Working with a ruined horse - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 27 Old 04-13-2012, 02:49 PM Thread Starter
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Exclamation Working with a ruined horse

The barn I work at has a 16 year old Oldenburg Gelding named 'Duke'. Duke has been at that barn for 6 years as a boarder, the girl that owns him, went off to college and can no longer afford him. A girl whom used to work there as well until recently said she was going to adopt him. In a matter of six weeks, she turned Duke from a wonderful riding horse (bareback, jumping, loving sweet animal), into a crazy beast who thinks all he has to do is gallop full speed, head sky high, around the paddock we used to lounge. Yes, I understand we shouldnt have let her work him without supervision, that was a mistake on our part. We found out that all she had been doing with him (while she was nervous of him) was put him in a round pen with a western saddle on, (both of which he is not accustomed to), and pretty much chase him around!!!! Until he was so tired, she felt it was safe to mount up and do a little riding also in the round pen. He is also head shy now.... So anyways, here is where we are with him. Four days a week, we take time working on his head shyness, while we get him ready for ground work. We baby him somewhat in hope to get the sweet horse we know back. We take him out to the paddock, where he was used to being worked for the past 6 years. We free lounge him until he is calm enough to put the side reins on loosely, and always stop the session on a good note. At the free lounge, he thinks he needs to run full speed, crazy horse style. He knows voice commands; whoa, reverse, back, easy ect... So for the most part we can slow him down to a walk or trot if he isnt in crazy mode. His past few sessions, I think have gone wonderful, with a lot of progress. Today's lesson however it seemed he had a major set back. As soon as I released him, it was the Kentucky derby in his mind. I thought he was going to hurt himself, I tried stopping him, easing him but nothing worked. A few times he stopped himself and I gave him a little time before trying to walk to him, but as soon as I got half way there, he was off again. He eventually calmed down, started listening and I was able to put one side rein on, he bolted off, and after a little bit, collected himself, calmed down and I had him trot one way then the other and thats where I ended the session. I'm just getting really upset because of the change within 6 weeks, he is a completely different horse. Other than what we are trying now, does anyone have any other suggestions or comments?
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post #2 of 27 Old 04-13-2012, 02:56 PM
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When he decides to run like a mad man, leave the paddock and turn your back to him. This takes the pressure off. I've seen horses exhibit this behaviour when someone had persued them, relentlessly snapping the whip. When you attempt to return to the paddock, again leave if he starts going again. You are showng him that he doesn't have to run. His seeming ear/head shyness is likely a learned behaviour, not genuine fear. It worked with her and he's going to see how well it works with you.
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post #3 of 27 Old 04-13-2012, 03:00 PM
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Hello, I think you're on the right track, but pushing too much.

I'd get out of the round pen completely - this is where the problem's have been created, so get rid of that completely. Only a long way down the line when he's back to 'normal' should you re-introduce round pen use.

I also think you should stop lungeing for a while. Just slooow it all down and let him chill. No work for a couple of weeks - none at all, no ground work, nothing. Then just base your work with him as a sort of 'speeded up' re-backing programme. Saddle him up, nice and slowly. Get on and walk him round the school, praise, get off, end of session. Continue gradually building up his confidence in you and in himself again. Forget lungeing, or round pen work, or side reins until he's back to normal in his mind.

And he'll get there, no reason why he shouldn't.
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post #4 of 27 Old 04-13-2012, 04:58 PM
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Don't baby him. I have to disagree with the whole let him rest thing. What this horse needs is a confidence rebuilder. He has lost his faith in his human counterparts and is scared. He needs a strong, but gentle hand to re-train him. The only thing he needs now is patience and learning to retrust. Besides this one thing with the roundpen, treat him no differently than you did before. Trust me, he does not want to babied, he wants a leader.

Start at square 1. What did he used to enjoy the most, on the ground. If it was brushing, brush the crap out of him. "Spoil him" in that sense. Simply do that for a few days until he gets comfortable with you.

