Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Doing the Right Thing

by Laura Crum

My friend Wally came back from the local team roping a few days ago and told me a story. I’d like to pass it on here. This story really got me thinking. What is the right thing to do in this sort of situation? And this sort of situation is oh so common, as I’m sure you’ll all agree.

So, here’s the story. Apparently a team roper we’ll call Bob had a horse at the roping that Wally had seen before. Wally described the horse as a pretty nice buckskin heel horse who had taken to crowhopping when Bob kicked him up over the steer. Bob is an old guy who’s been team roping for years, but he isn’t a terribly competent roper, nor is he much of a horseman (there are a lot of ropers like this). Bob was getting lots of advice about what he should do, but he wasn’t getting his horse over this problem. And he was starting to get scared of the horse. At the roping the other day Bob asked a tough younger roper named Matt to get on the horse. Matt roped on the horse all day and punished him for trying to crowhop. Wally watched this and said that it was clear in his mind that the horse was behaving like this because he hurt. Even with a very competent rider on his back, the horse persisted with the behavior. Wally said he could tell by the horse’s expression and body language that something was hurting him. Wally told this to both Matt and Bob, who both brushed this unasked for advice off. So, Wally said to me, “What the heck do you do?”

It’s a very good question. If you insistently push your point of view at the horse’s owner, and recommend possible treatment options, you’ll likely just make yourself obnoxious and lose credibility, if the owner’s mind is set against your idea. You can’t force an owner to do something with his horse that he doesn’t want to do. And none of us can afford to buy every horse we see that’s in need of an “intervention”. Wally walked away, as most of us would do, shaking his head, and came back and asked me that question.

Since I’ve been working on this theme concerning the many gray areas we come across when trying to do right by horses, I pondered on this particular question awhile. I didn’t come up with any answers, just some stories that illustrate my thoughts. I’m going to share them with you today and ask for your advice. What do you do when you see someone doing something “wrong” to a horse? Do you interfere? And if so, how? How do you you “do good” is this sort of situation?

The potential “do gooding” can be grossly overdone and end up doing harm. For example, not so very long ago, at the pasture where I keep my retired/rescued horses, we had “Lisa”. Lisa was a neighbor of the pasture owner. She had taken on a rescue horse and gotten the pasture owner’s permission to put this mare in with our small herd. So, OK, we all did our best to get along with Lisa and the mare. But there was no “getting along” with Lisa. She was a perpetual wreck waiting to happen. Her mare seemed to have at least one soundness emergency, if not life threatening or property damaging emergency, a month, and Lisa’s personal life (with which she bored us all regularly) was the same. Friends and boyfriends and jobs came and went, with monotonous, if dramatic, regularity. And Lisa seemed to want us to be in the same condition.

She lobbied endlessly that various of our rescues/retirees needed this that or the other expensive new-agey treatment—from homeopathy to acupuncture to herbal supplements to various forms of therapy for their lameness issues. I’m not knocking this stuff—I have used all of the above mentioned treatments to good effect in my life. But Lisa didn’t seem to understand that our retired herd was comfortable enough as pasture horses, none of them were sound or young enough to be used, and that we realistically could not afford an endless stream of expensive treatments. Unfortunately Lisa was one of these people who don’t get boundries and she was intrusive in a number of ways. Eventually the pasture owner got tired of Lisa and her persistant interference and threw her and her mare off the property. Since Lisa could not really afford board for the horse and didn’t know what to do with the mare, this was a very unhappy state of affairs. And all Lisa ever had to do was relax and let her horse be happy in that field and all would have been well. It was the relentless do gooding that did harm.

I think we all know this sort of person. The one who comes up to you and says your horse needs a chiropractor cause he’s obviously hurting in his shoulder and they know just the one. Never mind that you explain that you know what’s going on with the horse. They just won’t let you alone. By the time you escape, you never want to hear the word chiropractor again, let alone look into it. Thus I don’t think the answer to Wally’s question is to hound the owner to recognize that the horse needs treatment. Once you’ve said what you see, you’ve gone about as far as you can go.

And yet, what about those times when something really rotten is happening? Shouldn’t you speak up?

