Training Fear out of a Horse?
Long story short, my family and I have very become fond of this 4yr (almost 5) Percheron/TB cross mare. The place she was boarded, prior to where she is now, kept her out to pasture, and she was only fed on pasture. She lost 200 pounds. The place she is at now (thank god) has been getting her weight and strength back up. Anyway, we found out today that the place she was boarded prior was also a mounted police/mounted shooting cowboy ranch. I don't know if the people there had permission to work with Tabi (the mare) or if they were just being cruel. Supposedly these "trainers" or whoever they are would get on Tabi (or were around her on the ground) and if she spooked at anything they would smack her with a crop (including her face, neck and rump areas) So being around her now, she is a timid, nervous, and a somewhat fearful horse. When she is in cross ties, being lunged, or ridden she gets very nervous/cautious because she is anticipating being whacked with a crop if she does something wrong. She gets a wide-eyed expression and a little huffy (but after a while, when she realizes you're not going to use a crop on her) she relaxes. Also when we bring her into a trot, she seems to want to go faster (into a canter) because the people probably cropped her to get her into a canter too, so (thinking she's going to be smacked) she immediately tries to go faster into a canter.
My main question is (I know it will take time) but how long will it take to get Tabitha back into the mindset that she's not going to be whacked if she does something wrong? Will she possibly have a little fear for the rest of her life? Or because she's so young now, can she be trained to forget that fear? I will tell you that her prior owner (before going to this cowboy ranch) showed her in a very very minor 3day event (I've watched the video, and she looks like a totally different horse then from what she is now. In the video she has no fear and went over jumps without a second glance)
She is the sweetest mare you will ever meet, and it breaks my heart that she has this fear. Tabi is absolutely not crazy or anything, I believe she just has that fear of doing something "wrong" and being punished. She is a horse that loves to love and loves to please.
P.S. My trainer was on her the other day in the indoor arena. A big pigeon came out of nowhere and flew right in front of Tabi's face. She didn't even flinch! Also, when using fly spray (or bathing her) she throws her head up, again wide-eyed, and doesn't move like she's bracing herself. She has gotten better with fly spray, but I don't know if she was already a little nervous about the fly spray bottle and the people at the Cowboy ranch would smack her if she spooked at that too (making it worse)
She is very smart and a faster learner! Her new favorite treat is soft peppermints (: