Weird Mare, Natural Horsemanship Past - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 04-14-2009, 01:11 AM Thread Starter
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Weird Mare, Natural Horsemanship Past

First, a bit of background. I've been around abused and neglected horses since I was 6, and I've rehabilitated 4 myself. What's going on with this mare is extremely weird to me, as she's not really afraid, in fact for all intents and purposes if you weren't listening to her she would be classified as bombproof. Some people seeing it as trying to mess with a good thing by trying to bring out he real personality, but right now I'm not sure if she even knows what that is.

I have recently purchased an old Tennessee Walker broodmare. She was my first horse that I didn't buy to ride, or that I had an emotional connection with, she was a breeding purchase. She is the daughter of a world grand champion and has some of the best papers I've ever seen. She is built like a refined Appaloosa and colored like one, if she didn't gait I'd swear she was really an App.

I didn't have much time with her the day I reviewed her for purchase. I picked up her feet, waved a bag, checked for vices, etc, but didn't really go to know her personality as a storm was coming. I was told by her former owner she may have had some serious and intensive natural horsemanship training when she was young because she was a bit of a "handful." She stayed in Kentucky for several months before she was brought down here to GA in just the last few weeks.

When she first arrived, I was really surprised how in charge she was, and I totally loved it. My alpha mare is a mean old thing that rules by fear, and she was the only assertive mare I'd ever known for any period of time, so when she was able to assert herself into the herd by standing her ground rather than chasing, biting and kicking, I was pretty excited. She was, personality wise, the picture of what I breed for until I got her into a halter.

As soon as I walked out with a halter, the day after she was let out in the field with the other horses, she stood stock still and evenly on all four legs with her neck parallel to the ground. I stopped, because her movement to this position was so sudden it actually scared my other mare. When I started walking again, she moved away a little, but when she stopped she stood stock still in the same position again (she has never done any showing, and it's an unnatural and uncomfortable looking position if you look at it, for a Walker) and let me catch her. As soon as I was close enough to feel how her attitude was, it was like the horse from the day before was gone. She was completely emotionally closed off.

I lead her around through the forest for about an hour like I do all my new horses or horses I'm working with, some bonding time to try to get to know each other. Generally with the squirrels, gophers, streams, deer and birds, their ears are perked forward and they are engaged with their surroundings and me. This mare, however, was only listening to me. It was like she had blinders on. She wouldn't walk over a log without me asking her to, or step over a stream. I had to give her permission with encouragement, body language, or the lead rope to do anything. Her eyes were glazed over, and she just looked zoned out while walking. This mare had a full health and reproductive workup done before leaving KY, there isn't anything physically wrong with her.

Over the last few weeks, as I've been working with her, it's only become stranger. She is the perfect horse in the field, confident, calm, assertive but not too much, willing, and intelligent. In hand, or even near a human, she stops being an individual and starts becoming a piece of equipment. Almost like she's used to being regarded as an ATV rather than an animal or something other than machinery. I know her last owner, she never rode her, but she said she had similar problems and never could get the mare to open up to her or anyone else. Same with the owner before her, who wanted her as a riding horse, but couldn't stand the emotional deadness she gives off. He believed it was from the owner before him, a man who wanted to be the next Monty Roberts or Clinton Anderson and experimented on his horses. His name isn't on her papers, but I'm trying to track him down.

The thing that I notice the most is that she simply doesn't react to anything. She doesn't ever look interested, whether it's a food bucket, another horse, or a squirrel running directly in front of her if she is on a lead or near a person. If she is off a lead, she reacts as any other good old horse would. It almost feels to me like she doesn't believe she is free to make any sort of choice whatsoever around a human without being given express permission. It feels like if I could just get her to react to something, feel an authentic emotion around a person, I could get a foot hold and get her going. But right now, nothing has worked.

I've met a few horses in my time that seem to have a touch or a full blown case of PTSD. Sometimes, with her, I think she may be one of them.

Any advice? Let me know if you need any more info.

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post #2 of 11 Old 04-14-2009, 11:35 AM
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Oh my, that's sad. I think what may be even more sad is that some people wouldn't even notice. They would think they had the most perfect horse in the world and would love that attitude and never look into it! I'm glad you've recognized it and you're trying to help her!

