Saturday, February 13, 2010

Difficult

Now here's the difficulty, and what has been keeping me from being comfortable with blogging - I was uncomfortable blogging honestly about what we're going through with Miranda, because I felt that some very hard decisions may be required, and my daughter's the one who's got to make them. I didn't (and don't) want my daughter's decisions about the horse to be second-guessed by anyone, including me. I also didn't want to blog without being as honest as I could be - that's how I try to blog. So my daughter and I talked today and she's comfortable with me being completely honest about where we are and may be going with Miranda. It's well within the realm of possibility that the outcome will not be happy or nice, but it may be necessary. We're reserving judgment until my daughter gets back at the end of the month - she knows the horse better than anyone and also knows how much she's personally willing to struggle with this, and also what the horse can stand in terms of its own mental comfort.

Just as I was thinking about these things, by coincidence Mugwump Chronicles had a post on angry versus fearful horses, talking about the truly angry horse. There's a lot of interesting information and many interesting comments on the subject - check it out. Here's what I put in the comments to that post about Miranda:

Is there a point at which a truly angry horse should be put to sleep? Particularly one who has been "fixed" by careful, patient handling and retraining, but then all of a sudden the wheels just fall off - and not due to anything much having happened - just snap, like that, one day the horse was fine (and had been so consistently for 8 months)- easy to handle and ride, engaged with people and other horses, and one day later, back to the enraged, checked out horse she started out as a year ago. All it took was someone going in her stall who apparently startled her - the horse kicked her and reverted to the rage state - nothing bad (from the human point of view) happened to the horse. It seems that all the work and training didn't penetrate to the inside of the horse, but just was on the surface - and there was some signs of this - the horse expressed some anxiety under saddle by constant bit-chomping. We know this horse's entire history, and there is no evidence of abuse or mistreatment. Can some horses just be miswired? The horse was also heavily imprinted (not by us) and we think it may be the case that it was "over-imprinted" to the point its sensory system was overloaded. That's what the horse seems like - unable to bear touch or close human presence, like it's overwhelmed - but it's rage, not fear - in fact the horse has no normal fear responses even with other horses and is "pasture dead" - other horses can kick and bite it and it doesn't move much or respond.

Some more info about the mare - my daughter's had her for about a year - and over that time has brought her back from a horse that was alternately crazed and violently aggressive (you had to have a weapon in hand to even approach her) or completely checked out and unresponsive. Over about a 5 month period she was worked with every day until she was acting just like a normal horse - you could groom her, feed her, ride her and all was OK - other people could even feed her while she was loose in the pen, which had been her biggest problem. And she began to come out of her shell - nickering, and the beginnings of some responsiveness to other horses. Under saddle, she was always perfectly behaved - no bucking, bolting and rearing - in fact she was easy to ride. She's been to a number of horse shows and has performed very well. Along the way she was treated for severe ulcers (we thought that was the cause of her behavior but I increasingly think the ulcers were just a symptom of the underlying issues), and has had extensive chiropractic and dental work. All of this good work stuck for about 7 months. Then, when stressed just a little by my daughter having to leave for a month, and by an incident where our barn lady went into her stall and either startled her so she attacked, or she just attacked - I don't know, the wheels fell off. She's not all the way back to go - she can be haltered and led and minimally handled, and will allow her face and neck to be rubbed when she's haltered without showing any aggression.

Who knows what's the issue? I suspect a sensory processing problem, where physical pressure - either touch or too close contact - just overwhelms her and she blows. It may have been caused by excessive imprinting, or she may have come that way. Or she may have been an anxious horse to start with and imprinting make her initially easy to handle but then she couldn't deal with adversity - some horsepeople I trust think this can happen.

The big issue for us is whether she can come back - I think she could for my daughter - but my daughter does not want to keep her forever and the question is will the work ever stick or will the underlying problem reappear whenever she is not with my daughter or otherwise stressed. She has been evaluated by some very experienced horsepeople we trust a lot, and my daughter's effort with her is a last chance for the horse.
I'm trying to take this one day at a time, and not think beyond that. It's very hard to spend a lot of time around a horse whose behavior is so strange and dangerous. I've dealt with many aggressive horses in my time, but this feels very different in a spooky kind of way - almost like the horse isn't living in the same reality as the rest of us. Please try to be patient and compassionate as we work this through - there aren't going to be any easy answers, and it may be that my daughter will decide it just isn't worth it to go on, particularly with the physical risks that are involved in handling the horse.

25 comments:

  1. Very tough decisions. I have no advice, but just wanted to say that Miranda's very lucky she has you and your daughter to help her, and if required, to make important decisions based on her behavior and her future.

    Hang in there,
    ~Lisa

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  2. Kate, thanks for the post. I didn't realize you knew there was no abuse in Miranda's past, but I still think that in addition to rage, she is also demonstrating a lack of trust.

