Monday, July 18, 2011

The Last Straw, the Tipping Point…whatever you call it, I’m done.

I gave notice on my lease today. 

If you think you are surprised, especially based on my last few posts, I am doubly so.  Well, I’m both surprised and not surprised. 

Brumby has had behaviour issues the entire time I’ve been leasing him. I’ve mentioned them several times in previous posts, like this post, for example. I’m too tired emotionally, mentally and physically to recap here. Suffice it to say that in the last 2 years I have put a tremendous amount of time and money, not to mention effort, into helping improve this horse.

I haven’t posted about him much in months because it was much of the same…I describe it as a rollercoaster, lots of ups and downs. That is normal to some extent but the particular issues I’ve dealt with are beyond normal, in my opinion. In March of this year, I was almost ready to throw in the towel for good.

Then, as it typically happens, I start to get huge improvements. It’s been a very nice progression since then.  I still occasionally battle behaviour issues, especially when his owner has been riding more frequently. I don’t mean that to be egotistical, it’s just the way it is. When I comment to my coach that his owner hasn’t been out in x number of days she quietly tells me that’s actually a good thing when it comes to making progress with him (she coaches us both).  Other boarders comment to me on how much better behaved he is with me, they say they are afraid to pass him in the aisle when it’s not me with him. The difference?  She doesn’t give him any boundaries or discipline. The kicker is that it’s not like I have to be especially harsh with him. I simply prefer to correct with an effective amount of intensity so that I can be nice most of the time. I’m consistent. There is a very clear line and on one side I am soft and gentle but if he crosses the line I remind him who calls the shots. 

An example: One of his favourite things to do is try to pin you against the wall with his body.  I discovered this early on, so when he would try it I would bend my arm, elbow towards him, and when his ribcage hit my elbow I would wiggle it quite firmly between his ribs. It wasn’t nice but it certainly wasn’t going to truly hurt him. He got the message and stopped the behaviour, allowing me to show him kindness. I am told his owner allows him to pin her. I can always tell when he’s gotten away with it the last time she was out because he will try it once with me. Fortunately, it takes a lot less to remind him. 

Back to the last few months. It’s been pretty amazing. When we first started jumping in our grass jump ring, the scary tree line was the new issue du jour.  I started only allowing him to hand graze next to the trees and would give him carrots periodically whenever he was relaxed. It took about a week (so 3 days, since I have him 3 days a week) for this to become almost a non-issue. While riding, he would try to cut the corners or rush the long side.  So I worked on leg-yielding into the corners and at first doing lots of turn on the haunches along the long side. Recently, all I’ve had to do is be a little stronger with my inside leg in the corners and give occasional half-halts on the long side.  The course work has been improving steadily and it’s been a lot of fun to ride him.

Friday, we had another good lesson. He was a little strong at times but we rode several full courses and felt good about the session. Saturday, I got a message from his owner that she had a terrible lesson, he reared more than 10 times, was completely stressed etc etc. So I knew I’d have to do some damage control on Sunday.

This is part of the recount I sent to our coach and his owner (with minor variations):

It took me a good 30 min to get him to relax on the cross ties for saddling. I’m amazed I managed to keep him from ripping them out of the wall and that the saddle didn’t fall to the ground before I got the girth done – it was close a couple times. He was all over the place, striking out etc.  I tried to balance calming him with correcting the behaviour and eventually he was standing quietly with the saddle on. I gave him some nice neck scratches and carrots and he stayed quiet. 

The “ride” was a complete disaster. I will try to spare you the finer details but give you the general idea. He was rearing before we even got to the gymnastic line, let alone the jump field. So I made him do some trot work in the dressage ring, which was ok, he wasn’t always relaxed but he seemed comfortable and was responsive. I walked him along the outside of the dressage ring toward the jump field (road side) and as soon as we got to the first red & white jump, he reared.  I walked him up and down that line and he was jigging and stressed the whole time, and threw in a few rears now and then. Worse rears than anything I’ve ever experienced with him…and that says a lot!  We weren’t getting anywhere so I figured I would lead him around for a while. He reared while I was leading him and almost ran me down several times. 

