Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Red Headed Fury


It's been a month of fear and frustration with my dear Wadatika. Something so deep and dark that I dared not speak it out least not type it where eyes outside of my own little real life realm would know.

While I was away at Color Fest, I called home and City Boy told me that Tika had come charging at him. He stood his ground, though, and she backed off. Such a wave of relief for me, since Tika has not taken much to City Boy. She is not a horse who easily makes new friends. The fact that she couldn't buffalo him out of her space was a very positive step in the right direction.

Or so it would have appeared...


In a call later that night, City Boy had a far different tale to tell. That afternoon he'd gone out with a treat, hoping to entice the red headed diva into his space. Tika, however, is not easily swayed by bribes, and she let City Boy know that in no uncertain terms as she not only charged, but reared and struck out at a him, missing his head by just inches. Thankfully, he had a fence between himself and her, that being the only thing that kept her from making contact. So close was she, in fact, that as she came back down to the ground, one of her hooves made contact with the fence rails and for a split second City Boy wondered how he would ever manage to get this enraged horse free. A second wave of thankfulness hit when she managed to pull herself free of the rails.

There was no mistaking City Boy's dislike of this current turn of events. He did not feel safe around Tika...nor did he think it safe for others to come near her when I was not there.

And this has been weighing heavily on my mind for a month. What to do about the horse who can't get along with her caretakers? If I'm present, she does well. If I'm not in the picture...well, I certainly never expected her to launch into attack mode. This was most defintely an issue that would require some serious thought and attention.

My problems were these:

I love this mare, and she's very affectionate with me, of that there is no doubt. She's relaxed, dropping her head down, wrapping her long neck around me, and blowing softly into my face. Parting with her would be heartbreaking...for both of us.

I could not in good conscience send her to another home. It would not only feel as though I was betraying her, but she could seriously injure someone else, and I surely did not want that happening.

Sending her back to the corrals seemed the only option (aside from keeping her)...but that also poses a problem. What if someone were to adopt her? I'm not saying no one else could ever handle her...but what if she ended up with some rough, tough, don't mess with me bloke? What if he challenged her, and she accepted? Or worse, what if she ended up with a wimp? The corrals, while safe on the surface, could pose a greater danger than either of the other two options, both for Tika and potential adopters.

Option number four waved out there in the back of my mind, not wanting to gain attention, but needing to suggest the one answer that solved the problem. Euthanasia...

Oh, just don't even go there with me, please.


I came home from Color Fest, dark images swirling about in my mind mixed with thoughts and dreams of all that could have been with my girl. How does one deal with a one person horse? A horse that isn't simply grumpy or difficult to ride, or too shy to come out and play, but rather a man eating, red headed fury?

It was with a heavy heart that I walked out into the round pen on Monday morning. Tika lifted her head and walked halfway to me, then swished and swayed and trotted a couple of circles around me, ears pinned, daring me to make her do my bidding. I watched for a moment, then moved towards her hindquarters. She turned and faced up, ears up, eyes watching intently.

"Come here, baby girl," I whispered, and we closed the gap together. My fingers slipped down her face gently, and my body leaned into hers, my face buried deep into her winter coat. Her head came around in her signature hug and we stood quietly. She'd missed me as much as I'd missed her. What on earth were we going to do?



Anonymous said...

How do you convince her that you are not the Only One, but that she can deal with other people, and that aggression against people is never OK? It's a very difficult problem, and my heart goes out to you.

Tracey said...

By having the right person able to step in...while I'm not there. But who is the right person? And do I really want to risk someone else's safety?

Shirley said...

You have your work cut out for you. Is she like that with all men? Can Curt help? I pray that you will find the answers.

Lea and her Mustangs said...

Whew. Hard decisions.

GunDiva said...

Tough decisions.

Have to tell you, though, my mom's horse is definitely a one-person horse. She was not quite that aggressive, but was aggressive enough that I wouldn't let my kids go into the pen (even to pull another horse) without an adult around. As Jesse has aged, she has mellowed out a little bit, but I'll still never completely trust her. She is so in tune to my mother that if anyone else is working with her and she hears my mom, she completely focuses on her, not the person who is supposed to be in charge.

