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Life or death for a dangerous horse


I have a 7-year-old APP/QH gelding that puzzles me no end. He's not a particularly ornery or mean horse; he has good ground manners and obeys me as long as he sees me as boss. His rebelliousness is very subtle. Most of the time, he will do what you tell him to do unless he wants to do something else or just doesn't feel like doing what you ask. He will usually begin by moving in very slight ways just to get you off balance then if he is successful, he bolts and bucks you off. The only way I can tell he's about to do this is by the muscles in his back which I can't tell very well in a western saddle but I can in my dressage saddle. He doesn't pin his ears or pull the bit. He especially likes to do this when you are getting on or off (that's when you are most vulnerable I guess). I ruled out all the usual suspects i.e. bad fitting tack, hot feed, sore feet, flies or distractions. He's otherwise a charming horse, follows me without a lead, and obeys voice commands like a dog. People comment on how well behaved he is and when he's good, he's really good, but when he's bad, he's horrid! I do all the things one does to correct the behaviors, I pull on one rein until his nose is on my boot and usually this takes care of the attitude (when I'm able to see it). The problem is that he is so quick and clever that sometimes I miss it and get bucked off - which, Thank God, is not often.

I've decided to sell him but I'm afraid not to tell the prospective buyer what this horse is capable of. No child should ever ride this horse or even a beginner or intermediate. He is such an affectionate horse with a lot of personality, I'm afraid people won't realize the danger and get hurt. I know horses and how to not let them bully me. This horse clearly sends out the signals to me that he sees me as leader. I have learned that if I see any disobedience at all on the ground, he will test me that day in the saddle. It can be as subtle as when I tell him to stand, he does so for a moment, and then takes a step foreword or when I tell him to stop in the round pen, he doesn't stop immediately. Or if I tell him to back, there is a moment of hesitation. It's like I always have to reinforce this 'who is the boss' and I often wonder if he just really never truly accepted humans as the boss and he just goes along to keep the peace.

Anyway, he pulled a quick one on me last week and I'm nursing a really bad bruise. It was such a deliberate act, and it happened so quickly, just a bolt and full scale bucking - like a bronco coming out of the gate at the rodeo. I know this sounds awful, but I think the horse should be put down - he is the kind of horse that sends people to the hospital - or graveyard. I've given him two years of the best of treatment and this is what he gives me?

My question: should I sell this horse or put him down? Training is not an option - I've done all that I could do. And if I sell him, am I responsible to tell the prospective buyer what this horse is capable of? Who would buy him?

Thanks so much for your advice,


Hi Viki,

Quite a story. Thank you for sharing it with me and with the others who may read this. It is a dilemma for you I understand. I would completely re-start this horse. I would stop riding him and totally take him back to the very beginning of his training and re-do him. His behavior is habitual and quite crafty. This does make him dangerous at this time. But it is not hopeless. If you love him and you have already put two years into him, how about taking another 3-4 months maximum and retrain him. It may not take that long. That is what I would suggest. If he is attractive, moves well, has good conformation and the other good points you have mentioned, it sounds like he is a good candidate for re-hab. If he were rid of this behavior would he be terrific? It sounds like you are no slouch and have a lot of horse sense. I also understand you are angry and frustrated. Do you think you have the skills to really go back to the beginning? That is what it will take. I have re-trained horses more dangerous than this. I take on horses that most other trainers give up on. I work with dangerous stallions. I have yet to give up on a horse. I have yet to not be successful when I go back to the beginning with the horse. Imagine the skills you will be practicing if you do this. You will become like a professional trainer and be able to do this for others as well. This horse can be your doctorate thesis in horse training. It is so much more than showing them who is boss or keeping the horse out of your space or even being sensitive to his 'moves '. I know you know how to do all that.

