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WWYD--long question about a client

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  • WWYD--long question about a client

    I thought about doing this as an alter, but I've stayed relatively anonymous here and I'm not really saying anything I haven't at least implied directly to the client. Most of it I've stated flat out, the only thing I kind of skirted around was the euthanasia bit near the end.

    Basically, I have one client I've been working with 2x/week for about 4 months now. She called me to help her with a 4 year old gelding on layup, who was getting aggressive and pushy and scared her.

    She boards him at a co-op type barn, so there's no real BM or BO to step in, and let's just say that "aggressive and pushy" was an understatement. He would kick, bite, rear and strike out, and intentionally knock her down and trample her.

    Of course, he got this way because there was one incident where he accidentally knocked her down due to him being young and a high-energy breed on straight stall rest for 2 months, and her being inexperienced and not really knowing how to keep a horse that wired under control. But due to her reactions and her fear, he quickly learned that if he was a bit of a jerk, she'd back off. If she (or I, at first) didn't back down, he would escalate the situation quickly. Now, she can't even take him out of his pen by himself.

    Fast forward to today, and by now he's really good for me. Or, at least as good as I can expect from a horse who is totally spoiled except for about 2 hours a week. Occasionally he'll try something (like stopping on the longe, or pulling away) but when I put my foot down he backs off and is good again. But he's just as bad for her, and she seems completely unable to deal with her fear. She exacerbates the situation by pulling him on top of her and giving him mixed signals and backing off if he so much as pins his ears at her. I try to coach her on how to fix that, and when we've practiced on other horses she does fine, but it all goes out the window when she's handling him.

    So today, I worked him for about 30 minutes, then handed him over to her to work on some exercises. Well, long story short I could see it coming a mile away but I couldn't get in there safely and quickly enough and she wouldn't listen to me, and she wound up getting kicked in the head. Fortunately lightly, but I still called the ambulance and it scared me.

    I have felt for awhile that this is an accident waiting to happen, and I still feel that. I feel torn, though. This horse is permanently lame, won't ever be able to be even lightly ridden, and I feel she should euthanize him, but she won't. I'm willing to bet money she won't be able to find him another home, at least with anyone experienced enough to handle him. I know I should just quit working with her, but I feel guilty about that because she really needs the help.

    He's not getting better, though, because 2x/week isn't enough when he gets his way all the rest of the time. I told her she should pay someone (not me, I don't have the time) to come out and work with them daily, or send him to my farm for daily work and her come out for lessons, but she can't afford it.

    How would you handle this situation?
    exploring the relationship between horse and human

  • #2
    You need to stop working with her. She's not ready to hear what you have to say about this horse.

    And yes, I think the horse's best options are likely euthanasia or permanent retirement with someone who is not fazed by his shenanigans (this will not be cheap). She needs to get a horse she can handle comfortably alone, and this horse is obviously not it.

    Sorry, but the reality is there are a lot more pasture sound horses than there are homes, and I'd rather give a pasture spot to a horse who isn't an ass (and doesn't present the liability that comes with being an ass).
    Full-time bargain hunter.


    • #3
      There are retirement type barns run by real horsemen that won't be phased by this horse. Recommend she send him to one (with full disclosure) far enough away that she won't be tempted to go visit and handle him.


      • #4
        What is this woman looking to accomplish with this horse? He's lame and unrideable, what is her focus on with training?

        Owning a horse you're afraid of is not fun for anyone and this horse has this woman's number. This situation reminds me of a local woman who called me some years ago about training a 2 year old of hers. The two year old was born on their farm and was SPOILED. One day she trampled the female owner and nearly killed her. Broken neck, broken back and shattered leg. It was brutal. And you could see it coming for some time. When the owner called me she said that she wanted to put some training into this grade QH thing and then sell. I told her training would start at around $600 a month and the time frame for that would be unknown. And that was simply for ground training to make the horse safe. The horse wasn't going to be worth more than $500 in our area and even less with her history. I advised the woman to put her down. She seemed to think that the horse would be worth $5000+ after training. She said that she couldn't afford $600 a month for training and her husband wouldn't be able to handle the horse. So they just turned her out back behind the barn and there she still sits. She's a miserable beast and I still stand firm in the idea that she should have been put down.

