Are some horses 'unfixable'? Are all horse problems created by humans?

“Stacy I enjoy your blogs and thoughts thank you so much for what you do for the equine world. I grew up riding in open shows and for fun and decided that I would like to make a career out of training. I got my equine riding and training degree and spent some time riding under a reining pro. My ethics would not allow me to continue with my chosen profession so I got a normal job and now ride non pro. I happened across a sale with a horse raffle, I watched them start this mare and she was bred really nice. They pushed her too fast through the process since it was a show and they wanted to be riding her the next day. She bucked a lot… I mean a LOT when they first saddled her but by the second day with riding she was coming along great. Low and behold I win this mare. I take her home and start over with her and she is SUPER reactive and add that with cat like reflexes. I worked with her an entire winter on the ground and then started riding her. We had lots of good rides but one day out in the pasture a rabbit jumped out of the brush and she left, no bucking but there was no way I could stay on her. After that she dumped me several more times. I decided to start over again and went back to ground work and saw lots of improvement so the following summer I started riding again. Now when we loped she would suddenly start bucking which led to the very first stride of the lope being a buck. This was never consistent, some rides were great and others were not and she could REALLY buck. I stuck with her for several months for only one reason, I 100% feel the buck came from fear not nastiness. But the triggers were always different, some days there was no trigger, and the ground work prior to the ride was always great. I came to believe the mare had a wire in her head that would suddenly snap and I was tired and a little scared of her so our relationship would never be great.  Whether this came from genetics or being pushed too hard her first few days I will never know. I have started several since her and they are great horses. I know the common philosophy is 100% of a horses’ problems are human created but I do not believe that. Do you believe some horse are just not trainable?”

Avid reader
Ryane C.

My answer may not be popular but it is what I have observed. I have come up with a set of numbers, that although they are not perfect, can be used to analyze horses as a whole…including the possibly ‘unfixable’ horses.

10-80-10 is a term I have coined to describe the natural mental state, or trainability, of the horse population; which is to say that there are 10% of horses that are amazing, 80% that are average, and 10% that need professional or medical intervention.

Brandy belonged to Stacy Westfall's mother, he wasn't physically talented but he was in the top 10% mentally and taught many children.

Brandy belonged to Stacy Westfall’s mother, he wasn’t physically talented but he was in the top 10% mentally and taught many children.

Lets start with the top 10%. They are exceptional. If they were humans they would be Michael Jordans of the horse world. You will see theses horses winning big in their events BUT pay attention; you will also see them at your local open show or trail ride. Even without ‘the right training’ you can spot these exceptionally great minded horses. Sometimes they even stand out MORE when they are not in professional hands because it is even more obvious that it is the horse who is choosing to be good even in tough conditions. You will see them packing kids, green and novice riders around and wonder how their ‘training’ is still there despite the inconsistent hands and mixed cues…but it is not the ‘training’ but really their great mind that you are seeing. My stallion, Vaquero was one of these rare individuals as was my mom’s horse, Brandy, that she had when I was growing up. Brandy never won any thing of note but was always our ‘go to’ horse for teaching a new rider or building up a riders confidence. Brandy was not physically exceptional but mentally he was clearly in the top 10%.

My stallion, Vaquero, was mentally in the top 10% and he also had the rare combination of being physically talented as well. He was a joy to train and I believe that he would have excelled in anyones training program. Even if he had never been trained as a reiner any horseman who saw him would have appreciated him. Have you ever known a horse like this?

The middle 80% of horses is a tougher group to analyze. Inside the 80% there is a sliding scale of trainability BUT they all have one thing in common; they are greatly influenced by the training they receive. With good training techniques, horses that belong to this 80% can look like they are one of the top 10% but with bad training or life experience they can also look like they belong to the bottom 10%. Roxy was part of this group. She was not an easy horse in the beginning. When she was a two year old, the girl who worked for me at the time actually told me, “You’re crazy if you ride that horse outside.”…and she meant with a saddle and a bridle. Unlike Vaquero, Roxy could have become insecure and scared. She defaulted to fear and required patience and repetition to learn the proper way to respond.

The biggest difference to note between Vaquero and Roxy, the thing that identified one as the top 10% and the other as the 80%, was not where they ended up, the difference was in the amount of work it took to get them there. With Vaquero I could show him something once and he ‘got it.’ There was no fight or fear even if he was confused but he wasn’t confused often. He forgave mistakes and could handle pressure. He was like training a gifted child who could simply read a book and then perform.

The bottom 10% is generally the most difficult for people to accept the existence of. Notice that I didn’t use the word ‘unfixable’ but rather I said they need professional or medical intervention. It is accepted that genetically horses can be at risk for HERDA or HYPP…but no one is talking about possible mental issues. In humans it is documented that 20% of adults have experienced mental illness in the past year…why can’t these issues happen in horses also? In humans many of these are treated by therapy, medication or by dealing with the symptoms. Are some of these possibly appropriate for horses? Maybe. In addition to the mental component I also believe that there are horses dealing with untreated physical pain that can also cause difficulty. I knew a man who was given a ‘problem’ horse and later it was discovered that the horse had an old wire segment embedded deep in his shoulder.

