Quivering Mass of Nerves - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 12-03-2009, 06:50 PM Thread Starter
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Quivering Mass of Nerves

Dixie was given to my by my blacksmith last April. She is 14 years old and all around a very sweet mare.

She has lived in at least three different barns that I am aware of, always returned to my blacksmith (1st time, she was his neices horse and the neice didn't want to ride... got interested in boys). 2nd time the folks who bought her got divorced and blacksmith ended up with her again. 3rd time she was homed in a pasture at a friends farm as blacksmith needed room in his barn for clients.

Anyway, to make a long story short, it is painfully obvious that somewhere along the line something dreadful happened to this little mare. If I make a sudden movement she gets "bug eyed" and tries to run away. (although, she's been with me long enough now that this rarely happens anymore). The other morning it was cold and rainy, I didn't even think of it and I used a bath towel to dry her off. She was literally a quivering mass of nerves.

To her credit she never reacts stupidly, is not spooky, and seems to have a good head on her shoulders and a brain to figure things out fast. She is not dangerous.

My question is, with situations like toweling her the other morning, should I make this an issue, a training thing, or just do what I need to do with her and leave it at that. In other words, should I go in her stall daily and sack her out with a towel, or just leave it?

She exhibits the most fear reaction in her stall.

Input please. Thanks.
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post #2 of 11 Old 12-03-2009, 07:02 PM
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I think that you should often try to use the towel to try to get her used to it. Also give her treats when she is good about it. I tried putting a hat on my horse for halloween haha and she was really scared of it at first but after stroking it all around her body and on her neck, she finally got used to it and let me put it on her head. I also used a lot of carrots to make it easier. Hope this helps!

Fleur De Lys <3
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post #3 of 11 Old 12-03-2009, 07:09 PM
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Lacey was somewhat similar to that when I first got her and over the last year and a half I've noticed her fear reactions really lessen as she realized that I'm not going to abandon her in her fear and that I'll "protect her", yknow?

In Lacey's case, she reacts very well to verbal praise so I trained her that "good girl" meant that she was an amazing good horse. I'd say "good girl!" and feed her a little grain...gradually I weaned her off the grain (like you would training a dog) and she still reacts to "good girl!" quite happily. Then I started introducing her to things that she found a little more scary, like the road and big black things, and I'd reward mostly calm reactions with "good girl!".
I also discovered that if I act like it's no big deal and chuckle, or sigh or just ignore whatever it is, to myself, most of the time Lacey doesn't have as bad of a reaction as she would have had if I reacted to her reaction. So basically, when you accidentally do something that causes Dixie to get nervous, hold yourself tall (it's a human reaction to flinch or hunch over, both things that tell her "be scared!"), laugh to yourself, and say "oh Dixie, you silly sweetheart!" (or whatever you're inclined to say, in a happy upbeat voice) and see what she does. I bet she'll feed off your happiness and calm down too.

Since you know the towel frightens her, I'd add towels into her everyday routine. She'll figure out that the towel isn't so bad and she'll also probably decide that you are the reason the towel isn't hurting her, which helps your mutual trust relationship. =)

Good luck! Sorry about the novel.

Fabio - 13 year old Arabian/Lipizzan gelding

Rest peacefully, Lacey.
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post #4 of 11 Old 12-03-2009, 07:17 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the input. I don't react to her reaction. I realized from day one that I just had to move slowly and deliberately with her. I've had horses all my life and can pretty much read their body language. My initial feelings with the towel incident were to just ignore her behavior, dry her off, and not make an issue with it. Since toweling her off would never be a normal thing, I just didn't want to add to her fear by doing it again and again. You know, like break a bit of trust we have now and have to build it back up. She is not afraid of me, its the thing being done to her, the thing she thinks is horrible. She is not spooky, can be ridden on the roads etc. It's just things around her body, that move quickly, like throwing a rope over her neck (which is what I do to bring her in from the pasture, however I can't "throw" it so I gently place it over her head). I really think someone beat the fool out of her at some point in her life, although for the life of me I can't figure out why as she really does nothing wrong.
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post #5 of 11 Old 12-03-2009, 07:30 PM Thread Starter
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Just a note ... sometimes I wonder if she sees differently or not well and that is the issue with her fast reactions at things flicking around her? I need to talk with my vet about this. Her eyes appear normal looking to me (health wise) but who knows.
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post #6 of 11 Old 12-03-2009, 10:03 PM
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Originally Posted by 7Ponies View Post
My initial feelings with the towel incident were to just ignore her behavior, dry her off, and not make an issue with it.
This is what I have always done with our new and/or young horses. It's always worked out best to let the horse 'adjust' to your normal routine instead of trying to treat each horse special/differently.

On the sixth day, God created the Quarter Horse.
On the seventh day, he Painted the good ones.
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post #7 of 11 Old 12-03-2009, 10:13 PM
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First drying her off with a towel just distributes the water through her coat and doesn't help her keep warm but that's not the question. I would just do what I need to do with her and move on.

There's nothing like the Rockies in the springtime... Nothing like the freedom in the air... And there ain't nothing better than draggin calves to the fire and there's nothing like the smell of burning hair. -Brenn Hill
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post #8 of 11 Old 12-03-2009, 10:30 PM Thread Starter
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I basically used the towel on their heads, because they were literally soaked and the water was dripping in their eyes, so I really dried the head, forlock, and used the sweat scraper on the body... I'd need a gazillion towels to dry an entire horse body ;)

She stood still while I did it but physically was a wreck, hunched herself all up and was literally shaking (no she wasn't cold/shivering... she stopped shaking when I stopped toweling her).

Thanks for the input. Appreciate all the comments.
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post #9 of 11 Old 12-04-2009, 03:03 AM
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YOU know this towel is not going to kill her. It is not even going to hurt her(Unless for some dumb reason you decide to spin it up and snap her in the rump with it). You just need to keep doing this until she shows some sign of relaxing. Talk to her conversationally as if you were talking about the weather. Monotone, slow, low pitched. Chill. Just stay overly calm. They don't care what you are saying, just the tone and energy of your voice. If you are actually talking, you can check your own energy. You can think "I'm not nervous." but when you speak does your voice tremble, is it high pitched and fast? Hum a little song. Do not get anxious or nervous or expect her to explode, she's not. If she does, don't let your energy change. Stay level. Stay calm. This is somewhat hard to learn, let me tell you. After working with many seasons of untouched Saddlebred babies, I now can just go along with and let them throw their panic attacks, and when it is done, go back to what I was doing. They eventually get the whole "Oh, this is not going to kill me." thing down pretty well. Dangerous behaviour is punished. Fear is not.

Oh, perfect charachter. Act like Towlie from South Park. The stoner towel. "I have no idea what is going on." Don't get excited. Don't get angry. Don't get frightened, anxious or sypathetic. Just stay neutral. Be aware, and don't put yourself in a position to get yourself kicked or hurt, just be mellow.

She is not going to die because the towel touched her. The towel isn't going to eat her. When you get her toweled off, give her a good scratch and a treat and tell her what a good girl she is, and move on.
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post #10 of 11 Old 12-04-2009, 01:54 PM
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The little guy I've written about that was locked in a boarded up barn for about 6 months was literally afraid of his own shadow.

The first time he was brushed it was like the brush was going to eat him. Rinse and repeat with everything. Praise the slightest "try" on her part and keep going.
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