky was gelded yesterday, because I and everyone else believe that his hormones were the culprits. After all, he IS (was!) a stallion, and at 3 1/2, witnessing that other stallion teasing and breeding mares was probably triggering stallion-like behavior. Today, I made him work around me in the roundpen, noting that he did have a teensy bit of testing in him directed toward me. He initially had his butt to me when I said whoa, and was choppy and seemed "out there" and wasn't listening. There was a horse and rider in the upper arena and he was craning his neck to look over the top of the roundpen. I had the lungewhip and I swatted his butt with it---only after I stung him did he really start to seem more attentive to what t I wished of him!

By the time we were done, he was ears forward, sweet, compliant, gentle head-in-my hands again. Every time I asked for "whoa", and he did nicely, with his front end facing me, ears up. I went up to him and petted him, and crooned to him. This really seems to relax him, and things went better and better. We ended on a good note.

The horse wants to please and is very smart. His sire is an Arabian sweepstakes racehorse, a handful: He only would only allow certain people to ride him and aptly nicknamed "Diablo". Mom is a very well bred and sensible mare, granddaughter of the famous pacer Albatross.

I love my colt so much!! I am "afraid I will be afraid" when the time comes to mount him again. I am so hurt it will be awhile before I can even ride his mama! I know going back to basics is what I need to do to search for the things we must have skimmed over because he was "so easy" to start. The vet says to stay off him a week, but to work him in the roundpen to help with the swelling of his castration yesterday.

I really don't quite know what we should be doing with him at this point. Should I have Deanna, his regular and beloved rider riding him? Do I need a professional trainer? I think I expected too much of this colt too soon. Perhaps he needs to be lunged prior to any riding---even though he never seemed to need it before. What should we do about that spot he likes to balk (and now rear and buck) at? I don't want anyone hurt and I don't want to ruin this awesome and beautiful horse. Stinky's mama is due to foal ~May 20 and I have my hands so full at this point I don't know if I can do this full brother or sister justice--or even if I have the inclination to raise up another horse. We were just so impressed at how my colt was turning out at 2 1/2 yrs old, we repeated the breeding. Older, seasoned horses are sure worth their weight in gold!! I have read some of your columns relating to bucking/rearing horses, and I really like your style. I eagerly await your response.

Sincerely, Michelle

fearful rider

Hi Michelle,

What an interesting and heart felt story you have related to me. I am very glad you were not more seriously hurt in your accident with Stinky. I agree that it is probably the horse's testosterone levels that prompted the stallion like behavior. I agree as well that the viewing, smells and displays of the other stallion contributed to the situation you are experiencing. Unless you are a very experienced and confident rider, I would suggest you not ride any green horses regardless of your on-the-ground relationship. They are children and need very confident, appropriate schooling to become safe to ride and confidant with riders of various levels of skill. Every incident like you had works against that becoming a reality. I know you want to ride him. But I sincerely suggest you do not. Please, for your own safety, ride experienced, patient and mature horses. While your weight is not a problem, your build and body type probably are. Green horses are like little kids and need experienced parenting, schooling and in the saddle leadership from very balanced, centered, experienced riders. Also, if I may be so bold as to say, you may be top heavy in your balance point and center of gravity and that will make you feel unstable to the horse. This will make a horse not confident of your ability to help it balance (which is part of our responsibility as good and competent riders) which produces a desire by the horse to dislodge you should anything start to happen to spook it or upset it.

You did so well in the beginning stages of this horse's life. His stallion behavior is natural and normal. Now that he is gelded, you should go back to the basics on the ground and begin it again with him. You will probably get the horse back to close to where he was. Be patient, the hormone situation will subside. He may have picked up some stallion behavior that will stay with him for a while. But, if you are patient, consistent, skillful and precise in your action and requests it should go well. If your daughter is good at schooling horses I would let her school him and ride him nearly daily. I generally wait until a horse is three before daily schooling, but your horse sounds ready. The horse should ALWAYS be warmed up in the round pen before being ridden. Also, the round pen is more than just for "warming up" a horse as you well know. It will help the horse to quickly bond with whoever is going to work with it in the saddle or on the ground. You can do a lot of the ground games with him. But if your daughter is going to ride him, let her do them before she rides. This will get them more in tune with each other before the ride. I know you will be great with him and the horse will come back to where he was before if you are consistent.

As far as that "spot" where he spooks or acts out; if your daughter practices bending the horse around her inside leg, in both directions from the saddle somewhere where there are no distractions, she will have a "tool" that she can use to put he horse to work when he acts up at all. Moving in small circles either on the ground around the handler or around the rider's inside leg gives the horse something to do and think about other than the unwanted behavior. The moves should be practiced in a quiet place first so the horse and rider get very good at them. Then move on to the areas where the behavior occurs. When the horse even thinks of doing what you do not want, he goes to work bending in small circles around the rider's inside leg or the handler on the ground. The idea is to make the wrong, unwanted behavior hard for the horse to do and what you do want easy. It is a non-abusive way to modify the horse's behavior.

If you decide to hire a trainer, let me know where you are and perhaps I can recommend someone or even take the horse on myself if you are near Colorado. I also travel to teach and train as well as offer telephone coaching to humans and their horses. If any of these things interest you please let me know. You obviously have a great way with horses. However, please do not put yourself in jeopardy. Knowing one's physical and skill related strengths as well as limitations is very important. I understand your desire to ride and I want to encourage you to do so. But you really need to ride a horse that is not green, that is mature and confident, and that will not want to remove you if you get out of balance as a young, green horse will. The horse did not "do anything to you" as your daughter said. It was just being a horse and its behavior was natural and could have been anticipated given the situation. Please consider that you may have been over confident in your abilities as a rider and as to the horse's level of maturity. He can still be your "dream horse" and so could this new one coming. Remember the lessons from this experience. Keep yourself safe. You cannot help your horses if you are incapacitated. I think the ground play is as much fun as the riding. The older I get, the more it seems that way

Blessings to you always, Franklin

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