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Massive emotional baggage
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Scott Wehrmann
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Joined: Sat Mar 24th, 2007
Location: Blair, Nebraska USA
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 Posted: Thu Jun 28th, 2007 04:36 pm
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Hi Dr. Deb,

Lately I've had the chance to meet a horse and owner who came here for some help.  I think I probably let them both down, but did what I could for a few weeks.    I apologize in advance for a long, rambling story, but here goes.

She is a horse pro in the dressage/jumping/eventing area.....probably mid-50s or so and in good physical shape and seems to be knowledgeable.....at least as far the usual stuff in that whole style.  Not much exposure to the type of horsemanship you are interested in.  He is a 7 year old Hanoverian gelding she has had since he was weaned at three or four months.  

He started out with his breeder who did the worst possible job of "imprinting" I've heard of.  Though the birth was normal, he was pulled, sac opened, separated from the mare, toweled off,  bottle fed, the whole works.  The mare apparently wasn't really involved until the next day.  Things went south from there.  He became VERY aggressive toward just about everything and everyone.  They weaned him from the mare because she wanted nothing to do with him.  By the time he went to his new home he was already pretty good at chasing people out of his stall/pen/corral using teeth and all four feet.      

Things have digressed from there.  He has been in and out of quite a few trainer's barns.   The reason she decided to bring him here was he would go up and over backwards at the slightest hint of a problem.    This was with or without a rider on him.   He turned out to be a pretty scary horse to be around.  He is big, strong, athletic, and really scared and pissed off at the world and it comes out as aggression.   He has had a lot of practice and success at chasing people over/under/through a fence. 

We made some real progress on just getting him to be a good equine citizen,  got over most of the kicking, biting, striking.  We worked through an awful lot of braces.  He became much more quiet and calm and respectful, but I would NEVER trust him around anyone else, and wouldn't turn my back on him.   I was pretty glad to see them leave.  But I can't imagine where a horse like that could fit in the world.   

It didn't really occur to me until afterward,  but I am convinced this horse was trying to kill himself.  When he would go over, he didn't do it in the usual way...if there is such a thing.  Instead of his hock, hip, rib, shoulder, neck, then head hitting the ground he would kind of arc his body upward as he went over and the side or back of his head would hit the ground first.  It was just as if he was trying his best to end it all right then and there.   He even seemed to try and find the hardest, most harmful place to do it.   Even loose in a small pasture near the barn with a couple of guys for company.....he made friends of one of them right away....I saw him do this twice.   

When I say I feel I let them both down what I really mean is that I now believe I should have done my best to convince her to just have him put down.   Is there anything in your experience or knowledge that applies here?  Is it even possible for a horse to feel so strongly they would do this? 

Thanks for all your help.  

Sam
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 Posted: Fri Jun 29th, 2007 07:56 am
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Hi Scott,

Be kind to yourself, you did the best you could in only a short time.  Experience tell us we can not 'save' all the horses who come to us we can only do our best.  Any decision to put a horse to sleep is really up to the owner, he might have to shout real loud to her before she thinks of this option. Keep up your good work and thoughts.

Sam

shawna
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 Posted: Fri Jun 29th, 2007 10:13 pm
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Scott,

I have a TB gelding who I came to believe was trying to kill himself after being transplanted from Nebraska to Alabama.  In two years he suffered several serious injuries (slicing a hind leg open to the tendon sheath, colic that lead to surgery, a severe bowed tendon while turned out in pasture).  It was this last injury that lead to the worst problems.  While he was on stall rest for the bow he stopped drinking almost entirely.  Some days he would drink literally no more than two inches of water out of one bucket.  He had three impactions in less than a month, and I ended up bribing him with an apple juice/ water mixture just to keep him hydrated and get him healthy enough to ship back to Nebraska.  He's been fine since he got home. 

