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Ruined by Kindness
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Ruined by Kindness

The Proverb says, "spare the rod, spoil the child." Similarly, hand-raising a horse can have disastrous results on that horse's future if it isn't tempered with disciplined. Discipline doesn't require beatings, but it does require a firm hand and consistent training. Sadly, some circumstances that lead to hand-raising don't lend themselves to discipline. I'm afraid that may be what happened to the mare I have.

No one really knows what happened to lead to her injury. All that is known is that her right knee required partial fusing and a very long period of complete stall rest as a weanling. In fact, her stall rest was so long that she had to be retaught how to walk using her right leg again. Her injury resulted in her knee bending about half as much as is normal. However, she has been cleared for almost all riding and driving by veterinarians.

Despite this clearance by learned vets, it is difficult to look at her with her enlarged knee and treat her as a 'normal' horse. Even my husband, non-horseman that he is, has worried about her knee and the strain of riding and working. Minor adjustments to training and working have constantly been made for this mare by me and most likely by everyone else who trained her.

On the surface, she is a sweetheart. She yields quickly and easily. As a puppy-dog personality, she follows her handlers around on the ground. However, when she is challenged or asked to do anything beyond what she wants, she quickly refuses spectacularly with bucking, rearing, and even jumping over 4' gates.

Initially, I thought she was just green. The more I worked with her, the more I should have gained her trust and obedience. I thought I had it, until I realized I didn't. I'm the one she comes to when she feels threatened, unless she feels that I'm the one threatening her. She works wonderfully for a while, but then just as I think we're great, something snaps and we go backwards.

As I look back at what we've done in the 10 months of our relationship, I can see that when she was pushed beyond the simple, she began to fall apart. If I didn't recognize the symptoms, she simply exploded. Her worst explosion landed me in an ambulance with a dislocated shoulder, concussion, and other minor injuries. With that, I knew something needed to happen.

As I recovered, I began scouring the internet and books for advice. Some internet mavens determined that I wasn't ready for such a green horse. Others indicated she was a lost cause with her lack of training and injury. The more optimistic ones offered that with serious help she and I might be able to overcome our joint obstacles. Instead of bowing to these unknown opinions, I looking within myself and honestly assessing my mare. I suddenly became aware that I wasn't treating her like a normal horse.

Instead of pushing her when she balked, I worried about hurting her knee, so I turned away from the obstacle. Contrary to what my mother had taught me, I had spent less time on the ground with this mare before riding her. So I began all over again with her as if she'd never been ridden. Her behavior didn't immediately or completely improve, but I made significant progress. However, she wasn't consistent. In fact, she worked so poorly sometimes that I despaired of ever getting her broke.

Eventually, I had another epiphany; I was still babying her. I wasn't always pushing her when she balked. I wasn't always correcting her when she copped an attitude towards her work. Just because of her old injury and her sweet face, I was still letting her get away with little acts of defiance and disobedience. Her quirks were sometimes just that, quirks, but other times, they were downright dangerous. They kept building and increasing in severity until it got to where even my horseman mother became frightened of me handling her. I don't need to beat her, race her around in tight crazy circles, or do anything rough and tough, but I do need to be consistent, disciplined, and firm with her. I don't expect miracles overnight or in one session, but I am having good results so far.

With work and consistency on my part, I expect that Starlie, my mare, will go from spoiled brat to working horse. The key is for me to treat her as a horse, not as an injured horse or pet, but as a working horse. I don't know if she'll ever be the right horse for my daughter, but I do think she can be a worthy riding or driving partner.

Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.

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