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TrailPixie1

Abused horse

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I've had my gelding for 10 months now. He went through at least 1 auction...possibly 2, back to back, then was bounced from owner to owner (a month or so with each person) until I bought him. He had lice, snots, was quite underweight & had severe trust issues when I got him. He's now fat & healthy, but the trust issues remain.

I can handle his ears now...if I move slowly. Moving too fast or having an object (like a brush) in my hand causes panic. (Pulling his head away & rolling his eye protectively.) He pulled back and broke a breakaway halter once when I reached up & grabbed the halter too fast. He will relax when I pet his ears, but the second I move my hand too fast or there's some noise around us that brings him out of the 'I like this' daze, the eye rolling & protecting happens again. I've worked with him every day for 10 months. He still flinches the first time I touch him anywhere on his body, he still protects his face or scrambles away if I lift my hand too fast. Wiping sweat off my face or getting the hair out of my eyes seems to be the end of the world for him. Every single time. I've done some desensitizing with him, but he always acts like it's the first time. It's like the movie Groundhog Day.

I know every horse is an individual, but I'm wondering if we'll ever have a break through. I have never mistreated him & have actually let him get away with a few little things I wouldn't let any of my other horses get away with because I'm afraid of losing what little ground I've gained. I know that's not good, which is why I'm seeking advice. Any tips? Success stories?  

Edited by TrailPixie1

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Other than more desensitizing, I think you can only keep doing what you're doing to show him he can trust you.

I only have a fail story.  I got a Paso Fino mare that was very responsive to cues and jumpy as all heck if I moved too fast.  She knocked me down a few times when I was haltering her and the strap would flip over her poll and bounce on her neck.  She'd spin away and I didn't let go of the halter fast enough and she dragged me down.  A few times she turned into me and pushed me over.  Like you, I never did anything to get after her because I wanted her to learn she could trust me.  I'd go out and just hang over the stall gate to listen to her eat and I noticed her trembling one night.  I thought she was maybe chilled in the evening air.  Another night she did the same thing but it was warm and I realized she was terrified of me being near her.  Nothing I did with her helped her relax.  Every contact with her was full of anxiety for her and despair for me that I couldn't enjoy my horse.

I eventually let her go back to the lady I got her from as her nervousness was dangerous to me and being around her wasn't relaxing or enjoyable for either of us.

I hope someone else has a success story and advice.  Maybe I could learn something from your journey along the way, too.

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my first bit of advice is that if you're feeling sorry for him you need to stop.  just imagine that you're afraid of everything, and somebody by their body language alone is communicating to you that you have every reason to be afraid.   recognize that he has a rocky past, including physical health problems but then file that away and look forward with the knowledge that he doesn't want to feel the way he does.  I know people who seem to enjoy worrying all the time, but animals aren't "neurotic" in that sense and most certainly not a prey animal.  without realizing it a lot of people start moving stealthily around horses like this (not unlike a hungry mountain lion would), which just makes them even more skeptical.  

 

second piece of advice is to treat him like another horse would.  socialized horses correct this kind of paranoia in the herd, and they can be pretty no nonsense about it because that kind of behavior upsets the balance ergo safety of the entire group.  you mentioned your other horses;  is he turned out with them?  nothing like a well balanced horse as a teacher and role model for a horse who is nervous and spooky. 

 

third bit of advice is maybe get a professional in to help you, since 10 months of constant work is a long time with no visible signs of progress.  I have never rehabbed a horse but I have rehabbed many problem dogs.   there is a formula for dealing with all kinds of behavioral issues, but unless you have logged in the practical hours most people don't have the experience and timing to diagnose and correct effectively.    I would even question if this a "respect",  and not a trust issue.    

one last thing,  I've learned from working cows that pressure motivates but it's the release that teaches.  if you're taking pressure off while he's being "fearful" or "distrustful", you're teaching an undesired/dangerous behavior so you need to be correcting yourself.   good luck!!

 

 

 

 

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My advice is to find someone reputable who rescues horses. That would be a person most likely to have experience in working with abused horses. But get references first. 

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I do feel bad that he thinks it's the end of the world all the time, but I don't tippy toe around him. I go about my business as usual. I've had other horses in the past, but he's my only one right now. I know about pressure and release and am always aware of timing. He's not scared of farm machinery or loud noises, he'll stand and watch as a pack of snowmobiles go by, but if you reach up to fix your ponytail the 'protecting' starts.

We do have progress during a training session, but the next time I approach him, it's square one all over again. He's also super sensitive when lunging. If I ask him for something and have to go to phase 2 or 'telling' him to do it, he goes into panic mode. He's super broke under saddle. It's just the human contact on the ground that's an issue.

Edited by TrailPixie1

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6 hours ago, jubal said:

Have you had his eyes checked?

No, I haven't. Good thought. I will bring it up to the vet the next time he comes out. 

I worked him on the ground some more today and he did great. He doesn't react negatively to the training stick at all. He even picked it up & played with it when I set it down. He responded to every 'ask' the first time, except once, and he didn't bug out when I asked a little firmer that time. He went back to 'protect mode' when I brushed his mane. After lots of 'head down' work, I was able to brush his forelock. These are the kind of days we have, then tomorrow will be like starting all over again. 

Edited by TrailPixie1

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I don't think my horse was abused, but he was head shy when I got him. It took me a year to be able to handle his ears. It took much longer for him to accept brushing his head with grace. And he was very spooky about noises and movement when ridden. I finally started disciplining him when he would spin out at "bears" in the adjoining tree line. He finally learned to spook in place. I think his problem was a whole lot not having other horses around. He was just very socialized with other horses and I took him away from that. But I agree with not letting him get away with misbehavior.

Maybe you'll start having more good days that will encourage you. Personally, I'd rather have a horse I have to teach. A "been there done that" horse is boring to me.

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6 hours ago, jubal said:

I don't think my horse was abused, but he was head shy when I got him. It took me a year to be able to handle his ears. It took much longer for him to accept brushing his head with grace. And he was very spooky about noises and movement when ridden. I finally started disciplining him when he would spin out at "bears" in the adjoining tree line. He finally learned to spook in place. I think his problem was a whole lot not having other horses around. He was just very socialized with other horses and I took him away from that. But I agree with not letting him get away with misbehavior.

Maybe you'll start having more good days that will encourage you. Personally, I'd rather have a horse I have to teach. A "been there done that" horse is boring to me.

Thank you! Maybe there is hope. The odd part is that he isn't spooky about 'things'. I have an obstacle course set up here & he took every obstacle with grace the first time we rode it. IF he spooks under saddle, it's just a brace (thankfully) and nothing crazy. I've been thinking about boarding him so he can be with other horses, but there isn't anywhere nearby that I can afford...or that accepts western riders...the other places are over an hour each way. My barn & pasture are really only set up for 1 horse at home. 

I agree with you about rather having a horse to teach...but having my arm stay in the socket when the vet gives him shots would be nice! Lol!

 

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