Now I've never had any experience with this sort of thing, but maybe could you trying giving her a bucket of grain while your with her? I know how excited my horses get when they're about to get some. Maybe let her see you making up the bucket, then give it to her. At first she probably won't care much, but if you keep doing it, everyday or every other day she'll start anticipating getting some grain while your making it. That would bring out a little character? Then if she looks kind of happy eating it just love her up and praise big time! Add any kind of her favorite food carrots, apples, whatever she may like. Experiment! I know you don't want to build a bond on treats, but it'd be a start then if it does start working just slowly start working her off the treats and give her more praise. Also, try (could be already) showing a lot of emotion around her. Be exubrant as possible! If you see a squirrel, try to spook at it as a horse would. If you have the bucket of treats try to be excited as possible, smile, laugh, chat happily to her about anything and everything! While your walking talk to her, pet her, give her treats randomly. Really open yourself up to her, maybe you'll get something back in return?

Like I said before, I don't have any experience about this kind of thing. I could be totally wrong! I'm sure you'll get more comments on this thread, so maybe some people could shed some insight on what I just said? Until then good luck with her and feel free to PM me anytime!!! Keep us updated on her progress!!!

Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. -Emerson
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post #3 of 11 Old 04-14-2009, 12:08 PM
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Wow, poor animal. :( As said before, Kudos to you for understanding her.
Why not try riding another horse in her presence? Put your mare into your arena, and ride the other horse with her. Ride like the horse you are on is trying to stimulate play, or even just going for a reaction. See if you can get her to hook onto the other horse and follow you guys around, and allow her to be as wild and carefree as she wishes. Since she is normal around her herdmates, adding you to the equation might slowly open her up.
One thing you try is to go out and put a halter on her, and then do nothing. Grab a bucket and a book and sit there, munch on some carrots or apples. What she's used to is halter=go to work/pay attention to human or else.
Sit there long enough and see if she realizes you aren't asking her anything. It might spark her curiosity as to what exactly you are doing, and venture to find out. Maybe she'll even ask for a carrot?
If she snaps out of her zone and actually gets curious to you, don't be quick to jump up and start doing stuff. Just let her be. Undo the halter and walk away. Next time do the same thing, only a different activity to spark some more curiosity.
Horses that I have known to be emotionally shut down, sparking their curiosity again have given me great results.
I will be interested to see what other replies you get.

In riding, a horse's energy is like a river- guided by the banks but not stopped by them.
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post #4 of 11 Old 04-14-2009, 05:37 PM
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I feel so sorry for this horse. This is a classic example of a horse going very introverted when around people. Whatever happened to her in her past, when there is pressure or a situation she can't handle she goes inside herself to cope. Unfortunately it sounds like even the PRESENCE of a human is too much for's so sad. These horses can be very dangerous, because at some point, the explosion WILL come, and it's usually pretty bad.

Horses like this can be very hard to read, but it sounds like you can read her pretty well. This will give you an edge that you will very much need. If she were my horse I would start all over. I'd start by sitting in her stall/paddock with her and doing nothing. Sit for at least 30 minutes with her. Don't try to touch her or get her to come over. Just go in and sit. It's very important she learn to be curious about people and builds confidence around them. It sounds like things have always been done TO her, not FOR her, so she's probably never had the chance to investigate a human. I'd do this every day with her for awhile. Keep mental notes on her behavior....does she look at you? Does she go to the far side of the stall? Is she tense? Is she introverted and "checked out?" Those kinds of things.

When you go to halter her I'd rub her all over with it. Rub her until she relaxes. Do loads of friendly things to help her gain confidence in you.

Introverted horses like this don't ask questions. They've had that knocked out of them. So when you work with her do things VERY slowly and be VERY clear. Reward the slightest THOUGHT, the slightest TRY. If she goes into her introverted state, just rub her softly and be with her. Have your energy down very low and wait until she comes out of it. Sometimes you might feel like you're doing nothing just by hanging with her, but you will be building rapport with her and that is crucial.

If things go right she will start to ask questions. When she does WALK AWAY. Just turn your back and walk away. That is such a big release for a horse and it will help her have confidence to look at you.