Many years ago I was at a local team roping and a young guy showed up that none of us knew. Said guy roped awhile and then got mad at his horse for something—nothing big, just felt the horse wasn’t working well. He took the horse over in the corner of the arena and proceeded to beat up on him. Over and under and spur and jerk—relentlessly. This went on for awhile and everybody just sat there, watching him. Nobody liked it; nobody knew what to do. Call me hasty, but I couldn’t stand it.

I rode over to the guy and said, “Knock it off.”

Well, this kid was pretty mad and he shouted back at me that it was none of my business and it was his horse and he could do what he wanted to him.

I said, “Take him home and beat him up if you want to; you can’t do it here.”

I was about to get an earful from this still very angry young guy, but a couple of the other ropers, including the proprietor’s son, saw what was happening and rode over and told the kid to leave. Still in a genuine rage, this guy loaded his horse up and departed.

The proprietor thanked me, saying he “didn’t want those animal rights people getting after him.” But I wondered if I’d only made things worse. Maybe the kid would have gotten over his temper tantrum and that would have been that. Now that he’d been humiliated in front of the whole crowd, had he taken the horse home and truly crucified him? Or did he cool off on the drive back and leave the poor horse alone? I will never know. But I never forgot, either.

So, there’s my question for today. What do you do when you see someone “abusing” a horse? Have you all had experiences like this? What’s your advice?


Shanster said...

Tough post... I am not at all a confrontational person and I don't know if I would have enough "belief" in myself to think I knew better than what the person was doing in order to say something. ? These cases sound pretty cut and dried but that would be my first thought - I don't know enough to interrupt.

That isn't right by any means and I guess I'm not doing right by horses other than my own.

Tho' our neighbor - bless her heart - loves her horses... LOVES them. Kisses them, baby talks to them and sits outside all night long with them in the summer cuz she likes being near them.

And this is the same woman who will yank the poor horses face off over and over and over for a slight infraction because she doesn't know better and she saw someone experienced give a hard yank once to a horse acting up. She's been told many times to get off the horse's face - she's been YELLED at for it but she doesn't "believe" what she's hearing.

I've offered her alternative solutions when she's talked to me about it but I generally stay away from the subject because it's not going to change, her horses developed defenses for it, and when they truly get sick of it, they get her off their backs quite easily...they are treated well 99% the rest of the time...

Really what can you do? If it's not blantant outright abuse... and the horse isn't yours... I just think it's out of your hands. You can't MAKE anyone do anything they don't want to do when there are no laws being broken.

The same woman - god bless her - also got on me like the do-gooder in this story for not blanketing in winter. On and on and on it went - ad nauseum. I do blanket when they get soaked to the skin wet or there are extreme winds that would interfere with their winter coat... but most winter they are "naked" with extra forage.

I knew she meant well but I also knew my horses were fine... eventually the yammering stopped tho' I'm sure she still thinks me cruel. Just like with your old pasture pets... you knew they were fine.

Martha Seaman McKee said...

Your friend was right to say what he thought about the buckskin. At that moment, in public, his owner may not have wanted to hear that his horse was hurting. But, maybe, later he will think it over, and have his horse checked out.
We'all encountered people who are "energy sucks," (as a friend of mine refers to them.) Kind, but firm and immediate removal from your life is the best solution, which sounds like what happened.
You were brave - and right - to tell Mr. Rage to knock it off. As you experienced, folks came to your support when you did so. Silence would have meant you condoned what he was doing. Sad to see horses enduring such treatment.
These are hard ones. I have an elderly mare whose front feet need-and receive- expert shoeing from a specialist in our area. But, another person at our barn thinks he does a terrible job and kept after me to try out her farrier, whom I do not respect. I finally had to tell her I did not want to hear anymore on the subject. I'm sure she thinks I am doing wrong by my horse.
So it goes.

Anonymous said...

I was about 20. It was my second dressage show. A woman was standing in front of her horse beating him around the head and neck with a dressage whip. I ran to get a steward and ran back so fast I got a stitch and couldn't breathe.

The steward said "Hi !"

The woman who had been whipping the horse was well-known in the community. Some people kindly explained to me that I didn't see what I saw. Other people laughed at me.

