Working with an abused horse - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 25 Old 11-23-2010, 10:29 PM Thread Starter
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Working with an abused horse

Hey guys,
I got my first horse 10 days ago. All I know for sure about him is that he is a gelding, and I've named him Wildfire.
The man I got him from was his trainer. He told me that Wildfire was an Appaloosa and that he was between 7-8 years old. I rode Wildfire on about 5 different occasions before buying him, and he was really well-mannered. There were some things about his trainer that I thought were odd, but I didn't question them because I assumed that since he was a trainer and I wasn't, that he knew what he was doing. For instance, he had his horses turned out on the field for a couple months or so, and then he would bring them in and ride them and when he wasn't riding them he would literally leave them tied to the round pen for several days with about 18 inches of slack in the rope. They had access to hay and some feed, but they had to stand in the mud and in the hot sun for hours to days on end. Also, he was very harsh with the horses and demanded they do things, rather than asking them to do things. He rode all of his horses in a Tom Thumb, and there were just many other unecessary things, all done in the name of "training".
So once I bought Wildfire I moved him to a boarding facility and I've been having a rough time with some things. He's VERY wary of affection, and for the first few days he would flinch and move away if I tried to pet him or give him kisses. I've been really working with him on that, because I could tell right away that he's not being mean, he's just scared and doesn't know that kisses and pets are GOOD things, so I've been stroking him and then giving him grain so that he learns to associate touch with something that he already knows is good--grain. 10 days later he lets me pet him and kiss him and give him big hugs, with only the slightest bit of resistance. Also when I go to "put him to bed" at night (which is just me letting him back on the pasture, but it's usually dark when I do that so I just say that he's going to bed), he follows me around on the other side of the fence when I'm putting away his things because he knows that I'm a sucker for his begging blue eyes and I always manage to sneak some extra hay to him. I had a trainer come out to help me with some of our issues (riding and groundwork) and she said she could tell right away that he is fearful and has been abused. But she also said that it's obvious that I'm doing a good job with him and that he's starting to trust me. It was really nice because at one point something spooked Wildfire and he came up beside me and put his head on my shoulder as if he knew I would protect him. Now THIS trainer I was really impressed with. She got Wildfire to do what she wanted without hurting him or making him do it out of fear. So I'm definitly going to have her keep coming back.
She also told me that he looks like he's more towards 9 or 10.
Hearing these things only makes me love him more. I struggle with anxiety and am generally a very fearful person. And it's very theraputic for me to be able to kind of know how Wildfire is feeling, because we're both on the same page. We both have been hurt and we both need to learn to trust each other.

Anyways, sorry for the long ramble, I just wanted to give you his backround.

Do you have any advice or tips on working with a horse like this? He's very special to me and I love him, and I just want him to know that I'm on his side.
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post #2 of 25 Old 11-24-2010, 12:31 AM
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Sounds like you two are getting off to a good start.
A couple of thoughts, after reading your whole post,;
Be sure not to interupt him when he is eating with your attempts to snuggle. When he eats, leave him ENTIRELY alone. It will only cause him anxiety if you are too close to him while he is eating.
Also, go easy on the kissing and face hugging. This is very unnatural for horses. They NEVER express such physical expression for each other, so mostly, they either just tolerate it from us or like it if their face is itchy. I don't mean to sound heartless. I mean that a horse isn't a cat or a dog. They feel more companionship by just standing next to a "mate" that they trust, or maybe scratching each other on the shoulder. but a lot of kissy stuff might actually be causing him tension. One thing is you can alway do kissy huggy stuff in a situation where he can turn/walk away when he has had enough, rather than when he is tied up.
While you bring him into a place of trust, don't neglect to continue to be his leader. In other words, plain and simple, don't spoil him because he was once treated poorly.

Ok, that's all, I think he will be a wonderful mate for you and I thank God that he came into the hands of one who really cares for him.
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post #3 of 25 Old 11-24-2010, 01:17 AM
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I did had a abuses horse to. She was really complicated and sadly enough not only mentaly hurt, but even fysically, so i could not ride her.

I think you' re doining a good job

I agree with tinyliny. Hughing and kissing is a typical human thing and had not the same value for horses. A lot of horses, especially abused horses, may find it threatning. (there ar horses who think its totaly okey... the unconcerned ones who think.... a they're just human... if they really need this, i let them)
What is more imported for him is to feel youre there- Just be with him. Sit in the pasture with him and spend time together, without wanting anything from him. (that will be new for him) Don't touch him, unless he touches you. Just let him be and keep him company.
When things ar goining wel, you can groom him like horses do with each other. Like scratching him on the spots he likes. When he puts his trust in you, he will show what he likes. Listen to him. (that will be new for him also)
Never the less.... be carefull not getting stucked in his past. Its over and horses live in the present. What he needs is some-one who is there for him and takes care, but also leads him. Every horse needs leadership. Abuses horses sometimes even more. And with leadership, i don't meen beeing dominant, but i meen that you should make clear that you know what you want, what you're doing and why. It meens understanding the horse, seeiing if he wants to tell you something, beein patient, but also making decisions.
Resnick is saying... the leader is the one that makes the suggestion. You don't demand. You ask and the horse will follow. Becourse you know what is good for hem and you're able to express that.
It you understand what i meen....

But also beware of you're own borders. It is not unusualy that a abused horse, thats starting to get better, gets dominant, trying to overrule you.
Be sure that you know what you want and don't want and be very consistent with that from the very first start.