When he stopped drinking I really did come to believe that he wanted to die, and it was the recognition that he was miserable that prompted his move back to Nebraska.  During that time, one experienced horsewoman suggested that I put him down.  At the time I was hurt and outraged by the suggestion.  There is a very real chance that had you made the suggestion this horse's owner would also have been incapable of really hearing what you had to say.  Don't be too hard on yourself; it sounds like you did help them quite a lot. 

Shawna

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Jun 30th, 2007 09:10 am
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Scott, I agree with the others who have answered you here in sympathy. There's no reason for you to think you let the lady down. Sometimes the finest repartee does not come to mind until .... later. She's a big girl (the owner, I mean) and she will figure this out herself as to whether the horse should be put down. After all, the animal is her property, and you are called in, at best, only as an advisor.

Plus, the situation represented a horsemanship challenge and a professional challenge. This was its benefit toward Scott. It is not that this has no value, either, because whatever you learned from this is going to reflect back on all subsequent horses. You learned, and you didn't let the animal hurt you or anybody else while it was under your control. When you're in a tough or dangerous situation and you come through it without getting hurt, that's when you learn the most.

As to suicide: yes, I've known a couple of horses who were, in my estimation, definitely suicidal. One of them actually got it done, and damn near killed his rider in the process also -- he broke his own neck, and broke or crushed every vertebra in her back and neck. She was the cruellest, most "bulletproof" personality I ever met around horses, and let me tell you, I've met some real psychos around barns. I don't think this particular horse was that unhappy until he came into her ownership. She had a fair amount of skill, so she would get on the horse and say, "OK, give," and the horse would give. And as soon as he would give, a smile such as you would only see on that evil little doll in the movies would appear on her face, and she would then say, "now, give MORE." And there was no end -- no matter how much the horse gave, put forth, or yielded, she would always demand MORE.

Another horse I knew that GOT killed -- because he killed his rider -- was a WB like the one you worked with, Scott. There are a lot of farms that raise these horses that actually take pride in getting them to be nearly as aggressive as you describe, because they believe that "aggressiveness" signals the potential for "athletic try" and "brilliance". There are people in the Paso community who think this too, that if a horse isn't "humbled" (i.e. afraid of his handler or rider) or in some way perceptibly on edge, then he "lacks brio". All of these people are totally mixed up, of course. No one who has ever had a horse 100% OK within himself, even for one moment, let alone all the time, could ever believe what these people say they believe. They believe it because, never having actually experienced it, they can only imagine what being "one body, one mind" with a horse is like. As wise old George MacDonald wrote, "when you are dead and think you have awakened, you will still be asleep; for you are only dreaming that you have awakened." But when the real thing dawns, every false thing "passes away." In other words -- them as knows, knows -- and the rest are just going to have to wait until the real thing comes to them.

As to imprinting: I agree that it is absolutely never to be done, and I have never met an imprinted horse that was either safe to be around, fully trustworthy, or deeply happy within itself. They are all bothered. But the people who practice this stuff think they're on the cutting edge of kindness. And they also have been made to think -- thanks to that idiot radio guy and the second-rate veterinarian horse-whisperer wannabee who have broadcast this stuff worldwide -- that by imprinting they are doing just what our teacher would have wanted. In this they are light years from the truth. Every clinic, the question about "should I imprint my horse" or "what do you think of imprinting" is asked. Why do they not listen to Ray Hunt when he paraphrases our teacher's advice: "it would be better to let a foal be a foal" --! 

So, the WB that killed its rider accomplished it by slamming her up against one of the support pillars in an indoor riding hall. They then killed the horse, of course. Maybe that one was able to foresee this; I don't know. But I do think that horses will go to ANY length in the PRESENT MOMENT to get away from unrelenting pressure. The WB that killed its rider had correctly identified the source of the pressure in that case, for she, too, though not thoroughly evil like the woman whose back was broken, had been taught to believe that the only way to succeed with horses is to be unrelentingly tough on them, never give them a break, never let them off rein contact, and to repeat correctly-executed movements immediately (lest the horse, whom they believe to be low in intelligence, "forget" or "not be reinforced").

