Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Abusive Training Practices

by Laura Crum

Jami’s post about rollkur and Terri’s followup got me thinking. So today I’m going to do a post about abusive training practices. And I want to warn you straight up—this post is not for the faint of heart. If you’re squeamish, don’t read it. Also, this post is not about rollkur. Not only do I not know anything about rollkur, but I couldn’t even get my ancient computer to view the video clip that Jami put up. However, certainly both Terri and Horse Of Course expressed the opinion that this practice is abusive, and I believe them. It got me thinking about other abuse I’d seen and it brought up a question that I’ve raised before—I mentioned it in my comment on Jami’s post. So here’s my story.

A long time ago (more than twenty years) I worked as an assistant to a well known reined cowhorse trainer. Next door to this trainer was a western pleasure horse trainer, who just happened to be his girlfriend. She was always riding in his arena, and I got to know her horses.

Now I knew squat about western pleasure and I was never very interested in it. But I knew that the star of her barn was a coming three year old they called Wilbur. She hoped that Wilbur would have a good chance to win the western pleasure futurity, which was a big deal.

To my eye Wilbur looked more like a TB than a QH. Over sixteen hands tall and very refined, Wilbur was apparently what was in vogue in the western pleasure world at that time. He was a gentle, sweet colt and could execute the super slow collected lope and jog and all the other western pleasure stuff (which I don’t know much about). He had one little problem. As befitted his refined, sensitive looks, Wilbur was a tiny bit spooky.

It was nothing that would bother anyone in “real life”. But every so often this coming three year old would look askance at something on the rail and arc his body away from it. We’re not even talking untracking his feet. Just a tiny little half shy. But it wouldn’t do.

Apparently, to have a chance at winning this futurity, Wilbur couldn’t bobble in any way. He could not look askance at anything and bow up his neck. He had to be completely flat.

The pleasure horse trainer tried to take the spook out of Wilbur in various ways and failed. She became more and more upset by his flaw, and turned to her boyfriend, the cowhorse trainer, for advice.

The cowhorse trainer was one tough guy. It was this fella that turned me off to reined cowhorses forever, by the cruel methods he used to achieve his goals. And he came up with a plan to take the spook out of poor babyish Wilbur. They took this three year old, they jerked him down, tied his feet together, put him under a tarp, beat on him awhile, and then let him lie there for a few hours. I know they did this; I saw them do it.

Wilbur fought like crazy and skinned up his legs, the pleasure horse trainer shed tears, and they all kept saying they had to do it. I asked them why they thought they had to do it. (I was pretty pissed off—I quit the cowhorse trainer not too long afterwards after an even more abusive episode.) They all explained how important it was that Wilbur stop spooking, and that this would take the flinch out of him.

The thing is, I knew about the tarp routine. I’d been around some tough cowboys in my life. And the point of the whole thing is to make a horse feel helpless. I didn’t see how feeling helpless was gonna stop Wilbur from spooking. And guess what? It didn’t.

It took long weeks for Wilbur’s torn up legs to heal. He still spooked at stuff. And he had a very sad look in his eyes. That’s all I really know, because I quit that bastard cowhorse trainer and never went back. The one thing I learned best is that winning isn’t worth torturing horses. I don’t know whether Wilbur did well at the pleasure futurity. I do know that what they did to him was cruel and horribly unecessary. Simple, huh?

OK, now here’s another true story. Some not too knowledgable folks around here raised a colt they thought, in their ignorant way, should be a stallion. He was reasonably well bred, reasonably good looking, reasonably athletic. Trouble was, they didn’t know anything about stallions. They didn’t know much of anything about horses, actually. They raised up their colt and they tried to break and train him themselves and it was a disaster. These people were not mean to their young stallion, whose name was Playboy. Oh no, they were very, very nice to him—always.

Playboy was tough minded and he quickly learned to bully his owners. He got mean. They were afraid of him. They sent him to a not very handy trainer, who rapidly became afraid of him, too. Then to another trainer, who told them they had to geld him. They did. Playboy was four years old by now and the gelding didn’t change him much. He was mean as a snake. I’m talking not just a horse you couldn’t ride, you couldn’t even lead him around without him striking at you or trying to bite you—and I don’t mean nip.

