“Oh, you can’t touch that horse, he’s aggressive and will attack you. Stay far, far away from him.” These were the words used to describe a fuzzy Fjord that stood off alone, grazing while keeping a watchful eye on his herd-mates in the field. His mane was long and wild looking, his coat rough and shaggy and his eyes held a defensive, mistrusting look. His appearance was similar to that of a Przewalski’s Wild Horse, and from how people described his behavior, he acted like one too. “He looks friendly enough, wary, but potentially very friendly,” was my response, to which they scoffed and replied, “Trust me, he’s a dangerous horse, don’t try to get near him,” then they walked away.
I continued to observe this horse, watched how he interacted with his herd. He was a bully to those of a weaker personality, and those with a stronger personality he challenged often, usually with them backing down. He seemed to pick the pasture that the herd would graze in and if anyone came out with a halter he’d immediately be on the run, with the herd following him. This horse hadn’t skipped a meal in a long time, that was evident from how fat he was, still, he was a handsome looking horse. On one of the days I was at the barn, I took my lunch, which consisted of two apples, two carrots and a sandwich, out to the field to eat. I sat not too far from where this ‘Monster’ horse was grazing, pulled out a carrot, snapped it in half and started eating. He head the crisp snap of the carrot and immediately his head popped up, ears forward, eyes bright. Food was the way to his heart, it would have seemed, as slowly made his way over to my spot. He didn’t come directly over, he would walk a few steps towards me when I wasn’t looking, then he’d stop and graze for a while, then he’d walk more, then stop and graze. By the time he made it over I was working on carrot number two. Standing just an arms distance away from me, he lowered his head, snorted loudly, then waited. Breaking off a bit of carrot, I leaned forward slowly, and offered it to him. He leaned back, a sudden fearful look in his eyes, snorted again, then hesitantly came forward and took the carrot. He ate the other part, along with the apple I offered him and let me rub his face, before turning to trot back over to his herd.
Our interactions continued like this, each time with him a little more relaxed and staying with me for a little bit longer, until one day I went out with a halter, put it on him and brought him up to be groomed. His mane and tail were knotted and matted and his coat was matted, falling out in chunks, and had burs all throughout them. It took over an hour, but I managed to get him looking half-way decent and all brushed and combed out. Then I talked to the trainer about him. “He can be very aggressive, charging people, running them over and kicking out at them. He acts quiet, but he’s one step away from exploding, he could seriously hurt you, I’d leave him alone if I were you.” Translation: this horse did not trust people, he was terrified of them, terrified, you could see it his body language and his eyes. There wasn’t a confrontational or aggressive bone in his entire body, everything he did and does is based off of fear. People would try to pet him while he was in the paddock and they’d corner him, he had nowhere else to go but through them to get away. Manure forks frightened him terribly, and he would run away and kick out if he thought you were coming near him with one. Everything he did, running over people, kicking out, was because people pressured him and ignored the signals he was sending off and he reacted the only way he knew how. Horses are fight or flight animals, and nine times out of ten he’d choose flight and they’d be in his way.
This horse was the first horse I’d ever heard someone label as “hopeless”, he would never be ridden or handled or used, he was given up on before he was even given a chance. This horse wanted to be with people and wanted to trust them, but past bad interactions and inexperienced handlers and inept trainers made that very difficult for him to do. If you moved slowly and took time and didn’t push him, he would make an effort to understand what you wanted from him and he’d try to trust you. Last year this horse was finally given the chance he deserved. At 22 years of age he was started under-saddle, and within 30 days of being started, he was being used as a therapy horse. Gone was the horse that had been labeled a monster, and in his place was a horse who’d discovered that people aren’t so bad and that he actually enjoys being ridden and put to work. The Norwegian Fjord is called the Golden Retriever of the horse world, and this horse was proof of that. The fear in his eyes was replaced with a look of trust and relief. He went from trying to avoid human contact to wanting to be with people and following them around, looking for treats and wanting to be loved on. I’m a firm believer that there is no such thing as a hopeless horse, every horse has hope and deserves a chance to prove themselves and earn their place in society. Any trainer who labels a horse as hopeless, in my opinion, is not a trainer, they’re a failure. A failure to that horse and any other horse that comes along in their path. I have been riding this gentleman since June now, he is total sweetheart and a joy to work with under-saddle. He has his quirks, he used to squirt into the trot and he’d squirt and rush into the canter and it was very chaotic. While it isn’t perfect, we have been working on this and now he will go into the trot nice and easy off of my seat and break to the walk off of my seat and the word “Easy”. His canter is getting better, he still tends to squirt into it, but once he’s in it he doesn’t “run off” like usual, it’s a nice, easy canter. This handsome fellow now stands to be fly sprayed and he stands still to be hosed off, and he is getting more confident working without one of his herd-mates being in the arena or right next to him on the trail(he took herd-bound to a whole new level). I have been using him to practice things I’m working on with Zoey, bending, transitions, sitting back, breathing, looking up, trying to steer more with my legs, not being so handsy(hard to do with a crop in hand), and stopping and backing up(which he’s also doing great with, he was pretty bad it before). He’s made improvements in areas he was sticky in or lacking in and seems to be just generally happier. And the best part is, he’s very much overweight and has actually been losing weight since we’ve began our weekly workouts. I have been riding him in English tack since that’s the only thing that fits him properly, and it’s been a new experience for me, as I ride primarily western. I’m still not a fan of English gear, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be, and honestly, he looks better in English gear than in Western. This crazy wild man eating monster of a horse known as Oulav(aka Yogi) has been a gem to work with and ride, I don’t know how I’ll survive when classes start and I won’t have time to ride him anymore. He is a good boy and perfect proof that there is no such thing as a hopeless horse, and every horse deserves a chance in life.