Sorry for my bad english.
Succes with your horse. He is really lucky he foound somebody like you
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post #4 of 25 Old 11-24-2010, 07:02 AM
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My horse does not like to snuggle and he has never been abused. He also does not like me doing things like putting cream in his ears to keep the bugs out. No one has every hurt his ears. He just does not like it.

Every horse with an issue is not an abused horse.

Think about it, there are things in life that you do not like. It does not mean you have been abused.

I am glad you and wildfire are working things out.

A thought on the grain. Feeding grain does not make the horse trust you, it makes them see you as a food source. Two very different things.
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post #5 of 25 Old 11-24-2010, 07:34 AM
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The more time you spend together the better the relationship. I agree with the others. I would never bother my filly when she's eating her grain. They can become aggressive if they feel their movement is compromised trying to eat. Give him time and leadership. Like the other poster said, because he's new don't let him get away with anything. He will want to be with you more when you become a leader!
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post #6 of 25 Old 11-24-2010, 09:26 AM
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Is the first trainer you were talking about here, the same one you insisted was a really great trainer in your previous thread? How did he go from a great trainer to an abuser practically overnight? I certainly don't agree with his practice of tying the horses up like that etc, if that is indeed the case, but at the same time surely you knew about these things a few days ago when you insisted he was such a great trainer?

That being said, I'm glad you have found a trainer that is working for you now.

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post #7 of 25 Old 11-24-2010, 10:06 AM
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Congratulations on your new horse. I saw the other thread with the pictures, and he's very cute.

What kind of abuse do you think this horse went through? Physical abuse would have left scars. I wouldn't call what that trainer does as abuse without more information. You said others bring their horses to him, if he was a terrible person, he wouldn't be in business. I think it may be jumping to conclusions to assume that because he doesn't enjoy kisses and hugs that he was abused. Neither of my horses were big on hugs and kisses. One stood there and tolerated it, and the other would make a grumpy expression but tolerate it. What my horses were big on was stratches on their itchy spots.

I think you may be treating your horse as though it has human emotions. The horse may have been wary of you simply because it's in a new surroundings and isn't sure what to expect yet. But it's in their nature to be wary of things they don't know, that's how they survived in the wild.

I think your best course of action is treating the horse like a horse. Don't treat it special because you think it may be abused. You will end up with alot more problems if you start giving your horse special treatment. I don't know what quantity you are feeding the horse while petting it, but I wouldn't recommend doing that. Feeding lots of treats to the horse can lead to him starting to nipand bite you. Once you have a spoiled bratty horse, it's very hard to stop the nipping, the pawing and the pushiness.

You will end up bonding with you horse. Just don't try to rush it by basically bribing the horse into liking you. As others have said, be a leader, and the horse will respect you, and that's the relationship you want with your horse.

Good luck with him, and your new trainer. I'm sure you'll be very happy with him. :)

Last edited by ptvintage; 11-24-2010 at 10:14 AM. Reason: ugh need to proof-read!
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post #8 of 25 Old 11-24-2010, 10:07 AM
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Great post, ptvintage!
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post #9 of 25 Old 11-24-2010, 10:32 AM
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Glad to hear he found a special home with you. You sound like your going to be a great match for him. Just always stay patient, loving and caring towards him. There will be times that he may revert back to old times but just keep being that security for him. Move slow, don't demand and really make sure he is rewarded when he does what you want. It sounds like the trainer you are using now is great with horses like him. Always make sure that anyone that comes into contact with him knows how to be around abused/shy horses. One wrong person could set you back again. If you do all this he will probably learn to trust you more than anything in the world. It will just take a little time. I think some of the greatest horses I've come into contact with were rescued. They just seem so appreciative;) Great Job on what your doing!
I do want to add that you want to make sure you are not smothering him. He obviously is not used to alot of affection so also give him his space to. I am also not a fan of giving feed as reward. A small treat every now in then is good. Not too much though...

Last edited by kat44bg; 11-24-2010 at 10:37 AM.
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post #10 of 25 Old 11-24-2010, 10:32 AM Thread Starter
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Yes, I did think that his old trainer was a good trainer. So when I said that, I meant it. But after seeing a different trainer interact with him it made me realize that he could have done things differently and still ended up with a well trained horse. He left out the love factor. I never saw him reward Wildfire, I just saw punishment if Wildfire didn't do something. I thought that's how you train a horse because that's all I ever saw. The trainer that came out yesterday respected him. She was gentle yet she got her point across, and she always told him that he was a good boy and patted him when he did what she asked. Based on Wildfire's behaviors and thinking back on certain things and what this trainer had to say, that's how I came to the conclusion that there was some level of abuse.

As far as the snuggling/treats/kisses:

I don't over feed him. The owner of the stable gives him half of his feed in the morning, and then when I come out I give him the other half as treats. When he is eating out of my hand, I gently pet his neck with my right hand. When he is eating from a bucket, I don't touch him because since his vision is blocked I wouldn't want to scare him. Instead, I just talk to him in a gentle voice telling him that he's a good boy.
I don't feel like I'm bribing him to like me. I'm just trying to get him to the point where he thinks that being pet is something good so that I can fade out the grain but still be able to reward him when he does what I ask.
When I snuggle with him and am petting him, he always is able to take a step back when he's had enough, and I respect that.

I am open to different suggestions. Like I said, I love my horse and I want the best life for him. Unfortunately I am the type of person who has a tendancy to love too much and I can let my heart dictate my actions.
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