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Don’t Train Your Horse to be a Nutjob!

Posted by poloponyrescue. Comment (0).

I’m just saying…a lot of you seem to be doing your best to achieve this result.

I get that not everybody can afford a pro trainer, and that there is a lot of training advice on YouTube for free.  I’m not going to tell you who to follow or whose way is best. I’m just going to tell you the things that, as a rescuer, I have seen mess up horses damn near beyond repair. The things NOT to do.  EVER.


I bet there’s something you’re really scared of having touch you.  Spiders, centipedes, snakes, vomit?  Would you get over this fear if you were thrown into a tub of it and couldn’t escape?  Yeah.  That’s how much sense it makes to tie the scary shit to your horse. Whether it’s milk jugs, tarps, flags, whatever, don’t do this.  EVER.

Instead, you hold the scary thing and the horse on a sufficiently long line or in the round pen and you wait for the horse to come to you.  You don’t FORCE them.  You want them to choose.  Believe me, they will. You might be waiting a while. Yes, it may take more than one day.  Yes, it’s fine to make a cookie or a bucket of grain part of the process.  After they come to you when you’re holding it, then you slowly introduce touching them with it. You don’t try to do this in a weekend.  Repeat after me “flooding never works.”  Some of you need to write that 500 times on a blackboard.


You know, having to take the kids to school every day is a tedious pain in the ass.  Why not just lock ’em in a room and teach them the whole year’s curriculum in a weekend?  Of course not, you say. The kids would be so stressed and exhausted they’d never retain a thing.  They might even suffer permanent emotional issues from the stress and pressure.  Okay, but a bunch of you seem to think taking a baby horse to a weekend colt starting clinic is a great idea.  It’s the SAME THING.

Don’t. Do. It.  Instead, spend 30 or 60 days on ground work.  Make sure that young horse clips, ties, loads in a trailer, longes, and ground drives.  What’s ground driving?  It’s an amazing way to get a horse trained before you sit in the saddle, so that you do not die.   You get on a horse who already knows how to stop, turn, back up, etc.  I HIGHLY recommend it.

Imagine that as you put foundation on a horse, there is a risk meter of you winding up in the emergency room that continues to decrease.  That’s exactly how it works.  You absolutely can start your young horse and never have a bucking incident.


I see a lot of misuse of a patience pole.  A patience pole is something like a telephone pole where you tie your horse until he quits pawing, whinnying and acting like a loon.  That’s the point of it – to prep that horse for having to stand at the trailer at an event and not lose his mind.  It’s fine to use it in moderation, keeping in mind that no horse should go more than a couple hours without access to water, and obviously don’t leave him on it in the hot sun when it’s 100 degrees.

It’s NOT fine to use it as a punishment.  When I hear someone say they’re tying a horse up to let him think about how bad he was, I know that person doesn’t know squat about how horses think.  A horse doesn’t have any idea five minutes later what he was bad about.  He certainly doesn’t relate it to being tied to a post in a cause-and-effect way.

The trainer who said you have a 3 second window to tell a horse he did wrong (can’t remember, may have been Ray Hunt?) was correct. That’s about it.  If a horse, for example, strikes at me in hand, I’m gonna give him a good whap with the lead rope in the chest, growl at him like a demon from the pits of hell and run him five or six steps backwards so there’s no doubt in his mind he made the wrong call.  It’s immediate, and then it’s over. Then we proceed like he didn’t do it. I don’t stay angry at him five minutes later because he wouldn’t even understand it and I don’t like to walk around angry all day. It’s not healthy for me, or anybody around me, if I do that.


Force is never gonna work against a horse because you’re like 1/5 or less the size of a horse.   Every single time you try to force a horse into something, say, the horse trailer, you just create a horse who is even worse to load the next time.  Again, as with dealing with a Scary Thing like a plastic flapping thing, you want the horse to choose.  You want him to think of the trailer as a good place to be, a place where there’s no pressure.  You know how you can ensure a horse will not get into a trailer?  Stand in the middle of the entrance, in his way, and pull on his head.  Put a lip chain on him for good measure, I’ve seen plenty of I.Q. challenged trainers pull that ridiculous move.

There are many methods of trailer loading, but all of the ones that work do not involve pulling on a horse’s face.  Pressure needs to come from behind only, and the horse needs to see the trailer as a large, safe space that he can jump into without encountering a stressed human in his way.  Let him take his time, let him sniff!  Make sure the inside of the trailer is well lit (you can park a car behind it and flood it with lights that way if you don’t have parking lot lights and you’re loading at night).

If you really do have a crisis, i.e. fire is coming, you’ll find that a lot of horses load faster if their best friend is already in the trailer.  Another trick that works great is squeezing a horse into the trailer with panels. I do not think you’re going to traumatize a horse for life if you have to whack him in the butt to get him on the trailer in a real crisis, but taking your time and getting him to choose the trailer when you do have time is going to mean he will load whan that fire comes and you really NEED him to get in.


Let’s say your horse doesn’t like the clippers.  You can take you time and slowly introduce them while the horse has his face in a bucket of grain, or you can put on A PRODUCTION.  I see people put on A PRODUCTION all the time.  They whip out the lip chain, the twitch, or both.  They grab an ear.  They have like 3 people on the horse, trying to force him into tolerating clipping.  The horse is losing his shit, winging his head every which way like a weapon, breaking the cross ties, stepping on people’s feet.  Total shitshow.

I see it with deworming too. For heaven’s sake, just hide the wormer in your pocket and learn to be fast about it.  Or put your horse on Strongid C.  I’ve heard applesauce in an empty wormer tube works for some people to start teaching the horse to tolerate a mouth syringe – not a bad idea, either!