His owners were scared of him. Two more trainers gave up on him. And the owners, having ruined what might have been a good horse, sent him to the local livestock auction, to take his chances with the kill buyers, or perhaps wind up with some innocent buyer that Playboy would probably put on the wrong side of the lawn. However, as luck would have it, there was a tough old cowboy there who knew Playboy’s story (it’s a small world and the trainers had talked). This guy bought the horse at killer price and took him home. And guess what?

The very next day, this cowboy led Playboy into the arena and when the horse struck at him, he jerked Playboy down, tied up all four legs, put him under a tarp, beat on him awhile and left him there for twelve hours (and no, this one I didn’t see, the cowboy told me about it). Every so often the cowboy would check on the horse and when he did, he made sure to look that horse in the eye and put his hand on his neck. And then he left him there under the tarp.

At the end of the day, the cowboy put Playboy away. And lo and behold Playboy did not bite or strike the man. He kept his distance and his eye was wary and respectful. The next day the cowboy went to work training this horse to be a useful ranch horse and rope horse. And Playboy made a good one. The cowboy kept him and rode him for many years and he always said Playboy was the best horse he ever owned. He was very fond of telling how he acquired the horse, which was how I heard the story.

So, now, here ya go. Was the tarp a cruel and abusive thing to do this time around? I’m not defending it. I’m just telling the story. Remember, Playboy did not get the way he was because people were mean to him. He got that way because people were too nice to him. He had absolutely no respect. Feeling helpless clearly addressed that issue in some very fundamental way for this horse.

This is my question. The training method was the same both times. It’s a method that most of us would call abusive. I’ve never used it. I’ve never retrained a horse like Playboy either. Was this method appropriate in this instance? I don’t know.

Here’s what I see as the main points. In the first case the method was used not to address a “real” problem—Wilbur wasn’t really doing anything wrong. It was used because someone wanted to win a particular event. Winning was the motivation. In the second case it was used as a last ditch effort to salvage a very dangerous horse from the killers. A completely different motivation.

Second point: Wilbur was a very sweet, sensitive horse and did not need such cruel treatment. And, in fact, the treatment did not help achieve the goal. Playboy was about as mean (and dangerous) as a horse can get and desperately needed to learn who was boss. They were very different individuals.

I think it comes down to two things. The individual situation and the motivation. If you are truly trying to help a horse to have a good life, and the horse is a certain sort of individual, some pretty tough methods may have to be used. If you simply want to win, and are willing to torture sweet, giving horses to that end, its an entirely different thing.

Another factor that comes into play is the skill level of the trainer. It takes an experienced, intuitive horseman to know when an extreme method is really called for, and when it will actually help a horse. Tying up all four legs, for instance, has to be done right, or a horse will just hurt himself. The trainer has to have both a complete knowledge of the method and what it can achieve, as well as truly understanding when it might benefit a given horse.

This is a very extreme example, and I’m not gonna defend it as a method. I just think it presents the point I am trying to make. And, for instance, I’ve seen certain “bitting up” exercises that can be very abusive if used to excess, also used to good effect on certain horses when the trainer employed the methods judiciously to solve specific problems and did not overdo things. The methods themselves aren’t right or wrong. It’s the way they’re used—or abused.

OK, there’s my thoughts. Please chime in with your own. It’s a complicated subject. Where do we draw the line? Could Playboy have been “rehabbed” in kinder ways? I don’t know. Is it a good thing that tough old cowboy got through to that very dangerous horse? I think so. What do you think?

29 comments:

Shanster said...

Sometimes I'm so happy to live in my own little happy Shanster world and block the rest out!

I know people can be very very cruel to animals due to ignorance and due to ego or just plain meanness.

I worked for a gov't agency that helps to enforce the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act. I've seen some pretty gross pictures and heard about nasty situations.

I know the story in this post was extreme and I think some tools in an experienced person's hands will work well and the same tool used in an inexperienced hand will be used with a very different result.

A woman at our barn is an older rider - didn't learn about horses or how to ride until she was in her 50's.

And serious kudos to her because I think it is pretty huge to try and learn a skill like that when you are older. EVERYTHING is harder as we age and we just don't pick it up like pliable kids can and do.

