By Laura Crum
My horse, Sunny, has an odd quirk. Its not something I feel I need to fix, and I’m not sure how I’d fix it if I wanted to. It’s a strange behavior, one I haven’t run across before. I thought I’d describe it and ask if anyone else has a horse who does anything like it. Maybe I can learn something.
I bought Sunny two years ago. I knew his background—he’d come from old Mexico via a horse trader, and was brought into this county by a team roping friend of mine (see Sunny’s photo on the sidebar). Sunny was a mediocre team roping horse, but a steady reliable mount and “cute”, and my friend sold him to a woman who wanted a trail riding horse for her daughter. I knew the woman slightly and knew that her daughter and various other beginners used Sunny for many trail rides during the three years she owned him. Nobody ever came off of him. However, the woman’s daughter outgrew her interest in horses and Sunny was for sale. I needed a gentle bombproof trail horse to give my son a lead as we began trail riding together, and my old gelding, Plumber, was too jiggy and spooky to be the right one. So I bought Sunny.
Sunny proved to be just what I needed on the trail. He is steady, quiet and reliable…you can ride him anywhere. Up and down steep, tricky trails, in the surf, across muddy little creeks, along busy streets, you name it. He rarely spooks, he does not jig to speak of. But he does have one little quirk, which I have never really figured out.
The very first time I took Sunny on a trail ride, he gave his usual stellar performance. I was very happy with him. We were almost home and the horse and I were both relaxed, at the flat-footed walk. Crossing a piece of level, sandy ground, Sunny, for no apparent reason, “caught himself”, and gave a very minor crowhop. He did not put his head down, he just hopped his butt in the air and scooted forward a stride. And then he was fine. It was a nothing, but it was odd.
I was puzzled. I checked to see if the back cinch had flanked him. No. I looked down to see if he’d stepped on a stick or something prickly. But there was nothing there. I kicked him up to a lope to see if he was planning on trying me. He loped off like a gentleman. I shrugged and rode on home, figuring it was just a momentary aberration.
But Sunny’s quirk persisted. He didn’t do it every ride. But maybe one ride in six, he’d have a little “moment” like this. I hardly knew what to call it. He never put his head down. He was never really out of control. He never came remotely close to unseating me. He always walked off quietly when he was done. But he also didn’t quit doing it. It was annoying rather than threatening, and at first I mostly ignored it. But I got curious.
I couldn’t figure out why he was doing it. It always occurred very near the end of the ride. Sunny would have been calm, quiet and cooperative throughout the ride, as he always is. He might have had to pass various spooky/difficult stuff, and he was reliably steady. And then, when we were almost home, for no apparent reason, he’d do his little thing.
Sunny’s quirk could take many forms. If there was a horse behind him, it would appear that he was kicking at that horse. If my neighbor’s tractor struck a rock as we rode by he would appear to be spooking at the sound. If I had to kick him up to a lope as we crossed the road, he would seem as if he were attempting to bolt. Sometimes he just appeared jiggy for a few minutes and hopped his butt around. But I was aware that all these behaviors were various manifestations of his quirk. I just didn’t understand why he did it.
It felt as if he were giving me the finger. If I could put words to his gesture, I thought they might have been, “OK, I’ve taken you on one more ride. I came through for you. But I’m nobody’s sweet little pony. Get it?”
This made sense as far as it went, but I failed to see why he needed to do it. We get along well for the whole ride and then at the end he needs to give me the finger? Why?
I remained puzzled by Sunny’s quirk. He continued to do it once every few rides. I could never predict when. Sometimes when he was fresh, sometimes when he’d been ridden a lot. Always very near the end of the ride, but not in the same place every time. He never made any effort to get me off—that clearly wasn’t the point. But it was a gesture of defiance—it did have some negative component, that seemed obvious.
It was annoying and puzzling. I tried punishing him for it. This made him a little jiggy when he was about to do it; he was gearing up both to make the gesture and be punished. I could feel when he was about to do it (due to the increased energy) and I sometimes just stopped him and made him stand. When I had time, I turned him around and went back out for another ride. None of these things made much impression that I could see; Sunny’s quirk remained the same. Every few rides he produced his crowhop (for lack of a better word). Once he made his little gesture, he walked calmly and quietly home.
So here I am, after two years of owning and riding this horse, still no wiser as to why he needs to do this. Sunny clearly gets along well with me, he nickers when he sees me, he comes through when I need him. But he retains this odd behavior. As I began by saying, I’m not sure I need to fix it, or how I would fix it if I wanted to. But it interests me. I would be fascinated to hear if anyone else has had experienced something like this and what your take on it might be.