The larger the production, the lesser the chance of success and the greater the chance that someone is going to the emergency room.  I used to hang the running clippers on a piece of twine by the feed bucket with a spooky young horse I once had. Worked great.  A week of that and I could clip him.   Similarly, hard to bridle is fixed a lot faster with molasses on the bit than with twisting an ear.  (And of course, check teeth when you have hard to bridle, and check ears for growths that make bridling painful!)

Bottom line, de-escalate whenever possible to keep yourself safe and your horse sane.  Be like a good cop dealing with a meth head, because believe me, an upset 17 hand warmblood acts EXACTLY like a meth head.  Just bigger!


Most of the accidents I’ve seen happen, the really bad ones, weren’t the result of a horse bucking or bolting.  They were the result of a horse feeling trapped in some way and unable to escape a Scary Thing.  A horse, in nature, is a prey animal. His defense is to RUN when frightened. So if you have to do something frightening to your horse, the worst possible thing to do is to have him tied to a solid object while you do that.  He feels utterly trapped and will go straight to FULL BLOWN PANIC in an instant.

(It should go without saying that you do not want a 1,000 lb. animal having a full blown panic attack around you, right?)

So, whenever you’re introducing something that might be scary, like a rider for the first time, don’t let that horse feel trapped.  Don’t get on him tied to a post (yeah, I’ve seen Youtube trainers do this).  Don’t have someone HOLD HIM TIGHT (that’s like saying, Hi, Universe, may I have a broken pelvis today?).  A ground person is fine but they need to move with the horse, and let him walk if he feels like he needs to.

Sure, horses have to learn to tolerate feeling trapped.  They need to tie, they need to stand quietly in the horse trailer, etc.  But you don’t combine feeling trapped with a new experience that might be scary, i.e. fly spraying them for the first time in cross ties.  Do those things when you’re holding the lead and you can let the horse move if he feels like he needs to.  You’re not “letting him get away with” anything. You’re giving him a chance to release his anxiety.  Standing will come later – overcoming the anxiety about the Scary Thing has to come first.


You are 100% wasting your time if you’re trying to train a horse who has a sore back, ulcers, etc.  Lay the horse off work, get the vet, get the chiro, get the massage therapist, fix the problem.  You aren’t productive at work or school if you have a migraine, and you’re a lot smarter and more able to prioritize than a horse is.


I’m just going to link to this, because Janet already wrote it up in great detail.  Don’t do this.  (Skip past the photos to the part where the rant begins)



No, “everybody” doesn’t do that

Posted by poloponyrescue. Comment (0).

By now, just about everybody on social media has seen that video of the rider who falls off her horse mid-round in the ring and proceeds to chase him and attempt to kick him as he scoots sideways trying to avoid her fit of temper.  There are few ways this can be interpreted other than as a tantrum from a rider who ate dirt and blamed it on the horse. Yet, my Facebook feed is full of people defending her actions and pronouncing there isn’t anybody out there who hasn’t gotten angry at a horse and done something similar.

Those comments are more disturbing than the original act.  Before I begin, I want to point out that I have no problem with physically disciplining a horse – in an appropriate way.  The discipline must be immediate, it must be short, and it must be a clear response to an egregious offense that the horse can understand.  As an example, my trainer and I have both worked with aggressive horses who have learned to charge people. If you pin your ears back and charge me, you will most definitely meet my friend, Mr. Whip.  I won’t be shy about it.  I’ll charge back.  You will learn quickly that human beings have a space around them and if you aggressively intrude into that space with the intent to knock one down, it will hurt and you will regret that choice.  I’m far from a radical who believes there’s some way to magically communicate with every horse and make him love you and not want to run you over.  There isn’t.

However, I don’t hit that charging horse in anger. (Honestly, I’m usually laughing and saying something like, um, no Princess, that doesn’t fly here).  I don’t do it because I’m frustrated or upset. I do it because Princess needs to learn not to run people over or Princess will wind up a steak in France in record time, and I want to save Princess’s life.

If I strike a horse – it is done calmly and out of necessity and to assert my position as the dominant party in the herd.  That is what allows me to quickly move past that stage and create a horse I can treat as a snuggle bug, because it’s no longer trying to flatten me.  We work out the rules and then we learn that when we’re nice to people, they provide cookies, massages, and all sorts of awesome things.  My last aggressive, killer horse is doing Pony Club these days.

Now let’s look at things you don’t hit a horse for:

– falling off

– causing you to feel embarrassed

– you had a bad day

– you had a fight with your boyfriend

– you have a headache and he’s just not getting it

– you’re tired

– you lost a class/game/event/race

Horses lack intellectual capacity. They are not a smart animal and things like premeditated behavior are way, way, way beyond them.  (Even ponies. I swear.)  Your horse didn’t dump you to make you look dumb.  Mostly, they react in very predictable ways based upon pain/the absence thereof.  If you get left behind over a fence and pop them in the mouth, they will start stopping and refusing to jump.  Pain avoidance.  If you get ahead on the landing, that’s super unpleasant for them and often painful, so they may react by crowhopping – objecting to pain.  They’re simple creatures. This is as far as the equine brain extends.

Therefore, it’s completely pointless to punish them for things they didn’t do deliberately, especially when they have no way of understanding why the punishment is being applied or how they could have avoided the punishment.  It’s like randomly smacking your child in the head because you’re in a bad mood.  We all agree that’s not okay, right?  We all agree that you need to have self control and learn coping tactics – deep breaths, walk away, maybe get a sitter for the afternoon.  The crime is not that you feel emotional.  You’re human, it comes with the territory.  It is that you made the worst possible choice and took it out on an innocent creature that doesn’t even understand why you’re inflicting pain and fear upon them.

All of our behavior is a choice.  Unless you are severely mentally ill, I don’t accept that you cannot control your behavior. (My favorite example is those who point out that men who claim they “cannot control” their violence against their families never do seem to “lose control” and hit a 250 lb. bodybuilder, do they?  Huh…funny how that works.)  We make choices daily that go against our emotions – we don’t ram into the annoying person who cut us off in traffic.  We don’t tell our boss where to shove it when he makes an unfair criticism of our work.  We smile at the customer or client who is on our last nerve.  It’s called being an adult, and we can all apply the same decency to the animals in our lives.  If you find yourself agreeing with those on Facebook who say, oh, everybody loses their temper with their horses sometimes, perhaps you should remember that fifty years ago, it was totally acceptable to smack your wife and kids around.  Two hundred years ago, you could beat your slave if you were in a bad mood. We’re better than that now – right?

Be better. And stop making excuses for those who feel entitled to lash out with violence at those who cannot defend themselves, or criticizing those who speak out against it.



Ten Things Horses Hate

Posted by poloponyrescue. Comment (0).

1.  Humans making sudden, unnecessary movements, movements that could be perceived as aggression on the part of the human (like chasing them with a plastic bag tied to a whip).

2.  Humans cranking their cinch/girth tight all at once. How would you feel?

3.  Humans who pick at them incessantly instead of sending a clear message once.

4.  Having their neck compressed with anything. Draw reins, nasty hands, doesn’t matter whether or not gadgets are used. NO horse is comfortable with its head in this position, EVER.  The only purpose of something like this is to make sure your vet and chiropractor stay employed, since you are creating problems for them to attempt to fix.  It’s not like it has anything to do with actual training.




5.  Humans who refuse to take riding lessons and instead plop all over their horse like a sack of uncoordinated potatoes.  Especially when coupled with (a) clutching on the mouth and (b) hanging on with the feet.  You don’t have to be fit and perfect, or a great equitation rider, but you can work on your riding enough not to feel like a backpack full of bricks bouncing on your horse’s back.

6.  Humans who ignore saddle fit and forget to check wither clearance after, not before, their weight is in the saddle.

7.  Humans who dole out discipline inconsistently.  I.E. the same behavior gets no response on Monday, but after the human has a fight with another human on Tuesday, it results in a temper tantrum of whipping and yanking.

8.  Shoes that don’t fit. If you don’t know what good shoeing is and how to recognize it, just get your horses trimmed while you educate yourself.  Few things are more harmful to your horse than shoes that are too small or badly set on.

No. Just, no.

Ouch. Just, ouch.


9.  Stall confinement 24/7.  If you must live in a horse-unfriendly place such as Los Angeles, which many of us do, it’s your job to get to the barn daily and get your horse turned out, not just ridden and worked.  Your horse needs actual R & R where they are loose and nothing is asked of them, just as you like to come home from work, put on the pajama pants and watch mindless TV or surf Facebook to unwind.  Horses who get adequate turnout are much less likely to offload their humans unexpectedly.

10.  Humans who can’t read horse language.   When your horse’s expression resembles Grumpy Cat’s, this means something.  Figure it out. Don’t ignore it and then get mad when you get hurt.  The horse has very few ways to let you know when they are not feeling well or hurting or frustrated. It’s your job to learn to read ears and eyes and body language so that your horse can communicate with you.

Sure, you can go through life making your horse hate you – but that’s how a lot of people wind up in the hospital. If you prefer the couch in your jammies to the hospital, put a little effort into making your horse see you as a good thing, not a major annoyance and source of pain!

The Whole Story

Posted by poloponyrescue. Comments (11).

Inevitably, when there is a thread online and people are expressing disgust at the condition of a neglected animal, a particular kind of person will make an appearance. I will call them Betty Bowers (if you don’t “get” that, you should google it).  Betty pops in and begins to preach sanctimoniously along these lines:

Who are you to judge?

Maybe they were old and sick and couldn’t take care of their animals!

Maybe the horse is really old!  (Cue:  Cathy’s head exploding.)

Maybe they were doing the best they could do!

You don’t know the whole story.

So, I decided to strike a pre-emptive blow at the Betty Bowers of this world.  We took in an emaciated Hanoverian mare today. To say that she is underweight is an understatement.

I sure miss the days when I got fed.

I sure miss the days when I got fed.

And it’s not just weight. Her feet haven’t been trimmed in forever.  She has sores on her hips from lying down in her bony state.  I doubt she’s been brushed this year.  We got her because her owner got a “warning” from Animal Control and decided it was in her best interests to give away the horses fast (a.k.a. “Hide the Evidence”).  I later found out the identity of the owner, so I perused her Facebook to see the whole story.  Maybe I’d see the sad tale of how she was dying from an incurable cancer, or was a 93 year old woman with Alzheimer’s who clearly didn’t even remember she had horses.



You can tan, or you can go feed your 4 horses, sitting and waiting at their self-care barn for you to show up.  I guess the beach won.



OK, maybe you could go feed your horses after the beach…no, wait, it’s time to go drink champagne on a date.



Yay hot tubs!  I deserve this!


I don’t have money to buy feed or call the vet but there’s always room in the budget for beer and bikinis!


This lady’s Facebook was a compilation of beaches, bars, boobs and some particularly horrifying pictures and videos of Skinny Mare being ridden in this condition by her kids, who clearly had no idea what they were doing was wrong.

The mare is safe. She has plenty to eat. She will see the vet tomorrow – at last.

And that is the whole story.  

I hope her implants explode. If that makes me a bad person, I will wear that badge with pride.

Question:  Is this horse good for kids?

Answer:  How well does the kid ride?  How old is the kid?  Does the kid have a trainer?  Arena or trails?  Aspirations to do gymkhana?   A kid with quiet hands and seat who is in lessons with a good trainer is a completely different thing for a horse to be good for than a kid who is a beginner whose parents think they don’t need lessons and can “learn as they go” or “teach themselves.”  (Hint:  Most quality rescues aren’t interested in adopting to group #2, so if that’s you, you probably need to just go buy a horse if your mind can’t be changed about the necessity of lessons.  But I really hope it can.  You love your kids, right?  Keep them safe by investing in quality riding instruction.)

Question:  Is this horse bomb proof?

Answer:  Most rescues don’t even use the term, because there is only one kind of horse that is bombproof.

On the plus side, he doesn't eat a lot, either!  And no vet bills!

On the plus side, he doesn’t eat a lot, either! And no vet bills!

Every horse can be spooked by something.  No matter how elderly or phlegmatic, there is something on earth that will absolutely make them lose their pea brain and fly sideways or do a roll back or do a big, splay footed startle in place.  If you’re uncomfortable with that every happening, horseback riding is not for you.  If you’re a good rider, it won’t result in eating dirt (see the afore-mentioned suggestion about taking lessons!)

Question:  Is this horse completely healthy?

Answer: I don’t know, are you?  Think about it – most of us don’t hit the doctor for a full body physical and a set of full body x-rays too often.  And neither do horses.  Rescues work on limited budgets.  We do a basic intake exam when they come in to see what the heart, lungs, eyes, teeth, etc. look like but it’s a basic exam.  And of course we are going to notice something like heaves, Cushing’s disease or neurological issues.  Or in Violet’s case, nosebleeds – which have been diagnosed and resolved.  But overall, if you want to know how healthy a horse is, you are going to have to vet-check it at your expense, whether you’re adopting or buying — and even then, you may not find every issue that is lurking.  Horses, like people, can be afflicted with things that aren’t advanced enough to be apparent (like cancer).  That’s why neither we nor any rescue or horse seller can guarantee health.  Two things that may  help you decide the most are a full blood panel (about $100) and some x-rays ($40 a plate).

Question:  How old is this horse?  I don’t want anything over 15.

Answer:  Unless it’s an OTTB with a tattoo, or it came with its papers, we are guessing. It is an educated guess, but sometimes even the vets have trouble pinning it down to an exact year.  We adopted out a horse that Alamo Pintado declared was younger than we said, but I’ve had many come in that the former owner was “off” about the age by 10  years or more.  Ask yourself why you need this exact limitation on age.  Many horses competing at the highest levels are over 15.  Are you planning to do Grand Prix jumping like Flexible?  He’s 19 years old.  If Rich Fellers doesn’t need a young horse to jump 5′ fences, why do you need a young horse for what is likely to be much less demanding work?

19 years old.  Just saying.

19 years old. Just saying.

Question:  Is this horse an easy keeper?

Answer:  That is a question that will send rescuers running for their delete button.  It says two things:  I expect to feed a horse on $100 a month (answer:  you can’t afford a horse) and I don’t know how to keep weight on horses (you need to learn more before taking on the responsibility of horse ownership).  Please don’t make us cringe by asking it.  We’re very, very, very happy to provide you with an affordable feeding program that will, for sure, keep weight on your adopted horse.  It won’t be $100 but it won’t be $200 either.  Expect to spend about $150-$175 a month, in Southern California, to properly feed a horse kept at your home.

Statement:  I don’t want an Arabian or a Thoroughbred.

Then for Heaven’s sake, why are you contacting a Thoroughbred rescue?  (We got this inquiry. We really did.)

Look, I know many of you have had a bad experience with an individual horse of one breed but it’s truly not a reason to decide they’re all looney tunes. The scariest horse I have ridden in my lifetime was a bay AQHA gelding, who would wait until you were walking him out on a loose rein at the end of the ride and then blow up bucking.  Any time he felt you let your guard down, you were airborne.  Conversely I have ridden lazy, quiet Arabians and Thoroughbreds. They do exist.  Equine behavior generally has a lot more to do with feeding plan, turnout, and consistent riding than breed.

Statement:  Would you waive the adoption fee? I’m a really good home.

Answer:  Great, I’m happy you’re a really good home, but that doesn’t affect the adoption fee.  Craigslist is full of free horses. We will never waive an adoption fee and nor will most rescues.  If you can’t come up with typically less than $1000 for a horse, we fear you won’t be able to cover even a basic colic vet bill ($300-$400) or a cut requiring stitches or pretty much anything out of the ordinary.  We also fear you’re a kill buyer’s accomplice who is a really good liar.  Adopting from us, or any other quality rescue, you get a horse who has already had a tooth float ($150-$250), hoof trim ($50), basic vet exam ($100-$150), and usually some riding or training ($200+, usually much more).  Getting a free horse, you’re unlikely to get any of that.  So we’re not sure why it’s so important to you to save money that you’re just going to end up spending anyway if you’re the good home that you say you are (that would pay for all of those things for a new horse that needed them)?

Question:  I can adopt if you can deliver the horse to me (three states away)

Answer:  Let me solve your problem for you:  here’s a referral to a rescue near your home.  There is truly no reason whatsoever to ship rescue horses all over the country. There is no shortage of rescue horses anywhere in the U.S.  Shipping them all over is not necessary unless they’re special needs of some sort and an appropriate home truly is rare and hard to find.  We are happy to adopt out of state to a person who can afford to pay 100% of the cost of transport. This makes us feel confident about your ability to afford another equine mouth to feed!  Also, you are going to have to come here and ride the horse first. We aren’t sending a horse a thousand miles to a person who has not ridden it, and knows they feel comfortable on it.  Plane tickets are a lot cheaper than shipping a horse back!

Question:  Is the horse okay around emus?

Answer:  Rescues do their best to test out horses in a variety of situations, but you may have an unusual situation that we cannot replicate at home.  Some examples are properties with an arena adjacent the freeway, or your 4-H show grounds is next to a motocross track, or you have to ride past a farm with exotic animals to get to the trails.  In a case like this, you’re just going to have to take the horse and try it.  We take returns cheerfully as does every reputable rescue.  Make sure you can return the horse if it isn’t going to work.  Returning a horse if you have made a good faith effort and he just isn’t settling down in your situation is not a bad thing – just be honest with the rescue that the horse needs to tolerate whatever the situation is, so that they know the adoption may not stick.

Question:  Can she run fast? (And that’s the entire email)

No. Just no.

No. Just no.

Believe it or not, any good rescue really DOES want you to be super happy with the horse you adopt, if you adopt.  So here’s the kind of inquiry that helps us do that and makes us think you’re likely to be a responsible horse owner:

Hi, I’m looking to adopt a horse for trail riding and team sorting.  The horse would be ridden by me – I’m a confident rider who has competed in cutting and reining and started a few horses when I was younger, but don’t want a bronc at this point in my life.  I’d also like it to be quiet enough for my 8 year old to ride in her lessons.  We ride with Jim Smith at Smith Ranch in Smithville.  The horse would be kept at Jim’s ranch and have a box stall with an attached 12 x 24 run.   

(attaches pictures of Mom and Kid riding)

This is our dream inquiry e-mail. It’s not a novel but it tells us:

– About how well the people ride  (pics help, video helps even more if you have a link!)

– Where and how the horse will live

– What discipline you want to pursue (we try all of our horses on cattle, for example, so this is something we can give you a clear answer on)

– Who the trainer is (so we can establish it isn’t the Rate My Horse Pro horse-beater or horse-starver of the month)

Bear in mind most of us take this exactly as seriously as if we were adopting out human babies.  We would feel horrible beyond belief if one of our horses met a bad end or was abused or neglected in any way.  We understand you may feel like you are being interrogated by the CIA with all of the application questions, but we don’t know you.  We’re strangers at this point and we hope we’re going to adopt a horse to you and make a lifelong friend as well, but just as with meeting people online to date, you have to be a little careful.  Please don’t be offended by the caution rescues show.  We really do want the best for all involved – including you and your family!


Behold, the perfect horse.

2015-02-22 10.31.192014-04-19 12.13.40

2014-03-30 14.42.06

We own the horse that everyone who posts on the “in search of” horse groups seems to be looking for. She is:

  • Child safe
  • Pretty
  • Goes hunt seat or western, jumps, runs barrels and poles
  • Perfect snaffle mouth; great bitless
  • No buck/rear/spook/bolt
  • Loads like a dream; hauls the best
  • Falls asleep at horse shows; nothing bothers her
  • Ties to the trailer all day without incident
  • Gets along great with other horses; no bite or kick
  • Easy keeper with no special needs other than plain front shoes

But if I were to write a completely honest sale ad for this priceless horse that we will never, ever sell, it would go something like this:

Senior mare, grey, 15 hands, retired polo pony, no papers, great on barrels and poles.  Cribs so badly she has no front teeth, so we have no idea how old she is. Could be thirty.  Cinchy as heck, will shoot backwards like a rocket ship if you don’t cinch her up slowly.  Cranky in her stall; will make ugly faces at you but don’t worry, the worst she can do is gum you!  Has an old broken coffin bone so one front hoof grows funky; fine if you keep front shoes on her. 

How many of you would rush out to see this horse?

Sale ads, like Internet dating ads, rarely mention negative qualities.  The reason is obvious – most will not come to see the horse/date you if you are brutally honest.  However, this leads to a lot of frustrated buyers, who go out to see horses and find a horse that they feel is not as described.  While dashing for the door is the proper response when you’re looking at a so-called beginner horse that bucks off his owner right in front of you (true story, happened to a friend of mine recently!), veto’ing a horse based upon a few negative qualities is the equine equivalent of meeting up with a handsome, funny, successful guy and turning up your nose because he’s wearing goofy shoes.

Nobody’s perfect and this has never been more true than in the horse world.  When I look back at every absolutely fabulous, beloved horse I have ever known, they all had a glitch.  Maybe they didn’t cross-tie.  Maybe they lost their marbles if you tried to trail ride them alone.  Maybe arenas with mirrors sent them into a tailspin.  I had a horse who was scared of men in hats.  I had an old rescue mare who was scared silly of the pretend cow the cutters had set up at one side of the arena. Repeat after me:  Flighty Prey Animal. If you are uncomfortable with handling a Flighty Prey Animal, even if that side only makes an appearance once every 5 years, horses are not for you.  The only horses you can trust to never, ever lose their minds and act like a Flighty Prey Animal are on rockers or merry-go-rounds.  A friend of mine’s solid 25 year old police horse flipped over backwards when someone inflated a helium balloon from a tank – because that is the sort of thing Flighty Prey Animals do.  (No one was hurt, thankfully)

Some of the most solid citizens under saddle have a serious ground glitch that is not going away. One that people talk about with an amazing level of venom is cribbing.  Cribbing can be a real pain in the butt if you have wood fences.  If you have pipe corrals, it’s kind of a non-issue.  Does it destroy their teeth?  Sure.  Does it keep them from gaining weight?  Nope, look at mine.  Can it sometimes be cured or greatly lessened?  Yes – try ulcer meds.  Will they teach everybody else in the barn to crib?  Nope.  (Hint:  When you see a whole bunch of cribbers in the same barn, it is because stressful conditions that create ulcers and gastric distress and cause cribbing, which relieves stomach discomfort, exist there.)  So why does it bother you so much?  Because they make a noise?  Because it looks funny?  Especially when I am looking for a beginner horse, I have a problem with bucking, bolting, rearing or spooking – I do not have a problem with a stall behavior that makes a noise and looks funny.  (Remember the old phrase “pick your battles” when horse shopping.  It is useful.)

So how do you stop nitpicking good horses out of the running and winding up empty-handed?  Make a list of which qualities are the MOST important for you to find, based upon who is going to ride the horse and the horse’s intended use.  My list, when I found this mare, would have gone something like this:

1. Quiet and predictable – especially at shows!  Kid is nervous enough without dealing with nervous horse.

2. Good in a crowded arena. No kick or reactive behavior.  Show warm up rings are scary!

3.  Willing over fences. Kid is not experienced enough to deal with a stopper.  She needs point-and-shoot.

4.  Calm in the line-up in flat classes. Previous horse was antsy and that scared her.

Then ask yourself – what are some flaws I can probably live with?  In my case:

1. Cinchy. No big deal, I can tack up the horse, or her trainer can, until she is old enough to learn how to deal with a cinchy horse.  We don’t allow her to ride unsupervised anyway, so it is a non-issue.  Also, I believe in massage and chiro and saddle fit – many owners do not, so this mare may not have had anything done to resolve the issue.

2.  Cribbing – If it doesn’t affect how she rides, who cares? I have pipe corrals, and metal on all of my wood edges.

3.  I could personally deal with a not-great loader.  We’re all good at loading and the kid isn’t old enough to load and go anywhere herself yet, so again…non issue.  And we could probably fix a horse who had loading issues.

4. We didn’t need a great trail horse.  Kid is mostly interested in riding in the arena and showing.  This mare doesn’t love going out alone.  She isn’t terrible but she is definitely a far more alert and spunky ride if you try to go out alone.  For some this would be a big problem; for us, it doesn’t matter.  If kid trail rides, it’ll be with a group. Mare is great with friends. She’s even fine if you pony off of her.  She’s just not a loner.

A beginner safe trail mare owned by a friend - who looked past the old cosmetic injury to the left hind.  How many buyers would have walked away?  9 years later this formerly slaughterbound rescue mare is still in a wonderful home.

A beginner safe trail mare owned by a friend – who looked past the old cosmetic injury to the left hind. How many buyers would have walked away? Nine years later this formerly slaughter-bound rescue mare is still in a wonderful home, and still the go-to horse when a grandkid wants to ride. 

Half the battle is figuring out which imperfections you can live with. Kicks other horses when tied to the trailer? Not an issue if you can put her on one side by herself, right?  Pulls back when tied?  Not a huge issue if he’ll stand when you loop the rope around the rail, and there’s always the blocker tie ring which fixes/minimizes the behavior. I think they cost $20.  (Also, once you figure out what kinds of things make him do that – like tightening the girth when tied or reaching for his face too quickly – you can frequently decrease the incidents so much that you’ll forget the horse was ever a puller).  How about head shy?   I have never had one not get a lot better with patience and cookies.  When you horse shop, remember that most issues are created by humans and can be fixed by different, more experienced, softer, more consistent humans.  I have seen horses have absolute 180 degree transformations in their first month here – the crabby become happy, the shut-down and dull become alert and interested.  As they become physically more comfortable and pain-free thanks to quality farrier, chiro, massage, a saddle that fits, etc. you see cranky, sullen behavior, refusal to move off the leg, head tossing, refusal to take a lead and general stiffness under saddle disappear.

So go shopping – just make sure your sense of reality is packed along with your wallet.  Perfect for you doesn’t mean perfect and flawless.  Perfect and flawless isn’t any more common in horses than it is in humans.  (Who doesn’t know that person who is forever alone because they have decided they require 46 specific qualities in their future partner?)  Decide what is important, leave room in the budget for a vet check so that you know exactly what the soundness level is, and then choose the best horse for you that is out there in your price range.  Close your eyes to color, size and gender unless they’re related to your competitive goals.  Mr. or Ms. Right is out there – don’t reject them because they are wearing ugly socks!



Another day – another Craigslist ad.


I have no doubt we can all agree this mare should not be ridden, not even by “small riders.”  But as soon as someone talks about what is or is not the “right thing” to do here, we see that equestrians are generally divided into two groups:

1)  “Put it to sleep!  For Heaven’s sake. It’s obvious there is no fixing that.”

2) “What a horrible thing to say.  Someone would give her a home as a pet. She shouldn’t have to be KILLED!”

Anyone who has been reading what I have to say for a while knows I tend to be a member of group #1 – at least when a horse is obviously, permanently disabled. I understand I’m not a vet, nor are most commenters, and no one has seen the x-rays, but a leg like the one shown in the picture isn’t exactly a mystery lameness requiring diagnostics to figure out.  I don’t know what happened to that mare, but that leg is, for lack of any better term, seriously (insert epithet of choice) up.  I am very comfortable betting $1000 cash that mare does not walk sound, even without seeing her or her x-rays.