A few days later a boyfriend of another competitor took me aside to say that he'd seen it too and that I had done the right thing.

But he didn't speak up at the time.

I left the club. She's still there.

Mrs. Mom said...

Wow Laura- this is a tough one.

One thing is proactive (which probably would not help in this case) but we use "Leadership By Example" a lot. Broken down horses find their way to us, we fix them, get them back out in the public eye, and people take note. Questions get asked, and people learn, horses benefit.

In this case though- Wally did right. Maybe if a couple other guys had stepped up, the Owner would have listened, but... maybe not too.

People only hear what they wish to...

Anonymous said...

Mrs Mom, You are so right. People only hear what they wish to--in general. And ropers, like many horse people, are disinclined to interefere with each other. Neither Wally nor I could think of one single thing to do that might be helpful other than what he had actually done.

mizchalmers--Yes, people are often afraid or disinclined to interfere. And politics comes into it a lot. The big name trainers (that I knew) could do just about anything, and nobody said a word.

Martha--Your example about your mare references the flip side of this point. As we talked about in the "what Is Lame?" post, sometimes the owner knows the horse has a problem and is addressing it in what he/she feels is the right way. If we don't know the horse, who are we to question that? It really is a complicated subject.

Shanster--Your neighbor is a perfect exampple. Ragging on you for your "cruelty" and doing something much more cruel herself. And yet talking to her about it does not help. This is so often the way it goes. I know there is no answer to this, but again, its worth thinking about. It seems to be the nature of life.

Anonymous said...

Mrs Mom--You are so right. People (in general) only hear what they wish to.

Martha--Your mare is an example of the flip side of the coin. Often the owner feels sure they know what is wrong and are dealing with it--interference isn't welcomed.

mizchalmers--I know just what you mean about well known trainers being very abusive to horses and no one says a word.

Shanster--I think your neighbor is a perfect example of the two sides to this problem. She wants to lecture you about your cruelty (when you aren't cruel), but is equally not open to suggestions aimed at her own "abuse". How exactly do we resolve such conundrums, if at all? Beats me.
But that is the point of these posts. To raise my own awareness of how complicated right and wrong can be. Its not as smple as bashing what's "wrong" and extoling what's "right".

Anonymous said...

Oops--sorry. I just posted more or less the same thing twice, not knowing that for some reason blogger now thinks I'm "anon". If it happens again, well, this is me, Laura.

Martha Seaman McKee said...

Maybe time is part of the equation as well. I've owned this mare for 8 years, and know how far she's come under expert care. That gives me a different perception of her treatment as opposed to someone who is new to the scene. That ties in with the lameness post - knowing the horse over a long period of time may change your decision.

Anonymous said...

This is Laura, in case blogger still thinks I'm Anon.

Martha, you're right. If you've owned a horse for a long time, you usually feel comfortable that you know what's up with that horse. I'm the same way. And yet we've all seen instances of a long time horse owner truly neglecting or abusing a horse. I, for one, am quite confused at times where the line lies here. I wish there was some neat rule of thumb, but I don't think there is.

On a more cheerful note, for those who are interested in the saga of my son's lazy horse, Henry, we have made a lot of progress there. Today my son was able to continue loping Henry after the horse decided he was done with it. (Remember, Henry is hale, hearty, sound and feels good--he's just lazy. I'm not abusing him, honest. This horse hasn't even cracked a light sweat when he's sure its quitting time.)Using some transitions--thanks stilllearning--my kid was able to get Henry's head up, get him gathered up again, send him back into the lope and keep him there. I was really proud of my son, and he was proud of himself. Henry got some good exercise and then was turned out to graze, so it was win/win. One more good day with horses.

Anonymous said...