Maybe Tika will work well with someone else. Do you know other mustang owners who would be willing to work with her?

wilsonc said...

My heart goes out to you...what a terrible situation you have been put in. I am so sorry, and I hope you can think of some way to work through this.

cdncowgirl said...

Very thought provoking. Have you made a decision?

I left you a little something on my blog, the post will be up Friday morning.

Paint Girl said...

That is too bad, I know you will figure out what to do, even though it won't be easy. I sure hope Tika comes around. She is so pretty!

T.L. Merrybard said...

I haven't seen how she looks when she does this, which would tell me a lot, but perhaps it is fear rather than aggression. It can look like aggression and feel like aggression when you are on the receiving end, but underneath, the only person she feels safe having near her is you, and she is driving off everyone else to keep herself safe.

I have no idea where to go from there if it is true, but perhaps if she could become as comfortable with another person who is experienced with mustangs and works in a way you are happy with, then maybe another person, and so, in the end she will generalise and realise that other humans too can be trusted even if you've never met them before.

That is not a face that is 'bad', it is a sensitive, intelligent, even a gentle face. She has just got the wrong end of the stick when it comes to people other than you, and she has enough fire in her to charge rather than cower.

I would suggest keeping her more than one fence away from other people until you find the right person to work with her.

Unknown said...

What a terrible problem. You'll do what's best, I hope that somehow she comes around.

photogchic said...

I went through all those same thoughts the day Maddy went up on her hind legs and walked towards me striking. I had never seen any thing like it. After a few days of thinking what to do....I decided my only choice was "to make her good enough for someone else." Well, she got so good...I kept her.

You are an awesome trainer....make her good enough for someone else.

Connie Peterson said...

What a sad story. I hope that you figure something out. I can't give you advice like others have, but I can pray for you and Tika .. she is so beautiful and so sweet (to you). There has to be a way besides the ultimate. Good luck to both of you ... I have confidence that YOU will find a way.

strivingforsavvy said...

Oh my goodness. I have tears in my eyes. I don't have an answer for you. What a terrible situation to be in. You will have a lot of talented people to talk to at the Mustang Challenge. Maybe a solution can be found there.

Michelle said...

I know how difficult this is. We have gone through something similar (not quite as bad as yours). Fortunately, I have very supportive friends and family. We all worked very hard to socialize and (nicely) force ourselves on her. Little by little, she learned to accept others.

That said... You have to do what you are most comfortable with. It's easy when you on your own, but it's extremely difficult when you are responsible for others safety.

My heart aches for you.

Anonymous said...

Tracey, I'm so sorry. Both me and my mom were crying as we read your post. I wish I could help in some way, but I have no ideas...I wish the best for you guys and Tika

Unknown said...

As Tina said, it may be fear aggression, which although I'm not a horse expert, I am a dog trainer and own a fear aggressive dog, and fear is something that can be worked through easier than outright aggression. Fears can be treated and overcome, but an animal that is aggressive without fear is a much harder animal to treat.

In dogs, most aggression is fear based, dogs go on the offense in a "I'll get you before you get me" kind of response. I can't imagine it would be much different in horses, in fact, because they are prey animals, their fear response may be even stronger than in a predator animal.

While I'm not a horse expert or trainer, with dogs I've found clicker training and counter conditioning are very successful. With my own fearful dog, I've used TTouch with incredible success, taking my highly reactive Great Dane from a lunging maniac to a worried but calm dog who can safely be around strangers now.

I understand the challenge you face, but if you are interested in trying some perhaps non-traditional horse training techniques (using a clicker, using TTouch) I'd be happy to refer you to someone in your area. There are quite a few horse clicker trainers, as well as TTouch people who work with horses in the Pacific NW.

Linda said...

My first Mustang did that to me--came with the hooves flying, and oddly, it was AFTER she'd gone to training the first time. She bonded hard with the trainer and her husband (my farrier)--he ended up buying her from me eventually. She was definitely a one person horse--but the "one" person shifted for her--maybe it will be the same in your situation.

shadowlake2005 said...

Mugwump Chronicles has a story going now that might be helpful, I hope. It looks to me like a fear thing, but I`m not there and not an expert.

