Thursday, August 7, 2008


Since Gabbrielle is such a sweet, tolerant horse, my son thought he would see if she would accept a tire on her back. Don't ask me why. He gets these cockamamie ideas, which is why I don't let him work alone with the horses. Gabbrielle did hold still the entire time that he heaved it up there. The tire started to slide off and only when it hit the ground did she move away. Her patience and level head convince me that she will be my best riding partner some day. However, every horse has its limits and when it reaches those limits, it can explode.

This afternoon my son, my daughter, and I were collecting all three horses from the pasture to lead back to the paddock. I had just tied the rope halter onto Gabbrielle and turned to check on the kids. They were still attaching their halters to the other horses. When I turned back to Gabbrielle, I saw that she had managed to step on her lead rope while grazing. In the past when that has happened, she calmly picked up her hoof to release her head. A lot of horses can't figure that one out. They go to lift their head and discover they are trapped, and next thing you know you've got an out-of-control horse. I had confidence that Gabbrielle could get out of this dilemma peacefully.

We needed to leave, so I asked her to lift her hoof. She refused. She did not want to leave that pasture. Leading a horse away from pasture is like taking a flake of hay or bucket of grain out from under its nose. Most horses will fight for their food. I tried to pull up her head, and she refused to lift it. I then picked up the part of the lead rope she wasn't standing on and used it to whack her on the shoulder. At that point she tried to lift her head, found that she couldn't, and reared up. She reared so hard that she lost her balance and began falling while walking backwards on her hind hooves. She was heading right toward the vinyl fence and I knew there was no way that fence was going to stop an off-balance 800-pound horse.

It was one of those moments when you see the disaster happen in your mind before it happens and all hope drains out of you, because you know there is nothing you can do to stop it. I was mentally adding up the amount of cash and time it would take to repair the fence in addition to the vet bills needed to repair a damaged horse that would probably get up and take off running down the highway once she busted through the fence. I was also tacking on the bills and court cases from all the drivers who crashed due to them speeding recklessly in a 35 MPH zone (which is what everyone around here does) not expecting a loose horse to be galloping down the highway toward them. In reality, just as Gabbrielle hit the fence, she regained her balance and landed on her front hooves, thus preventing a major crash.

I picked up her lead rope, but made the mistake of not first reassuring her that everything was okay. I should have petted her and settled her down before insisting that she walk back to the paddock. Just as I began to lead her, a big truck roared past and she bolted, ripping the rope right through my hands, giving me a mean rope burn. Now, big trucks drive past the entire time she is grazing in that pasture and she doesn't even flinch. The difference here was that she was already in fight or flight mode due to her head getting stuck. She was running on pure adrenaline: Act now and think later. I yelled out to shut the gate, but caught her before she got to it.

Then just as we began to walk again, another big truck roared past. Gabbrielle reared up and tried to bolt again. I got control of her, and then a big blast of wind hit us, which sent her into another panic attack. The universe just wouldn't give us a break for two seconds so that I could settle this horse down. I was just trying to take a quick two-minute break from work to bring the horses in from the pasture and didn't expect it to turn into such a fiasco.

I asked the kids to hold their horses still for a minute so that we could all relax and stay quiet. We then walked the horses back, but now all the horses were spooking at everything left and right because adrenaline is contagious among horses. We spent a lot of time trying to keep our feet out of the path of spooking hooves. We made it back to the paddock, shut the gate and released the horses. Just when we thought it was safe, a fight broke out at the water trough and here came Gabbrielle rearing up and walking/falling backwards right into us. In our effort to get out of the way of the wreck, I fell into my son. It was a mess, but no one got hurt.

By then I was so angry over this endless string of fiascoes that I threw the halter as hard as I could onto the ground beside the horses. They all took off running in the opposite direction, which allowed us to get out of the paddock before any other ridiculous event could take place. I'm sure my kids thought I was nuts, but by then I was pretty tired of being in the path or the rope burn wake of a panicked horse. I wasn't mad at the horses, but annoyed that once again I was trying to complete a simple task and nearly got killed multiple times in the process. There are some days where I am convinced that I am one of the characters in those Final Destination movies, and this was one of those days. It just goes to show you that no horse is perfect, no horse can remain calm in EVERY situation, and once a horse does lose its sanity, you better get far, far away.


Pony Girl said...