I think the heart of the problems with the horse community is the fact that our own choices on responsible ownership are like our choices in responsible parenting - the best we know how. It's so easy to be offended by how people perceive your parenting, and likewise no one does everything perfectly or the same.
For example, me and my friends don't much get along as fellow equestrians despite our longstanding friendship which blossomed after we met at the barn.
For instance, friend A has a policy of regular massage and chiropractic work, her horses have a strict regime with a very professional and reputable practitioner. I fully believe that most of that stuff is a sham, and I haven't met a horse yet who wouldn't do just as well with a few more days of rest/turnout during the week. She thinks I blatantly ignore an important part of any horse's health regime. I twitch a little every-time I notice one of my horses has done something stupid and is "off" because I know I'll get the "look" - my horse is hurting and I'm a negligent oaf who just gives him a day off instead of getting him help.
Friend B and me are into very different disciplines and breeds (halter arabian vs halter AQHA) and have very different ideas of what constitutes proper weight - I err on the side of moderately thin. She errs on the side of moderately obese. My horses get grain only if they /work/. Her horses get daily supplemental feed. The only impression you could get if we were to video our polite conversations on the matter is that internally we are both screaming - I am shuddering at the lunky yearlings she grossly overgrains, she is convinced that my horses are going to blow away in the next windstorm.
Friend C and me disagree on training; I lean more towards "broke", she is big on the "trained" - I tend ride my horses first, train later. She accomplishes everything first in the round pen, then the arena. My horses are clumsy unfinished beasts with poor frame. Her horses are spoiled arena babies who have the most ridiculous reactions whenever you ask/show them something new.
None of us can make each other do it "our" way, so at the end of the day; well the love you take is equal to the love you make I guess, and I see healthy horses in the barn despite our opposing opinions. None of us are shy with our opinions, but all of us are respectful of each other and choose to enjoy each other's opinions about the really important things like shoes, chocolate, and boys.

Anonymous said...

Laura again--Wow, Anon, that is a really good comment. Acknowledging that we can have differences but that maybe all of us are doing OK by our horses is big. I am totally on that page. I just get stuck when I see some poor horse who is obviously hurting and being pushed past what he should do (in my opinion, obviously), or see someone using abusive training methods on a horse who doesn't deserve them (again in my opinion). You did say that you and your friends express your opinions to each other, and everybody goes their own way and still gets along. I think that's great--as long as you feel comfortable that everybody really is doing OK by their horses. But what if you don't feel that? Then what do you do? If anything.

And I'm with you on the obese horse issue and the broke versus trained (these days, anyway--I used to train em more). I know I'm gonna get reamed for this, but I also don't do anything like chiro unless its clear to me that the horse has a problem "up high". I've had a few like that and I did use chiro--and I never had much success with it. But, I do know folks that swear by it. However, I'm like you, I'm the give them time off turned out type. Now I'll be the one getting the cyber "look" from all those who think regular chiro/massage is a must.

Gayle Carline said...

I still remember what my instructor told me the first time took a riding lesson (at 45): "You'll find a lot of people who've been on a horse one time in their entire lives, who act like they know everything about horses."

And if those people have been on a horse multiple times, they know infinitely more than anyone else.

I don't think it hurts to speak up, as long as you do it once and try to make it as nonconfrontational as possible. As in (Wally's case), saying, "Gee, I can't help but notice that your horse seems to be acting up, even though the rider is telling him clearly it's unacceptable. Could he be acting up because something hurts?"

With the guy having a tantrum on his horse, it's iffy - either you snap him out of it with cross words, or you approach him softly and see if he calms down. It's a toss-up how people will react.

But if you don't speak up, you have given someone tacit approval to abuse an animal.

Anonymous said...

Gayle, that was exactly what was in my mind. I didn't want to give tacit approval to that behavior. Right or wrong, I stepped forward. Thanks for your insight.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that last was Laura--I have no idea why blogger thinks I'm now Anon.

Unknown said...

This is tough. I've come down on people being cruel to dogs, I've never been in a situation where they were being cruel to a horse.

And I hope I never am.

