One of the very first things I heard about Stormy was that he bit his new owner right in the face. Not the best introduction to a horse ever, right? My opinion didn’t change much watching him drag his new owner all over the place, watching him dance wild-eyed in the cross ties, or as he started multiple fights with any horse he could get close to. All of this bad behavior was packed into the 15hh body of a little grade horse that is supposed to be an appy/QH cross but looks like an maybe QH/Arab cross to me.
Lynne is a new horse owner. She’s had a few lessons and used to sponsor some of our retired horses that were boarded at our barn. She would buy them treats, groom the oldies-but-goodies and help with some barn chores. She’s got some medical issues and she says she finds it therapeutic. I think she may have taken some lessons when she was a kid. She’s a nice lady, who cares about horses and means well but hasn’t learned much about handling green horses yet.
She decided to purchase a horse for her family and like so many unfortunate beginners picked one without consulting a more experienced horse person. We had recommended she at least get a pre-purchase exam, and she said she did but Stormy showed up with some hind end lameness I think would have been caught if she had worked with a vet. Turns out that is the least of Lynne and Stormy’s problems.
I’d hopped on Stormy once when he dumped Lynne. It was a pretty scary day and I’d thought she was dead when she first fell. Fortunately she just had the wind knocked out of her pretty bad. I had gotten on with the assumption that he was a broke horse and couldn’t figure out what was going on. Every time I made contact with the reins he freaked. He didn’t want to move and then when he did he wanted to run off and wouldn’t move straight. I hadn’t felt like I’d gotten much sorted out but didn’t push too hard because he felt pretty explosive. He shook his head and made quick turns and sudden bolts like he wanted to lose me. I got one decent circle and called it quits.
Recently I was out showing Charlie to a potential buyer. We had just wrapped up and were in the barn brushing him out. I heard a bit of commotion from out by the pastures, and admit I was a bit worried. I’d seen Lynne head out to lunge Stormy. Over the couple of months she’s owned him lunging has deteriorated into Stormy dragging her around the arena and taking off when he pleased to go start fights over the fences with the horses in the pasture. I decided as soon as I could get Charlie put away and say goodbye to my guest I would go check on her.
Before I could wrap up Lynne entered the barn in tears and fled to the tack room. I quickly said my goodbyes with promises to call and follow up and followed Lynne to check on her.
“What’s going on,” I asked.
“Stormy took off and broke Tax’s gate, and I think he broke my finger too,” she said trying not to sob.
“Where is he now and is Tax still in his pasture?” I asked.
“The gate is still blocking Tax in the pasture. I got Stormy put away. I just can’t do this.” She held up her swollen finger to inspect it rather than look at me.
I could hear the little sigh that went off in my head. I don’t have the time and energy to deal with yet another horse but I knew I was going to offer. “Okay, we can’t let him be done for the day and reward him for that kind of behavior. Do you mind if I get him out and work with him and see if I can help?”
Lynne broke down again, sobbing loudly. “I would love that. I don’t know what to do. It’s gotten to the point where I hate dealing with him and I never wanted it to be like this.”
Out of character but totally in the moment I walked over and hugged Lynne, letting her cry into my chest. I could feel her back heave as she melted into me for a good meltdown.
“We’ve all been here, Lynne, I swear it. It’s easy to get in over your head and not know what to do but it’s also okay to ask for help.” I felt her nod against my arm.
“If it’s alright with you I’d like to work with him a little every day even if you’re not here and see what we’re dealing with, where the gaps in his training are, and then I can let you know if I think you can handle it. If it turns out he’s not the right horse for you I can help you figure out what to do next.” At this point I was pretty sure Lynne wasn’t going to be able to handle this little guy, but I wasn’t sure if she was ready to hear it.
I got Lynne calmed down a little and got her set up in a chair with some water to watch the show. I went out and got Tax’s gate standing again. Then I turned my attention to the little beast. I got Stormy back out of his pasture. He lead to the arena nicely for me which was a start. He normally dropped his head on Lynne fourteen thousand times to graze before they got anywhere. I’d been ready to get after him for it but he didn’t give me a chance.
I took him to the side of the arena and got a lunge line clipped on. So far, so good and this is where I completely underestimated him. As I stooped down to pick up the lunge whip he decided to take advantage of the fact that I was in an awkward position and we don’t have an arena fence. Working with this guy would have been so much easier if we actually had a round pen! In a second he turned his butt to me and took off at a fast walk. I grabbed the rope and dug in my heels. As soon as he felt it tighten he took a pretty good kick at my head. He wasn’t really that close but it threw me off balance just enough that when he took off running and I was a second late in letting go he pulled me off my feet and dragged me a couple of inches. What on earth is that instinct that makes you want to hold onto the idiot beast that’s trying to drag you to death anyway?
Stormy ran off to try to kick Tax again through the gate. I got up and inspected my beautiful new skinned forearm which was caked in sand. I gave another sigh as I got up and chased after Stormy to push him away from the fence. He wanted to run from me so I got him chased back into a corner and worked him with my body back and forth like a cow until he gave up and let me come pick up the lunge line. I figured it was past the point of doing any good to smack him one so I just calmly walked back to the arena and started over.
This time I kept my eye on him. I got the whip in hand and started to drive him left. He spun again and dragged me. This time I kept my balance but couldn’t hold him. He got his head down between his front legs along with the rope. I couldn’t get enough leverage to get him stopped so I let him go again. We started the process over, wash rinse repeat. After the third time I explained to Lynne I wasn’t making much progress and I needed to make a point. I had her hold Stormy while I went to get a stud chain.
I wasn’t sure if Stormy’s previous owner had ever used a chain but I needed something to give me enough bite that he wasn’t going to kill us both. I had Lynne hold him while I ran back to the tack room. I showed her how to loop the chain through his halter over his nose.
“I’m not going to pull on this,” I explained to her. “If he pulls on me though its going to tighten across the bridge of his nose and hurt him a little so I’ve got some leverage. I have no idea how he’s going to react to it and it may get ugly. I need to see how much fight he’s got in him about this.”
Lynne nodded looking like she wasn’t sure what to expect. “Right is his good direction. I can usually get him to go that way but he runs off anytime we go left. Just so you know.”
I decided to start to the left and get it over with. I drove Stormy to the left with the whip. He started to pull way from me to try his normal spinning trick. He chain tightened a link, then two, he looked at me with his eye rolling starting to sweat a little. And then it was over as quickly as that. He moved out trotting a nice circle around me without any pulling at all.
“That was a really good sign,” I hollered over to Lynne.