Sunday, August 9, 2009

Flicka Syndrome

Last night I mentioned that a friend of mine had some concerns about a young girl who had recently purchased a young, very green, and very obstinate mare that she feels is an accident waiting to happen. It is very clear to both the parents and everyone involved that while this teen has plenty of bravado (and a high opinion of her ability), she has no real tools or skills to deal with such a difficult horse and as such has had a very difficult first few days. My friend felt compelled to speak with the parents (as they are not horseman) and voice her concern about their daughter’s safety. Both my friend and I were raised in essentially non “horsey” families and so understand how even a well meaning parent can be unaware of some of the danger and confidence issues such a horse can present. She also told the parents that even she, with some 30 years experience owning and caring for horses, found this mare a real challenge to work with (and not at all trustworthy). And so it came as a bit of a surprise to find, just the very next day, this girl attempting to work with her mare in the arena…. with a very proud parent looking on. It would seem that they are very “proud of their daughter for sticking with it” and they have every confidence that their daughter will be able to “tame” her soon-to-be best friend.

While I certainly can not understand why it is some horse savvy parents (who should know better) are willing to put their children on mounts that not even an adult professional would ride, I find it equally baffling why two, reasonable, caring parents would disregard the concern of an experienced horseman to appease the ego of a daughter who, blinded by the beauty of a pretty horse and full of youthful bravado, is sorely lacking for a mature voice of reason. What were they thinking? Well, I think I found the answer….

Flicka Syndrome.

As in the classic movie “My Friend Flicka” about a young boy who tamed a bright sorrel filly his father determined to be “wild”. You could also call it, “Black Stallion Syndrome” for much the same reason- Hollywood’s version of a young child who magically captures the heart of a wild stead. Even Seabiscuit has an element of such a comeback, though at least in his case they were all experienced horsemen. The story of a bad or lame horse turned good and whole through the love and care of a child runs through some of the greatest horse stores of all time- including the oldest (Bucephalus and Alexander the Great.)

And so is it any wonder why this girl’s father stood proudly by and watched his daughter angrily attempt to lunge her horse with nothing but determination, (though no actual skill) and no coach to guide her or offer practical advice?
I do believe Pop’s has seen “My Friend Flicka” one to many times and thinks that if his daughter tries hard enough, she will, though grit alone, be able to master this wild beast ....
*cue Free Willy soundtract*
Pop’s is adamant that his lovely little daughter has a special spiritual affinity with horses... a rare talent to communicate with them...and he is confident that they will learn and grow together *butterflies flutter in the air and harps sing* …I don’t know what happens next in his fairy tale… perhaps this mare will turn into a unicorn, sprout wings and fly off into the sunset.

The problem is that this mare is a bully! A sticky, pushy, dominant, bitchy mare by nature. She has not been abused. She's not scared or wild eyed. She's a young, untrained brat of a horse who needs a very firm handler and the occasional ass kicking. This is coming from a NHer! What she does not need is a 90-pound, 16 year old girl with love in her heart. Do I sound like a cynical bitch yet? Good! Because I know that we, as horsemen, are largely a romantic minded and wistful lot who are prone towards unrealistic boughts of hope and faith….

I "get" it...really, I do! I guess this situation strikes a nerve in me because I feel this girl is being set up for failure and to have her dreams decimated…. I feel that way because for so many years I beat my head against the wall believing that determination and love was all I needed to train or ride a horse. When I learned that one actually needs tools, techniques, and to THINK through a horses training or behavior issue, (that the “try” in a rider is not enough) I felt as though I'd been set free! Subconsciously I thought that my failure to “become one” and have my horse do my “bidding” (by pure love alone) was as a result of my lack of effort and determination, rather than a simple lack of practical knowledge or skill.

Yes, there are kids out there who ride wild horses without getting hurt... Yes, we all want to be that girl in National Velvet, Sylvester or that boy in the Black Stallion. Yes, riding and training a horse takes a lot of heart and effort and some kids have a touch... we all know a story or two, (or five) about those horses or people who managed to overcome seemingly unconquerable odds. I do think there is a possibility that this girl and this horse will work things out....

