by Laura Crum
My last post about abusive training practices and whether harsh methods are sometimes called for (or not) got me thinking about the flip side of that coin. Things are often not quite so black and white as we like to suppose. When is a good deed not really a good deed?
In my lifetime, I’ve saved a fair number of horses from ending up at the livestock auction to take their chances with the kill buyers. Some of these horses I kept, some I found homes for. And there is one that I “saved”, many years ago, that still troubles me. I meant well, and it seemed the right thing to do at the time, but now I wonder.
Twenty years ago now, my uncle raised QHs and stood one stud (among others) that ultimately proved to produce a great many very resistant horses (I’ve blogged about this before). Some of these horses were truly dangerous; they were willing to be very violent in their resistance, including bucking, rearing, flipping over backward…etc. But to begin with, when the first of this stud’s foals were two and three, what people noticed was that they were big, pretty horses that seemed very relaxed and gentle.
These horses were gentle to handle on the ground, and pretty easy to start. The problem did not become apparent, usually, until the horse was put to work and asked to exert himself. These horses did not care to work, and very many of them became very adamant about it. And so we come to Noble.
Noble was one of the early colts by this stallion, and he was a big, pretty, blaze faced sorrel (like most of em). A friend of my uncle’s bought the horse. Bill was a knowledgable enough horseman and he sent Noble to a good trainer to be started. The man had no trouble with the colt. Bill rode Noble for awhile, very gently, and all went well. But, eventually, Bill started to rope on Noble and ride him in the mountains and ask the (by then five year old) horse to do some things that required real effort. And Noble resisted.
Noble’s resistance took many forms. He would unexpectedly buck (very hard) and buck Bill off. He would rear and try to fall over backward while climbing steep hills. He began to pull back and go over backward when tied. He spooked violently and tried to bolt. He dumped Bill many times.
Those of us who knew Bill and liked him all advised him to get rid of Noble. I saw the horse pull some of these stunts and the gelding had a very blind look in his eyes, which really scared me. Somehow or other, when Noble decided to be resistant, he blanked out. He was perfectly willing to hurt himself, as well as his rider. Such a horse is virtually untrainable, in my opinion.
Now, remember, nobody had done anything bad to Noble. He was brought along in a responsible, kind way and Bill was really fond of him. In fact, he refused to give up on the horse, despite being urged to do so by all his friends. He kept riding Noble and trying to get along with him.
And now we come to Fine. Fine was Noble’s full brother, and another big, good looking, blaze-faced sorrel. My uncle liked the looks of Fine and decided to keep the colt. He broke and trained the three year old himself and at first all went well. Like his brother, Fine initially seemed to be an easy going, cooperative horse.
It was a year or more into training when Fine suddenly and unexpectedly bucked my uncle off—hard. My uncle took it as an aberration and kept working with the horse. But we both wondered. Noble, still owned by Bill, had continued to pull unexpected and violent stunts. And I thought Fine showed the same blank look when he bucked.
It happened again. Fine, for no reason that we could see, just came unglued and dumped my uncle. And my uncle, disgusted, told me to haul the five year old horse to the local livestock auction.
I had a hard time with this. I worked for my uncle at that time, and I had helped work with Fine some. In most ways he seemed a gentle, cooperative horse. And now we were going to dump him and take the chance that he would go to kill. I thought maybe I just needed to find him a home with a real good hand.
So I made a deal. I sold Fine (with my uncle’s agreement) very cheaply to a horse trainer I knew who was a good hand. And I told him that Fine had twice bucked my uncle off hard—for no reason. This trainer took Fine and rode him for six months—used him hard—as a turnback horse and for gathering and ranch work. And the horse gave him no trouble. At the end of that time the trainer sold Fine to a local rancher—for his teenage daughter to ride. The trainer told me this and assured me that Fine was, well, fine.
That’s all I know about Fine. But our friend Bill kept Noble until the horse was twenty and Noble continued to pull dangerous, violent stunts the rest of his life. He would go for months, sometimes a year, without misbehaving, and Bill would think he was over it. But something would inevitably trigger the horse and Noble would once again do some unpredictable and violent thing. Bill finally put him down when Noble injured himself severely pulling back—at twenty years of age. And Bill admitted that he should have done this a long time ago.
My uncle, based on Noble and Fine, got rid of the mare who was their mother and sold the younger colts of that cross. But over time it became clear that a great many colts by that same sire carried this violent, resistant streak. And these horses did not get better over time. They went to different trainers and owners, and were trained using different methods, and still the results were the same. Over and over people gave up on these horses because after years of training, the horses were still capable of doing something truly dangerous—with no warning at all. They blanked out. And I can’t help wondering if Fine some day hurt someone badly, and if I should have been more careful about who he went to.
At the time I really didn’t understand how pervasive and dangerous this attitude was among the get of that stallion, and by the time I did understand, it was too late. I had no idea how to track the horse down. So, I did nothing. And I still feel bad about it.
Yep, I meant to do a good deed by saving Fine from going to the auction. And I’m still not sure exactly what I should have done differently. Let him go to kill? Predjudiced everyone against the horse by saying his siblings were untrainable? Maybe Fine really did go on to be “fine”. I sure hope so.
I’ve learned to be a little more thoughtful these days—before I jump to the conclusion that I know exactly what abuse is or when I need to do a “good deed”. I still try to do the best I can for the horses that come my way, but I’m not quite as judgemental as I used to be. Sometimes the truth is a little more complicated than we like to suppose.
Anybody want to chime in on this? Have you seen something that looked “bad” that turned out to have some merit, and conversely, seen someone trying to do good, who instead created a bad problem? Any thoughts?