        That's where I see this heading for this woman unless she gets some professional help. Maybe letting her handle and fall in love with a steady eddy type will make her realize what she's missing out on by continuing to "try" with a horse that's too much for her.


        • #5
          Originally posted by onelanerode View Post
          You need to stop working with her. She's not ready to hear what you have to say about this horse.

          And yes, I think the horse's best options are likely euthanasia or permanent retirement with someone who is not fazed by his shenanigans (this will not be cheap). She needs to get a horse she can handle comfortably alone, and this horse is obviously not it.

          Sorry, but the reality is there are a lot more pasture sound horses than there are homes, and I'd rather give a pasture spot to a horse who isn't an ass (and doesn't present the liability that comes with being an ass).
          Double ditto all of the above. Especially the first sentence.


          • #6
            This person is not operating with a full deck.

            As evidence, she is not independently wealthy (as you state she is at a self-care barn and cannot afford to put the horse in daily training), and she is TAKING TWO LESSONS A WEEK WITH A HORSE THAT WILL NEVER BE SOUND?? This is not someone who is going to say "Gee, your right, the logical decision would be to put pookie down."

            Get out of the situation. Either she's going to get hurt, or you're going to get hurt trying to keep her from getting hurt. There is no good outcome possible. You can't fix stupid and she will never understand her own culpability in whatever happens.

            Third Charm Event Team


            • #7
              I would show her how to use both a chain over the nose, and over the gums for leading. If the horse is not rideable, no need for more training. Just chain = leading, period.


              • #8
                Originally posted by Fairview Horse Center View Post
                I would show her how to use both a chain over the nose, and over the gums for leading. If the horse is not rideable, no need for more training. Just chain = leading, period.
                But, if she's not experienced or confident enough to correct with the chain, the aid isn't going to work. Professional training for the horse first, and then professional training for the owner. This horse is going to continue with this behavior until the owner gets educated enough to be able to handle him. And hopefully with that education comes a clue... You know, the one that will show that it's probably in this horse's best interest to put him down.


                • Original Poster

                  Thanks guys. I am ready to stop working with her, but it's tough...I like her, and actually I like the horse in spite of everything. He works really well for me. I've been trying to get her to come around to the realization that she can't handle him, but ThirdCharm is right, she's not exactly realistic. I posted hoping that is what everyone would say, because I know it's what I need to do, but I hate to leave things like this.

                  I've only had one other client I really couldn't help, same basic situation (overhorsed, inexperienced, scared) and it still kind of bugs me. But back then I wasn't a member of COTH so I didn't have you guys reassuring me.

                  Darlyn, the horse is led with a chain over his nose or over the gums, never with just a halter. He'll run right through it if he thinks it will get him what he wants. I've gotten through to him by just never really starting a fight but instead being gently insistent. He eventually gets tired of his shenanigans and realizes I'm not going to go away, and then is perfectly happy to work. If only I could get his owner to understand that... Instead she goes on the offensive when he's being good, and retreats when he acts up.
                  exploring the relationship between horse and human


                  • #10
                    this belongs in the What I Wanted To Say Was This thread. You have an obligation to yourself not to get hurt nor to be responsible for someone else's safety. You can only approach this from one direction. That is the logical, rational, experienced third party observer. By this, I mean that you have state your case, only the facts as you see fit to print. And I mean print. Put it in writing. Be emotionless, clear and forthright. Do not give your opinion on whether this woman should own this horse. Rather, state the facts on the odds of this horse hurting her, point blank but leave out the part where she should obviously be owning a cat, not a horse.

                    The written word is very powerful. It gives the writer time to clearly state their thoughts and it gives the reader time to digest them before responding. Give her your options, either she does this or that or whatever and give her reasonable time to make the decision. Then follow through.

                    On an aside, i think we all know that this woman is clearly overhorsed and needs to part company with this animal. And this is why i hate when weak women get a horse.
                    ...don't sh** where you eat...