I have personally seen a small number of horses that I believe had some kind of brain disorder. The one ‘common’ thread that they had was the tendency to ‘snap’ for no apparent reason. I am not talking about horses that lacked training or were in unusual or trying circumstances, but rather, horses that more closely resembled humans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

I am not condemning horses that potentially belong to the bottom 10% for whatever reason; I am stating that it is important to be aware that they can exist. Not everyone is equipped or capable of dealing with these horses which is why professional or medical intervention is usually the best route. Know what you are capable of dealing with and make your decision accordingly. Some people choose to keep these horses as pasture pets, accepting that they are unsafe to ride, other people continue to look for help for the horse, and still others choose the route that was documented in the movie, “Buck“.

Have you seen horses that fall into each of the categories? What category do your horses fall into?

Vaquero had an exceptional mind and I put him in the top 10% of horses, when considering them mentally.

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  1. […] writing a blog titled, “Are some horses ‘unfixable’? Are all horse problems created by humans?” I received the following […]

  2. Kye on July 30, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    I knew a horse who I’m sure had some kind of PTSD. A friend of mine got him as a young colt, then sold him to someone else (who I became friends with and began training for them). He at first was VERY flighty and had serious trust issues, but with a lot of patient training from me & general gentling & handling from the owners, after a year he got to be very sweet & gentle. I even rode him several times with no halter/bridle/saddle, just a small rope looped around his neck, and could open/close gates, side pass, back up etc. However he would still have “off days” where he was spooky, strangely stand offish & hard to catch, and sometimes would FREAK OUT & start bucking with no obvious trigger? He was a really GREAT horse most of the time, but could never be trusted completely, because you never knew when he would blow. The owners don’t ride much though, and to my knowledge he hasn’t been ridden for several years, but just enjoys life as a pasture pet. I thought it was very interesting working with him though, it’s like he was in both the top & bottom 10%. I rode him a LOT, hours & hours & miles & miles, just randomly he would snap (and not only under saddle). Thankfully he has a good life & people who don’t have high expectations for him. 🙂

  3. Stephanie Smith on July 30, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Don’t forget locoweed, it’s one of those toxic plants very prevalent in the western US, if a horse ingest a fair amount of it, they will have lifetime effects for example overreacting to normal situations- hence the name locoweed. I suppose may dishonest people would sell these horses who have been exposed to locoweed and not disclose that fact.

  4. Sherry on July 29, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Sometimes horses are uncomfortable or in pain and can’t verbally tell us. Try a Chiropractor who also does energy work. I have one who treats humans as well as animals He can just put a hand on you (or them) and know the issue without having to be told anything. We had a horse that was very gentle 99% of the time and then out of the blue would buck sometimes while riding. Our Chiropractor found that his hip was out of alignment and adjusted it. Never had another issue with him after that..

  5. Patricia Barlow-Irick on July 29, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    But it’s that bottom 10% that will teach you the most.

  6. Deanne on July 29, 2014 at 9:32 am

    I love this article. I have all stages of horses. I think I appreciate the most,
    the top 10% because Stacy commented they are not always going to be the class winners. I have a mare that when in training gave 100% but physically and how she is built will never go out and win all the pleasure classes. I even discussed with my trainer if I was going to keep her because I wanted a winning pleasure mare. I kept her and started hauling her and because of her great mind, she is a keeper. I told my trainer how nice it is to be able to crawl over this mare and she never bats an eye. She will however give her best and babysit my granddaughter. She is still a winner in my book. I have had the last 10% also. We raised this mare and no matter what we tried she was that horse also on good days she was great but you knew that at some part of the day she was going to have a melt down. Had to twitch her to do anything. Beautiful horse had all the potential but could never relax. Of course medication is illegal to show but I always wondered if there was something that she could have taken to relax her and be able to use in shows. I tried all kind of natural minerals none worked. I know that this will continue to be illegal because people would abuse it. I kept the quiet mare and after 12 years of trying sold the hyper mare. I am very satisfied with my decision.

  7. Hilary Hume Hinds on July 29, 2014 at 7:35 am

    Very interesting assessment!
    I enjoyed reading this thoughtful & comprehensive answer Stacy.

  8. Sarah on July 29, 2014 at 6:46 am

    Love this post. I once owned a stunning station bred Andalusian x QH. He had it all, looks, super smart and fantastic application to learning. On the ground he was rock solid in the saddle he would flip out without any identifiable trigger. Walk, trot, canter, start or end of the ride, it changed every time. I knew my limitations so I gave him to a great trainer. She worked and worked with this horse for a year. She broke her foot, her arm and her collarbone. At this point she had decided that he could only go to a non riding home with a signed contract. He was perfect for someone who wanted a horse for led horse agility. At the last minute she spelled him for 6 months, re ‘broke’ him and something just clicked for him. He was given away to an up and coming horse riding star. He is a spectacular eventing and cross country horse, hopefully one day his dressage will be at the same level. I strongly feel that his problem was mental and that the right intervention and training saved his life.

