Monday, September 22, 2008

My Heart, Broken by a Horse....

**I have been trying to get this post done all day. I have not had a chance to tighten things up so please, bear with me. I wanted to get it out there sooner than later. I would really, really apprecaite your advice in this matter****

Be prepared, this is a long one. I know this sounds silly but this weekend I had my heart broke by a horse. However silly, it is the truth. I give my heart and soul to my horses. I try to feel what they feel and get into their heads to understand them better. I try to see things from their perspective and work with them accordingly. I GIVE a lot. I TRY a lot. If I were a mare, I think I would be a good one. I'd try to work hard for you and give you my best. So why don't I expect the same from my horses? Abby is a good mare. She is all heart and lays it on the line just about every time (we are all entitled to a few bad days here and there!) But Shaunti does not try.

Until this past weekend I had not been honest with myself or taken a good hard look at my horse. I saw what I wanted to see. Shaunit's nickname is "ol'man" or "grumpy ol'man". He has seen a lot in his days and suffered more than most should, so I figured that he was entitled to his grumpy habits, his idiosyncrasy's, and gave him more time than I have ever given a horse to work through his issues. Here is where I went wrong. I tried to work through his issues. He didn't. I have gone the extra mile to help him shape a new perspective of the world. I changed the way he was handled, fed, led, and rewarded. I thought that he had come a long way because it appeared that he had. But I realize that deep down I never trusted that he had actually changed his mind. He had changed his actions, at least when I set him up to succeed. Shaunti has healed fractures to his wither and shoulder from pull back and flip over accidents. He came to me with a broken nose. The horse I went to buy was suppose to be a "been-there-done-that" good ol'gelding that my Mom and DB (both inexperienced) would be able to ride. To say that he was not "as advertised" would be a gross understatement. I bought him out of pity. He is not a horse I would ever trust anyone inexperienced to ride or handle and I found out after purchase that he does not tie, and had serious pull back issues when handling his face. I put hours and hour into getting this horse to where he is. People at the barn comment all the time that they cant believe he is the same horse. He looks and acts like a different horse. In some ways that makes him worse than he was to start you cant see him for what he really is! In a sense, I dressed a wolf up in sheeps clothing!

On Friday I was suppose to go back to Lundbom. Anyone who has not read about the amazing trip I had last month can read about it here; Part 2; Shaunti had some issues in the trailer but was given a good trip that ended well. He had walked off the trailer last time relaxed, calm and loaded back in again without any fuss. I didnt expect a problem but was a little worried that I had not taken the hours and hours or prep as I had last time.

Over the past month I have not been riding him 6 days a week or handling him for hours in a day, as I have in the past. I used to keep him really finely tuned but I have had a pretty full month and so he has only been ridden twice a week and has not been kept tuned up on his new ways. As the weeks went by he became more and more like the horse I had originally purchased.

So on Friday, I expected that it might take a little time to get him settled in the trailer, but I was prepared to help him through it. When I pulled him out of his stall, I knew I had reason to worry; He was full of piss and vinegar. I went to point him the trailer (as it is way to dangerous to actually get IN the trailer with him) and he blew backwards and out of hand. We had backed up to the arena so I went and caught him again. This time he loaded. I had planned on letting him go in and out but something about his attitude told me not to bother. We closed the door of the trailer behind him. He was standing in a large stock trailer, loose and as mad as a bat out of hell. He bit the sides of the trailer, shoved the door with his nose and pawed the floor. We gave him a few minutes to settle. I talked to him gave him a rub on the head. He came down a little so we tied him up. He stood for a few minutes and jigged. Something about the way he held himself told me not to put the other horse in yet. It was like I could see the words race across his face. "Screw this! Screw you!", he said. Shaunti was simply MAD. He was not panicked or scared. Shaunti decided to check out. "Cheque please!" He made a DECISION. He blew. Up, backwards, sideways...every way. He busted his halter in two spots. When he finished, he stood facing the exit and bit the door, hard. He was not shaking or wide eyed. He was not scared. He just wanted out.