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by winfieldfarm View Post
                      On an aside, i think we all know that this woman is clearly overhorsed and needs to part company with this animal. And this is why i hate when weak women get a horse.
                      I think it's unfair to call this woman weak. We don't know her and can't understand her thought processes. I've been a long time horse owner and handler, and I've owned several stallions, but I have had that random horse that just scared the bejeezus out of me. It just happens sometimes, so I think calling her weak is out of line. Barn blind and unrealistic based on the OP, yes but weak, we don't know.


                      • #12
                        Weak in not recognizing that she needs to CHANGE how things are being done with horse! She does not have the correct reactions to horse, even with coaching. Over correcting when he is cooperating, freezing, not reacting when horse gets angry or pushy, so she is getting punished and hurt.

                        Weak in having blinders on about her situation, no money for consistant trainer lessons, unwilling to deal with the whole situation.

                        She sounds like she should have fish, certainly not horses.

                        Sorry Cos, writing it all out clearly, no trick wording to give her ANY hope of reforming the horse, is going to be your best shot. Then you just turn around and leave. You HAVE tried helping, no improvement for HER handling skills. It WILL get worse, so get yourself away from it all. She doesn't want to hear what you say, horse is useless to her and not going to improve with her. I would put the horse down, but then I can face reality. Too many nice animals around for enjoying to keep a dangerous jerk who will never be sound to use.


                        • #13
                          If the horse is good for you, but not for her, she likely has noticed this, and so blames herself for his behaviour. If she then puts him down due to his behaviour, she will likely consider that it was her inadequacy that caused the horse to have to be put down and that may be more guilt than she can handle. So instead of putting him down, she struggles with her fear and makes the horse worse and endanger herself and may endanger others that have to deal with the horse (vet, farrier). That is a sad situation. When you work with the horse, what sort of comments do you make regarding his behaviour? Do you tell her he is a tough horse, or that he is good but she is making him difficult? Perhaps you are inadvertantly making her feel like a failure which is further sucking away her confidence with the horse. Lacking confidence will cause her to have trouble being effective too.

                          Maybe telling her that you are worried about the horse hurting you and so won't work with him any longer will help her to understand that the horse is dangerous. If she asks you what you would do if it were your horse, then suggest putting him down as an option.
                          Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


                          • Original Poster

                            She really isn't weak. She has recently gone through some horrible events that would have made many give up, and the horse was a dream of hers that kept her going. Now the reality isn't matching up and she is having trouble accepting that. She is trying to do right by the horse as much as she is able. I don't think it is a good situation, but I really can't condemn her. As I said, I like her a lot and I do respect her as a person. Snowflake, you hit the nail on the head, "unrealistic" and "barn blind" are pretty much her big faults with this horse.

                            And I too have had horses I'm uncomfortable working, and I'm a pro. I am able to be upfront about it and pass them on to others who will be better for them, but I also don't have the emotion vested in it that this woman does. A weakness, sure, but one weakness doesn't define a person.

                            I do like the suggestion to write it out. When I have attempted to discuss my opinions with her, she has gotten very defensive. Perhaps if I write it out she will be able to have her emotional reaction, then hopefully go back to it with a cooler head.

                            Any other suggestions on how to handle "the conversation" would be appreciated. I do want to explain to her exactly what I feel is going wrong and what I think should be done, if only for my own peace of mind but hopefully to help prevent a tragedy. The situation is a very dangerous one and I worry what will happen if she no longer has a pro coming out to help her. There aren't many willing to travel to her barn as it is remote (but I am as well and it is right near me), so she doesn't have many options with her current outlook.

                            Edit: sorry, computer is running slow tonight. CHT, I think she definitely knows she is the cause of many of his problems. I do tell her he is difficult (and he is, even without the injury/stall rest complications he would not be an easy horse) and really praise her when she does well, as well as often pointing out that I'm a professional and she can't expect to get the results I do (not in a rude way or anything, but if she's getting frustrated that she can't get the results, I point out that I work with 10-15 horses a day and have been for years, that sort of thing). I have often thought that her guilt may be why she refuses to consider euthanasia.
                            exploring the relationship between horse and human


                            • #15
                              I've learned this same thing the hard way...it doesn't matter if YOU can handle the horse or if the horse is good for YOU when the owner is the one trying to handle it or work with it. Some people aren't equipped to deal with tougher horses. It can take years of experience and learning to acquire the skills and reflexes to deal with certain horses. It is unreasonable and ridiculous for a horse owner to put their life and health at stake to deal with an unsuitable animal while they are learning these skills.

