Maddie, full name Platinum Madrigal, is half paint Saddlebred and half Paint (of Quarter Horse blood.) She is a chocolate palomino, eight year old mare. Because her breeders wanted a color foal (paint,) and Maddie turned out this odd, but to me, beautiful shade, they sold her for a very reasonable price when she was a yearling. I always dreamed of having a palomino, so I’m thrilled.
Unfortunately, many people should not be raising horses, including Maddie’s breeders, because she had next to no training when I received her. She could lead, more than I can say for my other horse, Vista. I also got her as a yearling and she had zero training. Other than leading, Maddie was pretty clueless. Worst of all, she had no respect for people. She had been raised around a little girl who treated her like a dog, a very mannerless dog.
When I got her, Maddie thought people were just other horses; smaller, less powerful horses that she could bully. She would even put back her ears and threaten me, like horses do to each other. It took several sessions of ground training in a round pen for Maddie to understand that the space around a person is to be respected. Now, she can mostly be trusted to work around. I never fully trust any horse.
The filly also never had her feet handled. Horses need their hooves trimmed at least every eight weeks, so a horse that won’t cooperate is a dangerous animal. It took me many patient hours to teach her to stand with one hoof held up. She does very well now and the farrier is always happy with her.
Having her hooves handled was just the worst part of Maddie’s lack of experience. It quickly became apparent that the horse had never been adequately gentled by having her whole body touched by human hands. This is something that a good breeder does very soon after the foal is born. The hands are gently run over every inch of the horse. (I recommend gloves for the stinky parts!) If begun when they are young, the human touch is always welcomed by a horse. Maddie did not welcome anything more than scratching her neck. I am still working with her on this issue. Luckily, I’ve only been kicked once when I touched her belly. She kicked from surprise, I think, not anger or warning. She is MUCH better than when we started.
Vet visits were at one time another disaster with Maddie. She would not tolerate injections. A thousand pound animal that doesn’t want a shot is a very dangerous beast. Vista would watch with wonder as her pasture mate freaked out. The older mare never moves a muscle for shots and has never required a twitch. The only thing that has worked to calm Maddie is a lip twitch. Now, I know some people don’t like the twitch. They claim it is inhumane. A properly applied twitch is not inhumane. It is very effective.
I use only a rope twitch on a wood pole. The rope is tightened around the upper lip and held for only a short time while the shot is given. It works by causing the horse’s body to release endorphins that ease pain and bring a happy and relaxed feeling. Using the twitch has turned Maddie from a threat to the vet into a pliable patient with little effort. It worked immediately. Maddie doesn’t mind having the twitch applied, she holds her head down for it because she knows she gets a treat after. This horse will work for treats. One day, with experience, she will learn that shots aren’t that awful and the twitch will no longer be necessary. I am now able to give Maddie all her shots myself, except the rabies, which must be administered by a vet.
The animal has a strong mind of her own. She is very smart for a horse. Most are considered to have intelligence comparable to a three year old human. Maddie is more like a five year old. Training her to ride has been a challenge. Things progress pretty well until I want to go in a direction she is not comfortable with. Then she refuses to budge and pins back her ears. The ear signal is often the only warning that a horse is ready to buck, or even worse, rear. So far we have not had to experience either of those aside from a little crow-hop once when she first started under saddle.
Maddie responds to treats, kind words and scratching. She reacts badly, even violently, to a raised voice or the touch of a riding crop. The lunge whip frightens her, although she has never been hit with it. Maybe she had some very early bad experience with a whip that scarred her, who knows? So, when the horse lays her ears back and balks at a request I make when riding, I redirect her. We turn in a circle, and as we swing around to the way I want to go, I again urge her in that direction. Usually that is enough to get her cooperating. If not, we repeat until she behaves.
Horses do best when they are moving forward. Standing allows them to think about things and work up a really good fit. Walking, even just to circle, moves their mind away from what is bothering them and they quickly forget. Usually. My mare, Vista, who is 26, is still fearful of woodpiles. She has been so her entire life. No idea why. She will never forget that a woodpile is actually a dangerous monster lurking in wait, no matter how old she gets or how many woodpiles she passes safely. She is the same way about blue tarps.
So far, Maddie has shown great bravery around woodpiles, although the pink kiddie pool is pretty horrific for her. She has the ability to overcome her fears with exposure, unlike Vista. This is another indication of superior intelligence in a horse. I’m not certain that having a really smart horse is a good thing. She is constantly challenging me. As time goes by, we will see how useful extra brains are for a riding horse.