In the end I had to take him out so that my friend could get on her way. Being the good friend that she is, she refused to leave me behind and arranged for me to take another horse. When I let him out of the trailer, he ran to the far side of the arena. It took me 10 minutes to catch him (I have never had a problem catching him) and he blew up once I had him on line...even though I was calm (as I could be) and was being quiet. He was the exact same horse that I had picked up, beaten, mad and frustrated, one year ago. The same look, the same distrust, the same horse. I have put countless hours into him and when it was time for him to pay me back, to take me where I needed to go, he checked out.

For seven years I kept horses that did not work for me. I sacrificed my needs to keep them. I have promised myself that I will not do that anymore. If a horse has paid it dues with me, they will earn themselves retirement but this horse has not. I have given a lot, not just to Shaunti but to Loachan, Keo, Ellie and Ghala. I GIVEN and GIVEN and got nothing in return. I cant go down that path again.

I need my horses work for me. I spend and obscene amount of money (I love that scene in Pretty Woman, dont you? "An obscene amount of money":) on horses every month and always try to balance that with what I get from them.
Here is where things get sticky. I can not sell him. Period.

I cant sell Shaunti because he is dangerous. Not just at the trailer. If you were to walk up to him and grab his halter, he would rear up on you. Horses are VERY dangerous They all are. That is just part of the gig. But I personally believe that if you have a horse with a KNOWN HABIT that is mortally dangerous, it is your job to either fix the problem, or if you cant, keep the horse in an environment where you KNOW that people can not be harmed (as in your own backyard) or failing that, have the horse put down. I believe that wholeheartedly and would give that advice to anyone so would be lacking my own conviction if I didn't give myself the same advice.

I know that Shaunti is dangerous. Some might not agree but others have not been in my shoes when they have seen him snap. It might not be this year or next, but at some point, for an UNREASONABLE excuse, Shaunti will blow up and hurt or kill someone.
If the REASON why he behaved dangerously were REASONABLE, I could accept that as part of the inherent danger of horses.

This horse has some serious issues, firmly ingrained in his eighteen year old head that cause him to be an unexpected danger to people around him. I have had professional help with this horse. I believe that I have done everything I can to help him get past this. I dont believe, any more, that he can get past this.

So where does that leave me???

I put this out to you, my blog world friends. Your advice would be much appreciated!!


  1. IMO if a horse is confirmed to be unreasonably dangerous and has the opportunity to be helped professionally then it needs to be humanely put down.
    I love horses. I do. However you cannot justify putting anyone at risk to have a dangerous horse remain a "pasture ornament".
    To properly care for a horse some human interaction is needed. Vet, farrier, even daily handling. If I'm not mistaken you board right? You cannot risk having something happen to these people knowing that Shaunti could react very aggressively and dangerously. Up here in Canada we aren't as "lawsuit happy" as some other places but you still open yourself up to that aspect as well.
    Much as I hate to say it I think you should consider having him put down.
    I do believe in giving "bad" horses a chance, and if you have been honest with yourself and feel that you have given him all that you (or hired pro's) can give him then he has had his chance.

  2. Did I ever tell you the story of why I stopped ridding...I kept my horse in a field with two was Fancy owned by a 12 year old girl that was terrified of him cause she could not handle him. Her parents bought him cheap at an aution in the valley. He came with no history but was very aggressive with people and horses. He was sweet to you to get his own way and if he could'nt manouver you then he turned on you. My 12 year old friend never rode him but would ride my guy Murphy. One day we were doing spring clean up in the field and going to end with a wiener roast and some relaxin and fun . We were all there , my Gary , the 12 year old and her brother and her parents and my friend Alex who owned the other horse . He was very experienced for 30 years around horses and decided to get on Fancy and ride her around the pasture a few times. She cowkicked and bucked and tried everything to get him off. We were not worried and neither was he But for no reason,except to be spiteful, at a full gallop he stopped on a dime and he flew off..hit the dirt. His heart stopped and he was not Gary did mouth to mouth and the other man did chest pumps...miraculiously he came back...when the dust settled he had broken his neck and was paralized. Had the horse come with some history ..maybe this never would have happen. The parents kept the horse for a couple of months and THEN sold her to a young girl that lived in the Fraser Valley. They never told them of this accident but only said that he needed a experienced rider. After that I lost my desire to ride...I still loved my old horse and just kept him as a big retire him in a 1oo acre field in Pemberton to live out his days. I often think of the deceit that went with that horse and why ...I do not know . And I often think of the family that bought him and wonder when he would go wild again...and go wild he there is my story. I think that Fancy should have been destroyed ...he was dangerous never to be trusted in my eyes. You have a tough decision here but I know your heart will take you to the right place...hugs ...annoymous from Sqiamish