  9. Janette on July 29, 2014 at 1:31 am

    I have stallion just like Brandy. Even though my stallions introduction to people was not ideal, his brilliant mind was never damaged. Noble Comrade (my stallion) ran wild until he was seven or eight. He attacked his captors when they approached on horse back and in the yard when he was first trapped. His captors tried for a year to tame him, despite having no experience with any untrained horses. They frightened him so much he jumped out of a yard 1800 mm high ( he is only 15 hands). After a year of experimenting with everything anyone told them to try, they finally came to the conclusion the horse was far to dangerous to continue. They treid to give him to several people before they approached myself. I was very reluctant to take him, but I excepted the challenge to save this beautiful animal from execution. I had two mares of the same breed which he could possibly breed with if he proved himself to be suitable. He was a little like a fire breathing dragon when I picked him up. I was just hoping I could tame him enough to handle him safely on the ground. Well, I had no idea of the brilliant mind hiding behind all that fear. I got his trust and he happily placed his heart in my hand. Show him once and he anticipated it from that time on. His offspring have the same amazing temperament. Noble Comrade has opened a door to a wonderful life journey for myself. He is about 18 or 19 now and lives as close to being wild as I can provide for him. He has earned his freedom.
    A lady even wrote a song about my beautiful stallion and we have since, become best friends. ( YouTube: Noble Comrade tame but still wild).
    I have kept a colt from Noble Comrade to support my heart should anything happen to him. The young fellow has the same tenderness as his farther.

    If there mind is sound they can recover from mistreatment.

  10. Colleene on July 29, 2014 at 12:51 am

    I have a mare that belongs in the top 10%, another mare in the middle 80%, and a gelding in the lower 10%. I tell people that if he were a person, he would be on a large doses of valium. His name is Buzzie, which really fits his personality. He has a wire loose upstairs and just snaps…never aggressive but flighty, fast and unpredictable. After many months with a professional trainer, I was told that I should never attempt to ride him. He might be fine 9 out of 10 times, but that 10th time might put me in the hospital! I took him at his word. Buzzie is safe on the ground with me because I know how to handle him and he is actually very sweet and follows me around like a pet dog. But I would not put my life in his hands by climbing in the saddle. He is my pet…or a pasture ornament, as my husband likes to call him. I can accept him and love him as he is…Buzzie.

  11. Jeanne Weaver on July 28, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Ryane’s horse sounds like my young horse the first year that I had him. After spending a year trying to work through his lope issues, changing tack, having him vetted, I finally decided that it had to be physical. I had a great chiropractor check him out. She found that his spine was “out” at the withers and adjusted him. The release was immediate and dramatic. He no longer tries to buck and is a pleasure to ride and train.

  12. Julia on July 28, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    I used to think that there was no such thing as an un-trainable horse or truly “dangerous” horse. Then I met one who was and I realized that it’s not so black and white. That said, I would want to look at every single factor before assuming any horse is un-trainable. The first thing I thought in the question from your reader was “has the horse had a full physical and are you 100% sure there is no back pain or pain from tack or other physical issues?” I’ve seen a normally sweet, patient horse become mean and “dangerous” just because his back hurt and seen a normally calm horse become spooky because of physical pain.

    That said, though, the woman who used to train my horses had a client who brought in a large, powerful horse who had been sold for seriously injuring his previous rider in an accident (and had been banned from the previous boarding stable for being considered “too dangerous”). My trainer thought she could help him and if anyone could we thought it would be her. She had trained my OTTB who people had said was “dangerous” and “crazy” and after a year of training was sweet as can be. But this particular horse almost seemed like he had some sort of brain damage. He did not respond to pressure and in fact did not even seem to be aware of pressure. One time while free lunging him, I walked into the arena and he was running toward me, so I waived my arms and told him to veer away from me, and he literally kept coming straight at me as though I wasn’t even there. I had to jump out of the way and he ran right over where I’d been standing. He did that with everything – no response to pressure/release. My trainer finally said he was too dangerous for any of us to be around and said she couldn’t train him anymore. I’ve never met a horse like that before but it made me realize it’s not just black and white.

