Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Knowing When To Quit

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.

18 comments:

Joy said...

From your description I can say I've never been on a truly resistant horse. I've seen a few though I guess. The ones with the loose screw and you never know what will set them off. It's scary and I would not want to be on when when they go off. I got lucky with my horse. Thank goodness!

Albigears said...

I recently passed on buying a truly neurotic horse. She was beautiful and well bred and a nice mover. Natural, talented jumper. She was offered to me at 1/6 the price her owners paid for her. Sweet as pie on the ground and loved attention. She was also neurotic and threw hissy fits and reared when pushed. I worked with her for 9 months and finally realized that although she was making progress and was learning things, her mental/emotional state was the same as it was in the beginning. I also realized I couldn't continue to put my heart and soul into a horse I would never ever be able to trust for two strides.

stillearning said...

More for me to think about here.

I bought mine based on his sire's reputation, and didn't check into the other side enough. The breeder described his dam as wonderful except that "she resented a bit due to a bad training experience"; they rode her bitless and said she was fine. In hindsight, I should have seen the red flag, asked to see the dam, (or walked away). But I am used to buying tbs from the track without even touching them first, so taking two test rides seemed like plenty of research to me. He was also recommended by a friend's vet as a terrific dressage prospect, so I jumped on it.

I think he's a mildly resistant horse, compared to the tales you tell, Laura. He mostly threatens and then submits.

I now realize that he probably won't "grow out" of this, as I'd previously hoped. I will continue to keep an eye out for his new owner, and for a job he'd be happy with. Maybe I'll get lucky, and place him well.

Laura Crum said...

stillearning--If your horse has never done a truly violent or scary thing, and if you have never come off of him or been scared on him, yeah, I think I'd describe him as mildly resistant. Such horses can be Ok, if you don't mind "beating them up" a little on a regular basis. They just seem to need that. My horse Sunny is in that category. Interestingly, since I've been too busy to ride him more than once or twice a week, he's always a little fresh when I do ride him, and, suprise, he's much better. Doesn't do any of his resistant beahviors. i can only conclude that he feels good and is thus more willing. Its interesting to me, cause many/most horses want to act up a little when fresh. Not Sunny, apparently.

Enjay said...

May I ask what the dam who founded this line was like?

Laura Crum said...

Enjay--That's a great question. I remember this mare quite well. My uncle acquired her as a green broke three year old. She was pretty and had some foundation breeding that he liked. He gave her to a cowboy friend to use as a feedlot horse. The cowboy friend used her for awhile and then gave her back. All I can remember him saying is that "she was athletic but could really buck." To my knowledge, no one ever rode her after that. My uncle started using her as a broodmare, she produced the afore mentioned pretty colts, two got used as stallions, and the mare got bought to be a broodmare at a big ranch. Some of her daughters were used as broodmares at this ranch. All told, she must have ended up with well over a hundred descendents. And every one I ever saw was a good looking horse with this unworkably resistant attitude as a riding horse. (These horses were quite cooperative and laid back to handle on the ground, that's why they were so deceptive.). What a cautionary tale...what not to do if you're breeding horses.

mugwump said...

I think people underestimate the influence of the mare in a breeding.
It seems to me the stud is only adding his genetics. The mare is not only donating hers, but she is influencing every thought and move the baby has for the first chunk of his life.

K said...

Very good advice. If you're looking for a riding horse, buy one from a family known to make performers.
I will also add that the more horses you ride, the more you learn which bloodlines fit your riding style and personality. Outside of truly resistant horses, there are just some that click better than others. I love a bloodline that some don't like, and absolutely don't get along with one that is very popular. I'm a quiet rider, so I get along better with more sensitive horses that try hard. I don't mind one being a little cold backed, but if I have to constantly push one, or it tends to shut down in the middle of a ride, I'm not happy.

As to true resistance, I had one once. The sons of a popular performance sire tended to throw it. Every ride was like starting over, and if you sat on the horse to have a chat, you were starting all over when you rode off. A pro trainer bought him from me, thinking that the kid just couldn't keep him going. He was the same for her, and she certainly knew how to be tough on one. It was just the way he was.

Laura Snow said...