It's hard to tell you what I'd do in this case through typing....a lot of it is about feeling the horse's energy and reading the very subtle body language. I've worked with introverted horses before and while they can be challenging, when they start coming around it's SUCH an amazing feeling.

I'm just going to throw this out there as a thought.....but have you considered doing some Parelli with her? Parelli has a DVD out on "Horsenalities" and it goes over this kind of horse and I think it would be very valuable to you in helping your mare. It gives you specific strategies to use for this kind of horse.
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post #5 of 11 Old 04-15-2009, 01:54 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for all of the replies!

Shananigan, I have tried multiple times with food, and I am still trying. No luck whatsoever with any reaction, negative or positive. I've even tried letting her nibble, then taking it away from her, but she doesn't even react to that. Every other living horse would chase the food bucket when I put it behind my back, or at least pay attention to it. Not this mare. I also have noticed that she doesn't mimic very well, that she has defined some sort of clear line that comes across to me as "me horse, you human" and she exists somehow in that polarity.

koomy56, I haven't tried riding around her yet because I'm trying to find a horse in my herd she feels comfortable with that is rideable. The only one she has buddied up with is a club footed mare, who has never had a saddle on. My two geldings are focused on trying to make her "theirs" so she bucks at them when they're within 10 feet. Lol, with this one, only time will tell. Also, with treats, she does eat them, thankfully (every other mentally abused horse I've worked with took months to convince them a treat wouldn't bite). However, she seems to consider them grain, not anything special. We're working on it, but she still has the same reaction to an apple, carrot or peppermint as she does to all stock feed.

Spirithorse, that's exactly what I've started to do. Even though she didn't need it, I pretended to re-halter break her, then started on basic things I would do with any of my foals that might be a little irritating (fingers in ears, nose, light lip tugging, tapping all over with a stick, etc) hoping to get some reaction. I do energy reading for horses (I did it when I was little, long before I knew it was a different thing and that there was a name) and she just comes off as the strangest thing I've felt ever. She has a "stiff" feeling to the outskirts of her, like a physical barrier. It keeps most people who don't know what they're feeling at arm's reach, and in her mind keeps her safe. However, now that she knows it doesn't have an effect on me, she's given up on even that and withdraws even further. I'm walking a fine line, trying to respect her barriers, but at once trying to keep her sociosensually aware by loosening them up.

The biggest thing, to me, with this mare is getting a reaction in the presence of a human. Whether it be frustration, fear, happiness, annoyance, whatever, I'd be happy to see it. I've done everything I can to let her know through that fog of hers that if she wants to react, she can do so in a safe manner without fear of something negative coming from me. But unlike most other horses, I feel like the message just isn't getting through.

If any of you have read the Tao of Equus, this might make sense, but if not I'll try to explain it. You know how when you run or do physical activities, you can burn off stress or anger or fear? I feel like with her, something happened and she wasn't allowed to run it off or run away from it, and it's sitting at the center of her in this shell she wasn't given the tools to open, for a solid 20 years or so. If that makes any sense whatsoever!

She has stopped doing the "halter stance" as I call it as of today. We'll see if she is still at it tomorrow. Thanks for all the advice!
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post #6 of 11 Old 04-15-2009, 01:55 PM
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You are describing a pretty extreme introverted horse. Poor thing :( Have you seen her go catatonic?
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post #7 of 11 Old 04-15-2009, 05:09 PM
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Without seeing the horse, it's of course not easy to give a solid idea....but I'll try.

Theory 1.
she was overly desensitized to the point of she simply has no reaction to things. I've noticed that when some folks do NH stuff, they overdue the desensitizing and don't balance it out with sensitizing = a horse that seems dull to the world when the halter is on (horse is "normal" when halter is off). If you ask for energy brisk walk, trot instantly, lope instantly you get a 'blah' response typically, possibly bordering on crabby (or not. some horses just respond well but without "emotion" so to speak)


Theory 2.
she was not ever allowed to "express" herself, whoever started her punished anything other than exactly what they were asking from the horse.
The so-called "push button" horse that does exactly what you ask, and offer no personality


Theory 3.
she's just a business horse. I've met a few business horses. these types are not your "I want to bond" types. it's just not in their personality to give a crap one way or the other. you put the halter on, you ask em to do whatever it is and that's that. they don't really care to associate with people. they might enjoy a scratch or a rub on occassion, but they're really not in it for the connection. It's a job. tell me what you want, then I'll do it. Then leave me alone.

