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Wimp of the herd, but a lion cross country?

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  • Wimp of the herd, but a lion cross country?

    Greetings! I've just been cleared to start riding my new TB after successful rehab from kissing spine surgery. Now the real work begins! He is my second eventer, my first just passed after 12 wonderful years together.

    My first horse was the matron of the herd and would beat down any stud who got out of line. She was fearless cross country. What she lacked in conformation she made up for with heart. She took me over jumps I probably had no business approaching.

    My new horse has beautiful movement and athleticism, but he is at the bottom of the pecking order with no desire to move up. It makes me wonder if he has the heart for eventing. Before the surgery, free jumping and jumping under saddle didn't faze him but he's never really been tested cross country.

    Those of you who have had several horses, have you noticed a if herd position correlates to the horses' affinity to cross country?

    I apologize if this is a silly question. I'm curious to know if my wimpy horse will pitch me into a bank.

  • #2
    I have four horses.... all are alphas in their respective herd and three are absolutely unstoppable on XC. The fourth... he was a dirty stopper, but he had some history, so I'm not really sure how he fits into the equation.

    Of the three brave ones, one started as an absolute loaner, bottom of the pecking order, could care less about other horses and now rules any herd he is put in. He developed this as his training and relationship with me grew. He also did not start out brave, now he's almost a bit too cocky.

    Another, my super mare, was always top of the pecking order, but rarely has to prove it. She has minions- other mares who do the nasty faces and posturing for her. She just Is The Queen. If anyone DOES get near enough to her for her to have to make a point, it's usually a raised eyebrow and ear twitch. She's never thought about stopping ever in life.

    My newest gelding was happy to be a step under the older gelding he was turned out with since he was only out during the day and my guy was out 24/7. Now that the older horse isn't with him, he's the boss, hands down, and frequently plays "hey you. move." with the younger horses who happen to be gazing inappropriately in his mind. He's had an occasional stop prior to me, but not with me... so far.
    Big Idea Eventing


    • #3
      I had one that I worried about, similar to you. He was a very long-off-the-track TB (7 years old and maybe raced at 3 or 4). Total wimp. Also, no personality. The first year I absolutely despaired that he'd ever make a Prelim horse.

      But as he gained training, he also gained confidence. I had to praise him and build him up; it took a while. He started to like people and have an actual personality. As he grew in confidence under saddle, he also moved up the pecking order in the herd.

      It wasn't until his second season of Prelim that he was able to just jump into water without first going, "hey, who invented this new-fangled type of jump I've never seen before?"

      Suddenly, he became a XC machine... we moved up to Intermediate and he dragged me through the water complex. Back to the drawing board on bits! Although he had the occasional run-out in schooling, he would be spot-on at competitions, sometimes surprising me with his confidence in knowing what to do, what we call "honest" to the jumps.

      Hope that helps - riding him was a learning experience, now I miss him and his "personality"!

      You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng


      • #4
        I'm just blipping around at unrecognized but I've swung the spectrum of personality.

        My grey mare was top alpha horse, highly alert and aware of all the other horses she was confident in her position. Over fences she was bold and take charge, as in "I don't care if you want to jump it or not, get the hell out of my way I'm going over." We might have been mostly out of control and I might have been mostly terrified but she jumped anything I pointed her at. Since she thought she knew better she was harder for me to influence. If she saw something she didn't like (almost never) there was no way in hell she was going over.

        My new mare is bottom of the herd, all the way to the bottom. What she lacks in bravery she makes up for in obedience. If I'm a brave rider and I steer and ride her forward she says "where's that lion you wanted me to jump?"

        It has been a big learning curve for me, going from clinging on like a burr to being an active rider but I think she's easier to ride. I can't just fling her at a fence, I have to stay thinking to the base but she takes instructions easily and she listens to direction so I'm not arguing with her. She seems to be really proud of herself when she jumps around. If she sees something she's scared of I can get her over by being firm yet quiet.


        • #5
          The greatest example I can think of of a wimp in the field but a lion on cross country would be Ian Stark's Murphy Himself. From what I've read about him, at home, they had to be very careful who he went out with because he would get beat up. But, if you've ever seen footage of Murphy on cross country (if you haven't, get thyself to youtube), he was a BEAST.

          I've had them go both ways. My current horse is a beast no matter the situation (some time to my detriment). I've also known some very aggressive horses on the ground (as in assertive, tough, etc), that were chicken littles on xc. The intermediate horse I used to groom was VERY shy on the ground and became quite needy with me at shows. He was fierce on xc. One of the toughest horses I've ever dealt with on the ground, while a good xc horse, could be very easily frightened and shut down.

          Quiet and polite and wimpy at home does not necessarily equal wimpy on xc. Give him the benefit of the doubt.


          • #6
            One of my barnmates actually had the opposite problem, where her alpha mare couldn't turn off the "Constant Vigilance!!" and focus on the job at hand.


