I went and watched the Buck Brannan movie with Missy yesterday. It was great to get out and to have some social horse time. It was good to learn some of the history of how the movie the Horse Whisperer came to be and to learn more about this "natural horseman" icon. There were some beautiful images of harmony and unity between horse and rider/handler. The movie had some amazing footage of some beautiful horses and scenery. As for the methods, I will say this much, I am an advocate of using the training tree to train horses using relationship building and trust to introduce everything from the saddle to a horse's first rider. To the extent that Buck demonstrated those methods I agree with his methodology. These clinicians are owed a great debt for introducing other methods from the ones of fear, coercion and abuse that at one point were so common place. At the same time, I believe we can always grow and learn and develop further toward the ideal of relationship based training that is focused on harmony and trust. Clinics, themselves, lend themselves to rushing. So clinics have their limitations.
The aggressive horse
There was a horse in the movie that is already haunting me. He was a beautiful palomino that had become aggressive. As we watched and heard, about this stallion's story, I could not help but think about the other aggressive horses I have come in contact with. The stallion was euthanized, or at least that was what the owner said she was going to do. I could not help but think, that perhaps, there was another option.
Here, in the story of this stallion, the weakness of time is brought to the fore-front. The aggressive horses who were rehabilitated took lots of time.
In this horse perhaps I see pieces of myself.
It begs the question, what if in my worst moments God had given up on me?
At what point, does one give up on a horse?
I don't have the answer, but I will share with you the story of three aggressive horses I have known, in various stages of their journey.
The story of Mo
Mo was a wild mustang taken off the range as an adult. His memories and interactions with humans were all traumatic. He was brought in off the range separated from all of his herd, (a very dangerous place for a prey animal) castrated and thrown in a trailer. He traveled to his new home where he lived in a cage (a tall stall that he could not escape from). His owner ran into problems and sent him to Meredith Manor where I met him. He was aggressive. When he was scared he would try to bite and stomp on people. He was scared a little too often.
When I met Mo, he had been living in a stall for about a year. He had discovered that people would come in and clean his stall and that he didn't have to eat or stomp on those people. If he felt cornered he would still attack, but he didn't feel cornered as often these days. He had learned that people brought food. He would not approach a person, would not allow a person to approach him and could not be groomed. When I was at the school for about a year, unknown to any of us, one of the instructors and one of the sixth quarter (last quarter) students had decided to seriously start working with Mo as a surprise for Ron (the director of the school). By the time I was working as a graduate assistant, Mo was going in training class with a student trainer. He was sweet and kind. When he got scared, he didn't attack people anymore he ran away. The last I knew of Mo he was scheduled in normal riding classes. He was not a hard horse to lead or catch or ride. He was mostly a good boy. Fear was the cause of his aggression. At one point he was very dangerous. Time and building trust and relationship with a human was the solution.
When I met Wokon his story was legendary. It was hard to imagine Wokon as an aggressive horse. Yes, it is true, that Wokon was rarely assigned a first quarter student groom, but Wokon was not really viewed as dangerous by any of us. He was such a character. Wokon, was a horse that was orally fixated. He was about 17 hands 2-3 inches tall. He was an old style Hanoverian gelding who knew all of the dressage movements accept for passage, or perhaps it was, he currently did all of the dressage movements accept for passage (I don't remember). Wokon liked to bait people into playing with his mouth. At one point he had been quite aggressive. He used to like to bite people and then run away. It was a game he played. His owner had tried to beat it out of him, but only taught him to be faster at getting away after biting. The way I heard the story, Wokon had broke his owner's arm, and taken at least one person out of a jacket (by getting a hold of the jacket in his teeth and then lifting the person off of the ground). Let me describe Wokon as I knew him. Wokon would try to talk people into playing his favorite game (bait and bite, it was a variation of his old favorite bite and dodge) by letting people play with his mouth. If you pushed on Wokon's nose he would stick out his tongue. He wanted you to play with his tongue so then he could try to catch you off guard and bite at you. We all knew we were not supposed to encourage this behavior, but I think most students were talked into playing, at least every once in a while. It is pretty cute to see this silly horse sticking his tongue out at you.
So what led Wokon from aggressive behavior to overgrown playmate? No one fought with Wokon. "If you are fighting for control, you don't have it." (Ron Meredith)
How did people avoid getting bit and rehabilitate Wokon?
