Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Be Careful!

(I have had this happen!)


Thank you for all of your thoughts on yesterdays post. I love when this blog allows me to explore some aspect of this crazy world we call horses. Only a horseperson can appreciate how consuming the concepts or problems that horses present us with can be. I often find myself- while walking or waiting to fall asleep at night- turning over ideas in my head, trying to find solutions to fencing problems, tying issues, or some baffling training method… Last night, just before I drifted off to sleep, I was mulling over your comments and the issue of tying…

With horses it seems that we are always trying to find the balance between teaching them do something, and trying to stop them from killing themselves in the process. Actually, it seems a little ironic, given the safety hazards we face in handling horses, that more often than not it is us that try to stop them from getting hurt. I weigh-… well… actually, I am not going to tell you what I weigh but lets just say that it is (I hope) significantly less than your average horse and yet the responsibility for my horses safety lies in my very small (and often futile) hands. When I think about training a young horse or helping an older horse work through some issue, I relish in the problem solving aspect of training- trying to figure out how to work them through it without hurting them or myself in the process. I love visualizing how such and such a method could work and the satisfaction that would come from such an achievement… But then, I also have to think (as a horseman) about all the things that could go wrong and how to prevent such things from occurring. In that moment, when I visualize the wreck, the danger, the pain and the panic that a one thousand pound, 100% flight animal can inspire….I get a little queasy in the stomach. Because being able to anticipate what can go wrong, most often than not, is a result of having watched it go wrong in the past…. And there is nothing more terrifying (to me)….- nothing that makes me feel more mortal, than the vision of what a real wreck looks like first hand.

What is frustrating is how often it is impossible to stop the same accident from happening twice- because horses are inherently dangerous creatures and have a God given knack for getting themselves into trouble. Often, the concerns nearest and dearest to our hearts are drawn from our own traumatic experiences. For example, having a horse rear under saddle doesn’t scare me nearly as much as having a horse rear on the ground. Why? Because I have never been hurt *knock on wood* by a horse rearing under saddle, where as I was nearly killed by a horse that struck me while rearing on the ground. Tying is just such an issue for me- I have watched it go wrong to many times and in so many different ways! No matter what the snap, the object you tie them to, the type of halter, the length of the slack you put in the rope, the kind of rope, or the knot you tie, and so on…things still sometimes go wrong. Some people believe you should always tie a horse hard and fast while others believe in breakaways or never tying a horse at all. Personally, tying a horse in a rope halter or with a lot of slack makes my stomach do flip flops.

Have you ever watched a horse really “pull back”? Not just the kind where they give the rope a good hard pull just to be an ass, or test your knot tying skills …I am talking about the type that quite literally loose their freakin minds and don’t quit until they have either broken loose or come to rest, half unconscious, lying on the ground with their head hanging from the rope. Have you ever watched someone get caught behind or beside that kind of pull back? Have you ever seen someone get caught between the horse and the wall they are tied to? I haven’t, thank god. But I’ve heard the stories. Because when a horse gets tired of pulling, they lunge (with all their might) straight into the object directly in front of them. It doesn’t matter if it is a fence or a cement wall- a panicked horse will try to go through it, like a line backer, and they wont pause to consider that you’re in their way.

I have seen so many wrecks due to tying, that thinking on the subject gives me a stomachache. But then I also know how impossible it can be to have a horse that doesn’t tie at all. So how do we do it safely? The answer is we cant. No matter how old or steady a horse may be, there will always be some circumstance wherein he might just loose his marble in animalistic attempt to survive…and there is a likelihood- a much higher likelihood that we care to admit- that he may hurt, injury or kill us in the process of saving his own life. It is the inherent nature of a horse to be reactive. A horse will, quite literally, kill itself to save its own life. Sometimes, seeing the reality of that concept come to life, or imagining how it could, scares the living bageezes out of me.

Just when I get to feeling a little confident or cocky, when I think about training a colt or working through some issue, I am reminded of the value of a truly broke and sane horse- one that is time, tested and true. I am not so deluded as to think that a “Steady Eddie” cant be just as dangerous as any other horse but do believe that he is at least he is much less likely, (than some young or unseasoned horse) to react dangerously when pressed. It is a little wee concept us horse people aught to consider more seriously…. Something called risk mitigation. Because while I am willing to accept the danger that comes with riding and handling horses (in order to reap the rewards, both spiritual and physical that such an interaction affords me) I would think it prudent to do so in as safe of a manner as possible.

