Monday, June 20, 2011

Confessions of Anger

Buckshot stepped on my foot yesterday. Big time. It was the worst foot stamping I’d ever experienced, and I’ve had my feet stepped on a couple of dozen times over the years. This one was bad. And I was mad. I thought I’d share my thoughts and reactions on what happened yesterday, because for me, it is hard to sort out these things. Others have had worse things happen then a foot stomping. But somehow they are similar. I think.

I was finished grooming Buckshot and had put his saddle on in the stall we use for tacking up. He was eating hay, the good hay, the alfalfa that I so kindly make sure is in the stall for a treat for him. He doesn’t like to lift his head for me to take off his halter or put on his bridle because he wants his head down at the floor where he can get more hay. So I have devised a way around that, which I’ve been doing for months, without incident. I did what I have been doing, which is, I say head up, Buckshot, time for your bridle. Which he ignores and keeps his head down. Then I put the reins around his neck, down by his ears, and I stand by his left side and thump/tap his side with my hand, fingers out, and say, turn, turn, turn, pulling on the reins with my left hand. Usually, after a few thumps, his head comes up and he turns facing away from the hay, and I put the bridle on.

Yesterday, I said “turn” one time and his head came up and he moved slightly toward me and, pow! His foot stamped, and stayed on, my right foot. I froze, and panicked and instantly pushed him roughly back away from me. His foot came off. Intense pain shot up my leg. I breathed, panicked, wondered what the hell was broken, cursed him, bobbed my body up and down while I tried to endure the god-awful pain. I thought briefly about all the tiny, vulnerable bones down in that foot. I thought, this is a bad one, this is an injury, capital I. I thought shit, shit, shit. And damn, damn, damn. It took time just to get through the pain and the realization of how badly this one hurt, before I could even think about Buckshot, who did it.

I breathed out slowly, still holding him by his reins, bridle down by my elbow. I didn’t know what to say to him. My anger grew. Damn it. Did you do that on purpose? I thought angrily, and roughly to Buckshot. I thought he did it on purpose, that he always knows just where his feet are and he can feel a human-sized blob under his hoof and can take it off in an instant, if he wants to. But he didn’t want to.

I thought about the three second rule; that you need to reprimand a horse in three seconds after it misbehaves or you lose the impact of it. Three seconds have definitely come and gone, spent with me in foot-mind agony, then worry (medical bills? Please, no.) then anger (why in the hell did you do that?).

Without realizing it, all my anger got balled up and put in an invisible pack on my back. My foot throbbed. I thought briefly, thank God for my boots with their almost steel toes in them. I said something to Buckshot like, You are NOT supposed to step on my foot. You know that. I didn’t raise my voice, I didn’t slap him or hit him or point my finger at him. But my anger was still there, along with throbbing, in the invisible pack on my back. Morosely, I put the bridle on him and led him out to the arena. And we started our phase one warm up walking, which I do out of the kindness of my heart.

But my head was mixed up. I didn’t know what to think about this horse that repaid my kindnesses to him with a forceful stomping of my foot. And he wasn’t acting any different than any other time. So what was he thinking, as we walked, my face grimaced in pain.

And what do I do with this anger? He can’t tell me if it was deliberate, or an accident. He isn’t talking. How do I handle it when he hurts me and I don’t have any idea what is on his mind about it. What a horrible quandary. So as we walked I finally said outloud to him, Buckshot, I forgive you. It felt like a big move on my part. I forgive you for acting like a jerk to me, who has only the best intentions for you, and for hurting me, badly. But, I thought, what would he say, if he could? Only three possibilities: 1. Oh, thank you Jan, because I didn’t mean it, it was an accident, 2. Forgive me for what? Or 3. Big deal. Did he realize it? Did he care that he just hurt me? Why, oh why, can’t they talk and tell us something. And what am I to do, since he can’t talk.

As we rode, I had thoughts of revenge. Okay, buster, because of what you did to me, you are not getting out of doing this X or Y or Z. I was surprised by how easily my revenge wanted to come out. I held myself back and didn’t let it get a good hold of me. Eventually, the pain eased and I thought, yes, it is easier to forgive him as the pain ebbs. He didn’t know what he did, I thought charitably. I can baby it and put ice on it later and wear really big shoes until it heals. I get a lot of little scrapes from him and other horses and I have to deal with them myself. Without getting any apologies. But this one seemed deliberate and it hurt me even more to think that. To wonder if this horse is really meaner than I have thought. And that hurt too, that maybe I have been overlooking a mean horse, and been ignorant about it, when it was right there for me to see.

Later, when I dismounted, my foot started to throb and I started to limp. Oh, the pain isn’t over. After the ride, I was finally able to be kind to him again, to say, good work, Buckshot, but part of me was still hurting. The anger was still there. And the bewilderment about it. And the frustration of not being able to communicate with him about what had happened.

I wondered, what about human babies. Can they hurt the mother? If they can’t talk, and explain it to the mother, what is the mother to do, to think about it? I don’t know. So I kept the pack of anger with me all day and thought about it some more as I drove home. If I described it to someone else, I realized, they might say, Jan, you were pulling the horse’s front legs toward you, and although you thought you were also stepping back, maybe you weren’t. It wasn’t as if you were pushing the horse away from you and his foot came way back and stepped on you. His hooves were coming toward you. So I concede that what I was doing made getting stepped on somewhat understandable. And I decided that I think, after all, that he didn’t do it on purpose, that it was an accident on his part.