1. First thing you did when you went to tack Wokon up was put on a bridle and use a flash nose band. This way he couldn't bite as easily.
2. His groom gave him something to play with while he or she groomed him (a whip or a brush that he was allowed to bite to his heart's content).
3. When you were leading (heeding) Wokon you did what you were supposed to do when leading any other horse. You stood at his shoulder not at his head. If he tried to turn his head toward you, you slid your hand up his neck and used one finger (horses will lean on a flat hand but not on one finger) to poke his neck asking him to straighten out. Sometimes you can use a whip to help keep a horse straight (not by hitting the horse with it, but by using it to create a barrier and keep the horse moving either away from you or straight ahead).
4. Pay attention. If you get bit or kicked you were in the wrong place. Now I am not saying that this is the type of horse you sell or recommend for an amateur owner, but trainers need non violent methods for giving aggressive horses a fresh start.
When Dillon came to the school we got to watch his development from the beginning. Dillon came to Meredith Manor as a stallion. It appears, that prior to coming to the school, Dillon had been fought with and that he had been winning the battles. When Dillon got scared, he would attack people by trying to bite them and stomp on them. He picked up his new owner by the arm and the farrier by the neck.
Had he been anywhere else, at this point, he might have ended up dog food or euthanized or thoroughly beat with varying levels of successful outcome. You can beat some horses into submission. Dillon was not one of those horses.
The way we know that beating Dillon into submission did not work is by his response to people and fear. He did not trust people. When afraid, he attacked. He did not respect people. He would channel all of his energy into his attacks. He was serious about it and he intended to win. He did not have the hesitancy of a horse who had lost a battle before.
So how did Dillon go from aggressive attack horse to having a 1st and 2nd quarter groom and being ridden by 1st and 2nd quarter students?
3. Relationship building
4. Trust building
5. Positive boundaries
Dillon was gelded and put in a muzzle so that he could not bite people. He was only led and handled by advanced training students and staff for a while, mostly by his owner and the instructors. These handlers refused to fight with Dillon. It is not necessarily a pre-requisite to geld a stallion to change their behavior, but his owner did not want to reproduce that personality tendency and he was a cross so she gelded him. Dillon was put on a strict exercise routine so that he did not have a build up of energy that he would want to release in aggression. Over time and with consistency he began to trust people. As his trust developed and as he learned what was expected of him he learned he was safe. As he learned his boundaries he began to respect the people who were handling him.
Once again, I am not sure if I would say that horse's with these backgrounds will ever be a good horse for your 10 year old daughter. Yet, each horse is an individual. Their stories are as varied as the stories we bring to the table. Some experience full rehabilitation. Others will always have to be handled by either a professional or someone who has that level of skill and assertiveness. I have not yet met a horse that could not be salvaged from its past. If you know someone who has an aggressive horse, recommend they find a professional who does not fight with horses. It is a shame that so often we wait so long to get the help we need.
Not just anyone can name you. Often times our first name is given by our parents. It seems only right that our mother and father who have brought us into the world should have the first right to place their seal and connect their authority through the use of name. Often the second people to rename us are the peers within our group. There is often a hint of teasing and jostling for position connected to these renamings within our American youth culture. In many native cultures renaming is connected to a coming of age ceremony, through which one learns or acknowledges their personal role within the society. It is usually connected to their personal giftings by the Great Spirit or the recognized deity within that culture. In the Bible there are stories of renaming that are usually connected to a change of situation, personality or character. When women marry often there is a change in name associated with the change in position in life.
My renaming was attempted by many. There were the kids who tried to tack their labels on me. Some stuck with pricks sharp enough to motivate change. This led to a struggle that wounded the fragile sense of image that I clung to, until the day the Lord began my renaming. I say, began because my renaming was a process that continues on today. First He un-named me. He tore away at all the labels and mis-conceptions that the enemy of our souls had tried, through various means, to adhere to my soul, destroying who God had created me to be. As He stripped back the layers of lies, He began to expose the truth, who I was in Him.
Yet, ultimately my most important name is simple. It is found in a possessive pronoun. It would be unidentifiable admist the others who could claim it. Yet, when He calls me by this name all else fads away. Nothing else matters when I truly allow the truth of who I am to settle in to the crevices of my heart. Who am I? Simply, "His."