This rider saw a more experienced rider get after their horse with a pretty strong tug on the reins. The experienced rider did this once and went back to the following hand - it was a strong pull - a "knock it off" and the ride resumed calmly and quietly.

The inexperienced rider saw this and she employs it regularly and relentlessly.. over and over until her horse is rolling it's eyes back, bringing it's head up, going backwards and looks like it would rear.

She gets in big trouble for this reaction in her weekly lesson and I hear our trainer telling her to leave the horse's face alone - quit jerking on her horse's mouth ... but in this less experienced person's mind she saw so and so use this tool once - and so and so is a really good rider with a really nice horse so it must be o.k.

She isn't a mean person and she loves, loves, loves her horses.

I don't know the answers either but I think we should understand the why and how of a tool before we attempt to use it!

Laura Crum said...

Shanster--what a perfect example. The commonest form of abuse I see is this pointless jerking on a horse by inexperienced people who have seen an experienced rider use this tool. Just as you describe, it does no good and makes the horse miserable (and usually creates head tossing or worse). And yet, I use the sharp one rein jerk on Sunny to correct him when he tries a crowhop or such--to very good effect. Sunny gets my point, I do it once and we go on, Sunny now minding his manners. And I could easily see where someone might think they were imitating me and start jerking their horse in the face--to very ill effect. Its all in knowing the individual horse and having the skill to know when (and when not) to employ a given method. (If I used that sharp "knock it off" pull on Plumber, for instance, he'd come unglued.) Thanks for giving us such a good example, Shanster.

kel said...

Remember the movie "The Parent Trap" (the old one not the remake)?

The camp counselor said "Let the punishment fit the crime" That sentence has always stuck with me. Both with raising my kids and working with animals.

I have heard about the tarp/lay them down method before. It is truely a cowboy thing and in the wrong hands can be absolutely vicious. With Playboy it sounds like the punishment fit the crime. The only thing about the tarp that bothers me is beating on him after he is under the tarp. What would be the point of that? He is under a tarp and can't see who is beating him. Isn't it being tied and in the dark that does the job. The beating sounds more like human "CUZ I CAN" and therefore not a beneficial part of the punishment.

Laura Crum said...

kel--I wouldn't want to describe myself as an expert on the "tarp method", that's for sure. As I understand it, the point is to make the horse feel completely helpless and terrified, to rock his very foundations. He is tied up so he can't run, he can't see or hear or smell much because of the tarp. The "beating", which isn't really actually hurting the horse much, just whacking the outside of the tarp, is to intensify the feeling that the horse, a prey animal, is caught by the predator and about to be eaten. Sort of like a cat playing with a mouse. And yep, I think its awful, too. No way could I do that. I do understand why the one cowboy used it on Playboy, and I think it worked because it destroyed that horse's "foundation" of feeling in charge--which kept him in his old habits. I also think the fact that the horse had been gelded helped him to (once he'd been rocked to the core) give up his old ways, as they weren't being fueled by testosterone any more. I knew the old cowboy who 'fixed" Playboy. The man was neither kind nor cruel, in my eyes. He was, however, very effective. I knew many cowboys like him. He didn't salvage Playboy out of kindness. He did it cause he thought it might work. He had got the horse cheap and he wasn't afraid to try him. He was always very proud of the horse, and Playboy was fat, shiny, and a solid ranch horse/rope horse when I knew him.

OneDandyHorse said...

Well, I certainly wouldn't have done it that way, but if it worked for playboy, well... good. For Wilbur, it was absolutely horrible to do this. Playboy was probably insensitive, not Wilbur... for a horse that will pour his heart out... I would've beat the crap out of anyone who would've done that to my horses.

This is not my method for training but I know a lot of old cowboys who use it on wild horse (without the tarp and not for hours!). Their method consists of laying the horse down, holding its neck down calmly for a few minutes, then letting him up. It was also used for wild horse in dire need of a hoof trim. I have trained about 15 horses of all kinds, stallions, mares, foals and wild ones. Problem is, people don't assess each horse individually. If a harsh method makes your horse mad, frightened or panick, well... try a smoother approach and you'll see a world of difference.