It's not something to feel sorry about. It might just be the way she is. There are some humans who are aloof and stand-offish. It's just their way. If this isn't the personality that you want, you might of picked the wrong horse. I wouldn't go about trying to change her, no different than I'd try to change a person who's traits I don't particularly care for. Instead, I'd respect her for being her, and just go on about asking her what I want and doing a lot of rubbing her face, hugging her head, groomings with my hand and a brush in between lessons.

If she's actually TENSE and shows a hard eye, stiffness in her body, any sign of a ewe-neck, stuff like that....then I'd have to say, she's the type of blow up horse and I'd be sure to do some training to take care of that.

But if not, and she's just a "business" horse, then leave her be and go on about asking her what you want and don't take it personal if she doesn't reciprocate your friendliness. She may eventually come around or not.

Last edited by Calamity Jane; 04-15-2009 at 05:13 PM.
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post #8 of 11 Old 04-18-2009, 05:51 PM
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The poor old girl D: she's lucky to have a patient, understanding person such as yourself (even if she's to 'fogged out' to realize it yet). I've heard of Amish horses like this. Absolutely no personality what so ever.

I couldn't imagine training a horse to be like that. It would make me ill to just be around them. The 'halter stance' you described sounds like she really was over trained and forced to hold her head down when haltering. I expect my horses to hold there head down, at a relaxed position when halter, but never as low as you described.

I'd almost say she wasn't mentally stimulated, really played with as a foal, encouraged to live and love, and even when older. She was shown that when a human approaches, she should respond quietly and promptly to there EVERY. COMMAND. NO. MATTER. WHAT. WITH. NO. OTHER. MOVEMENTS. BECAUSE. SHE. IS. PROPERTY. AND. NOT. A. LIVING. CREATURE.

A well trained horse responds to commands and cues without a fuss, like my rescue Sam does. He's very easy to handle and very willing to do what I ask.
But who ever did this to this god. It's animal cruelty. I hope you find the person who did this and raise hell.

Wait! I'll fix it....
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post #9 of 11 Old 05-12-2009, 05:30 AM Thread Starter
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Hey all! Just wanted to give an update. She's doing a good bit better quite suddenly. For a while, I had fears we were slipping backwards, as she was becoming a little more withdrawn away from people and towards the herd. Now my mom's broodmare (Delite) has just started to show signs that foaling is very soon, and Massy wants EVERYTHING to do with what is going on with the foaling mare. I think once the mares due this summer wean their foals, I'll put them with Massy and that'll help a good deal.

She adopted my yearling, and has been teaching her some truly awesome manners. The filly was already promising in the personality dept, but now that she has a babysitter who lets her get away with nothing, she has absolutely blossomed. It's been great for both of them.

Foals, and children, seem to be the key to this mare. It's been two or three years since she's had a foal, I'm considering breeding her this year or next year. But either way, motherhood comes naturally to her and it opens her up. She let a 4 year old boy hang off her neck, pull on her nose and ears, and instead of pulling away like most horses, she started licking his head. It was so sweet from this reserved mare, I really almost cried.

So that's the update. Better around babies, and no worse overall. Thanks for all the support!
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post #10 of 11 Old 09-09-2009, 02:41 PM
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WOW. Sound like natural horsemanship gone wrong. I've seen stuff like this before, because while NH is supposed to help horses gain confidence and restore their curiosity and sensitivity, a bad trainer can take it too far in one direction or the other and make a horse that is obedient and nothing else. Basically, what happens is that instead of working though fears and interests, the trainer just puts a band-aid on the behavior, which trains the horse out of any reaction to anything at all while a human is around, even though she probably experiences the same fears and interests as she did before.

What I would do is switch things up for her to wake her up a bit. Do something with her that she has never done before. If she hasn't longed free in a round pen, try that. If she hasn't been ground driven, try that. I find that for horses that are pretty unspookable, the best thing you can do for them to wake up their sensitivity is to make them move. Hope this helps!
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