    • Nicole McClure on May 22, 2018 at 2:00 pm

      I have the same and it has taken me 3 years to earn respect. In the begining I was kitted out with helmet and body protector for ground work which was war. I also had a long whip to strike the ground establishing my space when he would charge directly at me rear up and strike. I would whip the ground in figure of 8 so he would not cross. One day he came with so much anger right at me. I refused to move but kept my whip format going to protect myself. He ran right into it and it dinged him on his nose. Now more angry he kept coming. I had to use the whip to his nose as teeth came baring at me. Still no feet moving he got me loud and clear with a ding. Please note I dont whip horses ever. This day was unruly behaviour and a die or do situation. Not brave of me as he aimed to kill. After his nose ding he sharked past me and missed cow kick by hairs I could feel the force wind past me. I turned and pushed him on and on then made him change direction in short fast time. Since then he has never done it again. Now I just point and he listens. He is a huge 17+ hander and he was brought up as a pet Colt (like a dog, play ball and pick up ball with teeth became play human and pick up human with teeth) in a confined space until the previous owner was petrified of him so guess who became boss. I took him on and gelded him 3 days after I got him he just turned 3. In the 3 days he attacked the groom broke his arm from kick and picked him up like he was nothing. Then broke out and visited the mares next door through fences like they were never there. That was a good thing me thinks (not my groom) but the mares as he was cryporchard and that seem to sort out the guess work for the Vet. Post op he was still a Dude in his head and took 10months to almost normal. He had no social skills as he was never brought up with other horses so I let him out to learn what a bite and kick feels like. He was put in his place by my Friesian also a big boy not a tall but heavy set. 100hectares of freedom and left him alone to become horse. Working with him was unpredictable and extremely dangerous but I could feel his heart in mine and knew somewhere there must be a break through. As I said above it has taken me 3 years. No animal behaviourist could solve or dare come near him. Today you can walk into his space give him a hello without being attacked or charged at. He still has food aggression. He is still not 100% trustworthy,but I dont need to rope him to do his hooves anymore, I dont need to wear my helmet, I dont need to wear my body protector. I never feed him by hand. I taught him to stop biting. My ball (very big one) is almost his size so he is very aware of me. I am now teaching him to be ok with my big ball. He licks my hand. Lowers his head to greet me. No hugs or cuddles as I greet and move on. There is no more spoilt horse. He has allowed a bridle and my western saddle and I have mounted him. This is as far as we are. More ground work and when I feel the time is right we will be one. He has got sticky feet and does brace so I am not finished on the ground yet. If you ever put two stubborns together that is him and I. I love him he has potential. He is extremely clever and a thinker. I just have to be smarter than him then I am interesting and then he cant quite figure me out. I love seeing his thoughts and he does get annoyed quickly, he gets corrected by working it off and he gets reward by standing quietly for a few minutes when he gives me the right answer. No treats only…good boy. Positive commands. I dont use the word No (use off you go). He has has too much negative in his past and horses never forget. I have so much to share about him but that would take a book.

  13. Jaime on July 28, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    Stacey- thank you so much for sharing! My favorite all time mare was in the “top 10%”. I bought her as an unbroken 4 year old. I was a very novice rider and had no clue that I was entering a potentially challenging situation. She NEVER gave me any inclination that I should be concerned about anything. So I bred her. Her daughter however, is probably in the bottom 20%. She started out easy and uncomplicated and then one day she wasn’t. She became “explosive” in her fear responses. After 4 years I tried medication and some professional training that focuses on helping her deal appropriately with her anxiety. These two things have made a huge difference in her and she is now a good ride again, but only for an experienced rider. She will never be my “go to” horse like her mother, but at least we can ride safely again. It’s good to know others have similar challenges.

  14. kerro on July 28, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    My horse is in the top ten percent, though at the moment she is living at my grandma’s farm in Wisconsin. I just moved out to California recently. Anyways, my grandma (not by blood, but she’s a very close friend to the family and I call her grandma out of respect and closeness), her son’s wife had bought Josephine at an auction for two hundred dollars and later decided she didn’t want to work with her for whatever reason. I took one look at Joey and fell head over heels. So my grandma and I got her together. I worked with her every day. She was a wild thing, nobody had bothered working with her. She was a nasty little thing at first. If you went to rub the girth area under her she’d bite. And picking up her feet… she’d act like she was gonna kick you with the back or front foot, then try by any means to bite. I taught her manners gently and with patience and soon moved to the ground work. Since she was my first horse, grandma felt it best if a close friend of hers who was a horse trainer trained her. Anyways, the trainer praised me for the ground work I had done with her, and commented that she had learned fast. You can send her out to pasture for months and one day fetch her and saddle her and ride her without any rounded work. She’s very gentle. And you can go under her and she’ll stand there quietly. Working with her eventually led me to trusting her a sure amount to do things kids would do without thinking. Anyways, she’s a real pro and very trustworthy. She’s the only horse that I trust like that. She doesn’t have papers, she’s not trained for anything special although I did have barrel racing in mind at some point, I don’t know anything about her bloodlines, all I know is that she’s super intelligent and an amazing lady that is always so happy to see me that she rushes to the gate when I visit. (:

  15. Jacqui on July 28, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    My horse was one of those that could snap at first it only happend if you left him alone or he felt alone hed bolt and gallop until he calmed down.when he bolted he was unresponsive and unable to register if someone was in the way he never did it when he had a rider on board until one day he snapped big time when we were ment to be on a soft quiet walk and nearly killed me. Afterward i found out hed been badly treated as a race horse then starved to make him controllable i brought him unaware of this and then put him in full liverey where he was fed 2x day hay at night grass at day and it was too much for his brain to cope even after puting in a low grass paddock after accident he was so afraid of everything including himself you could barely pat him or brush him so i made the dession to end his suffering before he was hurt more or someone caring for him was. Some times the best horses in wrong hands are saddly not saveable.