The two things that I don't tolerate and that will result in me smacking the horse is biting or attempts to bite and kicking or attempts to kick. Biting will result in my fist connecting on the horse's mouth, no that hasn't made my horses headshy, I don't beat on them, I just correct them once and then we relax. Kicking will result in me kicking whatever leg tryed to kick me (or actually did). Again, I do not beat on them, I kick once and then we go back to work. They don't panick when I do this, they know exactly why I do it. We have to understand that horses kick themselves all the time and that my puny little kick will not change anything in that horse's life, except for maybe having a little more respect.

I've had biting stallions (not nipping!) and I did punch him 2-3 times, because my leg hurt so bad, I thought there was a piece missing. He never did it again. Plus he was a rank bastard and there was nothing I could tell their owners to do to help me. The stud was stalled all day, every day, no turnout... but he was fed toroughbred race horse feed, about 4-5 cups a day!!! Needless to say that I quit after feeling that my life was in danger.

Laura Crum said...

One Dandy Horse--Playboy was treated much as the stud you describe in your comment by his original owners. And, as I said in the post, several trainers gave up on the horse, just as you describe, because they felt they were in danger from him. If Playboy had been handled correctly from the beginning, which would include not being locked up in a stall, he likely would not have become the dangerous horse he became.

I have seen the laying down method used in the way you describe. This whole tarp thing was (as it was first told to me) supposed to be only for "rank stallions" who were not going to learn respect any other way. I truly don't have much opinion about it. I have never been in charge of training a rank stallion, though I have handled a few when I worked for other trainers. I used this example because I thought it raised an interesting point about training methods and what, exactly, constitutes abuse.

OneDandyHorse said...

Well then Laura... I completely understand how the trainers felt about Playboy. The stud I trained would've probably made a wonderful horse, but he was spoiled by the time I got to him. His owners knew nothing about horses and were starting a breeding farm (hence the stallion!)!!!! I couldn't believe it!

I know it's not the horse's fault, but he was allowed too much misbehaviour. When being cross-tied, he would push his butt sideways in the aisle and prop a leg up on a feed through. I corrected him, but he would start as soon as I had him placed right again. He needed his sheath cleaned desperatly and it's probably why he always wanted to scratch.

I didn't quit because I couldn't handle him, I quit because I didn't feel so safe and I was training in the middle of a sea of greenhorns that would've probably reported me if I tried to train appropriately. I also quit because I bought my own horses to train and ride and because I was moving away from the barn.

I had to provide all of my stuff, saddle, bit, brushes, blanket... so I was using my good tack for this rank thing... I guess I got sick of it.

HorseOfCourse said...

Difficult questions, Laura.
Is abuse sometimes acceptable?

I believe we all can agree when it comes to Wilbur, poor horse, that it was plain abuse. (And how can anyone believe that they will make a spooky horse better by scaring the living daylight out of him?)

But what about Playboy?
What is so sad is that it was a totally man made problem, if I understand you right.
Keeping a young horse, that is made to roam about in the wild, locked up in a stall...well, isn't that abuse too? And it is no wonder if the horse gets mentally unstable.

But if Playboy had been mine (after these problems had been created), he would have been put down. And maybe Playboy - if given a choice - would prefer to be very scared for a while, but keep his life?

As there seems to be a "happy ending" here where Playboy functioned well after the tarp thing, and it seems to have been the last station for him, it might be easier to excuse such a treatment.

But how do you know?
How do you know what is causing the bad behaviour in a dangerous horse?
What if it is caused by pain?
Or severe anxiety?
Then a tarp treatment would have been a terrible thing to do.

Shanster's parallell story was also very good as it is a more common situation.
Small abuse is still abuse.
Where do you draw the line?
Do you turn away? Or do you comment when you see something unacceptable?

Laura Crum said...

Horse Of Course--You have an excellent point. If Playboy's bad behavior had been caused by fear/anxiety or pain, the tarp thing would almost certainly not have worked, as it did not "work" on Wilbur. I am not justifying this training method. I am merely noting that in this one case, it did seem to work. And, as you say, Playboy was probably, no, almost certainly, a happier horse in the end, partly because of that ordeal. Its a very complicated question, as we are both saying, and I raise it because far, far too often I see ignorant folks thinking that they know exactly what abuse is or isn't. And its not that simple.

little K said...

