As I began my journey of training horses many years ago there was one particular horse that was the turning point for me in recognizing pain as a source of behavior problems. I was called out to train a young Thoroughbred that was unruly with violent aggressive behavior. His birth had been extremely traumatic to his mother nearly losing her life, but through medical science and nothing short of miracles, the mare pulled through after three months in the hospital with her new foal at her side the entire time. Her foal became protective of his vulnerable mother when doctors and personnel entered the stall, but the owner thought it was cute that the foal was so protective and didn’t feel that training or correction was appropriate during this time of his mother’s recovery.
At barely two years of age the gelding was sent to a trainer to get started under saddle for racing. Though I will not start a horse under saddle until three years of age, the racing industry has a different opinion. While at the trainers one day the young gelding escaped through an open gate into an area with farming equipment strewn about. With all the excitement of his escape the young horse in his frantic getaway jumped one of the pieces of equipment only to catch his rear leg lacerating it down to the bone. Now it was his turn to spend time in the hospital as a patient.
By the time I was called to work with the young TB he was nearly three with a scar down his rear leg and a huge bulge the size of a lemon midway on the lateral side of his cannon bone. The bulge was described as some type of scar tissue due to his accident, but I was assured that it caused no pain. The owner simply wanted training for ground manners since this young horse was out of control, biting, rearing and kicking at everyone.
My first session was my usual Wholistic Joining, but simply putting on his halter to lead him out of his stall was a dangerous task as he tried to bite and shove me around in his stall. He was so pent up with energy that he bolted out of his stall dragging me down the isle to a closed gate (good thing it was closed). With the help of the owner I was able to get the horse into the arena and take his halter off without getting bit or kicked. I began moving his feet from place to place as the lead mare would, but no instinct was bubbling up for this horse. He kept moving around racing from one corner to the other with anger and an attitude of “bug off, you are annoying me”. This horse simply would not connect with me and eventually charged knocking me down. He finally stood still as I walked up hand outstretched and eyes lowered as I went to stroke his neck, but he lashed out with his teeth. I popped him under the chin and ran him off for trying to bite me, but he didn’t seem phased by the reprimand since he was used to getting smacked around by everyone in the barn for his biting. Eventually the session ended on the best possible note I could manage with his halter on leading him to his 40 x 40 paddock. I agreed to work with the gelding three times a week for a month in hopes of making progress for a safer horse.
The following day I received a phone call from the owner letting me know that the lemon sized bulge actually burst and drained – it was an abscess, not a bony scar as originally diagnosed by her vet. “Ah ha” I thought, “he was in pain”. So he got a couple weeks off as his leg healed and I was looking forward to working with a happier horse.
My return visit was a real let down. The TB gelding was still his miserable, angry, aggressive self. Constantly trying to bite and charge, but this time I had my training stick with me and he found out that charging the lead mare wasn’t going to work. After the first couple weeks of training it was clear that there was something terrible wrong with this horse. He simply was not capable of responding positively to training even after several consultations with other natural horsemanship trainers (I even talked to Clinton Anderson when he was in town that year). After a month of trying every technique that I knew and learning new ones along the way I had made very little progress. Some days the young gelding seemed better then others, but I had to quit training all together temporarily due to a shoulder injury, so the owner and I agreed to keep in touch during my recovery.
One afternoon I received a call from the TB’s owner telling me her young gelding was in the hospital again. He had been colicing every couple weeks and this latest incident was very serious. The gelding was in the equine hospital scheduled for colic surgery, but the evening shift veterinarian decided to scope his stomach first and good thing she did. The vet found that the horse’s stomach was entirely black with ulcers! The good news was the young gelding did not require surgery and the ulcers were a fixable condition.
Come to find out the owner had been using Bute on her young gelding regularly since his jumping accident which was the cause of the ulcers (Bute is an excellent medication when used appropriately. Warnings do state that overuse can cause ulcers and other medical problems. Please use Bute under a veterinarian’s supervision.). The news took my breath away with the realization that her horse had been in severe pain all the time I was training. He was simply screaming at me to stop. Oh my heart ached; it was a gripping fact that scalded my thinking. This was my turning point… This is when I realized that I had to incorporate the Whole horse into my training program, from physical to emotional pain, nutrition, barefoot rehab and trauma. There really is a source to behavior problems, typically not just an attitude and to only address the behavior is abuse. All the behavior this horse displayed is understandable under the painful circumstances. What I now understand, and what I’ve learned is that ulcers are found in 93% of highly stressed show and race horses and 60% of average riding horses 1. As I always say “Problems are not always training issues”.
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Missy Wryn is a “W”Holistic Horsemanship trainer working with the whole horse while teaching IRON FREE Riding (no bits, no spurs). Specializing in problem and dangerous horses Missy has developed a unique, pain free, and fear free approach to training horses and riding Iron Free. Training the Whole Horse® is the foundation to Missy’s innovative and simpler approach to training your horse using effective communication that your horse will understand, honor and respect while having fun and being safer Iron Free. To schedule Missy for your event or clinic in your area call 866-821-0374 or email Missy@WHolisticHorsemanship.com
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1 TheHorse.com Colic: Updates and Prevention by: Nancy S. Loving, DVM
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/missy-wryn-horsemanship-turning-pain-attitude-03-08.html">Missy Wryn – WHolistic Horsemanship Story of the Month: The Turning Point – Pain vs. Attitude</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com