The horses you choose to ride, the challenges you choose to accept, or risks you chance to take are personal decisions. Each to their own! Whatever floats your boat! But I don’t always find that decision so simple! I am tempted by the thrill that comes with riding the challenge and the reward that comes when you have done so successfully! I am tempted by the idea of starting a horse fresh or fixing a problem horse so that he can go on to have a better life…. at the same time, I want to walk the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, I want to hike Blacktusk and cycle Kettle Valley, I want to ride a camel before the pyramids and stand in awe at the foot of Niagara Falls. I have other dreams and aspirations, outside of the realm of horses. So I aught to take what care I can to ensure that the risk and reward ratio horses tempt me with does not one day inhibit my ability to explore other aspects of life.

Horses aught to come branded with a “handle with care” stamp! Don’t you think? It is downright silly to consider it faux pas to acknowledge or talk about how dangerous horses can be. Do not allow the brash and the bold to belittle your concerns, do no be scared to acknowledge your fear or to allow it to motivate you to caution but do be careful to not allow fear to control or rule your thoughts and actions. I believe that horses are worth the risk and that a health amount of respect and fear keeps me safe.

This is a lesson I learned the hard way…. my itch to challenge horses beyond my ability is what led to the torn cartilage in my knee, an injury that has stopped me from doing some things that I love… like wearing high heels.

And I love a great pair of heels, don’t you?

So, for goodness sakes, be careful!!


  1. Wow, you hit the nail on the head for me! I am currently dealing with some tying issues with my filly and boy does it make my stomach hurt! She does actually tie but we have had a couple of things go wrong lately and it has resulted in a hard, out of control pull back and I am still unsure what to do about it. I guess we will figure it out eventually because your right, you can't have a horse that doesn't tie.

  2. The only unlucky scenario I have witnessed from tieing thus far was last summer. My sister and I were at my trainers barn, she had her young one (4 y/o QH gelding) there and we were going to bath him. Well he has a very apparent fear of water that we discovered many bruises, broked cross ties, and broken halters and one lose horse later, that day. And it scared the crap outa me! Regardless, that same horse now LOVES baths. He simply had to learn what they are all about, and that the hose and sponges aren't drowning him in hydrochloric acid!

    I have an example of the 'tried tested and true' horse as well. There is a little cow horse gelding at the barn that everyone LOVES. He is concidered the 'bomb proof' horse of the barn. we always lead him and his buddy in together each evening as they are glued at the hip and have never been a problem. Well, my sister was bringing them in one night and something caught this little guys attention and the way my sister described it was, she felt like she had been run over by a freight train. He spooked, and went chest first right into her back and took off. My sister ended up flat on her face on the gravel with bloody hands and knees, holes in her jeans, and her hat even flew off her head! NOBODY leads horses in double anymore. No matter who they are or how good we think we know them. Anything can happen. And for some reaosn it's always been my sister that pays the price.....

  3. Yes I have seen a horse go friggin nuts and pull back until he lay on the ground half-conscious in a pool of his sweat, his tongue was actually hanging out like he was dead and his eyes were rolled back.

    This happened when young. I was milling around listening to our farrier tell stories while he trimmed my mom's Arab's feet. We knew he pulled so he was attached to a rubber innertube(sp?) with a "be nice" halter (remember those lovely things?) on his advice, which was attached to the one railroad tie fence post that was anchored with ALOT of cement. He was convinced he could fix this horse.

    He stood there and watched, as I did from the safety of about 15 feet away as this gelding did exactly as you said - pulled for all his might lunged forward in the wooden fence quickly untangled himself from the fence and flew backwards for another go at the rope, he pulled and pulled and pulled with everything he had - everything - until finally his quivering back feet slid under him and he fell over. I actually watched the stretched out rubber contract back and as it drug his limp body back towards the fence.

    It didn't stop there - the nylon "be nice" halter looked like it was crushing his face and the metal prongs on the crown were digging into his flesh causing him to bleed. He was making a moaning sound that's the only way I knew he was still alive. Then to top it of our "lovely POS farrier" began to beat him on the ground - when my eye filled up with tears he stopped and walked over to me - not mad all or I would've started flat balling for sure, told me not to feel sorry for him - that he was doing this to himself and that sometimes you have to do tough things to horses so they smarten up.