There is a actually a chance that she wont get hurt, loose her confidence, love for horses or life while riding this horse. But just because such a conclusion is possible and maybe you, me or your Granpappy grew up getting bucked off rank horses (and that’s what made them into such great horsemen), doesn’t mean that having such a horse is the fairest, best, safest, or smartest option for this girl. In real life shit happens and having horses isn’t all fairy tales and unicorns. This kids not going to win an Olympic medal or a National Grand Prix because her Pop’s bought her a green broke nag for her 16th birthday!

*big gasping breathe*

Okay...I'll calm down.

I too have felt the pull of Flicka Syndrome. I've rescued horses. I've seen miracles. I've watched the angry, abused and violent become passive, sweet and happy... It can happen....

But for heavens sake for every one troubled horse successfully trained by an inexperienced rider there are a probably a hundred people out there who were left with broken bones, concussions, torn tendons, blood wounds or worse, dead! Parents, "horsey" or not, need to get their heads out of their asses and put the safety of their children before romantic notions best left to the movies.


  1. AMEN!!!!!!

    I have over 30 years experience, I've suffered broken limbs, split lips and my share of strains, sprains and bruises...... I have, in recent years have let go a mustang mare that bested me.... I don't believe anyone could make a RELIABLE and safe mount of her.... and I currently have a reactionary and somewhat distant minded mare that I'm challenged with every day.... to the point I'm disliking our sessions as the progress and 'join up' is so lacking.... Its not because I lack the skill but the horses themselves lack the ability to come under the authority of the handler.

    You clearly identified the problem, this idea that this whispering and magical/spiritual connection will transform the beast into the lamb. BAH.

    I just hope that the girl isn't injured or maimed and her daddys ego can be stuffed back where it belongs.

  2. Gee Girl, tell us how you REALLY feel huh? ;)

    Nice post Chelsi. It needs to be put out there far and wide. Daddy's Little Girl there might just wind up being Daddy's Little Vegetable if they are not careful....

    Sure hope not though. Sure hope she gets sick of the Pretty Pony and they part ways....before she puts the kid in the hospital.

  3. Very well said. I hope the girl realizes she needs professional help before someone gets hurt.

    All that National Velvet, My Friend Flicka crap? I had a whole childhood full of it. I am lucky to have found people willing to teach me.

  4. You hit the nail on the head with this post. I could go on forever with similar stories(not many of them had a good ending either).

    Hope they get help or get rid of that horse before she does some real damage. If sent to a professional for some time she may be trainable and rideable in the future.

  5. Would they leave her in the hands of a pedophile thinking she has a way with people?

    Sorry to be so blunt, but why the $#%^ do people think a horse will change when we wouldn't put a child at risk in the case of someone with a criminal record? We'd all say, it's just not worth taking a chance.

    Maybe they just don't realize how easily she can be hurt, they don't understand that the risks are great enough with a "safe" horse.

    Maybe someone needs to send them your post.

  6. all true. reminds me of of a client i had who had zero experience, bought an untrained colt, spoiled him rotten and then literally believed if she just loved him enough he'd be trained by some kind of miracle osmosis! i've worked with difficult horses all my life, but this one was by far the worst, and she had no idea he was dangerous! who needs knowledge, experience or skill (or the sense to give him a swift kick in the ass when he tries to kill someone!) when you can do the mystical mind meld with your out of control animal and everything will just take care of itself?

  7. Holy flashbacks! That was my father! Thank goodness my mother had some sense and made sure I recieved instruction so the crap, cheap horses didn't completely injure me.

    I would never, ever put any child on anything that was not as safe as a large animal can be. And I'm one of those people who can usually get along with the ones most can't. And even I know when to jetison something.

    Hmmm... I wonder if a person can't print a copy of this post with all the horrified horsey comments at the stable - accidently and all...

  8. i hope your friend walks up to the parent as the ambulance drives away from the barn and says "i told you so"

  9. Someone needs to intervene here, before that girl gets seriously hurt. This whole situation makes me cringe!

  10. Right On! The only sad thing is that the people who need to hear this are apparently deaf.

  11. Yep, you are so right. I think most animal people have that fantasy of having a real "connection" with any animal. I know I'm that way. However, I have learned that the best way to get that connection is by earning the respect of that animal first. I have noticed such a difference in the way Caspian relates to me now that I finally have his respect. And that's AFTER I hired a professional trainer to help me. I think people get so starry eyed that they overlook the fact that they might need actual ain't the movies! ;)

  12. You are so right. I would never put my child in that kind of danger.

  13. First I have to say, I just watched The Black Stallion last night! My other half had never seen it, and I got the movie for Christmas last year, so I just had to laugh, cuz I watched that movie last night!
    Ok, down to serious stuff now. I totally agree with you. My parents would have NEVER gotten me a horse that was dangerous when I was that age. I know there are alot of clueless parents out there, but seriously! That child is going to get HURT! Out of all the horses out there, that are so well trained for beginners, they have to get a crazy horse? I sure hope nothing happens to that girl! I don't even know what else to say!!
    Keep us updated on how things are going!