  3. I know this is going to be a struggle for you but I also know that in the end you will have thought it out thoroughly. I also believe your quest for help from your blogging family is in part to reinforce in your mind what you already know you need to do.

    I feel partly responsible for you being in the position you are in now, I believed in Shaunti when I first saw him and your instinct was telling you something different. So believe in the instinct that you now have regarding the future of him. Trust the knowledge you have to make this decision and trust that you know that the effort you have put forth has been your very best. Also know that whatever that decision is I will support it.

    With love and belief in you

  4. Chelsi-
    I am so sorry that you have been placed in this situation. I have honestly never known someone who has been in this predicament with a horse, and it helped me to use the analogy of a dangerous dog.

    You can rescue one that you know has had a bad past, love it, give it a great life, and in the end, if it is aggressive and dangerous (I am not saying that Shaunti is aggressive...I am just using this to explain), absolutely nothing that you can do (trainers, behavioral modification...)can stop that dog from attacking again...nothing.

    If something in their psyche has switched on, it can be and usually is, impossible to switch back off.

    This being said, I cannot tell you what to do, and I cannot imagine being in your place, but as a fellow horse person, I can appreciate your honesty and the issues that it raises;namely, what to do with a dangerous horse.

    You have obviously thought about this long and hard, and if you are not in the position to throw him out in a field, and have an absolute guarantee that nobody will be harmed by him, then you should do what your heart, and your conscience, are telling you to do...whatever that may be.

    Just know that whatever you do, you have a great mom (what a touching post!) and blogging buddies who will support you.


  5. "...if you are not in the position to throw him out in a field, and have an absolute guarantee that nobody will be harmed by him..."

    There is no guarantee (with any horse actually) because even living out in a field and left as a pasture pet he would still need minimal human contact to maintain quality of life. IE routine vet and farrier care.

    After reading your mom's post I have to agree with some of what she said. I think you already know what to do and are looking for support from your blog friends. There is NOTHING wrong with that!
    I had a similar struggle with my thought process on what to do with Quinn. Luckily he wasn't as dangerous/aggressive as Shaunti and I was able to place him with an experienced horse owning family.
    I know you said you can't sell Shaunti, but if you are hesitant to put him down is there someone out there you could sell/give him to? An experienced horseman? A vet school for a research study?
    I think you do know what you have decided to do and are just taking some time with it.
    From what I know of you I think you will be fair and honest with yourself and in your decision making. **hugs** I know it is a hard thing to sort through.

  6. My vote is to put him to sleep. A hugely difficult and expensive decision. A dangerous horse will eventually hurt you or someone else. The harsh reality is that some horses just can't be fixed.

    I'm sorry for you though. I know what it is like to put so much time and effort into something and it just doesn't work out. You want so much to just be able to explain to them that it will be okay if they just let it. I have to tell myself that I did the best that I could. I did not create the problem, but I can end it.
    Don't be hard on yourself. You did the very best that anyone could ever have done and now it is time to move on. There is nothing wrong with having expectations for the time and expense taken up by keeping horses.

  7. This is one of the toughest decisions you will have to make. You know both sides. You have to choose between logic and heart and that is never easy. But whatever you decide, as you can see by these comments, you will always have support.

  8. I don't have much to add on to what the others said - but man, what a tough poistion to be in. Those of us that only have 1 or 2 horses put so much heart and effort into their well-being that it really hurts when things don't go well.

