I began my serious riding career (as opposed to riding as a kid) with a man named Roy Traylor in Norco, Calif. Roy's "specialty" was fixing rank horses. He acquired that reputation in spite of being a top-notch fine harness trainer who switched to the hunter/jumper world. The reason he became known as someone who could "fix" bad horses was that he was willing to work with them and he was successful in that they were no longer dangerous while in his care.

I have to say right here that many of those horses proved to have physical problems that were masked by adrenaline when they were mad and acting out. As a result, my No. 1 priority in working with this kind of animal is to determine whether the bad behavior is due to pain or something else. I would say that at least half the time, the horse either is in pain or they associate being ridden with pain they have experienced in the past. If that pain is not due to unsoundness, I think it almost always is associated with big bits, bad hands and unbalanced riders. Getting a horse to give riders another chance at them is probably the hardest thing you have to accomplish with a sound, rank horse.

So if you find yourself in possession of one of these horses, what do you do? My best advice is to find another horse. Even if a professional gets the horse to a point they can ride it, chances are an amature will not be able to keep the horse going without a trainer's continued help.

This kind of horse can be very, very dangerous. Do not get involved with one of these guys thinking that if you love it, the horse will love you back and stop his bad behavior. Horses' brains do not work that way. Think of his brain like a computer. If you press Ctrl C, you are going to get the same result every time. So your task is going to be to change triggers/responses like: tighten cinch/buck; weight on your back/flip over; pull on the mouth/run away; foot in the stirrup/take off!; clippiers on the nose/strike; tied to a post/pull back; and the list goes on and on. I strongly suggest that if you want to own a horse for enjoyment and recreation, do not take on a horse with these problems; if you find yourself owning one, get rid of it - and for heaven's sake, DO NOT donate it to a handicapped riding program or some such inappropriate enviornment for a rank horse!

If you don't want to read any further, my bottom line is do not take on a problem horse unless (1) you have the skill (and I mean formal training and a lot of knowledge) to work with these guys; (2) you are athletic and resiliant enough to decrease the chances you will be injured; (3) you can afford an appropriate trainer for the horse and plan to leave it in training; or (4) you are willing to own the horse as a pet AND have a safe environment for him.


 

So from time to time, I get one of these horses to work with. There are two in my barn right now, and they are very different horses with very different outcomes.

John Elway Superstar is a quarter horse by a son of Freckles Playboy. John is small but well-conformed, athletic, and was cut out to be a nice horse. He started out with a very good trainer based in Arizona. Apparently he was part of a group of "investment" horses owned by an LLC, and they sold him for a decent price near the end of his 3-year-old year. From there, his life went downhill. I have his papers and a trail of signed transfers, but nobody bothered to pay the money to put him in their name after that initial sale, so I am thinking things went wrong pretty quickly. One sign of a former disaster was that he had bowed his right front tendon. Fortunately, it has held up really well in the six years I have owned him.

John was 9 years old when I bought him. He is very lucky that at the time, I had the money to take him home just to save him from a horrible environment. At that point, someone had pawned him off on a first-time horse owner who was a very nice young man who had no business owning horses without a trainer. He was putting his small children on John and hand walking them on the trails because the horse was no longer rideable. DO NOT put children on a horse you cannot ride, even if you are leading them!

Keep in mind, I knew when I test rode John prior to buying him that he was going to try to run away (there was no arena or larger space to ride in where he lived). I bought him anyway. During the course of getting him broke (yes, I use that word), he also bucked, reared and wheeled. In addition to running off when you rode him, he tried to bolt while you were leading him. And heaven help you if something made a noist behind him - his response was buck, run! whether you were on his back or not.

The first time I rode John, I worked him in the round pen and then took him for a walk out in my big field. As soon as he came around facing the barn, he took off like he was coming out of a starting gate. He was really iron-jawed, so I waited until he was almost out of the field and pulled him hard to the left and ran him into a bush that was against the chain-link fence to get him stopped. I had been in that spot a number of times when riding horses for Roy, but it had probably been 30 years since a horse had taken off with me.

John is 15 now. I am showing him in Western Dressage. I have used him as a demo horse in a pretty busy environment, and he works pretty well on my ranch trail course. He is mostly a pet and he loves his life now. I still don't let people get on him, although I think he would be OK in the short term. I advertised him for sale a couple of years ago, and two pros came out to ride him. He was good, but I could see they were going to take him home and crucify him in hopes of returning him to the reining pen. I told them I would not sell him to them and took him off the market. In that short time, I was surprised that a couple of his old owners and one "trainer"contacted me just to say they were glad he was OK. They were all pretty much low-level beginners.

The point of all this is I consider John's story a success. It would not have taken this long to get him this far, but he was on the back burner a lot because of other events and horses in my life. That is probably the best thing for him. I still would never consider him a suitable horse for someone that wanted to keep him in the backyard. He would do OK with someone in training, but there are more suitable horses out there with a lot less baggage.

Jules came to my place when a very good friend of mine asked me to take him. He had been standing in a 24x24 pen most of the last 7 years because his owner had become seriously ill and nobody was available to do anything with the horse. I had tried to buy the horse as a 3- or 4-year old, but when he came to my place, I figured he was around 12, and he was WILD!

His saving grace was that he had done a lot as a young horse. He had been ridden all over the Hollywood hills, been ridden in a big parade (no drugs) and had been started roping. But when he came to my place, he was hard to catch, spooky and snorty, and apparently had no use for people whatsoever. I didn't see any reason to sit around supposing what had happened to him.

 

(to be continued)

 

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