    I still strongly feel that what caused "the wheels to fall off" was the major change she has gone through -- namely, your daughter suddenly disappearing from her life. It sounds like she has done shows before and been fine, but I'm assuming your daughter was a constant in her life at that time.

    Hopefully Miranda will return to her healing self once your daughter returns. My thoughts are with all of you.

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  3. Kate, I am so sorry to hear about Miranda. Poor horse, something must be really wrong but who could know what it may be? Can horses be bipolar? or have a split personality?

    My heart goes out to you and your daughter, hard choices! To put her down would be so sad, for everyone involved. But keeping her and not knowing if she would blow up again and really hurt or kill someone would be a worry too.

    I will keep good thoughts coming your way. Sometimes life is so hard, hang in there!
    hugs to you and your daughter.
    Jane

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  4. Whatever you decide to do with Miranda will be for the best, I'm sure. The good thing here is that you will definitely not try to get rid of a dangerous horse by selling her to someone else.

    I hope Miranda comes around, but if not, you guys will do the right thing. I, for one, will be as supportive as I can from far away no matter what you decide.

    Poor Miranda. It's a sad story, no matter what. She does not know how to be a normal horse, that's for sure...whatever the cause.

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  5. Kate;

    I concur that whatever the outcome is, it WILL be for the best.

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  6. Kate, I know someone who had a a horse euthanized because of a similar situation. The horse had no abuse in its history, and would go long stretches where he would be fine, but then, as you said, the wheels would come off. After years of trying everything, and emotional and mental exhaustion, she had the horse euthanized and also paid to have a necropsy done. As it turned out the horse had a tumor on its brain. No diet, training, compassion, patience or anything else was ever going to have addressed this, and she would have continued to drive herself crazy trying to make life work with this horse. I watched my friend go through years of anguish over this horse, and also the constant worry that the horse would seriously hurt someone during one of the bad phases.

    Anyway, I am not suggesting that Miranda has a brain tumor, but saying that I think there can be both physical or mental issues that cannot be changed in a horse.

    I think you daughter has done a fabulous job with her. Only she knows what is the right decision for her, and I applaud her decision either way. She is an extraordinary horsewoman, as are you. Miranda is in competent hands and I know that whatever decision is made, it will not be made lightly. My hope is for peace for all three of you.

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  7. I know that whatever happens will be the result of careful study and lots of compassionate thought. You can only do the best you can do.

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  8. I hope nobody is rude, angry or abusive about what you and your daughter decide to do. Kate in your posts you come across as an extremely thoughtful horse owner. You seem to research a lot before trying something new and your horses interests are always the most important.

    I think Miranda sounds like she was very lucky to find someone like your daughter who will work with her, not against her.

    I personally support any decision you make. Just keep the faith!

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  9. Thoughts and prayers are with you both, and Miranda too Kate. You'll all know what is best.

    Be safe. Be strong. Listen to your instincts, and Miranda.

    And if anyone thinks they can give you crap about any decision you make, let 'em try! I suspect you have quite a few people here who have your back ;)

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  10. Tough decisions for sure. Here's hoping Miranda has a break through.

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  11. I'm confident whatever decision you and your daughter come to, it will be in the best interests of everyone involved.

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  12. Sometimes a horse is like a damaged person - you just can't get through to them. but then again, sometimes you can break through.
    Nothing is worth getting yourself hurt over though. JMO
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

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  13. I agree with everyone, you and your daughter know Miranda best and will do what is right for her. :) Sometimes the toughest decisions are the most kind. Hugs <3

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  14. Hmmmm...no wonder you didn't want to open up about it. It's complicated. I'm not one who says you should save a horse at all costs--they're expensive, dangerous animals. You guys have done A LOT for her--so whatever decision you make from here will be in her best interest.

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  15. Here is my question: Has she, since the feeding lady incident, acted as purely angry as before or is it less angry? I ask because every horse can and will have set backs like the six year old broke horse that suddenly acts like a half broke baby for a month. And then they get over it.

    The good thing is you can find a specific point that caused it and look for attitude changes.
    You know the important factors:
    you don't want anyone hurt
    You want to do right by the horse
    No one abused the horse
    Something isn't right
    I maintain that this horse may be having a adrenaline response that is more 'fight' than the spook 'flight'.

    Is it possible to run a hormone panel to find out the levels? If something is not right in her head it might show up there.

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  16. WOW, not at all an easy process to endeavor after so much time in and then she snaps. One must feel safe and the animal that can not be depended on, like she sounds, is unusual and I am truly sorry for how hard it is Kate.
    You will know when the time comes.
    KK

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  17. I am so sorry you are faced with this type of decision. I've dealt with horses like that before and it is difficult. I can say that a boarding barn is probably not a good environment for her, too many new people who don't know what she's capable of. I removed my schoolmaster from boarding facilities many years ago for this very reason...even at 18 years old he was too unpredictable. For the last several years he has lived with me, I am the only person who handles him and he does fine. I know his issues and what he's capable of and I keep it in the back of my mind whenever I interact with him. I know that if something were to happen to me the only option for him is euthanasia.

