By Laura Crum
Some horses are born resistant. All the good training in the world won’t make them cooperative. I know this from personal experience. Last month I did a post titled “A Failure?”, that told the story of Ready, a horse I broke and trained and failed to turn into a cooperative riding horse. I later discovered that all the horses that traced back to Ready’s dam were failures as cooperative riding horses. I mentioned that I failed on a couple more of them before I figured this out. In the comments on this post, stillearning and I discussed her current horse, who she fears might be another naturally resistant horse. I thought I would write today about the way in which I discovered that the horses of this one particular lineage were virtually impossible to turn into good saddle horses, in the hopes that it might help others to make that all-important decision of knowing when to quit.
First off, I want to talk about what a truly resistant, uncooperative horse amounts to, in my book. Such horses are lazy, and will do almost anything to avoid work. Their hallmark is the tendency to do stupid, violent, dangerous things, including things that might actually hurt them, in an effort to avoid cooperating with a rider. The worst of these horses virtually seem to have a screw loose. They are so determined to avoid cooperating with a rider that their instincts for self preservation just disappear. The funny thing is that because these horses are lazy, they often appear suitable for beginners—as long as the beginners just want to walk around the pen. The lazy, resistant horse is willing to do this. He appears bomb-proof. But he isn’t. It can be a very dangerous mistake to make.
However, not all lazy horses are in this category. And some horses can be very resistant to work that they don’t like and cooperative about work that they do like, as was pointed out in the comments on my post about Ready. My trail horse, Sunny, likes trail riding and dislikes arena work. He is frequently lazy and resistant in the arena, but is a cooperative partner on the trail. He also is level headed and smart and never considers any violent manuever, in any situation, nor does he do foolish things that might get himself hurt. Sunny has a mildly resistant nature, yes, but its more amusing than a problem. I enjoy him and feel quite safe on him.
In contrast, let me tell you the story of Breeze, another horse I broke and trained who did not work out very well. When I began to work with Breeze, I had not yet realized that horses that traced back to Ready’s dam were not good choices. I had sold Ready, but had simply considered him a resistant individual; I hadn’t yet made the leap of understanding that he was genetically programmed to be so, and that this programming came from his dam.
Now Ready’s dam produced big, pretty colts who were very easy going and laid back and appeared quite cooperative as long as you handled them from the ground. Their resistant nature only became apparent when one broke them to ride. Others besides me were fooled by these colts and two people, one of them my uncle, used colts out of this mare as stallions. So in due time my uncle had a couple of three year old colts by this new stud. And one of them was Breeze.
As you might expect, Breeze was a pretty colt and easy to handle on the ground. I had no misgivings at all. I agreed to start the horse for my uncle. At this point in my life I had worked for several horse trainers. I’d started many colts, and trained my own colt, Gunner, to be a competitive cowhorse. I felt perfectly confident that I could do a good job on my uncle’s colt. No problem.
And at first there was no problem. Breeze was easy to start. I got him walk, trot, loping around with me on his back with no issues. He had a nice stop. I taught him to watch a cow. All very easy, very relaxed, no pressure. I rode him for sixty days, turned him out for the winter, and started back up with him in the spring of his four-year old year.
Breeze acted as if he’d been ridden yesterday. I got him going again just fine. At this point I was pretty happy with him and was considering buying him. The only thing stopping me was that my uncle had put a high price on him. So I kept riding him. And, as was appropriate to his stage of training, I started to put a little more pressure on him.
At the time I was riding cowhorses and cutters, not team roping, so what I taught Breeze was what I knew—how to work a cow. But now, instead of being happy if he moved when the cow moved, I was asking him to sharpen up and be quick. I had my spurs on and when the cow moved, I demanded that Breeze “fire”—jump right out with the cow. And Breeze seemed to be handling it. He got pretty handy. He showed no resistance. I was happy.
Until the day that I worked a fairly stingy cow, asked Breeze to stay with her, and the horse bogged his head between his legs and bucked me off, hard. With no warning. I was dumbfounded. I’d been riding this horse for six months now, I’d been his sole rider, and I hadn’t a clue he was capable of this. I got back on and we finished working the cow, but I wasn’t happy.
I rode Breeze for another month. He never bucked me off again, but he tried several times. However, now that I knew he had it in him, I was ready for him and stayed ahead of him. But I still wasn’t happy. I never did like to ride a horse that would bog his head and really buck.
I gave him back to my uncle and told him the story. My uncle could ride one that bucked. He said he would finish Breeze up as a rope horse. And he did. The horse bucked him off a couple of times, but a year later you could rope on him, and he was for sale.
By this time I’d taken up team roping, and was looking for a horse to be a back up for Gunner, who was getting a bit arthritic. Call me stupid, but I decided to try Breeze. I’d liked the horse so much at one time, and he appeared to be over his bucking issue. I tried him. It only took one ride.
Breeze looked good, but he felt awful. Stiff, resistant, uncooperative. He was doing the work, but you could feel throughout his body that he he was resisting it. Breeze didn’t want to be a rope horse, just like he hadn’t wanted to be a cowhorse.
At least I was smart enough to pass on the horse. My uncle sold him to a rancher who occasionally went team roping, and I saw them around for years. Breeze still looked like he was no fun to rope on; he propped the guy as often as not. One day I asked the guy how he liked the horse.
He shrugged. “He’s not much of a heel horse,” he said. “But he’s fine to gather on. And he’ll watch a cow pretty good in the corral.”
I smiled. “I taught him to watch a cow,” I said. “But not to be a rope horse,” I added hastily.
“Well,” said the guy, “he does watch a cow real well.”
I saw Breeze in this guy’s pasture for many years; as far as I know he kept the horse until he died. So I guess that’s a happy ending of sorts.
But the story goes on. Because Breeze had seven brothers and sisters. I started two more of them for my uncle. And both of them, so easy to handle on the ground, tried bucking, bolting and rearing, as forms of resistance when ridden. The second one, I recognized the pattern, and after a few rides, I took her to a guy who was a real good hand, and he put thirty days on her. Same result. After that I refused to ride these colts. My uncle sent them to various professional trainers. Same result.
Breeze is actually the only one of them that found a successful niche in the world. A roper bought the second one, worked with him for almost ten years, and after yet another bolting episode, hauled him straight to the sale. The mare that I worked with briefly ended up at the sale, too, I found out later, and got bought by a guy for a riding horse. I don’t know what happened to her. At that point I’d learned my lesson. Neither I, nor anyone else, could fix these horses. They were born resistant.
I could go on and on with stories of the dangerous, violent ways in which some of these horses behaved, but I’ll end with Ikey, a horse I see fairly often these days. Ikey is a grandson of this same mare. He is a big good looking horse. A competent roper trained him and Ikey looks like a decent rope horse when he’s having a good day. Ikey is also lazy, so lazy that this roper puts his young son on him and lets him plod around the arena and down the trail on the horse. As I mentioned before, these resistant, lazy horses often appear quite gentle if they’re not asked to exert themselves…and nothing pushes their buttons.
Unfortunately, I have seen Ikey dump this kid more than once…when something startled the horse. Ikey is capable of bucking, rearing and bolting, just like all his brethren. It renders this horse virtually useless as a rope horse (not to mention dangerous as a riding horse) because nobody knows when something will set him off. I would no more put a kid on him than I would push the kid off a cliff. But you can’t tell the guy that owns him that. He refuses to see it.
The lesson I’ve learned from all this is that some horses are born resistant. You can’t fix them. And, when buying a young horse, it pays to look at the sire and dam and all relations that became riding horses. Are they horses you would like to ride? If they aren’t, think again about your choice.