    Smarten up, umm ya like never come near a human as long as it freakin lived? Smarten up like that? I wanted to ask.

    Then he started kicking him in the belly until the horse scrambled to its feet - still shaking. The farrier issued strict orders - no water till sundown. And left. My mom was stunned too stunned to speak I believe, she was a small lady and for a time easily intimidated...I don't blame her now looking back on things. If he did that to a horse what would he do to some woman who got in his face?

    But as a child I was furious with her. As soon as the POS's truck hit the HWY I grabbed my knife, climbed up on the fence and cut that stupid the halter off of Bandit's head. I knew I couldn't untie the knot now. As my mom sat on the ground and cried a little - I approached him carefully despite her protests - he was still standing right where he was tied, with a grain bucket and lead him back towards the water tank.

    I know Dad heard about what happened but I wasn't around when he did - I pulled my one of my usual disappearing stunts and took in the woods on my pony. I do know that the farrier never came back.
    And you know what? The retard still pulls back, even now as an ancient horse that belongs to people we know up the road. They just don't tie him up anymore...

    Sorry your post brought back that memory like a flood and i had to get it out - didn't mean to high jack your blog post......

    But yes I have seen horses do that - and you are right it is freakin scary. And you are right as well that as a flight animal the potential to do that is in even the brokest of horses.

    That's is why I am now a huge fan of Clinton Anderson's tie ring - a simple device that can less the intensity of such episodes.

  4. This post about tying is all to familiar. I have a young horse. She was straight out of the field when she came into my life. She is a flighty Arab baby..almost 3 now.

    A few weeks ago when we had the big winter storm here in the NW I went to the barn to spend some time with Grace. I put her in a side tie and went to go grab some grooming tools that I had forgotten (1st wrong move) She started pulling back as soon as I walked away...she pulled so hard she broke the tie hook off the wall and then just stood there.

    When I thought she had calmed down I tied her to the other wall because I really wanted to get her groomed and she did the same damn thing. Pulled the tie hook RIGHT out of the wall.

    She scared the hell out of me. Until that point I had never been afraid of her. She is spooky but normally it's quite apparent when it's going to happen. It took me a while to gain the confidence to tie her again. But we are working through the issues and I have found out in the process that she is claustrophobic.

    I have taken on the challenge of breaking out and training a young horse. I don't know if it's the smartest thing I have ever done but it most deffinately is the most rewarding.


  5. Yes having horses pull back is scary, the gelding I rode as a kid would pull back, sometimes for seemingly no reason. he did it once in the horse trailer and broke the snap and it hit my mom in the hand and broke it.

    My personal preference is not to use trailer ties, they have flimsy buckles and are always way to short for my taste. I use our regular lead ropes for tieing in the trailer. The only time we have a problem is if we forget to untie before we open the stall gate, but that is totally our falt, and has only happened a couple times.

    I also do not tie when I introduce something new to a horse, they need to move and have some leeway to flight, then you bring them back and start over, no bad pulling habit is developed. and I never tie them for the farrier, we always hold them. Just some of my thoughts on tieing, oh and I have none of my currant horses with a tieing problem.

  6. OMG! I have never seen anything like that photo! AND I don't want too! I have seen a horse "really " pull back. I have also seen a fella get on the wrongside of the horse in a trailer! It was scary. He was kicked, and the hors flew backwards out of the trailer. He broke the halter and everything. It was really bad. It was partly the guys fault.I am thankful we have pretty calm horses.
    Thank you for the birhtday wishes!

  7. Ok, you really gave me a ton of stuff to chew on and think deeply about.

    How did your knee injury happen? Did you already talk about it your blog? If so where can I read about it?

    I bought my first horse a year ago. I've ridden her every at least every week until winter started. She 16 and considered 'bombproof'. She rarely spooks at anything and if so, she stands and spooks with a snort.

    What you said about Steady Eddies still being a horses as 100% flight animal is right on.

    In case you haven't read about in the blog-vine, I rode my horse on Christmas Eve and she spooked at something, probably the sun glinting off the snow or my friend's gelding snorting at an inflatable snowman on the ground.

    She teleportated and then jigged to the right, and I couldn't hold on and fell, snagging my boot in the stirrup. When she moved sideways, she torqued my leg and ruptured my ACL.