    Good luck. I know exactly what you're going through and you have my support no matter what decision you make.

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  18. As I read your post, the things that went through my mind were:

    -departure of your daughter had a bigger impact than anyone could have expected on this horse

    -severe hormonal imbalance

    -organic brain dysfunction of some kind

    and last, and I assume this can only run through my mind b/c your barn worker is not known to me as she is to you - the barn worker did something that was perceived as a threat by the horse and didn't tell you that.

    In either of the above cases it sounds like your daughter is the best one to make the call on where to go next, and if the difficult decision is what needs to be done, I think that's so much better for this horse than letting her go somewhere where her handlers and riders aren't as thoughtful and considerate as you two are.

    I'm glad you are choosing to write about it some here - for anyone going through a similar situation, you calm, thoughtful laying out of the problem and how you're addressing it will be invaluable.

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  19. Holly - she pretty much had a mental break with the feeding lady incident - one day she was a normal horse and the next she was back to the hypersensitive, violently aggressive horse she was before my daughter started working with her. The checked out aspects (which are probably part of the same issue) came back simultaneously - she had been interactive with me - nickering when she saw me and wanted some interaction with other horses - to complete indifference and in fact hostility to interaction.

    Billie - I suspect that the horse learned over time to be desensitized to contact and handling by my daughter, but can't generalize this to strange people, particularly if they do something the horse doesn't expect. I'm not certain if my daughter's had her tested for hormonal issues (we've had aggressive alpha type mares tested for this in the past), but I actually doubt that's it. In my experience, hormonal issues usually show up with consistent aggressive behaviors - this horse is actually passive with other horses and not aggressive at all. The quality of the aggression with people is different too, and hard to describe in words.

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  20. You guys are in a tough situation that no horseperson would want to be in...thanks for writing about it with honesty and integrity. You and your daughter are both experienced horsepeople and will no doubt make the best decision for your safety, the horse's well-being and the safety of other people and horses at the barn.

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  21. I think that whatever you and your daughter decide, will be the best decision for Miranda and those she interacts with. It's always a hard decision to stop working with a horse you feel can't be helped. So many people thought our Donnie would never be right and it took years until we figured out what was medically wrong with him, treated him and now he's doing much better. Good luck with whatever happens.

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  22. Just a thought...has her eyesight been checked?

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  23. Always so sad when such a decision has to be made when a horse is otherwise physically healthy. But sometimes all we can do is not enough and the kindest option is not the easiest.

    Will keep you all in my thoughts and hope for the best possible outcome for Miranda xxx

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  24. Kate ,what you and your daughter are doing with and for Miranda is wonderful, but you can only do so much .If it becomes clear to you that the horse is never going to be safe ... you will do what is right to keep yourselves safe and her form furhter harm.No one who is not there can make that decision ,the best we can do is offer suggestions and support .And to tell you the truth the mare I had and posted about a while back, I don't know if I would take her on given the opportinity today , it was a very dangerous time for her and I both ,and only through luck and the grace of God was no one hurt

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  25. Kate,
    I really feel for you and your daughter, this is just so difficult. A word on the imprinting front! Yes, it can be done incorrectly!! I cannot reiterate that enough.Too many people think it's an easy thing...it's not!If you do NOT follow the protocol completely to the book as well as correct timing you can actually train a horse to dominate the human imprinter. I don't know if that is the case with Miranda? The opposite school of thought is that your daughter could remind her of the person who imprinted her (if they did it correctly) and that's why she only respects her. With some horses (being 1 person horses) I guess that could be true based on personality/genetics but I think highly unlikely. Although when we first received Derby (at 7 months) she whinnied and raced over to the fence to look at a little girl (as if she knew her)(visiting us)who looked just like the girl who we bought her from with blonde hair in a ponytail. There were a bunch of kids around be she picked her out of the bunch and got her attention and the little girl went over and petted her. Derby acted like she was in heaven. She had never displayed the behavior before or since. We were very intrigued seeing this. Imprinting is not only desensitizing a horse to things but it's also showing the human to be the alpha mare or dominant leader, therefore, if done incorrectly they have been trained to be dominant over the handler. It's hard to go into details here and it's also a very controversial topic to begin with to imprint or not to imprint. I personally believe it depends on the people doing it. If fully committed to do the entire job right, you have a wonderful outcome as did we with Romeo. If not you have horses who dominate humans. I will sure be thinking and praying for a breakthrough or answer to the problem to be revealed. Blessings

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