Thursday, June 28, 2012

CRUNCH!




Exactly one week ago, my left hand had a close encounter with some big, yellow teeth. Yes, my horse bit me. Hard.

I’d never been bitten by a horse before, and the fact that it was my own, much loved Qrac who bit me hurt my pride almost as much as my fingers. In his defence I know for a fact that he wasn’t himself when he bit me. But when I pulled up at the stables last Thursday morning, all I saw was a horse fed up with the swarming flies, getting a little cantankerous with the horse in the field next to him.

I’ve led Qrac both in and out of his field many times in the past and he’s always behaved like a perfect gentleman. He’s always waited quietly for me to open the field, and has never tugged away until I’ve unclipped his lead rope. He’s never danced around me with excitement whether on the way in or on the way out.

So when I noticed he seemed a little fed with being outside, I immediately headed down to bring him in.

I knew things weren’t going to go as smoothly as usual the second I clipped on his lead rope. My adrenaline surged as I realized that the horse in the field next to him was also a stallion.

Seriously, what possessed the people at the stables to put two stallions in adjacent fields? And why hadn’t the electric current been turned on? Our fields are back to back, there is no security space between two horses, so if they start being silly or aggressive, chances are they might really hurt each other. I’ve never been too comfortable with this set-up, but that’s the way it is, and Qrac has never had a hissy fit or a willy waving contest with any of the geldings who have always been put out next to him. In fact, he’s always totally ignored them, going about his grazing and minding his own business.

But last Thursday morning someone screwed up and put another stallion next to him. The other stallion is much older than Qrac. He only arrived a couple of weeks ago, so I didn’t recognize him as I walked over to Qrac’s field, slipped under the wire and walked towards my horse with the lead rope.

Qrac let me clip it on without any problem, but it was when I began to lead him towards the wire gate that he lost his cool. The other stallion began trotting up and down the fence with his tail in the air, taunting him. Suddenly, Qrac rushed past me, slamming into the wire, then rushing backwards again, dancing. I should have let go, but I was worried about him racing around with the rope trailing, stepping on it and injuring himself. So I spoke calmly but firmly to him, struggling to unclip the bottom wire and then the top wire, while at the same time trying to keep an eye on my horse and shoo away the other.

It didn’t work too well.

One of my friends saw me struggling and rushed down to help me.

“Open the top wire,” I said, beginning to panic as Qrac pranced and danced.

She undid the wires. I got Qrac through, thought we were home safe, but the other stallion went ballistic, squealing and racing alongside us. Qrac spun around, I yanked the rope-chain with my right hand, yelled at him, but he’d forgotten all about me. Meanwhile, the two men who take care of the horses had seen what was happening and raced towards us, but they were a fraction too late. Qrac stood on his hind legs, boxed the air, I lifted my left arm to…well, actually I don’t know what I wanted to do…The next thing I knew he’d snapped at me, catching my left hand between his teeth. He didn’t let go right away, either.

I was shocked and scared and furious and, once he let go, tried to wallop him with the loose end of the lead rope, but before I managed to do so, one of the men grabbed it from me, yanked it a couple times, and led my temporarily demented horse back to his stable. Nobody realized he’d bitten me; it all happened so fast.

Frankly, I got lucky; I knew right away what could have happened, but still don’t want to think about it.

Feeling a little faint, I walked back up the hill and headed straight to the tack room/cafeteria, put my hand under the cold tap and stood there for ages. Qrac had nabbed me underneath my thumb, sinking his teeth into the side of my hand, crunching the fleshy part of my palm. Thankfully, I wasn’t bleeding, but nevertheless the skin was slightly scratched. Most worrying, my hand was swelling quickly and was throbbing like mad. Gingerly, I patted it dry, then swathed it in a thick, gloppy arnica gel. My friend rummaged in her first aid box and found a pre-packed cold, wet bandage which she wrapped around my hand. By now it really hurt, and I was beginning to worry that something might be broken.

Just then, one of the other horse owners, a doctor, showed up, noticed my haphazard, funky bandage and came over to see whether he could help. He examined my hand, made me move my fingers this way and that, checking for fractures and told me I’d been lucky, and that as far as he could tell, nothing was broken. He suggested I take an anti-inflammatory twice a day for a couple of days, that I go home and ice it, take arnica if I believed in homeopathy (I do) and see my doctor for an anti-tetanus shot as soon as possible, just to be safe.

