Today’s Peregrine Story: A Study of One

Peregrine 3 shots edit no caption

My how they grow! Peregrine at 1 hour, 1 month and 4 months.

When Peregrine was about four months old and beginning to fill out, he started fussing when I groomed him around his belly and hind legs.  This was a decided change in his behavior, and I was worried.

I called my vet out again.  When he got to the barn, Peregrine popped his head over the stall door to say hello.  The vet turned his back on him and walked away.  The other horses were due for worming.  This was still in the dark ages when tube worming was the routine way to control parasites.  I had a lot of questions to ask, so we left Peregrine and his mother to the end.  Big mistake.  The horse in the stall next to theirs was a big, broad chested thoroughbred.  He hated being wormed, and he fought hard against the vet.  I waited with Peregrine in the adjacent stall.  We listened with growing concern as the horse spun around the stall, crashing into the walls until the vet finally succeeded in trapping him in a corner long enough to get a twitch on him.  Worming was a necessary evil, so in those days you used whatever methods you had to to get the job done.

He was the last horse to be done before Peregrine, but now Peregrine was afraid.  Instead of going up to the front of the stall to greet the vet, he hid behind his mother.  The vet made no effort to greet Peregrine or to help him feel more at ease.  He went into the stall and walked straight up to his hind end.  He put his hand directly onto Peregrine’s stifle.  Startled, Peregrine cow kicked his hind leg up against his belly.

The vet pulled his hand away and announced that there was nothing wrong with this horse.  He was just bad mannered.  He was a spoiled, backyard foal.  I needed to stop coddling him and make him behave.

The words stung.   What a horrible, horrible thing to say.  If he had waited, if he had asked, he would have seen Peregrine coming up to me and letting me put his halter on without fuss.  He would have seen a foal who stood well for handling, who willingly and easily picked up all four feet, but who was now showing concern about being handled in one particular area.

A week after this incident I saw Peregrine’s stifles lock for the first time.  He tried to take a step and his leg wouldn’t bend.  There had been a reason for his behavior.  It had nothing to do with his manners, and everything to do with physical discomfort.  Because this vet was convinced that I was spoiling this foal by handling him, he couldn’t see past his own biases to the physical issue that was brewing.  That was the first of the many thousands of times I would see Peregrine’s stifles lock.  For the next eight years his stifles haunted our training, turning even the simplest of tasks into a struggle.

I said in my previous post that I learned many important lessons from that vet.  Actually, I should say I learned them from Peregrine.  I learned that Peregrine was always right.  Whenever he protested and resisted against a training request, I always discovered that there was an underlying physical cause.  It might not be obvious at first, but when I stopped trying to make him do something and instead listened to him, I would find that he had been right.  He really couldn’t do what I was asking.

That lesson has carried over to other horses.  In my teaching I’ve found that whenever someone has been struggling for a long time with a persistent behavior problem, once we scratch below the surface and do some detective work, almost without exception we find there is an underlying physical cause.

Peregrine and that vet taught me that every horse is a study of one.  We need to treat them as the individuals that they are instead of lumping them all into one category.  That vet saw horses as livestock.  He handled Peregrine in a way that was consistent with his world view.  Peregrine showed me the value of treating each horse as an individual.  And clicker training gave me a way to free up his voice so I could really hear what he needed to say.

Happy Thirtieth Birthday Peregrine.  Sometimes the gifts you have given me have been hard ones, but always they have been worth opening.

3 thoughts on “Today’s Peregrine Story: A Study of One

  1. This story brings back a sad memory for our family. My son rode horses and competed in the Eventing sport for over 10 years. His partner for many of those years was a Percheron-Thoroughbred cross named Bryce. This horse is the most calm and friendly horse and was a very safe partner for my son. They had a very close bond and Ben adored him. At a show in the warm up ring for jumping Bryce started to refuse to take the jumps. I was watching from afar and was very surprised to see this reaction from Bryce. It was very out of character for he loved to jump. My son was instructed to use his crop and urge him over. My son was hesitating and his trainer again wanted him to continue with this discipline. Bryce did jump and they continued into the jumping round with one bar down. The next morning Ben found his horse with a bowed tendon in the right front and that ended his career . Ben weeped for days and he left the world of Eventing. We still own Bryce and he is moves just fine. He healed beautifully and now I clicker train him.
    The lesson here is that Bryce was trying to tell them I do not feel well. I shouldn’t be jumping. Please listen to me. A hard lesson learned. Ben will never forget it . The blessing is I now have this lovely horse in my life and he will never experience that kind of pressure ever and he has a voice in our relationship always.


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