POCO's Little Tango, aka Tango
Born June 27, 2004 to a breeder in Vermont, Tango is a magnificent example of a true "Foundation Quarter Horse". Sleek, stocky and incredibly intelligent and expressive, Tango carries a list of accomplishments and talents.
When I met her back in 2016 she was owned by our wonderful neighbors. They asked if I was interested in riding one of their horses and I was very excited to get started. I had been riding horses for as long as I could remember but only when I knew someone who had horses or could find work at a barn to trade for lessons or time in the saddle. Having a neighbor with horses was a huge opportunity for me.
When I met Tango she was seemingly HUGE. Much taller, broader, stockier and rounder than any horse I had been around in a long time. Intimidated, I reluctantly agreed to catch her out in the paddock to hook up my lead line and bring her down to the barn.
Tango seemed bitter at our introduction. She would pin her ears so far back she would look like a camel and every once and a while, if you were close enough to her, she would reach out her neck to take a little "nip" at your arm. She was mean! Not mean like she wanted to rear up and sucker punch you in the throat, but mean in the way she didn't want you to interrupt her eating hay in the field and she would tell you just how she felt about it.
She didn't like to be bridled, saddled, ground worked on a lunge line, mounted, ridden or anything along those lines. She did, however, like to be unbridled, unsaddled and offered a treat. Ok, not ideal but a good start.
We grew together one ride at a time. Things that she would often refuse she would eventually "try" with me.
I can honestly say I'm not a really good rider. I mean, I get rider and horse mechanics, I've had formal lessons, I understand a good balanced seat but I also share a lot of empathy for the emotional, mental and physical well being of the horse. Tango taught me more about horses then my years around horses and trainers. She is very clear about what works and what does not work. We developed a relationship built on strong communication and I learned quickly that I needed her permission to remain safe and balanced while on her or around her. She is not the type of horse that willingly wants to work, she doesn't want kisses and hugs and she certainly doesn't want you to force her to do anything, not like you have any ability to force a 1100 + lb beast to do anything anyways. (we'll get to this a little more later in my story)
Now, during this time I spent over at my neighbors with Tango I had adopted my little filly Penny (her story will be coming soon) and a terrible pony named Sancho to keep her company. My husband was already "full" of horses and remained reluctantly supportive of this new "hobby" of horse ownership. It was about this time in 2018 that I was asked if I wanted to adopt Tango and have her come and live with me.
A few things ran through my mind:
Tango is mean and doesn't seem to really like me all that much
I have never ridden Tango off site or down trails before
Tango seems to have some issues under saddle, what if shes not ok
I cant really afford 3 horses
Where are we going to store more hay
We don't have enough space for 3 horses
My husband is going to kill me
So, it was April 15, 2018 that we loaded Tango on a trailer and she was being delivered to my farm. HAH (isn't this just the way horse people are?)
Clearly my husband didn't kill me. As a matter of fact, he assembled a larger run-in shed for Tango and Penny to shelter them from the ridiculous savage pony, Sancho, that was wreaking havoc and costing us vet bills by biting and kicking the girls. We eventually re-homed the pony and were finally back down to 2 horses and the fighting and biting stopped.
When Tango came to live with me I gave her as much time as she needed to adjust. I felt bad about her losing her paddock mate and her home she had for years. She seemed stressed out and not all that interested in anything I had to offer her other than hay and grain.
After a few days/weeks I started to work with her again. This time without the limitations of her not being mine, I felt comfortable experimenting with different types of tack and training methods to see what she would respond well to.
For starters, we dropped the bit entirely. She was a head tosser and the bit was just another hurdle we had to navigate around when working with her. I wanted her attention and I wanted to give her a little more freedom to express herself. At no point in our riding had she ever tried to buck, rear or bolt (except this one time we left the gate open.) So, our first ride at my farm was in a bitless bridle and we survived. Not only bitless but always outside of any sort of fencing too.
She didn't have a lot of forward movement so I always rode with a crop whip. She liked to ride with her neck stretched out and her head low to the ground so I bought long reins (12' long). Tango didn't seem to like her saddle all that much so I got her a new one. She definitely didn't like the mounting block all that much so I stopped right there. Who wants to ride a horse that doesn't want to be ridden anyways? I figured, we've come this far and we're both open minded, let's keep trying.
