(fair warning: I tend to be long-winded and enjoy sharing details. You can find a summary at the end of this post if you want to just skip to the bottom and get to the point)
Meet Snowball (or as my mother and I lovingly call him, Snowbutt):
He's a 14yr old gelding "made of" Gunner Stock, a locally bred "grade" mix of gaited horses that were specifically bred for handling cows and working with humans. He was gelded around 2yrs of age. At 6, he was used as a bucking horse in a local rodeo. It was a one time thing because his owner (my step-father) needed the money at the time. Since that ONE event, he has never been ridden, never been handled, and never been trusted. He roams out in the 40acre pasture with his other horses.
When my mother introduced me to my step-father, I was immediately drawn to this horse. There's just something about him, and it's not the typical "Oh, girly girl loves the pretty white pony lah-dee-dah!" kind of something. Maybe it's the fact that I've got a soft spot for shy men ;)
Anyways, I'm in the process of getting him "re-acquainted" with riding and being handled. He is so afraid of people that he won't get near them without enticement, which is something I would like to avoid. I've been working with him and loving him, and he's starting to warm up to me, but is still reluctant to get anywhere near anyone else. My family jokes that it is because we match (blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin). When supper time comes around, Snowball is very careful about how he eats and will try to stretch and reach around to avoid being touched by my mother, sister, and step-father. I've managed to get him comfortable with me and he will allow me to scritch behind his ears while he chows down.
Cautious ears, over-stretched neck, and once he got his mouthful of food, he'd pull away quickly and chew it in the corner before venturing for more. Note that I always kept my hands softly closed to prevent my fingers from looking like claws or a fist, and they weren't always on that wire; sometimes they'd be lower, sometimes they'd be in the feed bucket. I just wanted to get him used to the fact that "Oh, hey, there's a hand here."
He's making great progress. Before I started working with him, he would freak out if anyone tried to even bring a halter near him. Now he halters up for me just fine a long as I've "caught" him by just draping the lead over his neck. He'll even stop eating for me to get it on him.
All in all, he's making great progress. I haven't started "really" working on him yet, as I have yet to have a decent amount of time off to focus solely on him. But here he is after our 5th little session
Calmer, curious, and caught just before he went to sniff the camera. Here's the problem: He spooks at the slightest motion when he is around people
. A branch sways in the wind: spook. Step-father waves at a passing neighbor: spook. I reach into my pocket to check the time on my phone: spook. My 7yr old sister runs up to pet one of the other horses: spook (she's been scolded for running at horses plenty of times, but they tolerate her shenanigans pretty well now). He is very uncomfortable when there are more than two people present
, as shown when all 6 of us (step-father and his 2 kids, my mother, sister, and myself) were messing with the horses, getting ready to ride. He sent these very sharp "Get me out of here please!" vibes when they were all around him. They very much crowded him, and while I kept my calm, I could tell he was going to lose it if I didn't get them away. Well, he lost it completely when my step-father raised his arms to shoo away our dog. But despite his freak-out, I kept calm and had a firm hand on the lead. I spoke softly until he settled, and when he had calmed, I lovingly asked if he was finished or if he had more antsy-pants to get out. He walked up to me and sighed, and we took a walk in the pasture to settle his nerves. I have yet to ride him.
He was only green-broke at the time he was used in the rodeo, and he's never been ridden since. He is a tall, strong horse, and my step-father is afraid of him hurting me. My step father has lunged him with a saddle on, but neither of us (the horse and I) are comfortable with that. This is going to sound crazy, but the two of us just...connect...he tells me with his body and his spirit that he isn't comfortable with that. He's not lazy, he just doesn't like it. And that makes me feel as though it would be easier on the both of us if we just saddled him up and slowly worked up to putting weight on him again. I watch him when the others are saddled, and I see him wanting to work. I see him wanting to play. I see him wanting to be loved on like his brother and herdmates. He wants to make us happy, but he doesn't know how and he isn't ready to trust us again. I can't say I blame him...if no one trusted me for 8 or so years, I'm pretty sure I'd be reluctant to let any of them near me too!
--------------------------- So, in short:
*I need some advice on how to help "de-spook" him around people (he's quite brave out in the pasture, but spooks quickly when around people).
*I need tips/ideas/suggestions to getting him used to riding WITHOUT lunging him...we don't have a round pen, and neither of us are comfortable with lunging. We just don't like it, and he says he can do it without it.
I know a lot of his "problems" are with trust
, and we're working on building that up. He has gotten used to me being around, and he doesn't mind me fooling with his feet, legs, mouth, ears, and so on (although he bit my step-father for trying to do the same, so I assume there's some favoritism going around). I've even convinced him to lay down and let me look at his stomach to treat a nasty fly bite on his belly. He didn't start freaking out until my step-father walked up to check on us. I imagine poor Snowbutt feels a little betrayed by my step-father for allowing him to be used in that rodeo, then emotionally neglecting him for almost 9 years until this crazy blonde-headed woman decided to say hi to the pretty white pony that no one else would touch.
Anywho, thank you for your time! If you read the entire post; Kudos to you! And if not, I really don't blame you :)