By the time I got home the bitten part of my hand was huge. It was also an unpleasant shade of yellow, kind of like an uncooked chicken drumstick that has gone off in the heat. I spent the rest of the day alternating between nursing my hand under a bag of frozen peas, and slathering it with arnica gel. The arnica gel definitely helped avoid multi-coloured bruising, as over the next few days my hand remained a sickly yellow, whereas, presumably for circulatory reasons, my wrist turned blue and purple. The following morning, the hot doctor in my village (seriously, he’s really hot!) gave me an anti-tetanus shot ensuring a tiny, elegant colour coordinated bruise at the top of my left arm.  

Of course, I was out of action riding-wise for a couple of days, which totally sucked as Qrac and I are working towards our first competition, scheduled for the 8th of July. Qrac had two days off, before being hacked out by another rider over the weekend. By Monday I felt a lot better, so scheduled a lesson with my trainer. My hand pinged a bit once in a while depending on how I moved my fingers, but overall I managed fine.

Has this incident affected the way I handle my horse? Frankly, I don’t think I’ll be taking him in and out of the field for a while; I’ll get one of the yard’s employees to do it. Chances are Qrac would be perfectly well behaved with me, but for the time being I don’t want any anxiety on my part unsettling him. He’s never showed any signs of aggression while being handled, he’s always been a very gentle, affectionate horse who loves being brushed and fussed over.

However, horses are horses. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re unpredictable and they can be dangerous. To complicate matters, Qrac is a stallion, and even though he’s been chemically gelded and is therefore far calmer than he was before he was vaccinated, rarely presenting any “stallion behaviour”, putting him in a field next to another stallion (or, heaven forbid, a mare!) is just asking for trouble. What happened last week taught me that because Qrac is a calm, gentle stallion, he’s even more unpredictable, since nobody expects him to get aggressive or “misbehave”. I’ll definitely be keeping all this in mind. And after this incident, I’ll also be far more motivated to have him surgically gelded this winter.

Have you ever been injured by a horse in a similar situation? What happened? How did it affect you?

14 comments:

horsegenes said...

Francesca,

Sorry to hear about your hand. Good thoughts going to you for a quick recovery and a fabulous performance at your horse show. I know you can do it.

From reading your posts you are probably the sweetest person in the world. You probably handled this with grace and dignity. I would have had one of the wild ass, red headed, psycho bitch goes on a rampage moments towards the nut job that put my horse and me in such a dangerous situation. You want to trust the boarding facility to place your and your horses best interest and safety first. They failed miserably. You and Qrac are lucky that you didn't get hurt worse.

Francesca Prescott said...

Horsegenes: thank you. I guess you could say I'm pretty mild and gentle-natured. I sometimes wish there was some homeopathic remedy I could take to wake up my dormant psycho bitch (as you put it! Made me giggle!)- in fact my daughter and I often joke about someone needing to produce "b**** drops"!!! We'd definitely buy them!

My hand is much better, although there's still a "ping" in my pinch depending on what I do. And my wrist is still a dodgy colour.

I'll definitely be writing about how Qracipoo and I do at our first competition. Thanks for reading.

C.E. Wolfe said...

One of the first horses I ever sat on was a stallion. My much-older sister would sit me bareback on an old Morgan stallion when I was 3 or 4 and walk around. What a classy gentleman he was.

He was always so perfect for the ladies in the barn, and I noticed that whenever a male handled him, they were *expecting* him to be a handful *because* he was a stallion and would yank on the chain, push him around, etc. when he wasn't doing anything at all.

A place I worked for a while also had a Morgan stallion, but this one looked like a fire-breathing monster in his stall. His sole activity in life was attacking a hole in the wall, which he did with such vigor he would foam up with lathered sweat. One day I was asked to clean his stall...I was absolutely terrified to open it (I was to remove him to clean it.) The second I opened the door, he stopped attacking the wall, stood at attention and was perfectly mannered and very gentle.

A few years ago I was a part time working student at a dressage barn and I had to turn out the horses in the morning. One boarder was a 17 year old warmblood who I was told had been gelded late. I was instructed not to use a chain on him because "it only makes him madder." He looked and acted as if he'd been gelded yesterday, and apparently had never been taught any manners. He tried to bite constantly. He reared, struck out, strutted, whirled, you name it, he did it. I followed instruction and didn't use a chain but I did try carrying a crop and whacked him on the shoulder when he tried to pull stuff and yes, they were right, it only made him madder! I finally resorted to carrying loads of treats to distract him and get him to cooperate. Not that he should have been getting rewarded, but I figured, I'm here one day a week, I didn't create this monster, I'm not responsible for his training, I need to do whatever I need to do to keep myself safe during these two minutes I have to interact with him. And this horse belonged to the barn manager! It made me wonder if he had never been taught any manners *because* he was a stallion... some people seem to just expect unruly behaviour from stallions. Animals (and people) have a tendency to fulfill our expectations of them, whatever they may be.