Now there is one thing I think we all have learned about Tango so far in this story: she likes food.
So, I bought my first book on clicker training and reward based training. For some reason, this sort of training is always presented with an eye roll from the "horse world" of what I like to call the "yank and spank" sort of riders and trainers. Yank and spank was where I came from as a rider. Your safety is your first priority and when you are in the saddle the horse must "obey" you or else. Well, Tango was certainly sick and tired of being yanked and spanked and there was nothing you, your spurs, your whip or your bit was going to do, other than piss her off or crush her soul, that would ensure you or Tango was having a good ride. (This I know from personal experience)
I bought a clicker, some low value treats (hay pellets) and a fanny pack. It was interesting how:
Fast this was working
How many "issues" she had with seemingly everything
This was an eye opener for me. I had drop the idea that Tango didnt like me. This was not personal. Tango had what I call "shadow pains." As a holistic instructor told me: she has associated things, people, events and objects with pain, stress or anxiety. It was true. Tango was not giving me permission and when I ignored her and did it anyway it was likely causing her pain whether is was mental, physical or emotional.
And speaking of pain, how do I know she's not actually in pain?
(This is what I mean when I say she has taught me more about horses than anyone, any book, any lesson.)
I consulted with my vet, my farrier and trainers to try to get to the root of all of this.
Nutrition is a big part of the puzzle. I did a lot of research into vitamins, deficiencies, digestion and illness. I tried several different types of feeding options until I found something that seemed to work well for her. Tango responded better.
I had my farrier come and really assess her feet and we tried shoes, boots, barefoot, etc until we found what seemed to work well for her feet and legs.
I had my vet do a complete blood panel and determined she was testing high for Lyme Disease antibodies suggesting she may have chronic Lymes Disease. We immediately put her on a 60 day antibiotic treatment.
I had her examined by a lameness professional suggesting that she may have beginning stages of arthritis in her hips or lower back. I started to give her a regular dose of anti inflammatories and a joint supplement. After all, she is a HUGE horse and now (in 2022) 18 years old.
All in all, we were finally getting somewhere. Tango spoke and I listened. We were going to heal her from the inside out and we were going to work every single day to ensure she had a good attitude.
Once Tango started to feel better we would introduce every single thing back to her with zero pressure and just a reward. I mean, I started with a simple rope halter. She had to look at it, not pin her ears, not run away but rather approach me, eventually touch it, and then eventually let me put it on her. All with a good attitude and without me having to "catch" her. This took time but it worked. If ever we were back to pinning ears or running away we would take steps back and just settle on looking at it or touching it with a reward and try working back up to it.
Next it was was the saddle pad, then the saddle, then the cinch. If she didn't respond well to it we would back up to just the saddle pad. Show it to her, put it on, click and reward. Bullseye! We were finally getting places.
Then.... gulp.... the mounting block. Oh, and the horse trailer. I can lump these together since they were both equally as difficult and took about the same amount of time to overcome.
Now I'll spare you the months of repetition and jump ahead to the good stuff. Can you believe that Tango can be bridled, saddled and walked, at LIBERTY, to the mounting block for a completely fuss free mount? I CAN'T!!! It's like a dream come true. Tango will walk right up into the horse trailer too. I am so pleased.
Either way, this was not magic. I'm not a trainer. As I mentioned before, I barely can call myself a true "horseman" but I do know one thing: I care a lot about Tango. As a matter of fact, I love her. She has taught me more about horses, riding, nutrition than any other person, horse, book or video. She has broke me down to a crying desperate woman wondering so many times what I am doing wrong just to lift me up with complete satisfaction and most of time AWE of where we have come.
Perhaps I have been deliberately reduced to this level of desperation on purpose. Maybe to really have empathy I needed to feel what she was feeling when she was at her low.
Before you scroll down the page to the dozens of photos I want you to know this: Tango is not perfect, nor am I but we are perfect for eachother. She's not a "lets go compete and win ribbons" sort of mare and neither am I. We both enjoy long, but not too long, walks or rides through the woods. We don't desire speed or extreme challenges. We both like to eat and sleep, a lot.
I'll save all of the super dramatic stuff for Penny's story.
Either way, I hope you have enjoyed Tango's story and I hope you are as excited as I am to watch her continue to grow and develop on this farm.