How would you work with this horse?
I rarely -- or never -- post these questions because I don't think they can be dealt with via the internet. But, I am curious as to what other trainers (Cherie? Maura?) would do with a horse like this.
The horse is a rising 8-year old Welsh Sec D mare. She was broken in late, at 5 or 6, as she was originally intended to be a broodmare, but evidently had complications with her first foal so was sold on by the breeder. Ended up at a breaking yard. They got her started, barely, but then went bust and all the horses were auctioned. This horse went to a riding school, where she had a job as a lead rein pony until her current owner bought her. So as you can imagine, this horse has had very little basic training. Current owner is greener than the horse. She does not want to do much, just have a happy hack, but thought that in order to be a useful equine citizen of the world, the horse should have some more schooling. Unsurprisingly, she also struggles to get the horse to hack by itself and so on.
Anyway, this is where I come in. I've been riding the horse once per week since about August (with a break from Dec to Feb because their arena froze), trying to give her some basics. The good news is that the horse understands basic leg and seat aids, both longitudinally and laterally, is starting to understand bending, steers, and can go forward into a nice contact. As she did none of this before, I'm pleased with this progress. The bad news is that the horse's most intransigent issue is her spookiness and reactivity. When something scares her, you completely lose her. And she fixates on certain things being scary and that becomes the end of the discussion. Her usual reaction is to slam on the brakes when you approach object in question, blow off all driving aids, and throw her head one way and shoulders the other. Now, if my yard owner were to pile a stack of 2x4s just outside of the arena, my own horse would spook at it because it's a new thing that is not supposed to be there, and then within five minutes, not be bothered at all. This little Welshie never gets beyond the first stage. It is as if the horse isn't interested in what we (people) have to say. She is, in all things, very much a "horse's horse." People are providers of food, but she's not interested in us beyond that. With de-spooking, I have tried the approach and retreat method, I have tried working her and ignoring (as best I can) the reactivity and the object in question, and all manner of things in between. I get on her case and make her work hard when she does her stop and throw the shoulders to the outside routine. The horse just doesn't care what I do (or don't do). I am aware that horse is like she is because she isn't confident or secure when working in the arena and away from other horses and feels on edge in this situation, so has to be in flight mode. Quietly riding through it and keeping her mind and feet busy with lots of transitions and figures, which is what works for most horses I have ridden, hasn't made a blind bit of difference.
Her owner sometimes hacks her out on the weekends but doesn't do much with her during the week. I have tried encouraging the owner to do more groundwork (as it is not productive for either of them if owner rides her in school) during the week, to get the horse more accustomed to being taken out and doing stuff with people. This isn't really happening -- they don't really "do" groundwork here or see it the same way we do in the US, so I don't think owner has a conceptual framework for these ideas. I have also encouraged owner to lunge/long rein horse in the arena, but owner doesn't (though she sometimes free schools her -- but productively, i.e. join-up). It also does not help that owner has tried in the past and failed to desensitize the horse to things like plastic bags, and is now convinced that the horse will never get over her fear of plastic bags and other objects.
If the horse had 30 days of continuous training, by me or someone better than me, things might be different, but that won't happen. Similarly, while this horse is wholly inappropriate for this owner and owner on some level knows that, there isn't even a remote chance that she will sell the mare and buy herself a schoolmaster. I also can't ride the horse more than once per week, as she is about an hour's drive from me and owner can't afford to have me there more often.
Given these limitations, what would you do with this horse? How else would you help her learn that really, life is easier when you do what we ask and are not afraid of everything.
Last edited by thesilverspear; 04-15-2013 at 07:20 AM.