April 1, 1987 – July 24, 2017
One of the most dramatic examples of the importance of knowing each horse as an individual and meeting each horse where it is at any given moment is the example of Bogotta+/. We had the privilege of owning and caring for him for 24 years. He came a long way during that time towards leaving his demons behind. He was an April Fools baby, used as a teasing stallion until he was gelded when he was 4. Judging by his behavior when we first got him, he was trained initially by someone who was very strict and demanded blind obedience or risk punishment. A power-over training philosophy was the last thing this horse needed. Fortunately for him, he ended up with us. As you’ll see below our philosophy is quite different and very likely saved his life, certainly his sanity, and we allowed him to reach his potential as both a show horse and a therapy horse.
My daughter Jennifer and I first met Bogotta+/ on a cold, wet, miserable day in January 1993. He was standing huddled on a small mound surrounded by a very wet corral. He immediately connected with Jennifer, then 21 years old. The last thing I needed or could afford was another horse, yet there was something special about this wet, beautiful, chestnut, 16.1 hand Arabian horse, and he was in desperate need of a new home. His owner at the time was familiar with the big Anglo-Arabian, Swiss Legacy, Jen and I were riding and showing at the time and hoped we would take Bogotta+/. Once I understood the situation he was in I agreed to take him on trial.
We took him to the stable I used to own and tried him out. The first time I rode him, I knew he needed to stay with us. I saddled him up and checked out his responsiveness at the walk before asking for a trot. At 16.1 he had a big, long stride for an Arab. He took one big stride and instantly sucked back. I closed my legs on his sides asking him to move forward, and I could feel him wondering if that was really what I wanted and was it really okay to give me such a big trot. He quickly relaxed and trotted on. I had him in a snaffle bridle with a dressage saddle. Previously he had been ridden in a double bridle for English Pleasure classes and ridden under retraction as my mentor Ros Johnson would say. There was no turning back after that.
Learning about Him
A couple of months later we took him to Pima County Fairgrounds to see how he would react to being in a horse show environment. Jennifer had been riding him and took him into the warm up ring to practice. A previous trainer saw him and rode by calling out “Hi Bogey!” He kicked out at her twice. Hmm. I guess he didn’t like the nickname Bogey, or that trainer. Later, when he was back in his box stall at the Fairgrounds, I entered to clean his stall. When he saw me with the manure fork he jammed himself into the corner and shook in fear. Somebody had obviously hurt him in the past, cleaning his stall. A Top Contender son, he was bred by someone in Phoenix and had been in training there before coming to Tucson. This line is known for being very sensitive and high-strung.
Jennifer continued with his training and started showing him in Dressage a few months later. We slowly gained his trust, and soon Mr Big as we called him had qualified for Dressage Regionals that were being held in Albuquerque. Jennifer was also showing my Anglo-Arab, Swiss Legacy, that year. Both horses were big, flashy, bright red chestnuts with lots of chrome. I bred and raised “Legs” and did all the initial training on him. Arabian and Half-Arabian National Finals were also held in Albuquerque every other year. We suspect that Bogotta+/ had been shown in halter classes there before we bought him. It took forever to teach him to come to a square halt when coming down centerline to a halt in a Dressage show.
The box stalls the horses were stabled in overlooked the dressage arena. Jennifer was in the arena showing Swiss Legacy and Bogotta+/ saw her riding Legs and went ballistic! He tried to jump out of his stall, rearing and striking out. Another friend and trainer Ellie Stine Masek helped me hold the top door closed to keep him inside. He kept rearing and striking at the stall door. Jennifer had no idea what was happening when she rode back to our stalls and hopped off Legs to put him in the cross ties in front of Bogotta+/’s stall. I tried to grab the reins from Jen and keep her from standing in front of the stall but it was too late. Bogotta+/ reached over the bottom door and bit Jennifer in the middle of her back before we could stop him. We quickly moved Jen and Legs out of the way and then tried to calm Bogotta+/ down. I tried to explain to Jen that the horse seemed to have gone into a jealous rage when he saw her riding a different horse. Never before or since have I seen a horse react this way.
After everyone calmed down and Legs was un-tacked and put away Jen and I discussed what our next move should be. Obviously this horse had experienced some kind of abuse or trauma in his past. We went into his stall, and he moved to the corner and shook, waiting to be beaten. Instead we both started to stroke him gently and talked to him, reassuring him. I told him he had a choice to make. We would give him another chance if he wanted to come home with us, but he couldn’t exhibit this kind of dangerous behavior ever again. This may sound crazy, I even felt a little crazy talking to him this way, but he relaxed and seemed to realize we weren’t going to punish him. This was a huge turning point for him and for us. I think Bogotta+/ was surprised when we loaded him into the trailer along with Legs and took him back home to Tucson.
He never had an outburst like that again, and often he and Legs went to the same shows with no problem. He never did trust strangers, pinning his ears, switching his tail and threatening to kick newcomers although it was all bluff. He never hurt anybody again. However he always moved to his outside run whenever someone came in to clean his stall. He did learn how to trust us and a few other key people in the 24 years he lived with us. His early experiences no doubt played a big role in his ability to become an amazing, intuitive therapy horse for Adventures in Awareness. More about that later.