I couldn't agree more with you guys. I think this is why it is so important for young horses to have a good start because it is so much easier to create good behaviour than fix bad behaviour. But I understand how harsher methods are sometimes needed. The best chance you can give a horse to be taken care of for life is to teach it good manners and perhaps a useful skill (ie. riding). If it takes some pretty serious training to get a horse to that place, well that sorta sucks for the horse, but at least he has a more promising future. I would just hope that the horse is in the hands of a knowledgable, fair and experienced trainer that will ensure no one gets hurt and won't go overboard.

I always like trainers that try to show horses the right way to do things so that they can dole out praise instead of punishment. And if there were a way to whisper in my horses ear to stop him from doing dangerous/harmful things I would totally be on board but if you watch horses in the field, they don't politely ask one another to move, they just make it happen.

I admit though that I have little expereince with the issue because I have always worked with horses that I needed to convince to trust me rather than horses that need to learn more respect. I suppose that training a horse to have a little more fear of god is probably a fine line to walk.

Laura Crum said...

Little K--You said it best. "Training a horse to have a little more fear of god is probably a fine line to walk." Amen. Sometimes it has to be done in order to give that horse a decent future, as you also pointed out. But yeah, a very fine line. I told the Playboy story because I honestly never quite knew what to make of it. Was it terrible? Was it just what needed to happen in that particular situation? I remain somewhat mystified. But I think this question is worth thinking about.

kel said...

I think that laying a horse down, tarping, even beating on the tarp doesn't sound exactly abusive if it fits the level of behavior you are trying to fix. I think if it is done in a safe round pen full of sand, with soft cotton rope, and the horse is being monitored often then it could be effect for the right situation. I have heard about the old cowboys that would do that and leave them to struggle with harsh ropes, in open pastures, and not check on them. That is irrresponsible abusive behavior by anyone.

The old cowboy "scared playboy straight" and probably saved his life. The dimwits that layed down Wilbur, probably ruined a really good minded, sensitive horse. AND if truth be known, he probably spooked because the idiot on his back was expecting him to spook so whenever he or she went by that spot they tensed or glanced that way. Giving poor Wilbur a reason to think he should have something to spook at. People never think that they are to blame for a horses behavior.

Laura Crum said...

kel--yeah, part of the story was that the old cowboy checked on Playboy regularly. Both to be sure the horse was doing OK, and to let the horse know who it was who had "caught" him. And yeah, the soft cotton rope and the safe pen for sure. Again, I've never done this, but I have seen it done. I've also tied up a hind leg on a tough colt, and some of the same principles apply.

As for Wilbur, the point, for me, was that the horse wasn't really doing anything wrong. His spooks were so tiny that they didn't count--unless of course you wanted to win the oh-so-important western pleasure futurity. I know this is a repetitive beef of mine, but a huge amount of the abuse that is done to horses is because people want to win some competition or other.

Laura Crum said...

For those who were interested in the saga of my son's lazy horse, Henry, I have an update. The weather has been sunny out here and we've been riding for the past week, after almost a month off. And now my kid is able to correct Henry's "bracing" vice and control him and make him lope on command. Yippee! Here is what I think helped bring this about. First, I put a broken mouth shanked bit on Henry rather than the mechanical hack. I rode Henry myself four or five times and corrected him for misbehaving until he got the point pretty thopuroughly. Henry got some time off and seems to feel good. I taught my son to use specific cues to reprimand Henry, and to use transitions to get Henry's attention. (thanks stllearning for the transitions suggestion.) And, last but not least, I instituted a new regime that took Henry's feelings into more account. Yes, the old horse is perfectly capable of loping for thirty laps in a row--but he really doesn't want to. I'm having my son lope a dozen laps or so, then stop, walk awhile, and lope again. And we talk about stopping Henry before he gets sick of loping and tries to stop on his own. This has been very successful, and Henry is doing almost as much loping--its just broken up more. And lo and behold, those transitions have even got him a little "forward". So thanks everybody for your suggestions.

Linda said...

This discussion is timely for me because I was just told about the concept of "hanging" a horse--a method to fix rearing.