    I think Cdn had a good suggestion - donation to a vet college for research - but maybe he isn't safe enough for that...

    You are the only one that can make this extremely difficult decision. It must be good to know that your family is behind you, as well as your blog friends.

    You gave that horse a really good chance to settle down and try for you and he just can't - since he is older, maybe he just can't get over everything that happened to him. I guess you have to go with your gut instinct and do what you think is best for him.

  9. Hi there,

    Sorry I am late to the post...

    I think everyone here has summed it up real well. Donation maybe be an option, keeping his happy little ass out in the pasture for the rest of his life maybe is an expensive option. It's a tough decision, one I would not wish on anyone.

    What I would do if it were me (not knowing all that you've done, you have explored and dismissed this idea already) is send it to live with my trainer for an extended period of time and see if living with a trainer 24-7 doesn't keep him in the right mind set to be "safe". If that can happen he may need to live there forever. Since I usually have all my horses at the trainer's place this wouldn't be something out of the ordinary to me...

    I know lots of horses that if they are not in a "program" they not safe horses. They spend their entire lives at a trainers barn, but at least they get to experience their entire life, given the other option which we all know about. They are with their owners during lessons and at shows or other competitions. This works out fine for some people. Not so much with others. These horses are even bought and sold with the new owners knowing the horse must be in a program all the time. Some programs work for some horse some do not. As you know just because one program doesn't work doesn't mean that others won't.

    This is a very expensive process so I wouldn't blame you for not going with it. And it destroys the reason why you got him - so you can have a horse at home.

    Other than that I guess you can keep him as a "pet" know if anything bad happened, like a fire, he most likely won't make it because of his inability to get in and be safe a trailer. Or put him down as sad as it may seem, it may be a gift to him, as he would finally be free of the memories that haunt him. You've given him a good life and shown him love, maybe (as you've told me in the past) that's why he came to you.....

    What a bummer of a decision to make - you know whatever you decide we'll support you in that decision.

  10. Wow! I cant stop crying! In part because I am so touched by all of your support and partly because you all had the honesty to confirm what I knew to be the most probable option. The fact that you all are horse lovers, has given my heart and conscience a huge amount of relief from the guilt of even considering putting Shaunti down. I am really having a hard time accepting that he could be a danger to someone, even though the evidence is right in front of me. If I could accept that, whole heartedly, I would have him put down tomorrow. I would be heart broken, but would be at peace with the fact that I was doing the right thing. I feel like a coward because it is like I am waiting for someone to actually get hurt to justify or validate what I know. If had already hurt someone, I would not have a decision to make. Being responsible is never easy. I too believe that our safety is the number one priority.

    To each of you...

    Cnd- Thank you. I didn't think about the vet, ferrier, etc. and that if I board, (which I have to) I cant control who will come in contact with him. I feel like I am giving up on him but I know I gave him more than a fair chance. Thanks for your other comment as well. I think professionals tend to get overwhelmed with being given horses like one I know of and trust would take him.

    Big Guy's Mom (Anonymous)- That story makes me SOOO mad!! (and very proud to know and love Gary) That is why I just cant sell Shaunti and even get nervous at the idea of giving him away. I could never pass the buck like that.

    MOM- You are the best. You did the right thing by telling me to buy him, absolutely. Shaunti gave me back horses. Was he what I went out to buy? No, but had he been that dead head horse, I would not be where I am today. Because of his issues, I have become a much better horsemen. I believe that he was meant to come to me and that we were meant for each other. My Mom has a famous gut on her (instinct, not a fat tummy:) and I would still trust her instinct a thousand times over. Love you, mom.

    Melanie- Thank you. We actually did rescue two dogs a year ago and ended up having to put them down due to aggression. They were only three years old so we had to be honest to ourselves and admit that if, in the next 10 years they got loose, even once, they were going to seriously hurt someone. It was not about today, it was about the future and not being able to guarantee that those dogs would never get loose again. It was not "easy" but it was not a decision.

    BECG-Thanks. Your comments really hit the nail on the head.