Maybe I should have reacted bigger right when it happened, like screamed at him, or raised my arms, but, honestly, I couldn’t think that fast. I had to get him off my foot and I had to breathe and just endure the first intense wave of pain. I didn’t react to him. I couldn’t react to him. It dampened my time with him, as I was so unsure why he had done it. I was disappointed in him, I was angry at him. I thought it was the worst in unfairness, that a horse who gets such consistently good treatment from me, would do such a painful thing to me willfully. But I got through it, and today, as I look at my black and blue foot, I don’t hate him anymore. But I will be much more careful putting his bridle on.

And so, in closing, with still some mixed feelings rolling around inside of me, I will report that his rain rot is slowly getting better. It isn’t gone yet, but it is better. And we had some good trotting and cantering this weekend. My cantering seat is getting a bit better. And Buckshot was his normal, happy self when I brought him his dinner and hay. And by the time I go back to the barn, I’ll probably be looking forward to seeing him again. But what a day. Hope you had a better day with your horse!


Endurance Granny said...


First a "granny" hug of friendship coming your way. It really hurts when that happens! But please take heart that he in reality didn't mean to hurt. Now if he'd hauled off, flattened his ears, and kicked with his hinds, or out right struck out with a front hoof that is a different thing. But the horse can step on your foot and not have any idea it is your foot! They don't know if it is lump on the ground, a big old rock, or what so they just stand there ON YOUR FOOT. So don't take it personal, Buck Shot has no clue of your anger, and did not likely mean harm to you in anyway. He was just being a horse, stomping like horse's stomp and your foot unfortunately got under there. Just remember that a purposeful aggression of a horse has other signs with it, flattened ears, tighened rump in the case of kicking, biting, actually threatening behavior. Cussing when you get stepped on is normal too *LOL*.

On getting his bridle on, spend time teaching him to drop his head on cue without the distraction of the yummy hay. Reward him with some small treat when he complies. He will catch on. Always wear boots, and you will probably someday get stepped on again, it goes with the territory unfortunately.

Jan said...

Endurance Granny, thank you so much for your insightful comments! You helped me see this incident more clearly and I really appreciate it. I will teach Buckshot a new way to get his bridle on, so that I don't have to push and pull on him. That's a great idea (don't know why I didn't think of it). And yes, I agree with you on the boots - always wear boots! Thanks again.

Carol said...

I agree with Endurance Granny that there would have been other body language clues if it was intentional - pinned ears, etc. I've been stepped on and had the horse keep his foot there until I yelled and pushed. Obviously they shouldn't be that much in our space, but it wasn't on purpose when it happened to me.
Also, I have to try not to put human thought processes and emotions on horses. I think everything is much more in the moment for them.
I'm glad you forgave him and weren't hurt worse. It sound svery painful :(

juliette said...


I am so sorry about your foot. Intentionally or not, foot stompings always hurt and can break bones. I was just thinking the other day that if archaeologists in the future find my skeleton they will say that this woman worked with big equipment that smashed her feet and toes! I don't wear proper boots and I do pay the price.

I have had accidental and intentional foot stamps and I think Buckshot stepped on you accidentally. He was turning and probably did not really know where your foot was. As Endurance Granny and Joan said, there would have been other signs like ear pinning if it was intentional.

Buckshot reminds me of Pie. Pie steps on me and sometimes runs into me because food is important and I get forgotten. The problem in this equation is created by me. I need to make sure that my body is not competing with food. You probably should remove the hay before you start the bridle process because you need his attention on you and his head available.

By contrast, an intentional foot stomping looks very different. Last summer (June 1 to be exact) I went out to put Sovereign's fly mask on. He was eating grass. He stopped and put his head up. He allowed me to put the mask on. He then pinned his ears and took his left front foot and stomped with all his might on my right foot. There was no reason for this act except his hatred of all man and everything that was done to him in the past. (I am certain he broke something in my foot, but I was afraid to get it xrayed because I am addicted to running and I can't ever stop. I ran through it for a year and it started to feel perfect this May.)

In addition to the pain, my feelings were so hurt. I have never hurt Sovey - ever. Yet he does that. That is the kind of horse he is. Reprimands only escalate with this horse so he would be off to the killer if he was owned by anyone else. I think of it as my calling to figure out how to embrace his good traits (perfectly great riding horse) and avoid his bad (biting, stomping, kicking).

Your Buckshot is not like this at all. He is kind and takes care of you like my Pie and Foggy take care of me. Buckshot will forget you if yummy hay is around but you can control that and make sure that he is paying attention to you. Then, after your ride, reward him with yummy hay when he can fully enjoy it and step wherever he wants to step without hurting you.

Jan said...

Very good thoughts! Thank you for your perspective on Buckshot and how hay wins his attention better than I do. I do need to change my bridling procedure to not compete with this food. So sorry about Sovey stomping on your foot (ouch!!) but it is so interesting to read your perspective on your calling to him- to bring out his best, even though you know sometimes his hatred/anger at past people misdeeds comes out as well. How inspiring you are! Thanks for sharing.

Carol, thank you for your comments as well. I agree with you, after giving it more thought, that he didn't intentionally step on my foot. Good to know; thanks so much for your sharing!

juliette said...

oops, Jan and Carol! I meant "Endurance Granny and Carol" - Carol, your trainer Joan must have been stuck in my head! lol!