My horse is afraid of his own shadow! - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 23 Old 01-20-2013, 05:59 PM Thread Starter
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My horse is afraid of his own shadow!

My horse is a sweetheart, and our relationship has come a long way since we first got him, but i can see he is becoming more and more timid. I know this comes from him being so herdbound because he's fearless and full of attitude when we're with the other 9 horses out in the field. Walking him to the gate is an event that takes 20 minutes when it should only take 5 because every little rustle in the leaves is clearly something that wants to eat him Today he reared and threw an absolute fit when i tried to walk him through the gate towards the flatter area where i usually work with him. Whenever i can see that he's having a horsey panic attack I start walking him in circles, forcing him to stay at least 4 feet away from me at all times. I can almost always convince him that the trees do not in fact want him dead, but it takes FOREVER! How can i help him?
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post #2 of 23 Old 01-20-2013, 07:05 PM
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The short answer is that you must prove to your horse that you're his reliable leader, thus taking care of him in whatever environment you're both in. He wants a reliable leader, isn't enjoying feeling on his own, as his being upset/behaviour proves.

The whole process of proving that you're a reliable leader I'll leave to others to delineate; additionally, there are lots of books/instructors out there nowadays, & perhaps a savvy person in your area who can show you how to handle your horse. Good luck!
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post #3 of 23 Old 01-20-2013, 07:27 PM
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I can't offer any help, but what Northern said is right - he needs confidence in you.

I had a friend who rode one of our teachers' horses for lessons. Gorgeous little thing, but flighty as all heck. One minute he would be fine, the next he would flip because of something as simple as a pile of his own manure that he'd dropped on the previous lap of the arena. He even freaked over the arena gate at one point, after having been in the arena for the past half hour. He did this less and less as she became more confident on him and he gained confidence in her.
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post #4 of 23 Old 01-20-2013, 08:31 PM
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Get him over being buddy sour first and foremost. You'll get nowhere until you do. Keep him by himself, no other horses around. Hopefully, out of sight and sound distance. Make him completely dependent on you for everything. When you do introduce him back to the other horses, if he even acts like he is going to buddy up again, back to solitary.

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post #5 of 23 Old 01-20-2013, 08:37 PM
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Your horse doesn't have any confidence in you as a leader. Do you think your horse spooks at every little tree when he's in the pasture with the herd. I bet he doesn't. When you lead this horse don't look around don't expect him to spook. Walk straight to where your taking him, don't look at him, keep your eyes straight to your destination. When something scares him don't show it to him instead attempt to walk on again. If he refuses to move move get at about a 45 degree angle and pull him sideways it will pull him off balance and get his focus back on you. When you get him focused back on you and get his feet moving, then walk on again as if nothing happened. Another thing you can do is disengage his hind quarters and make him do some small circles around you to get his feet moving. When you feel him getting nervous keep calm and keep him moving. Prove to your horse that its safe with you that your the leader and you'll tell him when he's supposed to be worried or not.
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post #6 of 23 Old 01-20-2013, 08:37 PM
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My new horse does this. Although he isn't afraid of every little thing he tries **** hard to turn back around and run to the pasture with my mare. I went out today with him today and as soon as we turned and started walking towards the barn he got ancy, head in the air, not listening, etc. but as soon as we walked away from the barn he started to calm down. Then as we were walking back up the driveway he spooked at a car that had a garbage bag on top of it. -_-
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post #7 of 23 Old 01-20-2013, 08:39 PM
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Almost sounds like hes got your number and hes taking advantage of you to get out of work.
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post #8 of 23 Old 01-20-2013, 08:52 PM
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Originally Posted by bbsmfg3 View Post
Get him over being buddy sour first and foremost. You'll get nowhere until you do. Keep him by himself, no other horses around. Hopefully, out of sight and sound distance. Make him completely dependent on you for everything. When you do introduce him back to the other horses, if he even acts like he is going to buddy up again, back to solitary.
All this will do is result in a horse who cannot ever be put back with other horses according to your method. He is not being buddy sour because he is with other horses, it is because he is afraid of leaving the herd. That is a natural instinct. To leave the herd is to invite attack from any nearby predator. So Northern is right - the OP needs to show the horse that she is a good reliable leader, that she can take care of him, and he will stop being afraid.