It amazes me sometimes, too, how little understanding some of the WB/dressage people seem to have of the very horses they use. I mean, would a man stay in Arabs if he did not understand or sympathize with the emotional and mental peculiarities of this type of horse? Some guys like QH's and hate Arabs, so they should stay in QH's. Similarly with WB's....many of them have a pretty prominent "mad" button, in other words, they become angry more easily than any other breed or type of horse with which I am familiar. WB's get angry when they are confused or where another horse would get afraid and either have an attack of the repeating shies, or buck, or bolt, but they don't come AT you. Given that WB's ARE big and athletic, it therefore behooves the trainer to figure out a way to get the job done without pushing the "mad" button. And we do this by recognizing that "mad" is just another form of "afraid". You see that anger rising up in there, and just as you would with a TB or a QH or an Arab that you saw was getting afraid, you deflect, you regroup, you lower the pressure at the first possible moment and then you set it up again. That way, the horse stays in the zone where he can continue to learn.

WB's are plenty smart enough (some people call 'em "dumbbloods" and I joke about this but don't really believe they're either dumb or dull). What they need is very particular explanations, step-by-step explanations, of every single thing. When they get this without being hurried faster than they can mentally keep up, they learn just as well as any other horses. And after they learn, they retain very well -- they are then very steady and reliable friends and servants.

I also suspect that part of the problem that the horse you worked with had, Scott, was chronic physical discomfort. So many WB's are really very bad movers. This is not innate to them, but the product of the sort of handling, riding, and training they typically receive. Their owners and trainers think that WB's are "big" movers when in fact they are simply bad movers -- stiff through jaws, poll, neck, back, loins, and haunches. With many of these horses, if you had a movie camera and took a film, it would be difficult to find even a single frame in a one-hour ride that showed anything except globally incorrect work. And yet there's an entire industry that looks at this way of moving and calls it "correct" or "superior" and gives it prizes. Our teacher pointed out many a time that when a horse is experiencing chronic physical discomfort, he can't tell where it is coming from. To him, it's just another form of unremitting pressure, pressure that no matter what he does or how he adjusts, he can't make it go away. And our teacher used to say, "when a horse is uncomfortable physically, he'll soon be uncomfortable mentally."

And that's what suicide is -- extreme mental discomfort. There was an article in our local paper here just a couple of days ago about teenage suicide, and the expert they interviewed for it said in there that one of the worst aspects of teen suicide is that when young people are under stress or get depressed, they just haven't been on the planet long enough to be able to put some of it in perspective. They don't have perspective, they have no real sense of time duration (thirty years old seems light years away to them), and they can't predict accurately that their life in another year or even in another month could be quite different. They think they're immortal and so they are not sufficiently frightened by the fact that "suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem". But if you now re-read this paragraph you will realize that these are all characteristics of animal mentality too!

So the thought then becomes not "why does the very exceptional and rare horse who has had a bad upbringing and is currently under a lot of pressure from an unsympathetic rider seem to want to kill himself" -- but instead, "how do the vast majority of horses remain the cheerful good-doers that they consistently are, putting up with the most amazing thoughtlessness on the part of their handlers and riders"--!

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

 

Scott Wehrmann
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 Posted: Sat Jun 30th, 2007 08:52 pm
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Hi, Doc, Shawna, and Sam,

Thanks for the notes and your thoughts.  But no sympathy is appropriate here.  I went into this with full knowledge of what I was getting into.  The first phone call I had with the owner of the horse I told her this is not what I do, not what I'm good at, not what I even WANT to be good at.  Over a period of a few months, she persisted, had him drugged and hauled clear up here from Florida.   I was pretty intrigued.   So I was in on this too. 