I kind of failed to answer Enjay's question. What was the mare like? I told a bit about her. But as for what she was like--she was a stand offish mare with a skittish look in her eye, but not too hard to handle. I only handled her as a broodmare. She had a pretty head and nice athletic looking confirmation. I was just as fooled as everybody else. Somehow we all seemed to ignore the fact that she was known to have an inclination to buck, and we never stopped to wonder if she'd pass this on. Clever us.

Maryann Miller said...

Interesting post. I had not heard of resistant horses, but that sure describes mine. The first time I attempted to ride him, Banjo reared and scared me half to death. Worked with a trainer for a while and Banjo seemed to be okay, but now and then would act like he wanted to buck.

On the ground he is easy to manage and appears gentle, but there are times he lays his ears back when I am leading him from a pen to the back pasture -- for no reason I can determine.

Laura Crum said...

oops--used my married name. Meant to use my "writing" name.

FD said...

Were all of her foals by the same sire? And if not, were they any different?
I've come across a sire here whose get are notoriously difficult. Good-looking, athletic, but very definitely a professional's ride if you know what I mean. In my experience they all tended to react the same way under stress - explosively, which is why they've gained the rep.

I do agree about Mugs' point that the mare should have more influence - and that's even without taking into account mitochondrial DNA. But it's clearly not just that because then you wouldn't get stallions like the one I came across and I'm sure there are others.
It's interesting genetically speaking because what makes a particular animal genes dominant? It's impossible to tell with the current state of science.

Laura Crum said...

FD--This mare (her name was Cat's Panther)--passed her resistant strain to all foals that descended from her, that I knew of. Ready, the horse I wrote about in my June post ("A Failure?") was by a well known sire called Sugar Wes. Cat's Panther's two colts that became breeding stallions were by a foundation bred stud called Lucky Chaw. Then she herself, and later her daughters, were bred to stallions of yet a different lineage. All the resulting decendents, from both her sons and daughters (at least all the ones I ever knew of) had the resistant streak. I have no idea how it passed on, but her sons that stood as stallions passed it on as reliably as the mare and her daughters.

Enjay said...

Thanks for answering my question, Laura, both times :D.
I was asking because I used to work with a herd of ApHC broodmares and two stallions, it was interesting to see how the different lines did or did not nick. They had one broodmare that really needed gelding. They had pleasure and performance horses but all her get was good for was standing on the end of a lead and looking pretty, ask them to do anything more than that and they lost their minds. Come to think of it, she came off a KC feedlot in the mid-late 70's, wonder if there was a rash of baddies at that time. She was half QH.

whisper_the_wind said...

I own two 'resistant' horses. One broke my leg in two places, the other only breaks round pen panels. Basically they are now used for yard art. I call them autistic (no offense meant, I have an autistic relative) as they are fine most of the time, but when they are off, they are really off.

One is foundation QH, the other is a QH/appy cross.

Anonymous said...

I almost got killed by one of these horses. Thoroughbred/quarter cross gelding that figured it was way better to rear up and fall over backwards on me than take a step forward. Also threw a rearing and bucking fit in the road one day when I asked him get to the side because of an oncoming car. Fortunately they stopped. Was horribly aggressive on the ground too.

durtro said...

I have one too! This one is the sire's side that makes resistant little monsters. I knew going in that this was the case as I trained the sire to jump. As long as you do what he wants to do (and he loves to jump) he's fine. I've seen him back into a hotwire fence and stay there getting shocked among other things to avoid doing what you want. I was given the daughter for free (are you surprised) and I knew going in to it that she might be like him. She is perfect on the ground, did very well in halter, loves little kids, affectionate as all get out. Unrideable. She's rolled on me, bucked me sky high several times. Other people have ridden her for me and they all get off afraid, even if she doesn't do anything. She's dangerous, unpredictable and smart as a whip. So she's my pretty halter horse! Her sire became rideable finally after he turned 10 so we might just wait a few more years and give it another go.

FD said...

Saw a story about a 'riding' zebra the other day and it made me think about this post. Never tried it myself, but I'm told zebras are not really tameable - trainable, but they remain resistant always, more or lss dangerously so.
Once upon a time, I figure most horses would've been resistant and the reason they aren't now is because we ate the more difficult ones! Makes me wonder what the hell we are doing now, what with our sometimes strange modern breeding criteria.