Mods, grant me the serenity to see the opinions I cannot change, courage to change the ones that should change, and the wisdom to spot the trolls.
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post #9 of 23 Old 01-20-2013, 08:59 PM
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Horses are herding prey animals; this means they are very well attuned to reading the feelings and even to a degree, the thoughts of other animals around them. And being hearding animals they have fairly clearly defined hierarchical structures that facilitate optimal survival in the wild. There’s nothing magical or supernatural about them reading feelings etc, they don’t have mental telepathy, they just read body language and facial expressions etc very well. Humans do it too, but we tend to rely more on verbal stuff a bit too and the body language stuff becomes a secondary, but still entirely necessary, form of communication.
What this means in terms of your horse and you is that if you don’t have confidence in what you can get your horse to do the horse will sense this easily and react in, usually, one of two ways.
1) your are a bit unconfident so there must be something to be nervous about, ergo, the horse should be nervous too, since there might be something waiting to eat it.
2) you are not confident so the horse has to be the one to step up and be the leader and so pull you into line, leading to a disrespectful horse (in reality, since the horse is the leader you actually become a disrespectful follower that needs to be kept in line by the leader, the horse).
To overcome this what you need to do is get into a leadership position in relation to your horse, preferably all the horses he/she hangs around with; and do everything with a confidence and firmness that reiterates your leadership position. Forget about “gaining trust” or grooming or giving your horse treats to bribe it into “bonding” with you; all of the bonding/gaining trust stuff comes AFTER you prove that you are the leader and can be relied on.
Just how you do this? Well that’s where learning from good horse trainers comes in. I’m familiar with Parelli’s stuff (the lateral lunging is probably the core of it), but the rest will be more or less the same thing. The methods might differ but the underlying principals will be pretty consistent. Figure out which of the big names is easiest for you to get a handle on and learn from them. Once you get the hang of one, try another, then another.
The things Peppy Barrel racing said are a good idea too, and demonstrate the kind of things you need to do to show your horse you are a reliable leader.
If you can get a good grip on your own feelings and emotions when you are handling your horse that will be reflected back by a better behaved horse.
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post #10 of 23 Old 01-20-2013, 09:16 PM
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If this is the same horse as in your previous threads, this is an ongoing theme with this horse. He was alone in a field for a good while, gradually he became more and more afraid, noisey dog didn't help that (if I recall correctly). I believe (according to previous threads) the OP had finally got him a companion again, this settled the horse down a great deal and she was able to work with him again.

ALL this being said. Clearly the problem isn't fixed by having a companion. He trusts his companion, he and his friend work together to keep each other safe. Together they feel safe, apart they are afraid. OP, you're job is to make yourself equal (or even better) than his companion.

When my mare acted very similar to your horse, I started with her companion (who was smaller and easier to handle). I took him out of their paddock and walked him in a circle around the paddock. Sure enough my mare panicked, she followed us all around the perimeter of the paddock, nervous and jumpy. I did this a couple times until she no longer followed us, she had returned to her grass and just carefully watched us. So at one corner of her paddock there is another paddock near, so I walked the pony around both paddocks, which brought him just out of sight for just a couple minutes. The first time she panicked, ran around and called to him, but I just kept him walking 'laps' around that area, by the end of the second time she no longer looked up. Then I went all around the barn and the paddocks, bringing the pony out of sight and hearing distance, at this point she didn't even call. I repeated this path with him (the big one) a few times, when she no longer looked up as we passed I put the pony back. I repeated this for a few days until my mare no longer fussed when I took the pony out and no longer cared when I took him out - I eventually started taking him for several hour hikes and she was fine.
At this point it was her turn, I took her out and walked HER around all the same laps in the same sort of progression. At first they were both a bit jumpy, just kept lapping until they calmed down.
This teaches them that they and their companions can come and go and they'll always come back. Neither of my horses fuss anymore when they leave their paddocks.

What will also GREATLY help you, in your particular situation, is teaching your horse the basic giving to pressure skills. He had ought to learn how to yield his hind end, yield his shoulder, side step, back up and he should do them All on a dime, the moment you ask. He should be doing this willing and eagerly in his 'comfort zone' before you try to ask him to do these skills when he's upset or spooky. These skills sound simple, but all skills are very useful in asserting your leadership and getting his mind back on you, not whatever he thinks is scary.

I realize how difficult all this is, I went through it too. I found clicker training to massively speed up the process, but I realize that isn't for everyone. IME it just helped keep the horses' focus and kept them minding their 'rules' (particularly personal space). If you aren't into that, that's fine, but everything else I mentioned is really vital to helping this horse overcome his intense fear of being alone. That is the core of his issue - he's not scared of simple things, it's just that his flight response is seriously over reacting when he's without a companion he trusts.

That's another thing that would be very good for him to learn the 'put your head down' cue. This is cued by pulling the lead rope straight down, so there is slight pressure on the horse's poll. The result you're looking for is for their nose to drop to the ground on the tiniest tug. The reason for this is because when a horse's head is up they're in 'flight' mode when it's down they're in 'yummy mode'. It may only help for a few seconds but it certainly helps recollect a situation. I teach Every horse I know this skill, even bombproof ones, you never know when you're going to need it ;)

I am eager to hear other people's opinions and suggestions.

Good luck, I'm eager to hear updates.
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