I want to talk to you about Intuition and the importance of listening to yours when dealing with horses.
This sweet boy’s name is Rhett, he’s about 11 years old and his people contacted me to come out to work with him and their mare, Daisy.
They are Brand New to horses and eager to get the show on the road, but the horses knew what the humans don’t know and were taking advantage. At least, that was my initial impression.
At the time they contacted me, I was still recovering from the last casualty of not listening to my Intuition. As many of you know, I got bucked off of Blue, one of the horses I’d been working with for about 6 months.
I was working on the human client’s time schedule and getting pressured to get him under saddle ASAP, and I KNEW he wasn’t ready. Yet I pushed on anyway and we were having some success! And yet…..my gut still niggled at me that I was moving too fast.
So, on our 5th ride, fifteen minutes in, I made a very very small miscalculation that turned into a very very big disaster. I spooked the horse, got bucked off, and sprained my ankle on the way out of the saddle to the ground, pulling the horse down with me.
(He was not harmed physically, but we were both rattled and bless his heart, even after the whole fiasco he still tried his best to overcome his own fear and walk over to me when I couldn’t walk to him)
Not only did I set back his training, but because I couldn’t work for 6 weeks, I wasn’t getting paid for 6 weeks. My small mistake, cost us all big time.
This is lesson #1 in DO NOT IGNORE YOUR GUT.
Now, back to Rhett. Upon our first meeting in the round pen I noticed he had a significant limp coming from the shoulder area, so we wrapped up and I advised his people to call the vet, which they did. He got some time off to recover and we focused on Daisy, who was giving them some big sassy attitude.
In the weeks to come I’d work with both Daisy and Rhett. Things were progressing with Daisy, and her person was making headway learning how to handle Daisy’s “sassy mare” behavior with a firm, but kind hand.
Rhett was another story altogether. This horse was Aggressive. In the round pen, teeth were bared, his neck would snake like a stallion, the look in his eye was MEAN, and all this was just at a walk! My gut started to speak. Something isn’t right.
After a session or two of this, with Rhett striking at me, bucking at me and having an overall unpleasant disposition, I suggested getting a second opinion from another vet. He would get a limp when asked to pick up his speed in the round and I thought perhaps he was still in pain.
Something to know about horses is, they’re pretty steady creatures. A sudden personality change is an indicator that something is wrong, often pain related.
This very sweet and loving horse, that they had been able to ride initially, had seemingly overnight turned into a fire breathing dragon. This is NOT NORMAL.
Another thing to know about horses, they are not mean by nature.
Aggression stems from fear, insecurity, or pain, sometimes a combination, and they let us know that in the only way they know how- by acting out.
(Alternatively, a high spirited horse by nature may become sullen and sluggish, even depressed)
Yet, their vet said it was behavior related. The farrier said it was behavior related. “Horse trainer” friends said it was behavior related. So okay, I put Intuition on the back burner, I didn’t want these lovely people to have a vet bill for no reason So I decided, lets Up The Ante and see how it goes. Maybe, he just needs a firmer hand.
So I put my “Boss Mare” pants on and met aggression with aggression. Did it work? Well…..Sort of. His ears were no longer flat against his head but perked up on me as they’re supposed to be, with a soft eye, and he joined up like a puppy dog, following us around softly and quietly with no hint of bite or bark. (That’s the day the picture was taken). Did I feel good about this? Absolutely not. I am NOT an aggression meets aggression trainer.
The next time I was there, they said there was some improvement in his behavior (YAY!) but when I came back later in the week, he was back to his old shenanigans. Rhett had his owner scared to death. Not that I blame her, his behavior was scary and I didn’t want her alone in the round pen with him.
Meanwhile, Daisy, who was undergoing similar training was actually making steady progress and her behavior had improved tenfold. This was the deciding factor for me, that this issue, whatever it was and despite what other horse professionals were saying, was not behavior related.
I apologized to them for the possibility of a hefty vet bill, but could not, in good conscience, continue his training without ruling out the possibility that Rhett was in pain. I had waffled and warred with myself that I was reading the situation wrong too long already, it was time to listen to what my Intuition was screaming at me.
So they called the vet that I referred them to and set up an appointment for the following week.
I stood with Rhett’s person while we watched the vet go through the motions, and Rhett was being the very best boy (because of course he was!) and I was dreading the moment they tell us there is nothing wrong with him physically. “These clients are going to think I’m a wacko and I don’t have a clue and I’m gonna get fired.”
That’s the troll on my shoulder whispering in my ear.
Test after test he’s being put through, looking for lameness, arthritis, joint problems, ulcers, cracked or displaced ribs, everything I had gone through in my head and thought to mention that his behavior might be indicating. The (possible) result was both worse than I thought but also highly treatable.
The latest “behavioral issue” that had cropped up, was Rhett didn’t even want to be touched or groomed or blanketed, all of which he’d enjoyed previously. This led the vet to test for a disease called PSSM – polysaccharide storage myopathy.
All the signs were present that he was in fact, in considerable pain and his acting in aggression (his way of yelling, basically) was the only way he could tell us what we weren’t hearing.
I felt awful that I hadn’t listened sooner, but also relieved that this would be something we could get a handle on! Better yet, his owners were willing to put in the work, diet, and nutrition changes that are needed to manage PSSM. Lucky for Rhett.
This could have been what had him headed for auction in the first place, before his new people intercepted him.
Lesson #2 – DON’T IGNORE YOUR INTUITION!! And Listen to what the Horse is saying.
I wish I’d listened to myself sooner. Shame on me, for allowing my gut and my voice to be silenced because other “professionals” might know better. It’s only been about 6 weeks that we’ve been working but that was 4 weeks too long. When his behavior hadn’t improved at all by our second training session, I should have listened then. I should have listened to the horse.
So here in this post I fall on my sword and and admit my mistakes, so that when you hear your own inner voice telling you something isn’t right, you remember, and you trust yourself.
In both situations where I haven’t listened, there have been consequences that could have been fatal. Practice listening to yourself, even in the smallest circumstances.
If you think you might need a heavy coat that sunny day, don’t talk yourself out of it! Bring your heavy coat. If you think you might need to double check the water tank before the next snow, don’t ignore it! Trust those little niggles and follow through.
Your horses and your clients, and your friends & family will thank you later!