    Saddle Mnt.R.- Thank you. I have always had a tough time separating logic from my heart. Well put.

    Laura-I have an amazing amount of support and even though I have to make my decision for myself, it does help to know that I am not alone with it.

    Stephanie- You are absolutely right and I know what you are saying. It is not an option for me to leave him with a trainer. I cant ask that of my DB- it is just not reasonable. I will keep a horse in training (Abby) but I am moving forward in my future by doing so. Shaunti would just be a huge financial burden that gives me little to nothing in return. Thank you, I totally appreciate your putting that forward. I agree with you about putting memories to rest too. This horse is haunted by a past I cant understand. I have talked to all but two of his past owners (who I cant find and that by the time line I would guess are the most responsible for his issues). I love him. If I do it, it will be out of love. That makes a difference.

    THANK YOU!!!!

  11. Man this sucks and I don't envy you the situation a bit--but put me down for one more vote that sometimes you just KNOW that something cannot be fixed.

    If you know, you know.

    Hang in there

  12. Hi,

    I'm sorry this is a situation you have to face, and I have a small idea of what you're going through. I've had horses my entire life, and I've been hurt badly, but I have never come across a horse as dangerous as your boy here.

    I do understand how you can love him though. You gave him a chance. From the sounds of it, more of a chance than he'd ever gotten. It's not your fault that he's like he is... and it's not his fault either.

    Putting him down isn't cruel to him. He's had 18 years. The last years with you have been free of abuse. He's broken your heart, but not your body, and you know you have to prevent that.

    Clearly you're smart, and fair minded. We can all be a little love blind when it comes to our horses, but at the end of the day we have to stay safe. You could see that this guy wasn't scared - he was mad. I don't know how to train through that. If I was a professional trainer, I don't think I'd take him on.

    Be brave. You know what you need to do. And don't ever let anybody tell you that you were wrong to do it.

  13. I don't have enough experience to comment intelligently about that, so I will just say I'm so sorry you are in the position of having to make such a decision.

  14. i believe shaunti was the smartest horse when he was born. curious, inquisitive, bold. but people hurt him. i imagine he was abused and scared. he heard and saw suffering. that is what he learned. he probably saw other horses suffering. he was not taken care of. and because he is smart, because he has a mind, he made his mind up. i hate people. no one is going to F&^K with him again. no matter what you put into him, no matter how much you love him and take care of him, he is suffering from his past. he cannot forget. i think he is not happy. its not a great way to live, in fear, fear of the unknown, fear of 'owner'(however unwarranted}. if he cant live out on a pasture undisturbed in the perfect world scenario, then put him down. he will be at peace.

  15. Tough decisions....good comments by your readers. I just posted yesterday about my sister's aggressive dog,somewhat similar situation although I think the dog is less of a threat to humans at this point, while a horse has the potential to be more dangerous. I do think you have to follow your gut on this one. We are always afraid to "let go", because of how we will feel about it (heartache and pain), or how we think the the horse will feel. Yes, it will hurt us, but your horse won't feel anything (emotions) about it. It's not about that. It's about quality of life, and safety. I think you need to make the decision you are most comfortable with. I think we'll all support you know matter what you decide. You'll know when the timing is right. Thinking of you! ~PG

  16. Not being in your position I cannot even imagine what you are going through.
    I can sympathize, though.
    What aterribly tough decision to make.

    Have you also considered contacting a well known horse trainer? There are many who look for challenging horses to practice their methods and techniques on to try and rehabilitate the difficult horses.
    That may be an option. That may be Shaunti's last option.

    No matter what happens, just remember noone else is in your shoes, even though some have. Right now the balls in your court and you just have to follow your heart, listen to your gut instinct and common sense, and do what you believe is the right thing to do.

    Hang in there.


  17. Paige- Thank you for your comment. Knowing and accepting art two totally different things. *sigh*

    Heidi-I apprecaite your thoughts. I sent a horse with some dangerous issues away to a great trainer and he came back "fixed" but I never did gain the trust in him I needed and I spent a lot of $$ getting him there. I wish I were Bill Gates (well I dont, but I wouldnt mind having even 3% of his wealth:) but I am not and I have to consider what is fair to ask of my family. Thank you for your other comments as well.