  14. I totally agree with your post 100%. Too mny people out there think that movies are real life. Their movies people, purely for entertainment and usually these horse movies are geared towards the younger vrown. The crowd that still day dreams and everything is great and fluffy with the world. There is nothing wrong with this as long as in this case a responsible adult be there to keep things safe.

    I too have see this way too often. If this girls loves this horse so much and is that determined she should be under the instruction of a professional. Someone to help her every step of the way and to educate her and the horse to that they can build a healthy partership. Unfortunately this looks like a train wreck waiting to happen.

    My parents are the complete opposite. They think horse back riding is dangerous and still think that my horse is the same as he was 5 yrs ago as a dangerous starved and abused animal. My mom won't even touch my horse. Possum and U have made great strides and we're best buds but they refuse to see a relationship with an animal. Oh well. SO there's extremes in every case.

  15. I think you make some very valid points. My daughter is 12 and a very good rider BUT I don't let her ride the crazy ones nor do I own them. I've got 2 very quiet easy going geldings for a reason. I want her to enjoy it and get as much out of it as she can. Not get hurt. And she does gaming so it could very easily get out of hand. We do a lot of schooling as well as running.

  16. Thanks for all your comments, I'm not suprised that this issue inspired such a response...regardless of what happens with this specific girl (and I hope nothing does happen) we all seem to recogize that this problem is systemic within the horse coummunity. I too hope she gets some help and that parents will start taking better care to protect their children.

  17. Hey...darn it. I was reading your newest post, went to comment and it was gone. What the heck. Girl you are on a roll-let if fly!

    BTW-I have been wondering what the heck is going on with the reining horse headset for the last couple of years myself. No wonder these horses aren't lasting very long-besides the over-training to get them ready at really young ages, they are forced into unnatural positions that just make everything so much more difficult and wearing on their bodies.

  18. Well put- there are some horses who can be trained by kids, and others who connect with that one special person but the safety of their kids should come before romantic notion. Heck, that post needs to be printed and posted in local feed stores right next to the ponies for sale ads... so many horses end up in rescue getting progressively more troubled as novice after novice tries to 'fix' them when what they need is a qualified trainer. (that's not all horses, but I am just saying that like people, you can't "love" a horse out of having issues).

  19. You left out 'torn ligaments' gah!

    You said, "In real life shit happens and having horses isn’t all fairy tales and unicorns."

    Ain't THAT the truth!

    But ya know...that last picture you posted kept making think of what Fugly would say about that guy handling a horse not only without proper footwear, but also wearing nothing but a loin cloth and a cape. (ewww)


  20. Alas, everyone thinks it, but who actually says it!

    I started out with Flicka Syndrome. At the tender age of 12 my parents bought me a green broke, high strung, abused, Arabian mare with attitude. All I saw was the beautiful free sprited girl that she was and I loved her, but after thirteen years of owning her it came with a price. I now know how to fall off with percision and skill, and have countless scars.

    Thankfully that turned out ok, but what about when it doesn't? What about when the horse goes to meat or another horrible home because it can't be "handled"?

    Two years ago I had a man approach me and tell me that he had an young mare that his daughter couldnt' ride. He offered the horse to me and told me that I was his last hope and if I didn't take it then he had no choice but to take her into the forest and do away with her. It wasn't her fault her owner didn't know enough to teach her, but it was her that would have suffered. When will people learn....

  21. Gabby and Rocky the Race PonySeptember 26, 2009 at 6:49 PM

    I'm 14 and I would never be so stupid as to try to ride a wild horse. Do I really wish I could? Hell Ya. But I think I'll just do the sorta next best thing. Canter my Tame pony with no bridle or saddle around the ring. It's fun, and since I trust my pony, I can even open the arena gate and he'll just gallop right up to the barn. Feels like the Black Stallion except he's not black, he's chestnut, and if only he were taller.......