Grey Horse Matters said...

She has a really cute sweet face. Even though she has bonded to you exclusively, maybe she sees you as her protector and doesn't yet trust anyone else. Maybe working with you and others at the same time will give her a sense of comfort from more than one person and she will eventually be able to be handled by others. Good luck.

Catherine said...

Tracey, I've had this with a domestic horse that was never trained (till age 8). He was a stallion at the time so had the hormonal issues (mares also have this!). He reared up and struck me in the shoulder when my back was turned latching the gate, totally unprovoked. He appeared fine and relaxed before the dirty deed. Some may not like this but I took a whip with me into the pen after this very scary episode, set up the same scenario (gate closing, back turned) and when he reared up struck him in the front legs with the whip until he came down. He tried once more, then threatened half heartedly once, then decided he would accept direction. He is a fighter--even as a gelding--and I respect him for this. He is safe on the ground for anyone now but remains more of a one person horse--isn't affectionate with anyone outside of my daughter and I and is easily suspicious and protective of his space. That's just who he is and we accept him. However, aggresive behavior is never okay. I use the John Lyons method--make the horse think he is going to die for three seconds after aggression, then be his friend and try again. I wish you the best, Tika is beautiful.

Phyllis said...

I've never had the honor of having a horse and know that they are very different creatures from dogs. I do have lots of experience with all kinds of dogs, being a foster mom for several years. They all have their own personalities and many have issues. Some never completely got over their issues (my Princess being one), but are still wonderful and loving pets.

Whatever you do, I just hope she doesn't end up in a slaughter house. That's always my worry for horses.

T.L. Merrybard said...

I second trying TTouch and clicker. I've been thinking about it, and what cityboy could do is start by rewarding her with what she actually wants which is him to go away. He could stand out of reach and wait for her to stand back in her pen and be calm, then click and walk away. Repeat that often enough and see how fast she begins to choose calm, and go from there in baby steps. I'm sure there have been some very apparently aggressive horses who have been rehabbed that way. One who comes to mind was called America and she was very close to being put down when they took her on.

I think there is a very good description of something like it in a Mark Rashid book, "A good horse is never a bad colour," not using clicker, but a very frightened horse that 'the old man' tamed by rewarding calm with his own retreat. Clicker would just help mark the behaviour that is being rewarded and should make things go quicker.

I should think it is very close to what you do with the mustangs already, just maybe even smaller steps and never pushing as you know how she will react. You don't want her to be pushed so far that she uses this tactic, as every success in making someone back off will make it seem worth trying again.

TTouch could be used by starting it on your own and then adding another person in quietly when she is already relaxed. It seems to help their brains a lot having more than one person work on them at once, and you can do some leading exercises with one on each side of her too. Of course you would have to keep the other person safe, but it is conceivably possible to do it. Such calm thoughtful work seems to change the way a horse reacts to things. Teaches them to bypass fight or flight, which is exactly what Tika is relying on right now, and instead use the thinking part of their brain.

Anyway, just mulling things over. :)

Megs said...

It is truly a tough situation. I have fallen in love with Tika through your blog and hope for so much for her. But I also have little use for any animal that is willing to attack. Regardless of the excuses that could be given for the reason why. There are too many animals out there that could benefit from your help.

Even if it is fear aggression.....there is always a chance that something fearful will happen in her life. You cannot desensitize to every situation. And truthfully, I could not in good conscious sell a horse that behaved that way.

Could you possibly set up a situation like that again so you can see for yourself? Obviously safety first. But perhaps Darling could video it and City Boy could approach her corral again.

Penny was a one person horse. I could catch her, etc but everyone else always had a tough time. As romantic as it was (aka Black Stallion syndrome), it was also a huge pain. And she was not dangerous. You cannot be there all the time, and what if there was a situation where City Boy or Darling HAD to go in and catch her?

Talk to Curt. I'm sure he will have some pearls of wisdom to help. I cringe at the thought of giving up on her....but....


Andrea -Mustang Saga said...

It's crazy the parallels in your life and mine. I've been going through the same thoughts about my Bella. Not because she's dangerous but because she's lame. Not fun stuff to have to consider.