    Leah- thank you.

    Amy Joe- I wish I could make him talk for just 5 mintues so that I could hear his real story. I have done a lot of history digging on him and I know most of his story and it is not a pretty one. He was a working horse for the better half of his life and paid his dues. He is an old man with a heavy heart, no doubt.

    Lisa (LOR) Thank you. See Heidi response above with respect to trainers. I did work with a professional, who wanted 3 -6 months with him and have talked to my own trainer about him and she believes he should be put down. Tell that to my heart.

    Pony Girl- Thank you so much. You are right, it is the ones left behind that feel the pain. I was posting on your blog while you were posting on mine. Same issues. As I said on yours, I am blessed by my animals, but they dont always make things easy for us. :)

  18. Oh my friend! How terrible! What a difficult decision! I am in agreement with everyone who said to humanely put him down. It is a hard choice.Your health, physically and mentally is worth so much more. You gave him a better chance than most others would have. Anyone else, he may have been holding papers together. You are not the one to blame here. The horse just has issues. I am just thankful that you have not been hurt thus far. Please keep us posted. Let me know if I can do anything for you.

  19. That is not a fun place to be in. My own horse was a rescue, but he gave me his heart ASAP and if you saw him now you would never know my perfectly trained, well mannered and sweet pony was the same one I got all those years ago. I was lucky that mine could be rehabbed. I know that not all of them can be though. And it sounds like yours is the same way. I think a year is plenty of time for him to try. Now this is the first time I have read your blog so I don't know the answer to this question but does he ever bring you joy. Not just the pleasure of going to the barn and having a horse there, but real joy. A moment where watching/riding him makes you feel lighter then air. And if the answer to that question is no then ask yourself if you have really done everything there is to try and change him. And if the answer to that question is yes then you need to sit down and do some thinking. Have you ever had to put a horse down? It is a very horrible thing to do. Words cannot explain it. I have seen people die and horses be euthanized and watching the horses go is worse. Harder. You need to be able to stand there and hold him while they do that if you are ready to say good-bye. And that is not something that should be taken lightly. I think that putting him down rather then passing on him since he has shown you dangerous behaviors is a good alternative. My question to you though is are you ready for that?

  20. Tough choice, but it sounds like you've done everything you can and some horses just don't want to change. You're right in that you can't give him to someone else, he will kill someone eventually.
    The right thing to do is go ahead and put the horse down. As someone said, he's had 18 yrs. As hard as it is to do, it's the right thing.
    I've done it too, with a dog who wouldn't quit killing. Smart enough not to do it in front of me, but showed tendencies to bite the heck out of someone. I was 8 months pregnant when he killed one of my mom's cats. I called the vet, took him right in, said PUT HIM DOWN and they did. It sucked, but he might have killed my child someday. It just has to be done sometimes.
    I also once saw an ad in NM, horse for sale. Bucks, bites, kicks, you name it. They did sell the horse. But who knows what kind of person it went to. You wouldn't want this horse to go to someone who will just beat the animal some more.

  21. Hello there,
    just found you tonight and I am so sad for your rough times. You have been fair and loving and oh-so- wise with your mystery minded horse . I really can't add to what great knowledge has been already written and expressed except to tell you my heart and spirit crys for yours and my prayers are with you in this decision. Please have no guilt over being a wonderful and loving steward of God's provision to our hearts..the horse. Shaunti will always be yours and he will never ever have a better loving and caring heart than what you have shared. Peace be yours and thanks for sharing.You have a heart of gold!

  22. Everyone summed it up pretty good. BECG and Mikey said what I was thinking too.

    One note: dontation to a vet hospital does not equal life. Often times, the horses are walked into a lab, and put down in front of the students for disection purposes. When a horse comes in with a history like this fellows, that most assuredly would be the end result for him. (How do I know this? I worked for an equine vet who taught equine anatomy to a local college. Dr. R confirmed that this happens quite often, at the majority of schools.)