I recently bought a new horse and he is the first new horse I have gotten in 7 years. I sold the mare I had for the last 7 years and bought this one because I'm switching disciplines from western to eventing. I absolutely looove my new guy. He has a good mind, rides soft and supple, loves attention, is an absolute joy to be around, and seeks leadership. The only huge difference is just that. He NEEDS leadership to feel confident. My mare was alpha and had no problem thinking for herself and while she seemed to enjoy my company and follow my lead, she definitely had no problem not having a leader to look up to. She was naturally curious and hardly ever spooked no matter who rode her or was handling her.
Shorty (new horse) is also very curious but he is definitely going through a lack of confidence issue right now that makes him more reactive. For 2 obvious reasons that will most likely go away in time:
1) New Place: has been cross-country schooled, foxhunted (twice) in the past, but the last time he was away from his home was last winter for a month at a hunter/jumper trainer. When I bought him last Saturday was the first time he was away from his home in a year. He has been out of work for the most part but rode around bareback in a halter by former owner around a busy barn atmostphere and to/from pasture and did fine.
2)New owner! He has been owned by the same person for his whole life minus 2 years when he was still very young. The people I bought him from broke him to ride and have had him ever since.
I realize that this horse's world was turned upside down when I moved him a week ago with no familiarity at all and I am being super patient with him while he adjusts...and he was doing good considering all of that until he met the barn PIG! He is absolutely terrified of it, and will balk walking towards ANYWHERE around the barn area because he is looking for that pig.
Luckily like I said he has a good mind and for the most part spooks in place. He tenses up like crazy and will look and stare and walk side to side but manageable. He will become jumpy at other small things that probably wouldn't have been a problem is he wasn't in such a high alert state. My barn owners are great and have had to deal with horses' fear of pigs as they come in to be trained or as new boarders...said that he's not the worst case they have seen but it's pretty bad and say in time he will get over it. They have given me some advice that has lead to some of what I have been doing with him. Don't know why a huge horse boarding facility also houses one of horses' naturally feared animals...but anyway...
I wanted to see what some of you might do to help him adjust and more specifically how you think the best way to handle the terrified horse. Previous owner said he has no history of bolting, bucking, rearing or anything, but when unsure will stop and look. My understanding is that he was allowed to do this and when he was done they would move on. I would rather him not have to look at all. He seriously looks like he might explode when he does that and one day he might just decide to run for his life without advising with me first.
When I walk him around on the ground I make sure his attention stays on me all the time. If he wants to stop and look at something I lightly jiggle the lead line to get his focus back on me while we walk. If he finds something that causes him to actively spook, and snort at like kids running around, horses running around, sounds coming from inside the enclosed round pen, or the worst...the pig lol, I stay as calm as I can and will get his feet moving and lunge him around me (usually at a walk, sometimes trot if that's what it takes), changing directions, yielding hindquarters, whatever I have to do to get his attention back on me and not everything else. The things like kids running around and movement from inside the roundpen I think are hightened by his fear of that darn pig. If it's a new day and he hasn't seen the pig yet, he is usually much more relaxed and gets over things quickly. Once he has seen that pig...bye bye focus.
I do Parelli games with him everyday in his pasture and another arena away from the barn area that he does not associate with the pig because he has never seen it down there. He has always been WONDERFUL there. No fear, no issues, completely different attitude. I lunge him, ride him, and build our relationship there before going up to the barn. I know I have to be his leader and eventually I hope he trusts me enough to follow me no matter what. He already walks up to me in the pasture and follows me around at liberty. I think he spooks less with me around, too, but that pig just messes him up. For the last couple days I have put him in the arena by the barn to feed him with the pig nearby. I will put his food as close as he will come to it and he may eat and retreat as much as he feels necessary. After he's done and the pig is still munching, I will lead him in figure eights/serpentines and just before he starts getting uncomfortable we turn towards the pig and then away again. Each time I try getting closer and if he's relaxed enough I'll do some of the friendly game, rub his head, etc. We are still about 20-30 yards away. The second he gets spooky and unfocused I make his feet move etc until he has his ear cocked to me for the circle and not the pig. Then we start walking again.
Of course I can't wait until he gets over his fear of the pig so I can ride him up there where the jumps are and around the whole property without him being so nervous. I plan to continue working with him in the top arena by the pig but another suggestion has come up that I can stall board him for a week or so where the outside run is near where the pig usually hangs out. He would have plenty of time to figure out that the pig is not going to harm him. He would of course still have turn out either day or night.
Any feedback, suggestions, ideas or comments about what I'm doing or could try to do? I have seen him EVERY single day since I moved him 8 days ago and very determined but patient to help him through this. He has so much potential and I really enjoy working with him, just need to get over this hump and if anything this is doing nothing but good for our relationship. I feel like I HAVE to do all the groundwork with him and become his leader right off the bat instead of sliding by and just riding like I probably could have done without the pig. I'll be thanking this whole situation as soon as we meet our first huge booger out on cross country I'm sure.
The attached picture is him in his favorite place (the arena with no pig stinch! )