A horse I know was rearing so bad, he was throwing himself over hard--rider and all--and everyone who witnesses these episodes thought he'd broken his own back or ribs--he didn't. The trainers and owner were lucky enough not be hurt. But of course, no trainer would dare get on him again after they saw what he was willing to do.

He was sent to a special trainer--an old cowboy type, but well-known for being very good at fixing problems. In extreme cases he'll do this hanging thing. Apparently, it worked on this horse and he's ridable by the trainer and the trainer's assistant now--but who knows if it'll transfer to the original owner.

The thought, I guess, is to make it very uncomfortable for the horse if he decides to rear back and hit the ground--kind of chokes them somehow. Has anyone ever heard of this?

In this particular case, since the horse was going to be euthanized and still may be, I think it was worth a try. But I wonder what type of groundwork he had originally that started this. Did something go wrong in the driving phase of the groundwork??

Oh, and I should add that the owner ruled out pain before she resorted to the extreme measures. She consulted two vets, a chiropractor and equine dentist--several trainers--couldn't find anything.

I'd never heard of it before and I think it could only be done safely by someone like him. I imagine he has to carry some pretty high insurance, too--it's a risk for him as well. I met him and he seemed extremely competent--quiet--didn't seem like he'd hurt a horse on purpose to save his life--but thinks it's necessary to save the lives of horses sometimes.

Laura Crum said...

Linda--Your story and my story about Playboy are very similar. Though I know nothing about "hanging" to fix rearing. A horse that will rear and go over backwards on purpose is so dangerous that I think an extreme method is called for. It sounds like this method is working, as well. And yeah, I, too, would wonder if the horse might go back to his old ways with the original owner.

Horses develope these serious vices in many ways, but a very common way is a horse that is "too much" for the rider/trainer/handler. Or an owner that is too "nice". Once the horse knows he is in charge, all bets are off and many bad things happen. I strongly believe that we should all be very clear on what sort of horse is within our abilities and what sort is not. And be especially clear what sort of horse is within a child's abilities.

Shanster said...

Funny - I was thinking about Wilbur last night - guess the post stuck with me.

And I just couldn't "get" why anyone would think that would fix the spooking... how could the horse transfer the correction to the occasional bobble spook when he's relaxed and going along. I can't imagine how any animal (or human) could make that connection?

I don't think I'm a trainer by any stretch o' the imagination - an eternal student - but it seems with ANY training there has to be cause and effect.

Whether it's children or dogs or horses... action=reaction.

And the tarp treatment for Wilbur just really doesn't make any sense to me. Obviously not to you either since you quit!

The old cowboy had an action/reaction for the tarp with Playboy. I felt less horrified by Playboy because he was so dangerous and it was the last ditch before death... 12 hrs of misery to save a life? I would think Playboy would rather live than die... most life forms struggle to keep on living when they are healthy - the most basic instinct ya know? - but who can really say?

And my inexperience - I've never, never had any horse so dangerous or situation escalate that much. I can't speak to it cuz I have no experience or knowledge of a situation like that...

Shanster said...

Oh and that is GREAT news about Henry and your son! What a confidence builder for him to solve his problem. I bet he felt 10' tall eh?

I also finally ordered your first 3 books - excited to dig in and hope to get my darling husband hooked as well. grin.

Laura Crum said...

Shanster--Yeah my kid was pretty proud of himself--and I was proud of him.

Thanks for ordering my books. Be sure and let me know what you think. I like feedback--it doesn't all have to be positive, either. That's how I learn.

stilllearning said...

Thanks for the update on Henry and your son. Sounds like a win/win/win situation--terrific!

Not only have you convinced Henry that he needs to do his job obediently, you've "listened" to his complaint and adjusted the program to better suit his age and temperment.

Not only have you helped your son handle a fairly tough training issue successfully, you've taught him to think about many pieces of the puzzle, and how to make it work for everyone. That's not a bad lesson for a kid to learn--and much better than a "bad horse/must punish" attitude.

I'd say for someone who doesn't really like teaching riders, you've done a heck of a job!