  16. Alicia McLain on July 28, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    I had 2 “free” horses from the same mare. One Arab/tb and Whiskey who was full TB. My Arab/tb had two months training, I had 5 and we’ve been moving forward together for 3 years now. He was a reasonable crazy. Whiskey had 3 months training, did great with our trainer but bucked me off twice during transition. My now ex kept getting physical with him when he came home, something our trainer warned him not to do, and the first time Whiskey caught him off guard he bucked him off. When we split, the horses came with me. I did groundwork, was calm and consistent but Whiskey remained crazy. Thinking it’s just me, I gave him to a cowboy friend and Whiskey did something that scared him and made him give him back to me. 4 grown men spent 6 hours fighting him to trailer (something he did quite nicely 2 months prior). He came home battered, bleeding, and with permanent nerve damage to his muzzle. For the first time ever, he put his head in my arms and I knew, 3 years of loving him, 1800 bucks training, I had to let him go. I made the unpopular choice to euthanize him. I knew he’d never get over that 6 hour fight, and once he got well he’d be even more dangerous. I am lucky he didn’t hurt my friends, and I have horse crazy little grandchildren that I couldn’t put at risk. I couldn’t put strangers in danger. And I couldn’t sell him knowing he’d go on a kill truck. I spent his final days loving him, sitting with him while he grazed, grooming him. My vet knew Whiskey, and when he saw him confirmed I was doing the best thing for him and me. His brother Cowboy was with him until he died. Cowboy has made it, he still has some outlaw in him but we have an understanding. I saved one out of two aggressive horses and I have to be content with that. It’s hard for horse people to admit defeat but the horse has to want to get along at least a tiny bit to be saved.

  17. Kelley Sanger on July 28, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    I have a mini mare now about 12. Wasn’t handled as a baby as, “it makes them bond more with new owners.” I was told by the breeder. Because she freaked and broke through the fence to get back to mama being weaned was left alone locked in a full sized horse stall. When I went to see her, three people chased and cornered this tiny 6month old filly in the corner to catch her, it was heart breaking, I bought her on the spot. Though she as tons of athletic ability, and is gorgeous, and is smart, she shuts down and panics. Every year vet and vaccines you would think we are dealing with an untouched mustang, just stab and run. Most of the time the quietest girl, great with kids but I tried ground driving and she losses it, I can pony her off my arab and she loves it eggs him on to run, but try to do anything alone and she panics. I think she is a definite PTSD kid, and don’t know if she will ever get past it.

  18. Kaylene Wilson on July 28, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    We have a two top 10% horse, 5-80% horses and the wild child bottom 10% guy. I wouldn’t trade or give away or sell any of them. They all have a place in my heart, whether we are able to ride him or not, he has the ground manners of a prince and I love him…probably more so because of his issues. And no, I don’t know why he is like he is. I just accept him as he accepts me, he is the keeper of secrets, both mine and his. We have our suspicions because we know of 3 of his full brothers and they all have the same issues. Perfect on the ground, blow up at the drop of a hat under saddle yet nothing “spooks” him. We’ve heard rumors of them being ridden at weanling age by the grandchildren to “acclimate them to having something on them”. Chiropractors, acupuncture, herbs, going slowly with training and 7 years later…pocket pony for me. Love knows no boundaries between us. I also have 2 of his babies and they are not a problem at all. Why was he bred? Before he was gelded some idiot left the gate unsecured and he had an afternoon of fun with the mares and no it wasn’t me! Love knows no bounds in that direction either. lol

  19. Robin on July 28, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    If you want to read about a woman who researched “mental issues” in animals the book is: Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves
    Laurel Braitman

    The book is very intriguing and thought provoking, I enjoyed her research and views on the subject.

  20. Gretta on July 28, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    10-80-10. I wonder if the numbers are about the same for humans. Average are quite fine. That’s why God made so many of us

  21. Lindsay B on July 28, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    I, unfortunately, had a bottom 10%. Beautiful young (5-6 yr) bay gelding, about 14.3. I or my children could do no wrong with him on the ground, he was a puppy dog, he would follow us around everywhere. But, totally unrideable. Ground work, no problem, saddle him up, no problem, mount him and that was a far as it went. He would stand straight up on his hind legs and shake you off, then turn around and nuzzle you. Tried everything, had professionals work with him (they had more glue to the saddle than me) and if he didn’t throw them the first try, he would then try it a few times more before throwing himself over backwards. Tried everything know to man, some of it close to unspeakable tactics. Old tricks, new tricks, sat on his head for 1/2 hr. plus, you name it. He never got upset with the corrective measures. He was such a love bug (didn’t like to drive either) that I finally gave him away as a pasture pet/lawn ornament to a older couple, friends of my father, that thought he was a beautiful lawn mower. He lived the life of Reilly the rest of his life. (just couldn’t put him down, he was too sweet). Have no idea how he learned this way out of work, but even 10 years later someone tried to ride him and the same performance occurred even bareback. Fandango was his name, came from a local auction. so pretty, couldn’t figure why he was there, got fed a lot of garbage as to why. Joke was on me.