Then move on to another simply exercise that he already knows how to do. Eventually you will find a comfortable place to return to once he gets nervous. If he ever gets nervous or flighty, return to that "safe spot."

Work him on the ground, that's where he needs to start. Also, when you round pen him, do not bring a whip, or anything for that matter, except for maybe a brush. Bring him into the pen, tie him to the side of it (if he ties well) and brush him out. Then, when finished, lead him out of the roundpen and be done. Next time, do the same thing, but then afterwards walk him around the roundpen with him still attached to the lead.

This horse is only doing what he has been conditioned to do, and that is running like mad in the roundpen. He thinks that is what he is supposed to do. So teach him, through small baby steps, that this is not what he has to do every time he enters one.

Eventually, when you do let him go in a rounpen, just let him off his lead, and walk out of the roundpen. Take all pressure off. Throw some hay in there, let him eat and relax. Then, walk back in, pet him, brush him, love on him.

When he is comfortable with that, I would suggest lunging him in the roundpen, instead of letting him go free. Do not use a whip, but simply ask for him to walk the outside of the roundpen. After you have his trust with that, desensitize him to a whip. Then, after some time you should have no problem getting the old confident horse back, and he should easily transition.

** Don't be the rider who gallops all night and never sees the horse that is beneath him **
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post #5 of 27 Old 04-13-2012, 05:20 PM
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Who owns the horse? The girl that adopted him? The barn? You? Are you working with the horse for the barn? Or are you working with the horse out of the kindness of your heart. Unless you own the horse or the barn is paying you to work with him, let him be. Its not your problem.

Now if you still insist on working with this horse, I disagree with most of what has been said. He does need a firm but gentle hand working with him and not be babied. Treat him just like any other horse.

Most of the time I hear that people free lunge or even lunge on a line, they are doing it wrong. They make the horse do mindless circle. How often do you change his direction? At most he should only go 2 full circles before turning. He probably will be excited at first when you start. When he slows and relaxes, quit.

He has lost his trust and some respect for humans. Changing his direction will get his respect back. Treating him fairly will get his trust back.
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post #6 of 27 Old 04-13-2012, 05:49 PM
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I see some good suggestions here.I would also like to add something if I may.While you are in the round pen with him,get someone to silent partner and walk him around the pen while you are in the middle talking to him.Just try a few things to see what works best for him.I wish you the best with this boy.
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post #7 of 27 Old 04-13-2012, 06:00 PM
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I suggest using a different word than "baby": the horse has been feeling & friendliness-deprived. He needs to be felt of, felt for, then he'll respond by feeling back. Friendliness is the most important thing to the horse. I agree with those who say to forego longeing, roundpenning for now, due to the ruination from those things badly done, but instead let him relax in pen with hay, & play Friendly to earn his trust FIRST, then ask him to do stuff.

Relationship first, performance second.
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post #8 of 27 Old 04-14-2012, 05:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Northern View Post
I suggest using a different word than "baby": the horse has been feeling & friendliness-deprived. He needs to be felt of, felt for, then he'll respond by feeling back. Friendliness is the most important thing to the Friendly to earn his trust FIRST, then ask him to do stuff.

Relationship first, performance second.

Being a leader to him is more important than being a friend. A leader that is firm but fair. Someone to show him he doesn't need to be afraid. Someone to give him direction and encouragement. Not someone to be his BFF.
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Last edited by tinyliny; 04-14-2012 at 02:39 PM. Reason: removed belittling sentence
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post #9 of 27 Old 04-14-2012, 08:00 AM
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The first thing you need to do is stop taking him to the round pen at all. I think Round pens are great.. but if this horse has had negative experiences there, then that is NOT the place to go.

Do you know how to properly lunge a horse on a line? If not, learn that first. I think I would leave the lunge whip out of the picture and get and use a proper lunging cavesson. If you are lunging him in a halter STOP that and set him up properly. Lunge him somewhere else, NOT the round pen. Put the saddle on him and the side reins (loose until he warms up) and then shorten them after he is warmed up. Don't put them on where you are working him. Have them on with the saddle.. just loose. This way you only have to adjust their length.