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't know if any of us thinks that the others are "doing right by our horses", I honestly believe that those chubby yearlings don't have much of a future ahead of them, that if A's horses weren't worked so hard, they wouldn't need all that chiropractic junk, and I have confessed my horses are "back-yard hacks" and comparatively worthless. Also I am a cheapskate miser who won't pay for chiro, massages or even extra feed.
I won't hesitate to share my opinion both tastefully and tactfully in a polite conversation, but we would miss out on so much if I couldn't also stop myself from bringing it up over and over again.
I would like to aspire to that "old quiet cowboy ideal", the strong silent type. I'd like to be a person who has my own opinion, lives up to it, stands by it even when it's tough, and shuts up about it. My father told me once, "Lead by example first, teach later, and never ever preach." and I still think that's true.
Abusive training/hurting horses? Well, people who know me know where I stand, and when people value my opinion enough to ask for it, I give it to them and I think really, sometimes that has to be enough. I could break my heart trying to force people to see it my way; in my experience this never ever works because you can't teach someone who isn't looking to learn. It only takes away from the value of your opinion when you "force" it on every Tom, Dick and Sally.

little K said...

Yay Henry! That's awesome.

As for your original post, I read it a couple days ago and am only posting now because Holy Tough Question!

I didn't even know what to think because my first gut reaction is to advocate for the horse and speak up but my second and equally as strong reaction is to keeep my mouth shut because it is none of my business and also because I don't really feel I have enough background to advise someone else on how to treat their horses.

I guess if it were me I would go to a show steward or barn owner with my concerns first. They are probably in a better position to handle it. Or I think sympathetically asking someone to calm down in a quiet non-treatneing way is the next best bet. I like your "knock it off". Its to the point but not mean or emotional. People like to gossip about the mistreatment they see but not a lot of people will do someting about it at a show or whatnot. I think if you stand up for the horse and make a reasonable case and not get too emotional you still come off good and you get your point across and no one can blame you for being interfering or nosey.

Joy said...

there was a young woman at our barn who was abusive. to horses, her mother and everyone else. she's gone finally, but she was there for 6 of the years I've been there.

Ignorant people would ask for her help, especially newbies with fillies or colts. She could talk the talk. She was also the kind of person who might cut your horse's tendon in the night if you crossed her.

She was "helping" a(n) (ignorant) woman with her filly (who she should NEVER have bred her mare to get but oh well). Hateful girl was "teaching" the filly how to clip. Filly is about 8 months old. Hateful had the filly backed up to the tack sheds beating her with the clippers. Owner (ignorant) was sitting IN her tack room, on her cell phone CRYING. I say, owner shoulda grown some balls and yanked that filly's lead roap away from Hateful (aka psychotic). Nope, didn't happen.

I heard about this after I got to the barn about an hour later. No one said a thing. Everyone was afraid for their own horse(s).

Hateful psycho got kicked out of the barn for brawling, fist to fist, with her mother. Thank god she's gone. Evil.

I honestly can't say what I would've done if I'd been there. Most likely I would've told the owner to grow the damn balls already. But I don't think I could've watched that crazy girl beat that filly with the clippers.

summersmom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I have loved horses my whole life and finally got my first one 3 years ago. I was boarding at a local barn that had just been taken over by the owner's son and his new wife. This barn had been around for years, owned by the same people with pretty much the same lesson horses for just as long. Many of the horses were in their late teens/early twenties and gave weekly lessons, some of them daily. At first I really had no previous boarding experience to go off of but things just didn't seem right. One horse, who was reportedly around 26, was skin and bones and obviously arthritic. Yet they taked her up and put children on her. They told people she was fine, that she was just skinny cause she was old. You could look this mare in the eye and see how much pain she was in. It was truly horrific. Many other horses were thin, would go too long without farrier visits and I know they weren't wormed or vaccinated properly. I worked off part of my board by feeding and cleaning stalls and eventually when most of the other stall cleaners quit I was the only one that would clean, which was 2 days a week. I worked a full time job and wasn't able to clean 40 stalls more than that. Eventually it became too much for me and I decided I would pay full board rather than clean several days' worth of manure each time I was out there. The straw that broke the camel's back was when my mare had foaled and they wouldn't turn her out every day or give me the option of a run when the one behind her stall wasn't being used. I would come out and find their huge water bucket completely empty in 80 degree weather. I moved her and within a year the place shut down. The skinny mare was taken out to the back field and "disposed of" and the rest of them were given away. I tried several times to say things while I was there but of course I was the "newbie" to horses so nobody ever listened to me.
After I moved a long time family friend had a daughter who wanted to buy a horse. I started looking for an early to late teens dead broke horse that would be good for a beginner 12 year old girl. Of course, the wife of the couple who ran the previous boarding barn knew better and was helping this family also. She found a 5 year old gelding who had done drill and she swore that he would never need to see a trainer because of what he already knew. The horse was a good horse, but very athletic and not confident in himself with a less experienced rider. The family bought him and moved him out to my new barn. Things were good at first, but then the family was only making it out once or twice a week to ride him and clean his stall. He became spooky and nervous and hyper. The 12 year old girl became scared of him. I tried telling them he needed to be worked with more, that most 5 year old horses can't just be drug out of a stall or off the pasture once a week and be expected to be perfect. He was bored out of his mind! They of course didn't listen to me. Our new barn owner told them he was dangerous and not a good horse for them. They became upset and moved out and are still having the same problems and even the previous owner of the horse knows why. Nothing has changed though, he still only gets ridden once or twice a week. Its really sad but I did everything I could to help them and part of me is glad they moved to a different barn.
Sometimes saying something isn't enough and doesn't "fix" someone, but at least you tried. I've definitely learned a lot in the last few years and am still learning when to say something and when to keep my mouth shut. Its hard either way though.

