The tale of the Statue Filly

I said the other day I’d blog about this soon…

We were all talking about horses who just balk, grow roots and won’t move. I had one of those to deal with last year. She was a three year old AQHA filly, by the same sire as the VLC and the BGY, a big sorrel with an adorable face. She had many of the same quirks – quiet to ride but antsy to mount and didn’t like to pick up her feet. (Can that stuff be genetic? LOL.)

I met her in 2006 when she was a late 2 year old, and watched the Trainer Wannabe who was riding her at the time. She was doing all the typical low-end stock-breed training stuff to her, all the crap I hate – riding in these huge clanking spurs, riding her in a single twisted wire snaffle, popping her in the face every three seconds. Sure, the filly jogged, but she did it with her nose behind the vertical and her ass off the wall. Lovely. The filly would occasionally hop around, not surprising since she lived in a stall at a show facility and rarely got turned out. She got more snapping on the mouth for the hopping. Trainer Wannabe was probably 20 years old, blonde, hot, way thinner than I am and thought she was amazingly hot shit. I would just watch it and roll my eyes.

Filly finally got fed up with Trainer Wannabe. At a horseshow, she slammed on the brakes mid-lope and refused to go forward another step. Trainer Wannabe did not appreciate looking foolish. She threw the filly back in the stall and scratched the rest of her classes. There’s some training for you! What do you suppose that taught?

Trainer Wannabe ended up quitting as she thought she was worth $50 a ride and nobody else did. At that point, my friend Jess (Princess Jess on the blog) and I decided to try to do something with Statue Filly. So one day we pulled her out. Boy, was she antsy. Just getting tack on was a major ordeal. We put her in a hunt saddle and a nice fat snaffle and of course no spurs. It was almost impossible to mount her. Antsy, antsy, all over the place. And of course, that barn was Grand Central Station and there wasn’t really a quiet place to do anything. Jess admits she thought the filly was going to be a bronc to ride, based upon the mounting drama. She managed to get on her and…

Nothing happened. SF was practically catatonic under saddle. Jess could barely push her into a jog. SF however could back up for days. Prior to this experience, I did not know what a “spur stop” was. I’m primarily an English rider, though I have my share of Western ribbons from the days when I had that marvelous all-around gelding in the early 90s. I am pretty sure we did not have the “spur stop” back in those days, or if we did, I sure as heck wasn’t exposed to it. I stop by squeezing with my thighs and pushing my seat down into the saddle. I cannot imagine the point of teaching them to stop from lower leg pressure – for god’s sake, if that means stop, WHAT the HELL means GO? I am confused and if anybody wants to explain it to me, please do.

Anyway, apparently one of the things Trainer Wannabe had taught Statue Filly was the spur stop. Any leg pressure at all resulted in the brakes being applied. WTF? What do we do with that? Jess was baffled. I was baffled. We were overscheduled anyway and only got the SF worked once or twice that winter. She went home, got thrown out in the field and proceeded to sit and eat for five months. Then she needed to get sold, so I had to get on her and see how she’d ride around…at her home farm, where there was not so much as a round pen. I was fairly convinced this was not a good idea, although she was substantially easier to mount than she’d been when she was at the show facility. Even in a field with loose horses adjacent her, she was the same ride. Catatonic. I got a bit of a slow jog. Long trot? Forget it. But hey, it was apparent she wasn’t going to kill me, so I took her back to my house to ride for a while.

At first, she would just stop and refuse to go forward at all and we worked through the normal cures for that – tried to turn her out of it, etc. It kinda sorta worked. She really did just want to grow roots and stand there like a giant Sequoia. I escalated to using the pony-whacker reins on her and that did get her into gear, at least sometimes, although I kept thinking I was going to get a buck. I never did. She truly did not care how much leg or whip you lit into her with. She could stand there through anything. The only way I finally made some progress with her was by using Jess as a ground person – equipped with a longe whip. I worked on equating trot with cluck and kiss with canter, hoping that if the sides didn’t work, voice commands would. Again, it sort of worked.

After about a month, we were getting through rides without any balking episodes. She was just so dead quiet and wonderful that if she didn’t lock up, she was a total pleasure to ride. She ignored July 4th fireworks, which in my neighborhood sounded like the bombing of Iraq. She learned to neck rein in, like, one lesson. I even started riding her bridleless and she was perfect. She surely wasn’t going to run off with you!

I moved her to my friend’s hunter/jumper barn last fall and would go out and ride her on my lunch hour. Again, not a great turn-out situation and so the sourness returned. Sometimes she rode great. She loved doing ground poles and little x’s. She was super happy if there was another horse in the arena and she could just follow. But alone in the arena, she’d still lock up. A whip could disengage her but it created a level of tension I wasn’t happy with – the head came up, she’d trot around kind of looking at the whip and going slightly sideways. Still, progress was made – she was bending both directions, she was loping like a champ. She was doing killer one-step simple lead changes. I really wanted to fix the damn balking. I tried different things. One day I decided we were simply going to sit there ’til she got bored and wanted to move. Well, 20 minutes later we were still sitting there. *sigh*

In other ways, she was a superstar. Some Parelli person had a tarp and a bridge set up one day. Their horse was snorting and spooking and scrambling over it. Statue Filly walked up to it, sniffed once, and then quietly walked back and forth over the bridge and tarp however I wanted her to. She had never seen anything like that in her life.

She went home after about a month of that, and got sold almost immediately. Her current owner mostly just trail rides, something the SF is very happy with. They love her spookproof nature and her foolproof brakes. It is the right home – she is happy, they are happy, I’m sure she’ll be there long term. But I’ll always think of her as a failure because I never did fix the balking 100%…and I still don’t know what the solution was. Was it just arena sourness that was created by the Trainer Wannabe and just couldn’t be fixed? She never did balk as badly outdoors…but she did balk outdoors. I truly don’t think we had a pain issue. The saddle fit and I’ve watched her longe a million times…never a sign of any unevenness to her gait. Never any pain behaviors like tail swishing or ear pinning.

She just grew roots, and what was the solution for that? (And yeah, I know at least 3 of you are going to pop up and say ground work…well, we did plenty of that. She was longed and ground driven and “encouraged” from the ground and it always worked fine to keep her moving forward, but if the ground person disappeared, she knew she could grow roots and that is exactly what she did.)
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Published in: on June 26, 2008 at 6:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

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