August 7, 2012

On the Ground

While cleaning stalls, my mind likes to wander.  Last weekend, I gave a lot of thought to this question: What type of horse is scariest to deal with on the ground?

My first real horse experience came in dealing with Thoroughbred racehorses in high school.  I wasn't very good at it, though I think I'd be better now that I've grown a spine in my dealings with horses.  They were sharp, fit, reactive and excitable, and more than once I found my 100lb self on one end of a shank with 1200lbs of spinning/backing/prancing racehorse on the other end.  I'm glad the trainers I worked with put up with me handling their horses, because without them, I wouldn't have been prepared at all for college and I wouldn't have half the grooming skills I have today.  Eventually, I learned how to deal with their outbursts, and I'm a better horseman for it.
Home, photo from early spring 2007.  I love those people and this place.

But not a single racehorse I've ever handled qualifies as the scariest.  They always knew where I was, I always knew where they were; the scariest part was knowing I'd be damaging someone's livelihood if something happened!  No, that honor belongs to this one bay gelding, who was well-trained under saddle in an English discipline with lots of show miles, and obedient, but had NO awareness for anything outside of himself.  When I went out to catch him in the field, he would continue walking when any other horse would stop, and calmly walk me into the gate.  When I led him into his stall, he'd look out the window as I was trying to turn him around, and I'd have to beat my fists into his side to get his attention and make him turn around.  Even that barely registered with him.  Once or twice I tried to clean his stall while he was in it, but was so uncomfortable with his lack of awareness for me that I eventually just left it and dealt with the consequences.

A sense of self-preservation is your best asset when dealing with horses, and that fellow, though his behavior was anything but wild, caused my sense of self-preservation to go, "No, no, no, no, no, this is going to end badly, no." There's something terrifying about an animal that large that seems to live in his own, personal, foggy world, and I had no desire to insert myself into that world.

Who was your scariest horse to deal with, and why?  Agree, disagree?


  1. I think my scariest horse was one who really had my number--a mare named Rain who would take off 12 feet before a jump and land 12 feet after it, then take off at top speed. Or at least that's what it felt like when I was 13 and had to deal with her in my lessons. There was some serious air time after you took off for the jump. I always dreaded riding her because I would just get more and more nervous. My instructor just made me push through it for weeks.

    Right now I think the horses that are scary are those that are spooky and never learn. There are two in particular at the rescue where I volunteer that are very reactive, and despite months of professional training and no one having abused them for years, there's still something not quite right in their little brains, and they think people and occasionally their feed buckets are out to get them. They are in their own world, as you said. It is actually possible that they have brain damage from previous abuse. It's sad that they were so mistreated earlier in their lives, but I still have no desire to work with them. It just took them so long and so many freakouts to get to the semi-non-feral state where they are today, and I just don't have the energy for them or really, any desire for a horse that would only add stress to my life.

  2. My scariest horse (on the ground) was a 17.2hh Irish Draught horse called Alf. He was super under the saddle but on the ground he was just big, thick and ignorant. Leading him in from the paddock was a nightmare, he would just decide to take off in his own direction and there was nothing I could do, unless I'd remembered to slip the lead rope over his nose, and even then it was 50/50 whether I could hold him or not. I got a lot of rope burns from him.
    Holding him for clipping or vet treatment was even worse, he would throw his weight around the stable and deliberately try to crush people up against the walls. There was only one way to twitch him. His owner had a game with him where he would stick out his tongue and she'd try to catch it. When she needed to twitch him, she would play the game, grab his tongue and hold it while someone else (usually me) put the twitch on his nose. If she didn't have his tongue, he would start rearing. A 17.2 draught rearing inside a stable is NOT fun!
    He's about 30 years old now, retired and living on the side of a mountain, but if they need to lead him anywhere or get a vet to him, he's still as bad as ever!

  3. I've been a yard with a bunch of just-weaned QHs who were charging around at full speed. I was supposed to be forming a human fence to settle them down, but kept losing my nerve and ducking away just as they galloped up to me. Couldn't help it!