I'm sorry that happened to you. A place that boards stallions should really know better than to put them outside near each other the way they did. Do they understand not to do this in the future?

I'm going to have to go read about 'chemical gelding' now, I don't know anything about it!

Francesca Prescott said...

C.E Wolfe: I think many stallions are actually more gentle than a lot of mares. There's a mare at my yard that has knocked her owner over loads of times, she's completely nuts, not to mention dangerous.

I hope that when I do geld Qrac he turns into a solid, good natured gelding. I think the people at my yard learnt from their mistake, there are quite a few stallions there, most of whom are only turned out alone once in a blue moon. That doesn't work either, as they freak out about being alone, go completely nuts about finally being let loose, and race around risking injuring themselves.

Thank you for sharing your stories :)

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Tell a gelding, ask a stallion and negotiate with a mare... ;)

Glad you're okay - that sounds like it was scary.

jenj said...

Goodness, I'm so glad to hear you're OK! I'm sure that must have been very scary, with him not behaving himself. I'm glad there were people right there who were able to help you out!

Laura Crum said...

Cesca--Well, you already know my take on stallions, but truly, Qrac has seemed like a jewel. The trouble is that many usually gentle stallions will have an outbreak like this when something provokes them. My uncle had his leg broken when his normally very gentle stallion attacked another horse (that was provoking him). My uncle (riding the stallion) was unable to pull him off or distract him at all (just as you describe with Qrac) and his leg was broken in three places where it was caught and twisted between the two horses. And my uncle was/is a pretty tough cowboy. It can happen to any one.

I'm so happy that you're OK, and I look forward to you and Qrac having a happy future together. Yes, I would geld him if I didn't intend to breed him--I've just known about too many wrecks involving stallions--though I have also known some stallions who were reliably well-behaved their whole lives. And I have NO experience with Lusitano stallions. On the other hand, gelding a stallion late in life doesn't always produce a lot of behavior change, as CE Wolfe's comment shows. But with Qrac being such a sweetheart overall, it seems like any choice you make should work out well.

Many good wishes to you.

sydney K said...

Good thing your ok! I've had a stud do something similar to me only he grabbed my sweatshirt. You can bet I put the fear of god into him with the end of the rope I had on him.

Arnica is a wonderful thing for bruising and swelling. It's homeopathic and I've used it several times on horses too. You can get it at walgreens, cvs and rite aid. The Borion company who makes arnicare gifted me with some arnica. If you skip on over to my blog there will be a giveaway soon ;)

Dom said...

Ouch!!! Heal soon.

Francesca Prescott said...

Thank you, everybody, for reading and leaving comments. Love the "tell a gelding, ask a stallion and negociate with a mare"! Very true.

Laura, the incident with your uncle and the "gentle" stallion must have been horrifying. I really hope Qrac becomes very calm and "gelding-like" once he's been cut. I also hope he doesn't become depressed; I've heard scary stories, usually from people who are dead-against gelding stallions later in life. I know someone who gelded her stallion as a ten or eleven year old and he's been fine.

Thanks again for commenting :)

Val said...

Thank goodness it was just your hand. The barn management needs to discuss the placement of stallions in the paddocks before something worse happens. At the very least, your injury should get their attention. Feel better.

I was once bitten by an unruly gelding. He grabbed my wrist in his mouth and held it there for a very long 30 seconds. I was afraid her would break my arm. I have a small scar where he broke the skin. I did groundwork with him for a while after that and he became a reformed pony, but I never forgot the lesson: animals are unpredictable.

My horse accidentally put his mouth around the same wrist when I was teaching him a trick with treats. It looked like he went for the treat with his mouth open and his eyes closed. When my arm ended up in his mouth he jumped back in horror. He did not close down on my arm, so I was completely unhurt, but he needed reassurance that he had not hurt me. We were both more careful about how the treats were administered after that!

White Horse Pilgrim said...

I've worked with a number of stallions. Most often they are simple "what you see is what you get" characters. maybe big assertive characters, but relatively predictable. In my experience it's most often when another stallion appears on the scene that a normally civilised animal can become really tricky to the point of simply forgetting people. The pent-up aggression released in such circumstances can be alarming. And they do bite when a mare would kick.

Still, you got off more lightly than a certain vet tech who was bitten in the private parts by a stallion. That time the stallion was the second one who got gelded.

Alison said...

Wow! What a story--and a photo which tells it all.

Yup, around animals we learn lessons EVERY DAY.

Bev said...

My aughter was giving my mare a treat the other day (a baby carrot) an she accidently got her finger in her mouth. Dakota responded by dropping both her finger and the treat! Of course she then got extra treats.