Hey NM, great post. Sorry about your final destination afternoon but I am glad that ultimately nobody (family or horses) were hurt! I had a day like this with My Boy last week and oh goodness, that adrenaline can do a number on equines and horses, alike! It is a powerful reminder of how big and dangerous horses can be. And that they are prey animals and despite the fact they can fall asleep on your shoulder one day, they can spook and rear back the next. I know it's a reminder to me to just be relaxed, but cautious and aware at all times, to really read my horse's body language and try to make good decisions.

Twinville said...

Gosh NM, you've been having some frustrating experiences lately involving your horses.
I sure hope some positive, calm and enjoyable experiences happen for all of you soon.
I'm just relieved to find out that noone, you, your kids or any of the horses were injured. I was so worried while reading this post.

It's true what you say about the horses being hard to cam down once their adrenaline reaches a certain point. It's so important to figure out when and how to not let them get to that point. What a struggle, though, especially when were dealing with creatures often 8-10 times larger than ourselves.

I have to say that I was terribly impressed with how well Gabbrielle did with that tire on her back.
I once put a cat on Baby Doll's back and she and the cat did fine for a few minutes, but I got worried about the cat digging into her skin with it's claws so I took it off before anything bad could happen.
In your case, it's amazing what horses will tolerate one minute, but not the next, eh?

Victoria Cummings said...

A rearing horse is always dangerous. I'm so glad you and your kids are safe. I also think that it's understandable why she was rearing. Siete rears once in a while. It used to really get my adrenaline pumping, but I have learned to step to the side and calm her. If a horse's front feet are moving , they can't rear, so I circle her until she settles. And I have found that now that my adrenaline doesn't flare up, I can calm her much more easily. She now clearly looks to me for the reassurance that I will take care of what's bothering her and make everything all right again. I really value her trust in me and work hard at building it with everything I do with her. A lot of times, it comes from asking myself what she will be feeling before we get into a situation and planning how to give her the confidence and feeling of safety that she will need - even if it's just walking back to the barn.

AnnL said...

So glad that no one--human or equine--was hurt in that escalating fiasco!! Definately, a good reminder that horses are prey animals, no matter how quiet or well-behaved they are normally. I hope your rope burns aren't too bad.


One Red Horse said...

My new mare Lyra and I have been working on leaving the pasture issues. A friend gave me a tip that has been incredibly successful for us. Hope you don't mind me passing it on to you. My friend suggested that I take the time to do ground work exercises in the pasture BEFORE we leave - hey, I'd be doing them anyway afterwards. This way, when Lyra shows the signs of remembering/accepting my leadership, we are good to know. Truly this has made a huge difference in our entire relationship. Good luck!


Flying Lily said...

Woo - bad timing on the trucks part. Glad everyone is OK and the tire can be worked on later for everyone if that's a goal-- one at a time and systematically. Rearing is scary. Horses love structure and predictability. Alas, life is impossible to predict!!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

What was so bizarre about this experience was that I had never seen Gabbrielle rear before. It was as if she discovered rearing by accident and kept doing it, but didn't have the coordination to keep her balance. With the exception of that last rear when we all had to scatter, the kids were out of harm's way. They handled their own horses' spooking very well. The rope burn hurt for a few hours, but didn't leave any lasting marks. I'll have to remember about keeping the front feet moving. I was spending too much time trying to get her to hold still.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

This is going to sound like a stupid suggestion, but if Gabbrielle never used to rear and started doing it rather suddenly, it may be that she got herself out in the poll. If you have access to a equine chiropractor, you might want to have her checked.

She may have rolled and twisted her neck wrong or pulled back at some point and popped her axis joint out. That is known to cause sensitive horses to go up, up and away from any pressure around their heads.

Glad to hear that everything turned out okay-except for those rope burns-owww-those hurt.

Saddle Mountain Rider said...

That is the definition of a "Final Destination" day! And i concur with your point that we start out thinking that it is an easy and quick thing we want to do and invariably things go south and ends up being a mess. I like the prospect of your horse carrying tires, though! Maybe could be hired out to a tire store!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

SMR - There was no point to putting the tire on her back. I was taking pictures of the horses, and next thing I knew, my son was heaving a tire up onto Gabbrielle's back. I said, "No!" but it was too late. Oh, and I got in a couple of snapshots of it while protesting.

BEC - I'll keep that in mind. I did run outside after I read your comment and gave her one of my poll to end of spine massages to see if she flinched, and she didn't. I then put the halter on her and tugged a few times, and she didn't react. So, I think she's okay.

Saddle Mountain Rider said...

The tire thing is exactly the goofy kind of stuff we can do to desensitize our horses to everything. Whether it's tires, or that big goofy ball that Parelli uses, or a plastic bag on a stick. It all helps develop bomb-proof horses.