How likely is it? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 01-09-2008, 07:23 PM Thread Starter
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How likely is it?

Hi! I had posted before about my horse being "barn sour", wanting to resist, about face, brace going down a particular fenceline to a nearby field. I have been somewhat "ignoring" these large supposed gopher holes in this area....if you can picture, the "path" to this field is the pasture fence on the right....and about 10 yards of grass (which is the path we go down) and the left side of the path is lined with trees, some of which have large dug holes - maybe 18" wide some of them, but lots of dirt cleared around them. It is obvious an animal dug them and/or lives inside. I was told by other boarders they are gopher holes, but my trainer feels they are too large and could be fox holes.

We've been working with my horse, one-rein stopping when he resists or turns, then yielding his hindquarters in a circle a few times, then asking for forward again to get him past this area and down the fenceline. He is getting better. He finally stopped major tantrums and his little attempts at rearing. Today I noticed it was the worse when I saw him look at the holes.

I know for a fact that foxes bury leftover food, as in dead animals....and/or perhaps there is a dead animal in these holes. Could this be spooking my horse, or am I grasping at straws? I can't say he is spooked necessarily, but he is clearly anxious. Today I took him to the left of the trees which is a huge sod field and we're really not supposed to be in there but I kept him on the edge and away from the holes. He still resisted but seemed a bit relieved to be on the other side of these holes.

Has anyone had any experience with their horse having anxiety about the smell of dead (or perhaps alive??) animals?? I didn't pay too much attention to the holes until today (except of course to keep his hooves away from them!). Would love your thoughts.....or is he just being barn sour?!?
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post #2 of 11 Old 01-09-2008, 07:28 PM
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We always fill in those holes. They are very dangerous on trails especially if you're loping your horse and he steps in one. It could break his leg.

I've heard stories about dogs becoming anxious when they get near pet cemetaries but I've never heard of horses acting like that. If I were you, I'd go out to the holes without the horse and check it out.
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post #3 of 11 Old 01-11-2008, 08:57 PM
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Horses have a far better sense of smell than we do, and dead animals decay (rot) fairly quickly, and they do stink quite a bit, especially to a horse's sensitive nostrils.
To understand your horse's fear, put yourself in your horse's shoes: you're a prey animal, and you're living in a predator's world... when you smell a dead animal (prey for another predator) you're likely to become nervous.
Once your horse has smelled death there once, he (or she..) could most definitely remember the location of the smell, and associate fear with the smell with the place.
An interesting experiment would be to put a strong smell in your horse's nose (like rubbing Vick's Vapo-Rub, if it's safe, hear the horse's nose) and seeing how she reacts to the trails.
Hope this helps.

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post #4 of 11 Old 01-11-2008, 08:59 PM
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Of course, the other option may be that he's afraid of something jumping out of the holes - if the holes are large, that is.

Or he's just making up excuses not to work...

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post #5 of 11 Old 01-11-2008, 09:03 PM
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Are YOU looking at the holes as you ride by them?

One of the parks we ride thru has a section that some of the old folk around here say is an old burial ground. Even before I had heard this both the horse's always acted tense on this part of the trail?

Their senses are a lot stronger than our's......
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post #6 of 11 Old 01-11-2008, 09:28 PM
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Aside from smelling anything funky and associating it with the area/holes.. He might be afraid of the holes in general because their holes. Horses have poor depth perception, so they perceive a different colored patch on the ground as higher or lower ground. (With the holes, rightly so).. But if you've ever taken a horse around a drainhole in the pavement or a section of pavement that is wet (while the rest of the pavement is dry.. the wet pavement is darker) they look at it funky and suspiciously. No matter how many times they've passed it or seen it. You're best bet is to keep him paying attention to you. Wiggling your reins a little bit and bending him to the inside or outside while you pass the holes (depending on which direction your going.. so the eye facing the hole can't see it as easily) should help.

But if it has to do with smell, he can't help what he smells so its likely that he'll keep acting a little goofy at least.

