It was a beautiful Sunday in spring of 2007 when Carol Miller and her American Paint gelding, Blue, headed out for a trail ride. When Carol saw the pit bull by the trail side, she was thankful the dog was on leash, but as she and Blue passed beside the man and his dog, the pit bull (estimated by witnesses to weigh about 50-60 lbs.) broke free and attacked Blue.
Blue bucked and kicked, but the vicious pit bull had a grip and would not let go. As they passed a tree with low-hanging branches, Carol was able to grab onto a limb and pull herself into the tree for safety, while watching helplessly as her beloved horse galloped away with the pit bull in tow.
Numerous witnesses in the park ran to help Carol and call 911. Park rangers found Blue about half an hour later, traumatized and bleeding profusely from the torn flesh on his neck, belly and hind legs. Read more about the attack.
Blue required 26 stitches to piece back his ripped flesh, pain medication, and twice daily wound care for several weeks after the incident. His activity was limited to stall rest with three short hand walks per day.
Carol kept a chair by his stall, and spent as much of her day as possible by his side. Her other pet is an obedience trained standard poodle. The first day after the pit bull attack, when Blue saw Sadie, he broke into a sweat and whirled in his stall, clearly upset by the presence of a friendly dog he had known for years. After that Carol would not bring her dog into the barn any more.
Even when her dog was not around, Carol observed that Blue was having violent flashbacks, spinning frantically in his stall, and kicking at a ghost pit bull only he could see. When his activity level was upgraded to include time in the paddock he was able to see the neighbor’s dogs in their yard and charged the fence. On one occasion when he saw the neighbor’s dogs through his stall window, he tore out the heavy metal screening with his teeth. Sometimes on the short hand walks, Blue would experience a frightening flashback, spinning and kicking. This made him dangerous to handle. Some suggested to Carol that she put him down for her own safety.
Friends noticed that Carol was also suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the attack. Though she repeated “I am fine” and was focused on helping Blue recover, she finally realized that her friends were right. She felt angry and could find little joy in life. At this point, Carol sought professional help for herself, realizing she couldn’t help Blue until she was okay.
Helping Blue recover from his PTSD was a more difficult task since horses can’t talk with professional counselors. As Carol searched for solutions she learned about Alexandra Kurland, the preeminent horse clicker trainer authority, who has produced numerous books and videos on clicker training. Carol bought two books and a clicker, and started target touch training in the stall. Blue was good at it and he enjoyed the mental stimulation. She also clicked for quiet behavior in the stall, clicked for side passes, anything she could think of that they could do in the confined space.
Once they were both accomplished in clicker training, Carol formulated a plan to help Blue overcome his fear of Sadie. She started with her poodle and herself in a chair several hundred feet from Blue, but where he could see them. Sadie is well-trained and it was easy for Carol to send her away and recall her. In this way, Blue became somewhat desensitized and though still anxious, he was no longer crashing into the fence rails. Then she started moving her chair closer and closer to Blue. Finally the day came when Carol was able to put her chair right next to the paddock, with Sadie performing stays and recalls, heeling patterns, and doodling close to the fence so Carol could click and treat both horse and dog. “I was making it up as I went along,” she confesses, but the clicker training worked.
It’s been five long years since the pit bull attack that changed their lives forever. Blue is okay with Sadie and other well-behaved dogs now – unless they run. A running dog always triggers a panic attack in Blue, which can be dangerous for anyone who is near him. For this reason, Carol will never sell Blue. “You can’t sell a horse with this history,” she says. Carol also acquired a pony companion for Blue which has eased his anxiety. She now trail rides only at times when the park is quiet. She also gives Blue a homeopathic supplement for horses called Quietex that helps him relax.
Dog attacks on horses have escalated in recent years. This website lists nearly 50 accounts of dangerous dogs attacking riders on the trail, equines in pastures, in stalls, and in public areas. Carol is grateful Blue survived the attack. “I got back a whole lot more of my horse than I had any right to expect. I always wondered how he escaped being hit by a car while he was on the road but all traffic in the area stopped dead. In the last few years I have talked to other horse owners who were not as fortunate. Their horses died, horrible and terrifying deaths. Horses who can run, like Blue did, may survive. Very young horses, or very old horses, ponies, or horses confined in barns and small paddocks almost always die without immediate human intervention.”
And what became of the pit bull that attacked Carol and Blue? The plea was ‘no contest’ and the dog owner paid about $250 in fines and court costs. The dog was ordered removed from the jurisdiction but no one really knows where it is. Ohio law at that time required insurance on pit bulls, and Carol received a settlement which helped to cover Blue’s veterinary expenses. “I am one of the most fortunate of pit bull victims, insurance is rare,” Carol says. Unfortunately, Ohio no longer requires insurance on dangerous dogs, and victims today are unable to recover financially after an attack. Sadly, Carol is re-victimized by pit bull advocates whenever she tells her story which is why rootshed.com has blocked comments on this article.
BREAKING NEWS: Just now as this story was being published the news broke of yet another pit bull attack on a horse in the vicinity of Yuma, AZ. “Charles Knowlton heard frantic whinnying outside his Foothills home at about 4:15 p.m., and when he got out to the corral to investigate he found a gruesome and eerie scene: a pit bull, looming over the horse as it struggled on the ground, calmly ‘eating’ it as another pit bull sat nearby.” Read article