Since I didn’t feel like getting hurt, I led him back to the barn and even though we were heading back he was trying to bash into me, drag me etc. I couldn’t take his bridle off without putting him in his stall because every time I touched a buckle he would try to bolt out the door.  I had to circle in the aisle several times. Once in the stall I finally managed to take the bridle off but I had to jump out of his stall as he spun around and then rushed at the door. He circled and circled in there – still with the saddle on.  

I wouldn’t have been able to take the saddle off in his stall without getting hurt, the way he was acting. I managed to get the halter and lead on with chain over his nose and took him back in the aisle. He was still trying to drag me out the door so I couldn’t put him on the crossties. I’m positive that would have been a disaster.  I had to face him away from the door and finally managed to get one side of the saddle undone and off.  I gave him a super quick hosing and scrape, which was scary and horrible, and threw him back out.
All I felt was relief to be rid of him and that somehow I didn’t get hurt.  I would say he was absolutely reckless – he didn’t care about hurting me or himself. The whole experience was dangerous and upsetting. It all sounds very dramatic but if anything this description is less dramatic than the actual events.

I just can’t understand what is going on with him.  After all the progress we’ve made, how can he be so different a day later?  I can’t show him if he’s being like this at home – never mind shows, I don’t even want to ride him on Wednesday. I never want to go through anything like that again. Ever. 
I continued on to say I was terminating our lease and some details around that. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. My coach has been fully supportive; in fact she’s been telling his owner he isn’t the right horse for her for a long time. 

So there you go. I will be horseless as soon as I possibly can and depending on what I can arrange with Brumby’s owner.

I’m in shock but I know I’m doing the right thing. It just really, really sucks in so many ways.

So there it is.


Anonymous said...

I understand completely - he sounds like a horse that needs consistent handling and boundaries to feel safe and to be safe to be around and ride, and leasing when there is another person in the picture can really mess that up. Rearing (sounds like it's balking in his case) is very dangerous and is a sign of a horse that may have some very serious problems, physical or mental, that would take time and careful handling to resolve even if you were willing and able to take that on. If I were you I'd take a pass as well, although it must be disappointing.

RuckusButt said...

Thanks Kate. I've had the resolve and put in the time for 2 years already. Every ride I've had since the begining of June has been excellent. In a single day he is worse than ever(I rode Friday with no issue, he was horrible for his owner on Saturday and then me on Sunday). I am 100% sure it's not pain.

I think of balking as movement sideways or backwards. Anything with the front end straight up is a rear in my book.

Laura said...

It really does suck. What a bummer that this horse has problems, after months of good rides. I'm also really glad that you weren't hurt...

From what you've told me, I think it is good that you are ending the lease, although unfortunate that you might not be riding.

It seems that I have an extra horse right now - you are more than welcome to come across the road and ride a bit until you get something else sorted out...

Melissa-ParadigmFarms said...

Rearing is almost a non-negotiable deal breaker in my book, be it on the ground or undersaddle. It is SO dangerous. I say good for you. When one door closes another one opens so I'll be looking forward to seeing what comes up on your radar screen after the lease is officially terminated.

RuckusButt said...

One thing (among many) I've learned is that once horse people get to know you and your skill level, horses to ride materialize. So Laura, I'm not too worried about being without a horse for long. That said, let me know when might be a good day for you and I'm there! I'll take either one! I will even get up early for you ;)

My attitude has been much as you say, Melissa. I think this just opens the door for an even better opportunity.

But damn! We were show-ready and so awesome together when things were good. I still can't quite get my mind around such rapid change. In a way, it's good that it was so extreme because I couldn't waffle in my decision anymore.

If for no other reason than that my husband would be heartbroken/upset/angry/devestated you name it, if I were to put myself in harms way or if I were to get hurt. There is inherent risk to riding horses but to knowingly keep going with a horse who snaps so readily...that's foolish and counter to my goal of enjoying horses.

According to his owner (who told me this today), the behaviour we experienced on the weekend is how he had been daily for years before I leased him. Hmm, would have been nice to know that little bit of info!