Training Fear out of a Horse? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 30 Old 07-16-2012, 12:01 AM Thread Starter
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Question 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 (:
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post #2 of 30 Old 07-16-2012, 01:01 AM
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I think that you should almost re-train her. As in keep doing the same things, like riding, grooming, etc, but in a different way. Instead of brushing her, letting her spook, then continue brushing when she's done, bush her for about a minute, pat her, then keep going. If she spooks, back off a few steps and hold out both hands to show that you don't have anything to hurt her. Let her smell your hands until she is calm, then repeat. When riding, walk her for a minute or two, pat her while you're still walking, and repeat. If she get anxious, try to calm her down. Randomly praising her will encourage her to think that nothing is going to hurt her. That's just my suggestion. I hope I helped. (:
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post #3 of 30 Old 07-16-2012, 09:49 PM
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Some horses can make a complete recovery with time, patience and continual positive reinforment. Others will heal and learn to trust you but never 100% or maybe trust one or two people but not a stranger.

I rescued my Arab when he was seven. He is now 26 and still has head issues if a person moves their hands to fast. If I don't un-buckle the halter, after I'm done doing something with him, it takes me twice as long to get it over his head as it does my other three.

He's panicky about a wash cloth on his forehead and I best not accidentally cover his eyes with it

Conversely, he is the best child's babysitter horse I have ever seen or owned. He loves loves loves little children and will practically stop breathing if a baby grabs hold of him. Babies could rip his ears off but adults beware - don't cover his eyes with the wash cloth

The answer to your question is going to be a wait and see. Just be very patient with her and always reward her. My favorite reward in these types of situations is to say "Good Job Streeter!" and lightly clap my hands together in approval. Sometimes I add a little twisty-jig to that and then all my horses look at me like I've lost my mind but it works - lol lol

I choose to stay out of the personal space of a horse like this because the approach might trigger an unpleasant memory and then you're two steps backward in progress. Others may disagree and have a different thought but it works for me

Good luck with her - I hope this helps a little
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post #4 of 30 Old 07-16-2012, 09:56 PM Thread Starter
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Tabi has no fear of being groomed or people walking around her. It's just with fly spray and bathing (she's already becoming better with that) and mostly when she's being worked in the arena either on the ground or in saddle. She's been learning fast and has gotten better since the first time I saw her (a week ago or so)

What I want to know is because how young she is (4, so because of her age, will she be able to recover and learn faster than say a horse that's 15?) and the fact that she seems to a quick learner, will she be able to get over this fear with time? Or will she always have some nervousness throughout her life?
I am going to team up with my trainer and we're going to do a tune-up on her (starting out with a lot of ground-work). She has absolutely wonderful ground manners and is an over all sweet horse (she just has this little fear).
Has anyone else had experience with a similar situation? Is it worth my while to work with this horse?

I should also mention that Tabi is not head shy at all, even after what she's supposedly gone through!

Last edited by hosscwazy13; 07-16-2012 at 10:05 PM.
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post #5 of 30 Old 07-16-2012, 10:08 PM
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The first time my horse got a bath, it was in circles, and i was sweating
Same with flyspray.
and saddling and having a halter on and me getting on and leading. She was just terrified
I just had to be patient and gentle.
She will come around!

Spend time with her, show her that you can be trusted to keep her safe!
I bet she'll be super confidant with you

I live to ride and I ride to live
Horses are just angels without wings
11/01/09 <3 my horse left hoof prints on my heart
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post #6 of 30 Old 07-16-2012, 10:20 PM
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Our gelding arrived with 2" holes in his sides from spurring. He was terrified of being punished. In the end, I didn't have time to ride him so he spent 8 months standing around. We then sent him to a trainer for 5 weeks, and she worked on desensitizing him

Contrary to some practice, desensitizing is NOT making a laundry list of 89 things the horse has been exposed to so that there are 89 things he is not afraid of. It is about teaching a horse to trust his rider to do what is best by him. I had a pro do it because doing it well requires the person to read the horse very well, and I'm not at that level.

When we got Trooper back, he spent about 6 months on the 'he can do no wrong' program. Several years later, my youngest daughter drives me nuts riding him without her stirrups:

But a lot depends on the horse. I think it is USUALLY possible to minimize the fear, but it can also take a long time. On rare occasions, a horse may be at a point where he cannot be helped.

That said, Trooper still HATES fly spray and water hoses...
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"Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing...well, ignore it mostly."
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post #7 of 30 Old 07-16-2012, 10:26 PM
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She is still a baby. I bet that she will do fine if you keep working with her. Be cautious not to spoil her due to being afraid of frightening her. You never will be able to whack her with a crop, but if, for example, she pulls ahead when you lead her, you should be able to snap the lead rope without her thinking the world is going to end. Consistent positive reinforcement should bring her right along.

Carpe Diem!
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post #8 of 30 Old 07-16-2012, 10:35 PM
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i got my moms horse last year at 2 and a half, and he was trained by amish and really REALLY well broke, hes now a pretty good at everything i try with him. he wouldnt let you get half way up his neck without freaking out and moving away FAST! if you were past his rib and put your hand on his butt he would tuck his tail and lower his butt and move away, and when picking up legs they would shoot up! but he would keep them up. i would just keep at it, i would put my hand on his neck and until he would freak is when i would move my hand back down his neck and i would keep it there sometimes till he stopped freaking then remove my hand from his neck. now a year later i can touch everything, but his ears he a little bit freak but getting better, i can ride bareback with no lead halter, and jumo around him and multiple other things i can do after working with him.

i started slow and worked on one thing it took sevel days at first. but then he got better, the first day when we brought him home i took off halter and lead so my boys wouldnt grab at his halter and we couldnt get near him for a week...but then he got better hes still wont come close on some days but hes better then he was..

start slow and dont go to fast! it took about 2 months before he came around and started to get better but hes amazing now.

a week ago he was scared of a hose and water adn freaked when we gave him a bath but now he will stand to get hosed off in the pasture next to my QH that love water!
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post #9 of 30 Old 07-17-2012, 05:42 PM
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The answer to your "how much time" question is impossible to answer any other way than "as long as it takes" a good rule of thumb is about 2 to 3 times as long as they have been that way. this of course depends on how much time is spent and how frequently. an hour a day one day a week? couple of years.. an hour a day 7 days a week? couple of months. Then it depends on how deep the emotional scarring is.

The Article in Western Horseman about laying down a horse talks about fear thresholds and how you can "reset" a horses fear response by getting it to calm down at a higher level of fear... So laying a horse down is one of the scariest things you can do, theoretically (according to the Dr in the article) the horse would then cease (or at least lessen)reacting to all lesser fears.. not sure I buy all that but it is interesting. He had brain scans and all kinds of other research to back it up.

My Vet and Farrier are currently splitting my childeren's inheritance.
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post #10 of 30 Old 07-17-2012, 08:22 PM
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It was very popular in dog training for a while to do something similar to "laying down a horse". You were supposed to make a dog lay down, rolled over with his abdomen exposed. The idea was that this would make him more submissive. The idea is now out of fashion. People started getting mauled by dogs "trained" in this fashion. I'm not saying that it will happen with horses. I am just saying that I am not planning on laying down a horse unless it is with drugs.

Carpe Diem!
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