Am I always in group #1?  Nope.  If the major issue seems to be lack of weight, I’m never ever in group #1.  I know for a fact that BCS 1 horses can recover fully and go on to ride and compete for twenty years. It happens all the time. Euthanizing something because it is skinny sounds like the dumbest thing in the world to me.

Nor would I be in group #1 if the horse’s legs appeared normal, but the horse was seriously lame.  There are a thousand things that could cause that, and this is when you do need a vet, and x-rays, and ultrasounds, and a good farrier.

Furthermore, I’m hardly ever in group #1 when we’re talking about behavioral issues.  Most things can be fixed.  Due to the shortage of truly talented trainers who can fix them (and funds to pay for training), I don’t criticize rescues that end up euthanizing for aggression – but at the same time, I think most of those horses (100% of those whose aggression doesn’t come from a physical cause) can be resolved. I am not saying the horse will ever be a beginner horse but can it be made safe for an experienced person to ride and handle?  Yes.  If the aggression is not being caused by pain or chemical/hormonal issues that can’t be resolved.

But when I see a leg like the one in the ad, or a horse who needs a prosthesis, or a spooky, reactive horse who has lost his vision – I am firmly in group #1.  Why?  Because horse disability isn’t human disability.  Let’s say I lose my vision.  Pretty horrible to think about – but the world is full of adaptive equipment. I can listen to audiobooks. I can get software that reads me everything on my computer screen and allows me to reply.  I can get a great seeing-eye dog to help me stay mobile.  Heck, it won’t be long til I’ll be able to drive now that self-driving cars are coming out.  I can work at a job and I can still write – many blind individuals do, so I could earn a living. If I couldn’t earn a living, I could get disability payments to at least ensure that I’d have a roof over my head and food to eat.  I can get a horse trained to deal with a blind rider, and keep riding.  Much of what I currently do, I could relearn how to do with one sense missing.  People do it all the time, surprising themselves and others with their incredible ability to adapt.

Now, let’s look at that horse in the ad with that leg.  What can she do?  Well, she can’t run, I am sure she is lame at the walk and I am sure moving hurts.  She can’t go take 2 Advil – she’s a horse.  Unless her people recognize she needs pain meds (and that certainly didn’t happen here), she doesn’t get any.  She can’t go get a scooter or an electric wheelchair to get around comfortably – she’s a horse.  She can’t lay down for long periods of time or she will colic and die – she’s a horse.  If another horse tries to kick her, well, she’s pretty much going to get kicked. She can’t get out of the way.  She can’t call the cops and report the assault, or pick up a pepper spray to defend herself.  Her entire ability to defend herself, by kicking back, is completely gone.

Blind Cathy can get a job.  Lame Cathy can get all kinds of jobs.  (Cathy’s lame most days, especially in the morning, but Lame Cathy can take Advil and go clean the barn anyway).  Mare with a back leg shaped like a C?  There are no jobs. The only way she gets any food at all is if some human feeds her – and given that she can’t be ridden and therefore provide a service in return for that expense, the potential homes are now narrowed down to just serious animal lovers…who also happen to be able to afford an extra horse who cannot do a job.  Needless to say, that is a tiny number of potential homes. Most of us who can afford to support retirees are already at capacity.  How often do you hear someone say “yeah, I’m looking for just the right crippled Thoroughbred to add to my herd?”    Lame Mare doesn’t have a family who might take her in.  She can’t apply for disability.  Her odds of having adequate food and medical care and hoof care are painfully slim.  As the ad shows, she isn’t getting any of that now.

Group #2, I get it. I truly do. It’s one of the great unfairnesses of life that this mare got hurt, maybe from something dumb a human did, and now she’s the one who has to die.  It is very, very sad.   Our nature as humans is to believe there’s always a way to succeed at anything; that a happy ending can snatched out of the jaws of defeat every time.  That’s just not the case when it comes to disabled horses.  Horses are, unfortunately, not designed to withstand major injury.  If they don’t get immediate surgery, everything becomes, in layman’s terms, a big awful calcified arthritic mess.  I am sure there is a vet term for that, but I don’t know it.  It’s what has happened when you see those ridiculous baseball-sized knees on horses.  Horses who can’t even bend their foreleg and have to swing the leg like a crutch to hobble around the pen.  Because horses are flighty prey animals, they try to do things that their crippled leg cannot withstand, like gallop around and do rollbacks.  Then they add something like a suspensory tear to their baseball-sized knee.  You can’t tell them to take it easy and stay alive because – they’re a horse.  You can drug them up forever, I guess, but even that has varying levels of success and long term use of tranquilizers can create side effects like organ failure.

I know that Group #2 hates this answer, but sometimes there is no answer.  Sometimes something can’t be fixed.  Or it didn’t get fixed at the time and now it can’t be fixed because it’s too late.   Sometimes death is the answer and it’s the best answer.  You can rant all day about the crap owner who let this happen, but that doesn’t improve the life of Lame Mare.  Arguing with everybody else in rescue about it doesn’t help her, either.  You can fundraise and spend a lot of money on some procedure that might make Lame Mare a little less lame, but in the meantime, 12 other young, sweet, cute, sound, pocket pony Thoroughbreds with all the potential in the world just went to kill.  Does that make sense?