Laura Crum said...

stillearning--thanks. You're right about me not liking to teach, but my own kid is different, I guess. I have mostly allowed my son to work things out on his own, but this particular problem was getting out of hand. I am so tickled that we are going the right way now, without me having to "take over" the horse. And my son is learning that part of the equation is listening to his horse, and another part is staying in charge, and yet another part is being able to listen to me when I'm helping him. He is seeing that giving the right cue/reprimand at the right time works like a charm, and failing to do so results in a problem. Its all going really well. It reminds me of some astute commenter--maybe Joy--and someone else, too, who pointed out that these smart old horses will up the ante to teach kids to be better riders. At no point was Henry ever dangerous; he is absolutely reliable that way. He was just making my kid work a little harder--and letting us know he really, really doesn't want to lope that many circles. He truly is plenty sound and fit enough to do it, but you know, I get his point.

Joy said...

So glad to read about your boy and Henry. This is just great!

I would kill somebody if they layed my horse down and tarped him. But then again, he's no monster. And he spooks like a nimrod, but that's him. And I can sit it so, why bother.

The ranch where my horse was "trained" and grew up had some weird practices. I didn't own him yet then, I had my OTTB mare there. The ranch owner would tack up a young horse (2 yrs old or so) and tie his head to the saddle horn tight with neck curved hard and leave him in the stall all day.

I don't know why. This was done to break them. Never made sense to me and bothered me a lot.

Also, the long yearlings would be saddled and loped, hard, for about 1/2 and then tied next to each other to stand for several hours.

I don't know how to break a colt, but I would never use those methods. That's not training, in my opinion.

On another note, I got my best friend to get your books and she's on Slickrock. She loved that one (as did I). You have another reader/convert..... ;)

Laura Crum said...

Joy, I agree with you that the tying around stuff can be vastly overdone. As in most cases, it has a lot to do with the individual horse. Some horses can use some of this and some don't need it. I think it is not a good thing when such a practice is employed across the boards on "all the colts". Every horse is different.

Thanks for recommending my books. "Slickrock" is a lot of people's favorite. Most of the material in that book was written during various trips I took to the mountains, so its very authentic. Though nobody was ever pursuing me (!)Glad you liked it.

Michele Scott and Jessica Park said...

Call me too soft. I don't know. But I look at horses like I do toddlers, and I believe there is never an excuse for cruel methods. I think there are better ways. I may be ignorant, but these animals are some of God's best creations--and destroying their spirit is wrong.

That's my simple opinion.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, I just recently re-read the old training books written by Jesse Beery. In those books he regularly lays the horses down and desensitizes them to teach the horses to absolutely trust the human who must have the respect of the animal. I would suspect that the tarp treatment is a perversion of that old, accepted method used in the early 1900's.

HorseOfCourse said...

How nice to hear that Henry and your son has found out of each other, Laura.
I believe it is very rewarding to watch your children grow up as horsaii.

Laura Crum said...

Michele--I respect your opinion, but what, exactly, would you have done with a horse like Playboy? If you'd been handed him at the same time that old cowboy got him. I'm not saying I know the answer. I'm saying its a difficult problem, and I can give you lots more like it. Not all horses are easy to train. Some horses have manmade issues and some are born with issues. Not all difficult horses are scared. Some are bullies because they've been allowed to become that way. If we only used "kind" methods, some of these horses would probably just have to be euthanized. I think the point of my post is that it depends somewhat on your motivation. If you are trying to salvage the horse so he can have a decent life, some more extreme methods may have their uses. But again, the point was to ask the question, not to say I knew the answer.

Laura Crum said...

Anon--I don't know the writer you speak of, but I have seen folks who used "laying a horse down" as part of their training, in the sense you describe it. I really don't know much of anything about it and have never used it or been around it a lot, so can't comment.

And thanks Horse Of Course. I enjoy watching my son's progress as a horseman, that's for sure. Though I make no assumptions about whether he'll ultimately want horses as part of his life. He may, perhaps. But it may also turn out to be my passion, not his. But still, its one that I have been able to share with him--and that's been very rewarding.

EcoLicious Equestrian said...

laura, what a great post...I almost shed a tear reading about Willbur and then I read the second story and I wasn't as quick to judge this method...it seemed to work for Playboy and it saved his life...

I think we all need to make sure that we start our young horses correctly and do not let them get the upper hand...Playboy got to where he was because of his inexperienced owners...