  22. Lynn on July 28, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    I had a mare who, as much as it breaks my heart, was definitely “unfixable.” I’ve had many in my lifetime and never met one quite like her. She was absolutely beautiful but she was dangerous. Her previous owners, who bought her from a “trainer”, were such good, sweet people, but she hated them. She would dump anyone who tried to ride her, she’d bolt, she’d roll, she’d charge. I boarded my horse at the barn she was at and felt so bad for her. She’d spend days in her stall because people were too afraid of her to get her out. I finally asked if I could try getting her out, and everyone called me crazy but low and behold this mare quietly came right out of her stall for me. I cared for her for several weeks, she never gave me trouble, and her owners gave her to me. I did groundwork with her for months, including join-up, and this horse who used to flip over if you tried to halter or bridle her was following me around like a puppy-dog. I free-walked her through an obstacle course full of “scary” things and she didn’t even blink. She was so affectionate and sweet to me, while still aloof of everyone else. I once slipped on ice while leading her and thought for sure she was going to bolt, but instead she planted her feet and lifted her head slowly as I got to my feet. After that, I decided it was time to try to ride her, and a few days later I did. She didn’t buck, bolt, or roll. She carried me and did as I asked, but her ears were pinned the entire time, she was shaking like a leaf, and swished her tail. I could tell she hated it so I got off and called the vet to check her out (AGAIN), no apparent problems. Then one day, out of nowhere, she flipped in the crossties when I was grooming her and I put her to pasture till I could find someone who could help her because I didn’t want to give up yet. I finally found a natural horsemanship trainer who offered to take her and keep me updated. I reluctantly agreed because this poor horse was breaking my bank and I really couldn’t afford two horses anymore. So she met her, they got along seemingly great, and off she went. A few weeks later I got a call saying my mare went ballistic and put herself through a fence, and was so badly injured she had to be put down. I wish I could have worked a miracle for her, or had bottomless pockets that could have afforded her a life of peace in the pasture. But at the end of the day you can only do so much for a horse like that, not matter how much guilt or sadness it may bring you.

  23. Amanda Ryden on July 28, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    By all means there is a 10%. There are just some horses that are downright dangerous not related to poor or abusive training or lack thereof. The trick is getting beyond your bias and recognizing this type of horse.

  24. Tina on July 28, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    We too have a top 10% boy. Nemo. A grade QH gelding that somewhere down the road has done some amazing things. We bought him from someone who bought him from a horse trader. We don’t know anything about his upbringing or training, I was looking for a babysitter. Was told he was 17, vet said he was closer to 27 when I brought him home. He has won numerous belt buckles, ribbons and trophies for my kid, starting at age 5. No spook, no buck, no kick, just wants his belly rubbed. She showed him in western pleasure, barrels, hunter under saddle, costume, she even carried a flag with him for an opening ceremony for a show. My daughter is now 12, and Nemo is our favorite pasture ornament. We guess he is somewhere around 34. He is partially blind, pretty deaf, almost toothless and just a goof ball. I can still occasionally put a small child on him and will pack that kid around with his ears up and a sparkle in his eye. My mare is his eyes and ears and she protects him now. Friends come over and laugh at how he follows people around like a dog, he truly is one of a kind and we owe it to him to make sure these last few years of his life are good. He might not be much to anyone else, but boy will he leave a empty place in some hearts when he is gone.

  25. kakseterKristine on July 28, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    We took a horse home, from a friend who found her one morning on their ranch outside the gates. After seeking the owners, they said; keep her! She had a rope burn and the rope had cut around her neck an inch deep. She was taken care of and she started training for trail rides, she did it all and seem to love it too. She was absolutely gorgeous and shined like cooper, we called her Penny. But after 3 months, something seem to change in her disposition. Her eyes had a look of looked of meanness. Not crazy but just mad. She began to strike and she was sneaky about it. She would buck, bite, twist and rear and run. As we worked in the pasture, she go after you, even if you were just in the filed doing work ignoring her. She also attack the other horses this same way… she made herself isolated from them and they from her. It became worse and worse, nothing worked with her. She had became as different as night and day and showed no signs of returning to day! I really believe the owner that refuse to take her back messed her up. But I also believe she had oxygen cut form her brain. The Vet check was not an expensive testing, not sure what else he could have done. But she was on her best behavior that day? She became so dangerous, another friend suggested that she be worked with another trainer who was much more experienced, but he could not help her either. It broke my heart to see her so miserable and I always wondered… if any one else went through something like this.

  26. nichole bower on July 28, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    I have a top 10% horse, his barn name was Ed and he excelled at everything he did. He took me to 4H championships every year and barrel and pole championships til he was 27. He was then retired, went blind and was still ridden and trusted alone with kids until age 35 when his arthritis got so bad we had to let him go. He was on a trail ride 3 days prior to being layed to rest. We got him at 17 as an extremely emaciated horse that “in his prime ran 19 second pole runs”. That is what his previous owner told us. Everyone said we were nuts to buy him let alone for the price. My whole family wishes we would have cloned him because he was so amazing. He has been gone 4 years and I still grieve his loss. My mom and I were once offered 20,000 for him when he was 25. Both mom and I said no immediately as Ed was priceless. I miss him so much. He did roping, reining, barrels, poles, english showing, western showing, dressage, team penning and jumping. That is just we know and did with him. He was a racing quarter horse bloodlines and a 1975 model

  27. Cynthia on July 28, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    I have a horse that is what you might call a Jeckll and Hyde. He can be wonderful and loving and then his eyes turn “hard” and he is dangerous!!!! We have shown him in hand and he has done wonderful but riding him is not an option. Only one trainer was able to ride him for 8 months he was an assistant trainer and for some reason got along with this horse both on the ground and on him. I could ride him but do not trust him any one else he goes off for no reason squealing urinating and bucking. He now sits in my pasture. I have had many vets exams, blood tests, acupuncture, massage etc done nothing was found or worked. it is know that his bloodlines (many of them) have the same problem but it wasn’t well know when I bought him 6 years ago.