            • #7
              I possibly have a reencarnation of Murphy Himself. My big horse is a serious weeny out in the field, I have to be very very careful who he goes out with because he constantly gets beat up by others. However, he's the most ridiculous xc machine I've ever encountered. Just this fall he happily drug me around Fair Hill CCI*** clean within seconds of OT. The cool thing about eventing is that it takes all types of horse, sizes, and personalities!


              • #8
                I don't think there is relationship between bold jumping and herd position. (Or, boldness with people, either--my pasture patriarch is very cautious about humans).

                Herd position depends on a lot that isn't intrinsic to a horse--age, previous socialization, order of introduction to the herd, etc. If you threw 4 "alpha" horses out together, only 1 would be the alpha of the new herd, and it might depend on who got there first.

                I do think with the truly neurotic, that often translates to both ground and riding.


                • #9
                  "My new horse has beautiful movement and athleticism, but he is at the bottom of the pecking order with no desire to move up. "

                  I would much prefer a horse that is comfortable in his own skin than one that is always picking fights or worried. Being at the top of the pecking order comes with a lot of responsibilities and added stress. I'll take one in the middle or bottom (not meek or fearful, but at ease where they are.)
                  It might put some added responsibility on you as the rider, but I am not sure it is necessarily related to bravery on cross-country.
                  "When life gives you scurvy, make lemonade."


                  • #10
                    Interesting thread!

                    My last (late) horse was a docile sweetheart of a TB, both on the ground and U/S; I got him as a weanling and did all of his handling and training. Initially turned out with an alpha bitch filly until he was 2, he was bossed around--and carried this submissiveness into new, larger herd situations when I moved him, and as he got older. By the time I started him (and was riding him regularly), he was a middle of the pack type, who would often hang with a middle of the pack friend, but just as often would wander off by himself to watch the scenery. I initially did dressage and some hunters with him when he was young (along with some CTs and some x-country schooling), then introduced him to eventing.

                    As we started moving up the (lower) levels, he started moving up in the herd hierarchy. Initially he "buddied up" with the Alpha gelding, then when I moved him to a new barn, he BECAME the Alpha. He also became WAY more full of himself on the ground , so some roundpen work was necessary--even though he had always had lovely ground manners.

                    I know this sounds like anthropomorphizing, but I'm convinced that he "felt well of himself" after he started mastering the challenges of cross country; when he got home from events he would "puff up" (someone at my one barn asked me "is he bigger? he looks bigger!" after we returned from a HT , and he would RUN out to the field and proceed to stir up the herd, move everyone around and generally be a dominant bossy twit. This continued until his death (he started having neuro symptoms--was tested exhaustively for everything, no known cause or explanation after necropsy) following a successful spring season at T, after which I had planned to move him up to Prelim. We had to have him euthanized when he was no longer safe to be around; he was unable to control his HQ. To the end, he was the proud Alpha of the field, and the other horses (under his "rule") would allow him to lean on them when he needed to. He was still dominant, and still the first one in at the gate, they all lined up behind him.

                    And this was my sweet little weenie boy who had given my 3 year old daughter and my elderly father (among others) "pony rides" as a youngster, and who was always submissive and easy-going. Before he discovered his inner warrior.

                    Anyone else have this experience?
                    "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

                    "It's supposed to be hard...the hard is what makes it great!" (Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own")


                    • #11
                      Dr. D, I know a lot of horses who "grow" into themselves as they gain more experience and do more. I often joke that horses come home from events feeling like King Kong, and have watched many a kiddo (alpha or not), go out into their pasture and get a little bossy and cantankerous (my FAVORITE is watching some young whipper snapper go out after his first event with his older, experienced companion, be all like "I AM AN EFFING ROCKSTAR!!!! LOOK AT ME!!!! I AM SO MUCH MORE AWESOME THAN YOU!!!!" and the older horse firmly put them back in their place, as if to say "Son, you ain't seen nothing yet, so calm yourself right down. When the fences are bigger than you, THEN we can talk about your supposed awesomeness.").

                      I love it.


                      • #12
                        I've never seen any correlation with the horses I've seen. We have a small Hungarian WB mare that used to rule the roost until recently, when a new, large RPSI mare moved in. But the Hungarian mare hasn't changed at all in her boldness to jump anything. Neither has the RPSI mare.
                        "One reason why horses are happy is because they are not trying to impress other horses."
                        "Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction"


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by baxtersmom View Post
                          One of my barnmates actually had the opposite problem, where her alpha mare couldn't turn off the "Constant Vigilance!!" and focus on the job at hand.
                          This is my mare! Showing can be interesting because she needs to know what all the other horses are doing.

                          (slightly different because it doesn't have to do with pasture dynamics....) I had a friend whose mare was a nervous nelly on trail rides. Hated changes in ground texture...or shadows on the ground....but put her on XC and she was as fierce as they come.

                          I don't know if there's a connection, really....


                          • Original Poster

                            Thank you everyone for sharing your stories and encouraging words. Seems like there is hope for my beta boy. Its been a decade since I've had to bring along a greenie and it could be I am the one lacking heart, not him. I have a feeling he will need more support and guidance that I am used to giving. I'll be careful not to project my inner weenie onto him and fake it till we make it!