I think I'll stick to my little cowhorses from here on out.  It's not like I'm lacking for something to do every day. 

The owner flew up here one weekend to spend some time with me and the horse...things went OK, but not great.  She got kicked pretty good in the thigh.  That surprised me, because the two of us (me and the horse) had worked through most of that stuff during the previous week.    I'm pretty good at seeing a horse shape up to kick, and sure didn't see that one coming.  Anyway, a day or two later she called me up and asked how things were going.  I told her my thoughts then about the head-banging.... at that point I had not thought about suicide.  Her response was, and this is word for word.....

"If you called me tomorrow and told me he was dead, it wouldn't bother me a bit."

So this all builds up to a situation that I certainly learned a lot from, as Deb said.  Just not the things I thought I would learn, or wanted to learn.  The truth is, the owner appealed to my ego a bit in convincing me to have him come here for a visit.  It worked. 

Reminds me of a VERY wise old horseman who believed the main problem with horses and people is the human ego getting in the way.   The problems I had in mind to work on turned out to have little to do with the real problems the the horse desperately needed help with.   We never even came close to the problems the owner needed help with.  That is why I now feel I let them both down....and I did.  

I let the human ego get in the way of really understanding what was happening inside the horse.  Now it is up to me to become more aware,  to see through the eyes of the horse, to perceive and understand the world as they do.   I just wish it hadn't taked so many years and such an intense experience to make me realize this.            

 

 

 

 

  

Kim L
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 Posted: Sun Jul 1st, 2007 06:15 am
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Scott,

Maybe it was your ego that tempted you to take this horse on, maybe you finally feel like you are beginning to understand real horsemanship but didn't trust yourself so you put yourself to the test. Could it be the latter is more of the truth. Now you're very disappointed, because you didn't get an A+. Instead you got a C. If you did your best those two weeks, you may of done  more for yourself and the horse than any other horse you have worked with up to this point. Because when you get an A+ but only had to have one eye open to do it what have you accomplished for yourself? Everybody around you may be impressed but deep down you'll feel no sense of accomplishment and neither will your teacher. But if you go for the extra credit you'll learn a lot more and it will be a lot more rewarding. Call the owner see how the horse is doing (sounds like you already know) Strongly suggest she go to one of the clinics suggested here on this board. Give her this website to go to for help. In time maybe some good will come from this. She may not be as opened minded as you hope but she did search you out. Something in her is stirring. Something to think about to, is that maybe you didn't get the grade on your test you hoped for but I'm sure you got a better grade than I would of. And saying what you said on this post shows you ARE beginning to understand real horsemanship. And the thing I like about real horsemen is they keep learning until the day they die.

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 12:20 pm
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Hello Scott - Given the vast array of problems afflicting this horse, you have every reason to congratulate yourself for having achieved as much as you did for the poor fellow.  It's hard to imagine the degree of torment that would drive a horse to this extreme of behaviour.  I also know a young warmblood with a penchant for chasing people - he too was weaned very young, and has been isolated for his whole life since then, not the same aggression of your story but nevertheless an unhappy horse.

Speaking of imprinting, do you think it's ever possible to undo the damage caused by this procedure?  I'm thinking of a horse I had some time with 15 years ago.   I hadn't long begun starting young horses, and being blissfully ignorant, had happily bungled my way through with a few of them.  Then one year I was confronted with a youngster for whom nothing worked.  He enjoyed having his face stroked but would try to pin me against the fence if I groomed him.  As for introducing saddles etc, no chance.  This went on for months with absolutely no progress, and this was years before I had even heard of the concept of roundpen style work.  A visiting farrier who doubled as a 'breaker' told me I had it all wrong, that the horse needed to be put down on the ground and that would fix him.  Regrettably I let this happen, but the young horse was no better, worse if anything.  The owner of the horse started to mutter about euthanazing him, and I was desolate that my incompetence and failure would result in the death of this otherwise healthy young horse.  Up to this point, this young gelding had been living in a paddock with another of his own age - they had been there since weaning - he was king of a paddock of two.  Out of sheer desperation, I took both of these youngsters out of their isolated paddock and put them in a large paddock occupied by some dozen or more aged, cranky, mares and geldings, and didn't go near them for a month.  After that short time, this young horse was completely different, very pleased to see me, and I never had a moment's trouble with him again, I was riding him within 3 weeks and he went on to become a reliable beginner's mount.   All the credit for this transformation belongs with the old mares and geldings who gave this youngster a 'crash course' in Life Lessons, and I have been eternally grateful ever since for the lesson I learned.

