So, where is the line to be drawn?
I have a story to share. I know a guy that owns a beautiful gelding, kind of that wonderful mouse grey, with black legs and tiger stripes on his upper limbs and a deep eye. His mane and tail are thick and black, and he has a stripe down his back. He is from old QH stock and is built like a tank, weighing 1150 pounds on a 14.2 frame.This gelding is one of those horses that just absolutely takes your breath away from sheer beauty.
Pros: loves to trail ride, having over a 1000 miles in two years in rocky, desert terrain. He has crossed water, bridges, been around bikes, is sure footed as a mountain goat. He goes barefoot and is a fairly easy keeper. He has started some Western dressage and has been learning quickly. He has over a 1000 hours of round pen/ground manners training. Has shown in Western dressage and some Ranch hand. He has had five solid years of training with various professionals.
Cons: hates to trailer, and can be very difficult to load. Has little regard for people or their space and has no problem running over the top of someone. Is a “dirty” spook and likes to wait until the rider is off balance or not paying attention to pull a spin and buck move. Can not be housed with other horses since he is really food aggressive. He can sunfish with the best of them and is very likely to go after the person who just came off his back as he is to run away. Has been known to bolt on trail. Has been known to rear and strike at his handler. Doesn’t always stand tied and has been responsible for broken lead ropes. Is inconsistent under saddle. After years of training with various professionals, he is still unpredictable.
This horse has already hurt several people. When he goes over the top of someone, he deliberately steps on them. Two riders were left with concussions. One broken leg. A shattered hand. A broken nose. He has unpredicable, aberrant behavior and is more likely to charge over someone when he’s decided he is done then he is to run in the other direction. There is no indication that additional training will resolve the above issues so the owner can house him separately and treat him as a stallion, understanding that riding and handling him involve a lot of risk.
I was worried when I first brought Ashke home that I was going to have a “broken” horse . . . One with behavioral problems that I was going to have to deal with and I thought about where my line would be drawn. I don’t want a horse that I have to be scared of or cautious around. Ashke was a perfect gentleman from the very beginning. In five and a half years of handling him I have only been stepped on once (he caught the very edge of my boot) and I have long ago stopped being worried that he was trying to get rid of me. Even in tense and scary situations, with loud noises and frightening things around us, he has never come into my space. It was something that was strongly instilled in him when he was a foal and he has never forgotten. I knew two weeks into working with him that he was not mean, not trying to hurt me. I could trust what he was telling me, because he was honest and straightforward. He has continued to be the same way under saddle. And even when I have come off of him - like the incident that happened in June - even with him rearing and panicked above me, all I had to do is say whoa and he stopped.
It’s not just a question of trust, although there is that, it is also the question of what lies in the heart of your horse.
My line is if a horse is trying to hurt you deliberately, after training and bonding and creating relationship, then that horse is not to be trusted. That he is not in pain. Not terrified. But deliberately seeking to harm a human being. One time may be a fluke, but when it has happened numerous times, in many different situations, with different handlers, after years of training, that is an undeniable and unredeemable offense. That horse is a danger and shouldn’t be trusted.
At what point do you make the decision that the horse is not safe and shouldn’t be handled? Where is the breaking point for you? Do you believe that all horses are good and just need the right handling? Or do you, too, believe that some horses are unredeemable? Would you keep this beautiful QH and handle them like a stud? Would you sell him to the first buyer that offered money? Would you send him to the kill pen, where someone in the public will save him because he is beautiful? Or would you call the vet and have him humanely euthanized?
What would you do?