  28. Suzi on July 28, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Thanks Stacy, that was a great response, and I agree. I’ve trained horses for many years, and I don’t mean just now and then, it is my livelyhood and my job– I get ALL kinds. Makes you love the great ones all the more, and wonder why people want to keep these problem horses at all. A few years ago my pastor’s wife was given a paint gelding, he was about 8ish I think. Supposedly he’d been handled as a foal, but was pasture raised. She immediately asked if I’d train him for her. I didn’t want to, I was full already, she was a novice rider not needing a freshly broke horse, and I didn’t believe the ‘giver’s’ story about this horse at all. He was wild when he arrived, and I spent about 5 months in the round pen with this gelding, I’m serious. Each day was brand new. He never remembered, or perhaps willfully didn’t want to, anything we’d went through the day before. I would spend HOURS with him in the roundpen every single day. He never allowed me to approach his left side– he would bend his head around as far as he was physically able to prevent me from touching or getting to his side! I had him holding still, he stood for me to go to either side finally, but he prevented me from actually getting there with his head. After that many months, leading from stall to roundpen, working for hours, doing ‘join up’ each day which he promptly forgot the next, he still would run over me coming out of the stall, if loose, he charged throught he barn isle, and was just horribly dangerous. My pastors wife, a good friend of mine, one day coming on winter insisted they were going to bring the horse to their house for the winter. I had to forbid it! They had grandkids who loved playing in their barn and other animals, I knew this gelding would hurt if not kill one of them eventually, especially none of them with experienced hands. I had to give her the bad news that this horse was ‘untrainable.’ It broke MY heart more, because it was a matter of pride in my heart: I am GOOD at ‘breaking’ (starting) horses. I do it well with no meanness or gimmics. To have to tell them this lovely paint they so wanted was ‘crazy’ was tough. She asked me what I’d do with him if he were mine, and after all those months of frustration, doing ground work and rounpen exercises for hours and hours on end to no avail and still getting attacked along the way, I told her if he were mine, he’d be filling the big ditch at the back of my property already. I’m sure that sounds mean, but he was a danger. So she made some calls and finally gave him back to the woman who gave him to her in the first place. Good riddence I thought. But I was the one who had to drop him off! So this woman was all this and that about WHAT SHE’D DO to him, and was hollering at several men in the vicinity that tonight they were ‘BREAKING’ this horse! And, true to her promise, the next day she posted a pic of him all ears up, saddled, bridled and looking like he liked it (ya right). My pastors wife was sayng how pretty he was and stuff, making me feel like a fool– but I wasn’t. What I KNOW is that this woman and the group of men tied and threw this horse on the ground and ‘broke; him that way. They got him saddled, bridled and took his pic to post and brag. THAT is not training a horse. Idk what became of him, I imagine he quickly went to a sale. But now which of us was right? Was the horse trainable (as she seemed to say) or am I a lousy trainer who after 5 months could not get basic training into this horse? I’m honest is what I am. This horse would have hurt my friends family, no doubt. Even if he is riding now for someone somewhere, that does not mean he would be a ‘family’ horse. So I stand with my judgement. If after 5 months of intense roundpen training couldn’t get a horse to let me step up to him, touch him or even get a blanket near him, then he had a problem that was not easily fixed, or ever fixed. I’ve “fixed” a lot of problem horses with patience and brainpower, theres a difference between ‘can be fixed’ and ‘shouldn’t be fixed by me.’ I don’t see that I need to ‘prove’ myself any longer to anyone. Sometimes, especially when you reach your 50s, safety is your first thought, not the challenge.

    • Alicia McLain on July 28, 2014 at 9:01 pm

      Kudos for you for being honest about the horse! My trainer said up front he wouldn’t train my crazy “free” horse unless I trained. I was a first time owner and 5 months with him taught me safe handling and defensive riding. He was tough, and at times I’d go home crying – but his brutal honesty has saved my life many times over. The second horse he trained for me didn’t make the cut, was street rat crazy and I put him down. Some tree hugger trying to save him would have been killed by him. Sometimes we have to make the tough calls. Be proud that you were moral and compassionate to do it!!

  29. Tanja on July 28, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    We have a small herd of horses picked up from various situations and ages. My core herd consists of a 16 hand papered geldig onto whom we’ve packed newbies, several horses born and raised here, one of which is like the 16 hand guy, a 3 year old filly i trained myself, and a rescue along with offspring, a 500 dollar beauty who should be worth more like 2000 and a horse i took on that seems to have her days where she is more spooky and i considered at times if it is a mental issue. I’ve had her for a year and half now, and focused on forming a stong bond first. Next will be ground work and asking for trained response to spooky situations. The funny thing is, i can now saddle her and bounce and wiggle in the saddle and it doesnt phase her, whereas a touch used to spook her and have her running. I suspect she may suffer from PTSD or some sort of insecurity and she now seeks me out. Perhaps I’m her comfort and therapy as much as she’s mine!