If you take him to the round pen put a feed bucket with grain in there and a flake of the best hay this side of the moon, turn him in there and walk away. Stand about 20-30 feet away and let him figure out where the food is. As he is eating move in closer. The point is to make a positive association with the round pen and food is usually a good association. I would feed this horse his grain in the round pen.

Do you know how to drive a horse in Long Lines because that is another option. How is he when you get on his back? Hollow backed and wild eyed? Then don't ride him unless you are very good and very confident. If you can get him back to resason on his back but not lunging him, drop lunging and just ride him.

Coddling is not the way to go I do not believe. Getting him away from where he was damaged (the round pen) is. Do NOT free lunge this horse. He has been retrained to run from you. Retraining a horse takes time. Retraining means stopping when the horse does something right. Positive association of work ending when the horse has done the right thing can be very powerful.

IOW's you need to remind him of the basics. He has a foundation.. he has just been re-trained to forget it. This means starting the basics all over and reminding him. Start as if he was an unbroken 3 year old.

How is he in the stall? You may have to start there.

Just ideas. Without being there with the horse, that is all anyone can offer.

There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man. ~Winston Churchill
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Last edited by Elana; 04-14-2012 at 08:04 AM.
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post #10 of 27 Old 04-14-2012, 08:06 AM
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I cannot count the number of 'ruined' horses I have retrained and tried to retrain. Some come back and others don't. I think it all depends on several factors, the biggest being how good the foundation was BEFORE they were screwed up by some moron. Most horses come close to coming back to their foundation.

The first thing I always did was NOT work in the place they had their worst riding. If they were fouled up in the arena, like a barrel horse or roping horse that was ruined by being pushed too hard and was 'blown up' in the arena, then I would stay completely out of the arena while retraining. I would stay totally out of a round pen with this horse for a good long while.

As long as you keep putting this horse in a round pen and let him repeat the problem behavior he will do just that - repeat the behavior. The object of each session has to be to 'break' the cycle.

Sitting around doing nothing while you wait for him to decide to be a different horse is going to take longer than this horse might live and certainly will take longer than anyone is going to want to feed this useless beast. Go to work on the problems.

This horse has become very 'reactive'. A horse ONLY learns when it is in a responsive mode and not a reactive mode. Reactive horses are NOT thinking or learning. If their reactive state rises to the level of pure panic, they will learn absolutely nothing. They will just keep repeating the reactive behavior as a matter of habit. You have to break that cycle.

He is head shy. 'Attack' that reaction first. I would get up in his face with a whip, a jacket, a plastic sack, anything that gets a panic (run-from-it -- duck-and-dodge-it) response. I would NOT let him go forward or run from it, which is what a round pen lets him do. I would get in his face and only let him 'escape' by running backwards. I know I can go forward faster and longer than he can go backwards. I know he will stop and will get over it in one session. Just like I do with fly spray or the clippers, I would get him over fearing any move I make and anything I do. I use the old 'approach and retreat' method that is tried and true and very effective. I have not seen the panic reaction that did not go away. One session and I get the correct response. Three or four more sessions and I can approach the horse anywhere waving a nylon jacket in my hand -- I can jump up and down waving my arms right up in the horse's face.

The next thing I would do would be to start longing this horse far away from a round pen. I would keep him in a trot and not let him canter or run at all. I would put obstacles in his path that required thinking and maneuvering. He'll get over just wanting to run if you make that impossible. If he wants to keep going faster, just keep the rope short until he doesn't.

When he was reasonable on the longe line at the trot, I would just start riding him, mostly at a trot. I would teach him a very good 'one rein stop' WITHOUT using a disengagement so you have a good way to 'turn off' and stop any unwanted behavior.
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Last edited by Cherie; 04-14-2012 at 08:09 AM.
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