I don't think this young horse had been imprinted, but he certainly had a vastly overinflated view of his place in the world.  Do you think an imprinted horse would respond in the same way to a few weeks with some feisty older mares?  Or perhaps there is a developmental time limit that would not give the same result in an older imprinted horse?  Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Best wishes - Pauline

 

Scott Wehrmann
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 Posted: Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 01:20 pm
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Hi!

I lead a pretty sheltered life as far as horses go.  I've got plenty of projects around here as far as getting colts gentle, halter broke, riding, doing something productive.  The babies get very little attention.  Yearlings only a bit more.  They get their vaccinations, wormed a few times,  and maybe a foot trimming or two.  Sooner or later when I'm out in the pasture one of them will start coming up and asking for attention.  So they'll get it.  Some are three or four by this time.....but they let me know when they are ready to go.  Things just seem to flow pretty easily from there.  It's not like I have to do everything just right.....if I'm even close, the horse will just go ahead and do the right thing.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that I never had to learn to get along with a horse like this one, much less develop the ability to ride one.   It may be a little late in the game for me to start.  Plus, I have nothing to prove to anyone and no desire to get mashed.  This guy certainly helped crystallize that thought.        

This is just my feeling on the whole thing...with absolutely nothing to back it up but my own instinct.   But I have to believe the best thing for an "imprinted" horse would be to turn him out with a stud and a broodmare band, their foals, a bunch of yearlings and 2s and 3s, and leave him there for a whole year's cycle.   It would be hard on them at first,  and probably not practical or possible for most folks.   I just don't see how you could ever teach a horse....and I mean really understand deep down what his role in life should be.  

By spring the stallion will start driving the youngs colts away from the band, one by one.  They will form their own little club, learn to get along without mama.  And he'll be as tough as he needs to.   But it isn't like he goes out of his way.   By summer the colts have things pretty well figured out.  A few decide that if they are polite and respectful enough he'll let them come in for a visit with their extended family.  But he'll also let them know when they need to go.  Some colts take much longer to figure this out and be OK with it.  They certainly learn not to exhibit any studdish behavior.  Once in a while there will be one that really just has to duke it out with the stallion.  He'll get to the same place eventually though.  And this applies to every moment of every day, every situation and interaction....just learning to be a horse.   No matter how good a person's intentions or timing or abilty or just plain time, they couldn't get it done.

I also am convinced that a horse who has lived a year or two outside appreciates being invited into the barn for a little attention in a way that a stalled horse never could.   Horses that are stalled all the time crave being turned out to be a horse,  be away from people,  be with other horses, do their own thing for a while.  Pasture raised horses can get to where they crave being with you, getting some attention, doing something together, actually doing a job. 

Anyway, the closer we can get to that situation the better.  If that means one donkey for a companion, OK.  A few geldings or mares at turnout,  better.  All day every day, great.   Thank goodness they are as forgiving as they are. 

Have a great day with your horse....      

