I first saw Berry, I was impressed. A tall, good-looking
four year old Paint gelding, he seemed the ideal green-broke
prospect for his new owner, an experienced young rider who
wanted to participate in training her own horse. Berry had
been shown successfully at halter as a youngster, and been
started as a two year old, but then had been unshown in
his three year old year due to his previous owners “lack
was not in my barn more than a few hours when the problems
reared their ugly heads. Berry would stand at his stall
door with his ears up, but when I opened the door he lunged
at me with teeth bared. If he was eating, he would kick
out an anyone who entered his stall. Under saddle he was
prone to sudden, inexplicable spooking. He had the odd habit
of moving over on someone who was grooming him, trying to
crush the person into the wall. It was quickly clear why
the previous owner had lacked time to deal him.
trying to track down the roots of his atrocious behavior.
Like many horses who are shown very young, Berry had not
had much of a colt-hood. His handlers were in a hurry, and
if he resisted anything, from being clipped to blanketing
to mane pulling, they simply forced him. He was still little,
but twitches, stud chains and tranquilizers were a major
part of his life.
of horses are shown as babies and this doesn’t have
to be the program. If the trainers had recognized that the
colt was overstressed and addressed the problems in the
beginning, they likely would not have become so bad. Every
horse has a threshold for stress, and what works on one
might be too much for another. While Berry was physically
a good halter horse, he didn’t have the mind for it,
at least at the time. He became a very unhappy horse.
for Berry, his new owner was persistent and patient. While
we did not tolerate dangerous behavior, we tried to cut
him as much leeway as possible on the little things. He
had as much free time in the turnout as possible. We only
blanketed him when necessary. We could clip him a little
at a time over several days rather than get into a battle.
We developed strategies to deal with the bad behaviors such
as crushing people into walls that caught him by surprise
– we stuck thumbtacks in the walls in the grooming
area, and when he started to move over on us, we’d
grab a tack and quietly poke him. He quickly learned not
to do that, and it didn’t involve whips or twitches.
aspects of Berry’s training gave us hope. The spooking
improved greatly after he began regular chiropractic care
to address muscle spasms in his back. Since he was green-broke
when we started working with him, we found that teaching
him new things went very well. He easily learned flying
lead changes, and enjoyed jumping, but would grump about
performing a simple jog. Yet, though his ground manners
improved and his training progressed, he would still occasionally
get angry and lash out – bucking, biting or kicking.
We finally identified this behavior with exhaustion or pain,
and set about addressing those problems before he became
frustrated. At shows, Berry would often perform beautifully
in the morning, but his afternoon classes suffered. We began
scheduling a break, where he would be unsaddled, fed some
grain, and left alone for 30 minutes. Having this mental
and physical break helped enormously.
not a quick fix, but three years later Berry was performing
successfully in events ranging from Hunters to Western Pleasure.
The outbursts were extremely rare, and his general attitude
was one of calm. I don’t think I would ever call Berry
“cheerful” but I do believe he became content,
a huge difference from the day his owner brought him home.
Eraldi of Eraldi Training in Potter Valley specializes in
Pleasure horses and Equitation riders. She can be contacted
at 707-743-1337, or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Doris' previous article