                              You can't tell other people what to do--I've learned that the hard way, too. However, you can tell her that you are concerned for her safety, and that you are uncomfortable teaching her because of the safety issue. It isn't about it being anyone's fault. Horses are big, spirited, unpredictable animals, and some of them are more dangerous to handle than others. Getting kicked in the head should be a big wakeup call for this owner. Is she ready to become disabled or die over this horse?

                              In any case I suspect that to protect yourself from a liability standpoint you need to separate yourself from this situation if the owner refuses to take your advice.


                              • #16
                                ^^^ I agree.

                                Get it in writing and also have a frank talk with her. Not only do you not want to be liable, but you want to make sure you've said what's on your mind. What if there's another accident? You don't want to feel guilty that you didn't say what needed to be said. I would try to be as sensitive as you can when you do get to the part about euthanasia. Although I've never had to put an animal down, I imagine that it can be a difficult decision to do so, even when it is the right thing.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by CosMonster View Post
                                  Any other suggestions on how to handle "the conversation" would be appreciated. I do want to explain to her exactly what I feel is going wrong and what I think should be done, if only for my own peace of mind but hopefully to help prevent a tragedy. The situation is a very dangerous one and I worry what will happen if she no longer has a pro coming out to help her. There aren't many willing to travel to her barn as it is remote (but I am as well and it is right near me), so she doesn't have many options with her current outlook.
                                  To get around the guilt part of it I would be sure to emphasize that euthanasia would be in the horse's best interests and would not constitute a selfish act or a failure on her part. Emphasize that she did the best she could by him with the resources she had. Even if she is a few crayons short of a box, she probably knows in her heart of hearts that things can't go on like this. But she loves him, so she needs to know that sometimes love means letting him go with honor. The head kick should be a big wakeup call. Next time it could be worse and if he incapacitates her, who will be around to care for a difficult, lame horse in her stead? She needs to know that it's not a matter of *if* something happens, but *when*.

                                  Also point out the costs involved in keeping a 4-year-old lame but otherwise healthy horse for the next twenty or so years of his life. Easily more than $50,000 over the course of his life. It would be one thing if she had unlimited resources, or if he was a sweetie and a loving, steadfast rock for her in her difficult time. Then the money would be well spent. But he's nothing but stress and worry. He's like an abusive boyfriend--always taking, never giving back. Does she really want to continue this difficult relationship for the next twenty years? Or would it honor him more to let him go and, when she's ready, find another equine partner more suitable and more able to meet her goals and her need for a companion.

                                  Bless you for trying to do the right thing by her. The world needs more sane and responsible trainers like you.


                                  • #18
                                    The fact that she is in a co-op barn means you can't win here.
                                    I once had a boarder whose horse was totally walking all over her, dragging her up and down the aisle when she would try to bridle him, striking out at her when he did not want to be led.

                                    I was working off the farm then and had to tell her to find a barn with a pro who was around all the time. She did and the horse and she turned out fine in the end.

                                    You can't fix this, walk away if she won't take your advice, you are not a bad person for doing so.
                                    Humans don’t mind duress, in fact they thrive on it. What they mind is not feeling necessary. –Sebastian Junger


                                    • #19
                                      Lay the facts of the situation out, that if she continues with the horse she will get hurt again, seriously injured or killed by the animal.

                                      Recommend euthanasia for the horse to the owner and end your involvment with the situation as you know it will not have a good outcome.


                                      • #20
                                        This is a tough situation for everyone involved, esp. you! If there's one thing I've learned this year, it's that you can't help people who don't want the help. No matter how clear the situation seems from the outside. Oh, and people really hate change, even if it is the best for them.

                                        Writing sounds like a great idea. I think I'd mention that you genuinely like her, and the horse, and that you understand she is doing the best she can (with what she knows/affords/etc).I'd also mention that the horse's behavior/lameness was not (all) her fault (genetics, injuries, etc all play a role).

                                        Good luck.