There was something missing in this horses training way back at the beginning or something happened that set this behavior up and it was never corrected. You are paying the price. In your efforts to date with him, you have not addressed the issue actually. You seem to have moved around it, but not hit on it exactly. Touching his nose to your foot is nice, but not nearly what he needs to correct the behavior. This is what retraining him will do. If you forget about riding him for a little while (much safer for you for now) and go back to really doing the ground schooling, reintroducing the saddle and ground schooling with the saddle on, plenty of ground driving, round pen play, lots of fun on the ground to get your bond really active and happening and the horse comfortable with it all again, I think you'll have a fine horse and a safe one. He is not really sufficiently connected to you and, as you know, there is so much more to the horse/human relationship than being 'alpha'. Being 'alpha' only works so far as you have seen. There has to be more. Deeper connection and real respect are required, which does not seem to be in place, yet.

If you do not want to do this and you are not too far from Aspen, CO., I would be happy to take the horse on and retrain him for you here. You could even come and do it with me. I live on a lovely boarding/guest ranch just outside of Aspen. I could also come there and get you going if you like. It all depends on if you want to give up on the horse or not. Please do not send him to the killers or just drop him. That is not necessary. He is not nearly as bad as many I have worked with. You are hurt and angry, but the truth is, the horse is not really doing anything for you to take personally. It is just being a horse, a horse with a behavioral issue that can be corrected. He is smart and sensitive. You are pretty good and I really think you have it in you to retrain this guy, if you want to. I can help you do this.

You cannot sell him to someone and not say what his ways are. That is criminal liability if you do. If he is good looking and has good potential for some sort of competition, he is worth money to you retrained. But by that time you may just want to keep him. If you do take the retraining on, it will be one of the most rewarding things you have done yet in your life. Your horsemanship skills will go through the roof and you'll be able to charge good money to re-hab other horses (and there are a lot of them that need it). It just depends on if you have the patience, are willing and want to save the horse's life. Please let me know your thoughts on all this. It is a lot to think about. I am so very grateful you contacted me before making a decision. I really hope you choose 'life'.

Blessings to you,

most sincerely yours, Franklin

Dear Sir,

Thank you so much for answering me! I had a professional trainer look at this horse this weekend and he discovered the horse has a teeth problem. Apparently, when I turned the horse, the snaffle put pressure where it hurt and when he bolted, my pulling on one rein made it even worse. I don't know if this is a common problem but it is certainly something that will always be on my checklist from now on.

He did feel that the horse needs to be retrained to the bit. Turns out that this horse has been ridden by kids who did not know how to ride and he has bucked plenty of them off! Being a rather smart horse, he just got good at it. It was recommended that I go back to the round pen training using techniques to get him back to responding better to the bit (after seeing an equine dentist). And he said that I should work on the mount/dismount in the round pen where the horse understands not to move at all. He said that I will have to put the time into the horse and if I'm not willing to do so, then don't expect much. He insisted that the horse is a very, very good horse and worth the time and effort but that if he does not get what he needs now, he could be dangerous to inexperienced riders in the future. He said the respect factor must always be there when handling this horse and that children don't often understand this so he would not want a child to ever ride this horse. He also said that the horse may be proud cut because he looks and acts like a stallion.

He wants me to 1.) get the horses teeth looked at 2.) Round pen train as often as I can. 3.) Send the horse to a local professional for two weeks. He said that this trainer he is recommending will carefully push the horse to see if he will bolt (not cowboy him or anything like that). Just work him until he's tired and had enough (not exhausted). That's when this horse will do his thing - when he's had enough.

I sure wish I lived near your farm cause if I did, I'd take this horse to you but sadly, I'm way down on the Gulf Coast. However, I think I might could get what I need here. I guess I've come this far with him - I've cured him of excessive shying, jumping when I put a saddle on him, running away when I try to catch him. Kicking.Biting, just general pain in the butt stuff. I'll go ahead and give himall I've got and see if I can help him (without getting hurt myself).

Thanks again!
Viki Goff

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