These are one of my specialties. There have been several instances in which I have been the last hope for a horse whose owners had already consulted several trainers, and had already decide that if I was not successful, the horse would be destroyed. There have also, of course, been many horses who simply went on to live much more comfortable lives with happier owners. Please read about a few below.
Brak was a retired thoroughbred racehorse. On the track, many sorts of bad behavior are tolerated with the idea that the horse should be "full of himself" so he has the confidence to take on his competitors. Brak often appeared to be well-mannered towards his caretakers, but with an air of superiority, as if he knew they worked for him. Those who fed him were his waiters, those that groomed him were his hairdressers, those that cleaned up after him were his maids, those that did his feet were his manicurists, and he treated them well for the most part just as you would. However, if they did anything to displease him (bad hair day, too slow with dinner, or just not bowing to his majesty quickly enough) he would charge at them and take a BIG bite! He was very unpredictable. When I explained to him that I was now in charge, he was truly shocked. It was a complete paradigm shift for the poor guy. I established my dominance thoroughly, and with no violence whatsoever. In addition to his behavioral issues, his mouth was thoroughly ruined. It felt like there was a brick wall at the other end of my reins. I rode him entirely from my seat and leg for weeks, just holding the reins without using them until he was ready to open that line of communication. Brak is now such a wonderful horse in every way that he is my lesson horse!
Lanai was a two-year old who had taken to kicking at people for no apparent reason. The hard part with Lanai was observing the behavior. Frequently horse owners tell me their horse does something with no provocation, when in fact there is something provoking the horse that his handlers haven’t noticed. I had to see her kick in order to determine the cause. In her case, there really was none! She was thoughtless, playing. It took some looking into the rest of Lanai’s routine to determine why she thought this was acceptable. She was turned out with yearlings and a couple of very tolerant retirees. There was no one in pasture to make her mind manners. I had her owners turn her out instead with a group of young mares. In her new group she was at the bottom of the pecking order, which meant that all the other herd members monitored her manners, and corrected her when she was out of line. They never left a mark on her, but the lessons carried over to her work with people and she never kicked again!
Phae was 5 years old when I met her. She had not yet had any training beyond basic handling. Her owners had so much trouble with her anyway, they thought she might need the extra time to mature and settle. She’d been hurt by someone as a yearling, and never trusted anyone since. She was always prepared to defend herself in any way necessary. At a big-boned 16.3 hands, she was very capable of doing serious damage. Read about her, and another big girl in Resistance on the articles page. Once I earned her trust, by letting her set the pace in our work and never trying to force her, she learned very quickly and became one of my all-time favorite, most trusted horses.
Captain was a very well trained horse who was out of work for a while. When time came to get him back in shape his owners chose a trainer based on price and convenience. After all, he didn’t need training, just exercise; it shouldn’t have needed much skill. Unfortunately, the trainer tumbled off one day when Captain spooked during mounting. He then bolted, got tangled in the reins, and hurt himself. After that he became very difficult to mount. He was punished for misbehaving, which only increased his fear, causing his behavior to worsen. When someone did manage to fling herself into the saddle, he bucked her off. The owners decided he would have to be sold. When I arrived to teach a lesson to another boarder, they asked my opinion. I assessed Captain’s behavior and estimated that I could cure him in two sessions. They didn’t believe me, so paid for one month of full-time training. His fear was gone in two sessions, and I was able to show his owners how to guard against it’s return. They refused a refund of the remainig sessions, so I spent the rest of the month expanding his comfort level with mounting so that he could be mounted from either side, from the ground or a mounting block, in thunder storms, and in the midst of general boarding barn chaos without batting an eye, as well as getting him in shape.
Alita was a gorgeous mare. Unfortunately, her owners trusted the wrong people to care for her. Her first trainer apparently was abusive. When he declared that she was a waste of his time, she was sent to a boarding facility where her chronically pinned ears intimidated the staff. They avoided handling her whenever possible, e.g., by opening her stall door and letting her run out to pasture rather than leading her. They usually fed once a day, but sometimes in the winter it was too cold to bother (which means, I’m sure, that no one provided water on those days either)! When I met her, she was extremely insecure, but tried to camouflage her fears with aggression: biting, kicking, rearing, bucking, and running people over. Moving her to a facility where feed was provided multiple times per day on a strict schedule, and fresh water was always available, made a huge difference in her outlook. She was very fearful of contact with the bit, as if she’d been ridden with a harsh bit, or by a rider with abusive hands, or both. This created so much tension throughout her body that it was impossible to get any sort of steady rhythm in any gait. However after 4 months she was practically unrecognizable. All the tension was gone, both on the ground and under saddle. She was working solidly at first level, and spectators frequently gathered during our riding sessions, attracted by her pure beauty, athleticism, fluidity, and grace. She was an absolute pleasure to work with.