A few months ago I went to look at a horse for a client. He was a stocky, handsome Canadian Horse, who was pretty affordable for his breed. We drove for hours, into the beautiful rolling hills of New Hampshire, and arrived at the old farmhouse finally. As we got out of the truck, the gelding was standing in his pasture already tacked up – bad sign #1. We walk down to meet the owner and the horse, and I note that she had already tacked him up. She claimed she just wanted to see how he would do – we already had established on the phone that he had been “off” lately, a bit pushy on the ground, and generally bratty. She said that he was good for when she tacked him up, but obviously I asked her if I could untack him, and go through my normal “getting ready to ride routine.” She obliged, and I began by just petting him and rubbing him down, and then took him for a walk around the pasture. He was definitely pushy and hard headed, but nothing too alarming – he just appeared to be a 1500 lb. horse that never had been given boundaries. We began tacking him up, and I gently sacked him out with the saddle pad. He exhibited no nervousness, but definitely was acting annoyed. Without any other warning, he locked his neck, spun, pulled the lead rope out of my hand, and galloped to the other end of the pasture.
Hmmm… I thought, not so good so far… I walked over to him, and grabbed the lead rope to bring him back over to where the saddle was. He pinned his ears at me and began to act very threatening. I redirected his energy, sending him out, circling him until he softened. We then walked back across the pasture. As I went to pick up the saddle pad, he quickly pinned his ears, reared and lunged right at me with one of the most intense looks I have ever seen in a horse. I can only describe it as a look of hate. I I dodged out of the way, and he dove at me again. I disengaged his hindquarters, and he finally stopped. My heart was pounding. Never have I experienced such aggression from a horse. What scared me the most was not necessarily his actions, but rather the direct intent and aggressiveness of his energy. He was literally seething hatred. To be honest, I really think that there was a hormonal or mental imbalance going on with this horse.
Needless to say, I immediately ended our visit. I came to look at a horse for an intermediate youth rider, not work through major behavioral issues, and frankly I did not feel that I had the skills to work on such aggressive behavior. As I watched the owner lead the horse back into his pen, I paid close attention to their body language, and it immediately became clear that this was not an isolated incident. She was afraid of him too, and was literally tiptoeing around him for fear of upsetting him. She claimed that he had never done something like that before, but I was not so sure. I pleaded with her to seek professional help from someone more local to her, and to not show him to anyone else without full disclosure of his aggressive behavior. The defeated look on her sheet white face did not leave me hopeful that she would follow either bit of my advice.
As we drove away, a huge cloud of sadness and silence fell over the car. I had no faith that the lady would keep prospective buyers safe from her horse, and consequently, no faith that the horse would be safe either. He was the type of horse that would end up hurting someone, and then get would get hurt himself. Possibly, that cycle may have already begun, and perhaps that was part of why he was the way he was. Even though this gelding was hours away from me, and I did not have the setup, resources or skills to deal with such a horse, I still wished I could have helped him. Leaving behind a horse if a bad situation always hurts, and that sadness would linger with me for a while.
Stay Tuned for Part 2.