Just curious, is he in the pasture across from the holes? (it sounds like it) if so he might see whatever animal lives in them coming and going from the holes.. (which is scary enough, even for me!) I would fill the holes if possible.
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post #7 of 11 Old 01-12-2008, 07:53 AM Thread Starter
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Very good point. Yes, the holes are visible and right across from his pasture. I never thought about the depth perception thing. I may try something new today and take him on a totally different ride/direction....perhaps down the driveway opposite away (but still away from the barn) and down/around the other side of the pasture to see what he does.

I also wonder if "mentally" this is just now a trouble/tantrum spot for him....almost like habit.

I do try to "bend" him to look the other way, but I almost think that makes it worse. My trainer feels I should ride straight, forward and when he takes a step to TURN, address it with one-rein stop opposite direction, then ask confidently for forward....and if he does it again, one-rein stop and yield hindquarters in a circle several times....then ask for forward again. It does work but takes a few tries.

The other issue may be "open spaces". (gosh I feel like a psychologist!!).....If you can are pointed down the fenceline.....fence is on the right.....then 5 to 10 yards of the grassy path we go down, then the tree line with few areas of holes, and then to the left of the trees, HUGE open sod field....several is very open, dark green from the sod....wind comes in over it pretty strong. It feels, well, VERY open and perhaps scary to him...all of this put together. He will trot on the sod field side but still attempts turn-arounds...although I try the field side after I am exhausted from the other side! Maybe we try the field side first...? It's quite interesting. But maybe a different ride/change of pace is what he needs. Unfortunately there isn't alot of places to ride the other way...a highway further the other way we would run into but I could turn him up the field and take him down the other side of the sod field......we'll try today. I may tire him out in the ring and take him out there for more of a "treat" today....loose rein, relaxed and see how he does. Oh, the quandries!!!! :)
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post #8 of 11 Old 01-12-2008, 08:04 AM
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sometimes they get anxious because these things look different to them than they do to us. the horse probably see these holes as dark spots that are different to the surrounding areas and therefore is worthy of keeping an eye on. my mare shys away from dark patches of grass while my stb jumps darker patches of grass lol it could be something as simple as that
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post #9 of 11 Old 01-12-2008, 08:49 AM
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I was always told to have the horse face their fears. Is there any way you can start circling the area from a distance and get closer and closer till you are right next to the area? Also are you getting tense when approching the scary spot? Try to mentally relax, take some deep breaths so he isn't picking up on your fear that he may act up. We have coyote holes all over were we ride. Pretty big holes we have to watch out for, but I have never had the horses freak out over them. They usually pick human stuff to freak at, Vida was scared to death of a pump house for awhile. I had to just keep circling her closer and closer till she would get close enough to it to see it wasn't going to eat her. Now she just walks by it. Anyway try to get him to it not past it, make it your target. Good luck, hope some of this and other advise helps you.

Sorry editing in: wanted to clarify circling. Its an approach and retreat circle. Approach to his comfort area then retreat. Do it over and over till he can be comfortable with the area and right next to the scary place. Make sense?

"Until one has loved an animal, part of one's soul remains unawakened..."
- Anatole France
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post #10 of 11 Old 01-12-2008, 03:42 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone. Well I rode today and we had a glorious ride!!!! First of all, he seemed SO much happier in the ring. Then we headed down the fenceline. I made it a POINT to sit tall, look straight ahead and think "forward" past the holes. He is definitely looking at them but we kept forward and he only resisted once or twice - all I needed was a one-rein stop. I let him look at the holes and forward we went. I do think I was freaked out about them and he was reading that. I was VERY careful with my body language - leg off when he was forward, and I looked up and STRAIGHT ahead and I breathed deep. I also let him graze and gave him lots of rubs and "good boys" at the end of the fenceline...then we trotted back up, about faced and went down again. The 2nd time was even better. He is clearly aware of those holes.

Our entire ride was just glorious!! I do think he was picking up my tension or at least that was part of it and I think each and every time he'll get better and better. :)
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