 

Pam
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 Posted: Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 10:23 pm
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Hope it is ok to chime in here.  I've been around way too many of those WB trainers and owners that you speak of, Dr. Deb.  It made me just sick of whole competitive dressage world that WB's dominate.  I am sorry to say that these type of trainers have caused damage to me that I have been working on to repair.  At one point, because of the pressure coming from my trainer, I thought I just wanted to quit riding.  And then I thought, if she is making me feel this bad I wonder how my horse feels?  Once that thought occurred I was done.  I will never subject my horse or myself to such heartless people again.  One does have to wonder how these horses manage to stay so cheerful and be such good-doers like you mention, Dr. Deb. Horses are so full of grace and just want to get along with us the "difficult"  "smarter" ones.  It just breaks my heart to hear some of these stories posted.

Pam         

renoo
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 Posted: Tue Jul 3rd, 2007 10:58 am
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I really start to wonder what exactly is "Imprinting"...

reading this:

the worst possible job of "imprinting" I've heard of.  Though the birth was normal, he was pulled, sac opened, separated from the mare, toweled off,  bottle fed, the whole works.  The mare apparently wasn't really involved until the next day.

now I understand that I don't understand what does imprinting mean.. I thought it was basically you run your hands over the very young foal - head, back, legs, belly - everywhere, and then leave the horse alone with its mom, leaving him to be horse until he's ready to learn more... and then he has the feeling of human touch "imprinted" - when you start grooming, well - touching him - the horse doesn't object that much, because its "imprinted" that its OK for a human to touch him...

Is imprinting something else, more serious then?

Jean in Alaska
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 Posted: Tue Jul 3rd, 2007 10:39 pm
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In scientific terms, baby animals will "imprint" on a person, object, experience, during a "critical period".  Biologist Conrad Lorenz discovered newly hatched goslings would imprint on the first thing they saw as their parent, IOW if it was a human, they would follow that human around as if it was their mother.

In a newborn foal,  right after birth, the foal will imprint on it's dam, or if a human is there, will accept the human as part of it's herd, OR if the dam, is not available, think the human or other animal is it's mother.  The things it experiences in this critical time period  are retained.  If a foal is scared, treated roughly, etc during this time period it will remember that and react accordingly.  that is why it is so important that it does not experience trauma, etc, or is desensitized to the wrong thiungs, OR sensitized to wrong things.

I was at the birth of my Fjord gelding, and handled him, toweled him dry a bit, but he was with his mom, she accepted me.  This was before Miller's book on "Imprinting the newborn foal" came out so I knew nothing about that, but did know about the scientific theory of imprinting.  Bjorken has always accepted me as a member of his "herd" never objecting to leaving the other horses for a trail ride, etc. So he was "imprinted " on me as a herd member, and as a familiar person in his life.

I hope that this explains "Imprinting" a bit.  If you want to learn about Robert Millers procedure of Imprinting, read his book and watch the video  On Imprinting the newborn Foal, and "Early learning".  I happen to think his procedure is a bit much and certainly it can be done wrong, which causes a lot more problems than not doing it at all!


Sam
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 Posted: Thu Jul 5th, 2007 07:32 am
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Hi there,

A few years ago we got keen on breeding, and until sense took over we bred 17 foals, and all for want of a better word were 'imprinted'.  Like any form of horse handling this can be a complete 'balls up'.  As far as I can see we ended up with some pretty nice horses and ponies, some have gone on to homes where they are loved and admired for their gentleness and good mindedness.  I always felt the handling of the foal was the greatest gift a mare could give us and we made a point of thanking them often for letting us touch their babies.  We were lucky enough to have  a herd of horses to run the foals with so even though we might have fun fussing and playing foals for an hour a day they were horses for the other 23 hours.

A couple of the foals we bred had to go to the horse hospital a couple of hours away from us, one had an undecended testicle and went as a yearling and one foal went to the vets for a hernia operation while still on his dam.  I thank goodness we had handled these guys as babies at it made the trip away much less stressful on all concerned.

I simply can't believe how silly the folk that bred the horse, that was the instigator of this thread could have even thought to take the baby away from the mare, did they really think they could do a better job of rearing the baby than the mare!!!  Makes me so mad.


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