  30. Priscilla Thewessen on July 28, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    I know a horse from the top 10%, he’s a horse from the stables where i ride, he’s a Cob Paint, and his name is Kios, i’ve known him for 8 years now, but he’s a lot older than that, probally somewhere in his mid 20s. He’s the kind of horse you can put anybody on, trail ride or in the arena, he knows what to do, put a novice on him and he’s very careful and keeps himself in, put an experienced rider on him and he walks like a dressage horse and has a lot of fun to go really fast and jumping over jumps. On the trail ride you can just basicly let the reins just lay on his neck cause he won’t jump for anything, not even a barking dog not a few feet from him. Actually in all those years that i’ve known him… he’s never bucked, or bolted. And just a random fun fact about him, he’ll give kisses for food, especially bananas.
    pardon my english, i’m dutch so english isn’t my first language.

    • Jenna MB Walker on July 29, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      Priscilla, he sounds very similar to my horse. Also, your English is fantastic, only you’re capitalization needs a little work. 🙂

      • Jenna MB Walker on July 29, 2014 at 3:25 pm

        Your*. Sorry, my 2 year old and 6 month old are helping me type so I’m very distracted.

  31. Bill Swart on July 28, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    We should add the old horseman’s rejoinder, “There are too many good ones out there . . .” For a lady like Stacy, an equine-human cross I believe, okay, have a go at making a horse out of an un-happy, un-pleasant, un-seating beastie. But for me, a fairly experienced has-been horse trainer (I’m 84), I’ve hauled some to auctions, saying sorry, horse, but . . . Bill Swart

  32. Daina Hillson on July 28, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Thank goodness diagnostic testing is gathering momentum continually as so many horses have been branded “killers or “crazy” simply because the root of the problem, (source of pain) could not be found.

    • Katie on July 28, 2014 at 4:32 pm

      I agree, I have an incredibly smart gelding, Bashkir Curly/ QH cross, and he has been an angel….most of the time. Sometimes he will just snap and kick at whatever is nearby. I have watched him for hours and cannot find any sort of trigger. I keep my boys barefoot, and they are not under any pressure, like showing or competing. Just makes me wonder if he’s either hurting somewhere or has some mental issues. Whatever it is, I’m still trying to figure it out.

  33. lindsey on July 28, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    I really enjoyed this post! I have a horse who I am SURE suffers from a mental illness similar to PTSD in humans. He came from a slaughter sale, had obviously been through a lot, he is physically amazing, but there is something wrong with him. I’ve had him for 4 years, sent him to a trainer that he was excelling with because of his “issues” got him back and the next day he was back to the “old” him, I called the trainer, he came out and couldn’t believe how different he was. The horse is incredibly trained and on good days he can win and do anything, but on his “bad” days I get off and tie him up because the fight isn’t worth it anymore. I entered him in a simple walk/trot trail pattern at a local show for fun. It was our turn and sure enough I give him a cue to walk on, and he BLOWS through the pattern going about 50mph and not stopping. I had many people & trainers tell me after that show that I should get some training and a stop put on him, I just smile now and say okay. He has won a number of local reining shows (30+ entries)…..

  34. lynn collver on July 28, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Hi, I have a 27 yr old horse that has soft feet and now a stifle in a rear leg and something else the farrier said and she cannot be trimmed anymore, she screams out in pain which she has never done.. It’s so sad .. but I love her enough to have her put down. Is there anything you can think of I need to do before doing so. She’s a sweety, really obedient but now is so sour on farriers because of the pain.. Thanks for your help .Lynn

    • AMcLain on October 1, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      There was a wonderful article on euthanasia in Horse and Rider – if you could find it in their archives it has a lot of great advice. I was lucky that my vet came out to my place to put him down and we had his pasture partner beside him to keep him calm. The biggest problem I faced was how to remove his body. I rent and couldn’t bury him. The only person I found that could help was in Dallas – she talked to me for nearly an hour and advised calling local vets to see if they had a contact for disposal. They didn’t but said the landfill would take him. I had one friend who loaded hers and had him put down in the trailer but I couldn’t do that to mine after what the men had done to him. My landlord took care of hauling the body for me. Be prepared to see your horse go down. My vet sedated him and then untied him and gave him the last shot. He went down fairly easily but I know of some that just fall. If u can have a friend there for support it helps. Even tho I was prepared for the finalIty of it, it’s hard to see. I had tarps to cover him up with until he could be removed and once I cried I left for the day at my landlords suggestion. I took lots of pics before the day of his death and I cut his tail to braid into bracelets for myself and my granddaughter. It is heartbreaking, I’m leaking tears typing this, ibut if there’s been second opinions and there’s no help for her, you are doing the best thing for her. It’s one of those cases of putting the animall first. If you need a little support from a stranger feel free to email me at

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