    I had knee reconstructive surgery about 2 1/2 weeks ago and I struggle every day on crutches. They say I won't walk for at least another 3 months without crutches and I won't be able to do my normal activities until at least AUGUST!
    So riding my horse has taken away at least a half year from my life, caused me terrible pain, and took my children's Mama and my husband's wife away from them, as I can't even cook, clean or do normal house and family duties during this time.

    The guilt eats away at me just thinking about it. I've cried a few rivers just in the past 4 weeks since it happened.

    My summer, which is usually spent hiking in the mountains, taking road trips, camping and packing with my basically a wash.

    With tears in my eyes I read your words, "I have other dreams and aspirations, outside of the realm of horses. So I ought to take what care I can to ensure that the risk and reward ratio horses tempt me with, does not one day inhibit my ability to explore other aspects of life."

    I have a lot to think about now....


  8. talking about bomb proof, I am ask often when someone visits, will they kick, will they ...., my answer always is they never have before but I'm not gonna promise they won't. Even though they haven't kicked I do always make sure no one especially children go behind, all it takes is for them to not have noticed and suddenly see movement back there, they are all about self preservation. On tieing, I've not had any personal experience with this as a problem, but have you heard of using an old tire tube, it gives without breaking and then pulls back? Some of these stories break my heart. I totally understand putting their welfare 1st, I worry constantly just if they are happy etc.,

  9. I think I would be devastated to not be able to wear high heels...I love them...anything under 3" just isn't a high heel-LOL.

    Hey? Yeaaa-how did you hurt your knee?

    Horses that pull back-probably one of the scariest things that can happen. I'm not afraid to admit-when a horse pulls back, I cut and run. Which of course, sometimes makes it worse, but at least I am out of the way. I've been the one between the wall and a horse pulling back...I'd rather have someone tell me I had to ride the rankest bucking horse around.

  10. Why does it seem like I am always a day short and a dollar late with your posts lately??? Sigh....

    ...On that note, great post Chelsi!!! Lets just say that like you, having been around horses my whole life, I have seen horrible injuries happen to both horses and humans, and I have NO desire to be hurt...huh-uh, no way!!!

    When I was younger, I was braver (or was it!!) and took a lot more chances with horses that I wouldn't look twice at today. Now I am all about protecting myself, and I like to ride for fun...not for the danger and excitement that can go along with it.

    I have been thinking about doing a similar post on this subject too!! See?? Great minds think!!!

  11. The first time Miss really pulled back it scared the pants off of me. Thankfully I don't have to tie her to groom her, and she is (finally) OK with being tied to tack, but for a spooky mare she's really a lot better than most of the horses at the barn. I broke a finger a year and a half ago trying to calm her down when she was pulling, lesson learned.

  12. I was glued to the computer screen reading this post, especially since one of my horses has a terrible pulling back problem. I've tried both approaches, tying her to breakable haystring and to unbreakable materials...neither of which work. Sometimes it may be because something freaked her out, other times she just does it coz she knows she can. The only solution I've found it teaching her to stand while I saddle her. Of course it doesn't work when you are in the yards working cattle but by then she's usually too tired to pull back!

  13. Three words: Aussie Tie Ring. I am telling you, these have alleviated most, if not all, my stress about tying. The horse can't really hurt himself because he can get loose--his feet can move, so most of the time he stops going back because he doesn't feel trapped! And I use it to train the sh*t out of them while they're tied. I literally run at them with bags in my hands, making all kinds of noise, practically encouraging them shoot backward. And if they do, it's fine, I just pull the slack back out of the rope and do it again. I use it when they're tied to a fence, tied to the horsetrailer, and tied in the horsetrailer.

    If you forward this message to Clinton Anderson and encourage him to hire me as a spokesperson, that would be great, thanks!

  14. I have a horse that won't tie and it feels like my dirty little secret. I just loop the rope on a post and she stands fine, so that I actually forget she has a problem with it. But she has wrecked terribly and it's terrifying! Once, she broke wooden post cross ties and I was afraid she would impale herself on the splintered post before I could get her free. She did manage to cut her legs up pretty badly with the piece of wood dangling from her halter lead.

    Another time, the lead snapped and she hit her head with the end.

    When she freaks out there is nothing I can do but stand clear and try to calm her, until it's safe enough to help her.
    She has such a history of panic attacks and resulting injurys that I find it's just not worth it.

    I might be interested in the Australian tie ring but I'm not sure I'm willing to risk another episode of watching her get hurt so violently.