HorseOfCourse said...

Difficult questions again, Laura.

I believe it comes down to my own consciousness, how I would feel if not commenting.
I would not be able to silently ignore a situation like with your Mr. Rage. "At least you tried" as Anon says.

In the other (to me) more greyzone areas, I believe it is a matter of how grave the situation is, how skilled the horseperson is and how well I know that person.

In management issues like using rugs or shoes, chiro or not chiro, I would not interfere.

Anonymous said...

This is Laura, in case blogger still doesn't know me. I just got back from two days in San Francisco taking my kid to museums and such, so am only now catching up on the discussion. It seems like all of you find this a difficult question, just like I do. I keep wishing there was some obvious rule of thumb, but, like most things, it seems to boil down to circumstances. I suppose we just have to hold "right intentions" and do the best we can. I do tend to be more confrontational than a lot of people, but at the same time, I have no wish to be like "Lisa" in my post, always pushing my opinion on others. I repect people's right to do things their way...except when they're crucifying an innocent horse in front of me....and who is going to define for me when a situation is abusive enough to require me to step in? It just doesn't have a simple answer, like so much else in life.

stilllearning said...

Yeah for Henry and your son!

Another grey area here. Guess I tend to wait until asked for the most part. If I do wade into a situation I try to give my opinion (because OF COURSE I have one!) and be done. I am one of those irritating people who will do anything possible to make my horse work and feel his best. I've had to learn to not speak up much because not only is free advice usually ignored, some people are offended if you offer it.

I will speak up if it's a clear case of the horse being sore, but it's still often ignored. There's a fellow boarder who worked hard on her riding while her mare was getting more angry and unhappy. I rode the mare several years ago and told the owner that her saddle did not fit well, and was causing the trouble. No change. The trainer had declared the saddle "fine" (without sitting in it) so that was that. I repeated every time I was asked that the saddle was issue #1. Finallly, this winter, a saddle fitter was called and the saddle was declared a poor fit and a new saddle was found. Yeah! What's amazing is how much this mare loves her owner, and how hard she's been trying to work for her.


Anonymous said...

(This is Laura)
stillearning--yeah, its frustrating. I have become more and more of a "horse hermit" as time goes on, partly for that reason. Mostly I ride at home and on the trails either solo or with my son and friends.

For instance, there was a rope horse that I saw regularly at the practice roping I still occasionally attend. I don't rope any more, but my son and I gather the cattle and push them through the chutes and enjoy loping circles in the big beautifully groomed arena. So, this one rope horse was always uncooperative and sometimes violent. I was pretty sure the horse was hurting and said so a couple of times. Nobody cared to hear it. The horse changed hands a few times. Yesterday I heard that horse unexpectedly and suddenly dropped dead at a practice. I wasn't there, thank goodness. I still don't know what was wrong with him, but I'll bet dollars to donuts the pain signs I saw and the suddenly dropping dead are related. This was not a happy horse. Frustrating, like you say. So much so that I don't like to be around it.