It sucks and it’s not fair but when you look at the big picture, and what life is really like for a disabled horse, you see why so many horse advocates do advocate for euthanasia in cases like these.  Lame Mare can be spoiled and given lots of treats and loved on for a week or two.  It will probably be the best week or two of her entire life.  Horses have no sense of death; just of danger and pain.  Slaughter is not evil because the horses wind up dead — it’s evil because of the pain and terror they experience before that happens.  A horse receiving a tranquilizer before euthanasia feels no differently than a horse being anesthetized for a procedure he or she will wake up from.  If the choice of euthanasia is a bullet and the shooter knows what they are doing, death is instantaneous.  YOU know what a gun is, the HORSE does not.  They aren’t feeling fear or anxiety. They don’t know a gun is capable of ending their life. They are gone in a flash – no more pain, no more suffering.

The only way any horse being euthanized knows something bad is up is if you’re there and are upset and crying – which is why I recommend owners who can’t hold it together not attend.  Again, Lame Mare is not your great-aunt, who will be horribly upset you didn’t show up at the hospital to say goodbye. Lame Mare doesn’t know she is going anywhere.  She doesn’t know she won’t be here tomorrow.  Only you know that, which is why you’re the one who is upset.  As much as we love them, and as much as we do believe horses have higher intelligence than we give them credit for, I have never seen any research suggesting that a horse about to undergo euthanasia has the faintest clue what is about to take place or that death is imminent.  Slaughter, yes – they smell the blood and are well aware because it’s an assembly line.  One horse being euthanized at home by calm, professional people?   No clue.  As far as they know, it is spring shots time.

Keeping a flighty prey animal alive in a state of constant pain, unable to move around freely, is never about the horse. It is about people who cannot handle death.  My understanding is that this mare has been picked up by a rescue.  I hope it is one that will do the right thing – give her an absolutely fabulous mini-retirement and then send her over the Bridge, to a place where she can run as Thoroughbreds should and as she no doubt once did.

Happy Horsey Holidays!

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Adopted horse Priceless wishes YOU a very happy holiday season!

Adopted horse Priceless wishes YOU a very happy holiday season!

We’ve gotten two horses in here in a row suffering from a very basic failure in equine maintenance: They are full of sand. As a result, they had/have diarrhea and are skinny and look hideous, and it’s kind of a miracle they haven’t colicked and died yet.

This is NOT normal. Horses do not just have diarrhea for no reason.

This is NOT normal. Horses do not just have diarrhea for no reason.

If you’re in a climate with sandy soil, there are two ways it will go:

1) You will treat for sand, or
2) Your horses will have a gut full of sand that causes a variety of health problems, and can cause death.

Part of the reason we see so many problems with polo ponies is that there’s this tendency to just put them “out to pasture” for months at a time. Out to pasture usually means out to pasture in Indio, a.k.a. the desert. It’s called the desert for a reason – it’s full of sand. Yes, underneath those lovely irrigated grass pastures, is a whole lot of sand and if you throw a herd of horses out on a field there for 3 or 4 months and the field gets grazed down, they will start desperately trying to eat every bit of vegetation left. Since horses are not the pickiest eaters, this means they will ingest plenty of dirt and sand along with the grass. That sand won’t just come out the other end. It has a tendency to settle in their intestines and clog up the works. Imagine dumping a scoop of sand down your sink’s drain.

There’s also a tendency to house horses in pipe corrals that do not have any bedding or mats in them. They may have feeders, but we have all seen horses pull the hay out of the feeders and throw it on the ground to eat. This is because horses prefer to eat off the ground, so that they can naturally shake the dust and dirt off the hay as they eat it instead of getting all of that up their noses. Despite all the various feeders and nets devised to keep hay off the ground, most horses are experts at putting it there and then eating from that location.

The end result is that many horses collect incredible amounts of sand in their intestines and colic, and this is a common cause of death.

Horse intestine full of sand

Losing a horse to sand colic is the financial equivalent of blowing the engine on your luxury car because you never got the oil changed. It is dumb. It is avoidable. There is a cheap, easy, reliable way to clear out sand called psyllium.  You don’t need a prescription for it.  You can even get it at Costco if your horses don’t mind orange flavor.

Much, much, much cheaper than a vet call or losing a horse!

One week out of the month, you feed your horses a half cup of psyllium once a day. You mix it with something tasty like senior feed and soak it and mix it together. This solves the problem 99% of the time.

If you are going to participate in a sport that involves live animals, it is your responsibility to understand and provide appropriate care to keep them healthy. Do not assume your pro knows best and will tell you what your horses need. Some people with high polo ratings would be a -1 if rated on horse care, whereas some -1’s are absolutely knowledgeable and meticulous. Talk to the vet yourself. Learn what good health looks like – what a wormy horse looks like, what a horse full of sand looks and acts like. Don’t blow the transmission because you never check your fluids — you’re smarter than that with your car, so be just as smart with your horses!

Why we pay for professional training

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Sometimes we hear the opinion that rescues should just DIY everything to save money – and believe me, we do.  Everyone on our board of directors mucks stalls, feeds and water.  But when it comes to training – a.k.a. the #1 most important factor in ensuring a horse can find and keep a great home – we happily write a check.


2014-09-18 17.43.54

How Gypsy rode upon intake – September 2014

And how Gypsy rides now:

Gypsy is a 15 year old 16.1 hand Thoroughbred mare, ex race horse but not ex polo, and she is available now. Thank you to Danica Reslock of Brass Ring Sun Farms for her hard work fixing our giraffe horse! (And to Jodi Heaston for massage and Dr. Jeff Chavis for chiro – those definitely helped, too!)  Adoption fee $800. Click on “forms and policies” to your left for more information!