Suggestions on gaining trust? (Really long post)
I've mentioned this little guy a few times on other posts, and would like opinions/suggestions on a particular issue I have with him, which is his lack of engagement and trust , whether it be with me, anyone else, or other horses. He obviously has issues, which is why this is so long (to give insight).
The other horses are playful, bright eyed and just act like normal horses (they are 6 and 7 years old, he's 2) and will try to play with him, but he just acts annoyed in general and wants no part of it. occasionally he caves in, but as soon as he seems like he's having a good time (ears prick forward, etc) he shuts down. He will be around them, but he doesn't even seem to really have a place in the "herd". They don't pick on him, or bully him (when they were first put together, they had their pecking order going on and he held his own, but more in a "just leave me alone" way). He's a herd of 1.
He will play by himself. He likes to go swimming in the pond- I mean, out to the middle where his feet can't reach, he just doesn't seem to know how to play with others. If the other horses seem interested in what he's doing, he quits. (They don't approach him in a dominant manner, just a curious manner). He is INCREDIBLY smart, probably the smartest horse I've met. He figures out how things work very quickly- knots, latches, clips, gates, buckles, whatever.
While working him, he is respectful (now). He listens, he pays attention and (at this point) has become willing- but he is extremely standoffish. I am now able to handle all parts of his body- feet, belly, head, ears, tail, even the dreaded sheath- with little or no objection. But, even if I scratch him in "the good spot" (which for him, is under his chin/neck/chest) it's like he locks down and doesn't know how to enjoy it. Kinda like.. He likes it, but it makes him uncomfortable to like it. (Best way I can explain it).
I don't particularly care if he "likes me" (that would be a plus) but what bugs me is that he doesn't seem to enjoy anything, and I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions as to how to get him engaged and learn how to like being a horse and loosen up? (Why so serious?)
About his history and my work with him so far:
He was found as a stray, the sheriff said he knew where he came from and "shouldn't go back to that place". Didn't give any info otherwise. He was very underweight, though not critically so- he wasn't gelded. Vet said he was about a year and a half. The day after he was gelded, I picked him up. He was pushy, but not overly so (no more than a horse without training is). So, I worked on leading and general handling, he quickly learned about not being pushy. The first day he trailered fine (hesitant, but not anything out of the norm), and I got him to back out of the trailer fine with the normal amount of struggle.
His automatic reaction to anything unpleasant was kicking- including water hoses, handling feet (or anything touching his feet), touching anywhere behind his withers, etc. (The vet had sedated him for his gelding and evaluation, but didn't see anything wrong with him aside from being generally underweight and not cared for). I didn't do ground work (aside from leading and handling) for the first 3 months (he needed to improve physically and I had a fractured ankle). Aside from being massively over reactive with his kicking action, he didn't direct it and didn't seem aggressive. He did start off being a little bit aggressive with food, but that was checked early on and didn't have issues being aggressive with food afterward. (I don't put up with that at all)
The first day I worked with him on ground work, I suspected no real problem. There was no real red flags that arose suggesting anything out of the ordinary, aside from the food (which again, was resolved quickly). He only pinned his ears in uncomfortable (to him) situations, but never directed it toward me, and got over those things without any real incident, just time. I knew he wasn't very trusting, but he hadn't displayed anything incredibly bad, so I was more or less just going to evaluate him and see if he knew anything already (which i doubted) and just work on sending and yielding. Nothing to major, right? Short and sweet.
Well, that didn't happen. I tried to send him, he didn't budge. I urged him forward, nothing. I tapped him LIGHTLY (this was a stick he was familiar with, as i had used it before to desensitize his body to touch) and ... Well, he moved, that's for sure!
He started kicking and going bats***. I ignored this, knowing how reactive he was to touch and just wanted him to figure out "forward". Well, he eventually figured out the forward thing, just not how I expected.
He lunged toward me, striking at me with teeth barred, and from that point forward was a whole different ball game. He decided I was the threat. I was not incredibly ready for this, so we went at it until he backed down and moved forward, without rearing, flipping, striking, kicking or charging toward me. Then I stopped, let him rest, and tied him up for the rest of the day til I figured out my game plan. (He was used to being tied, at this point)
Knowing that this particular reaction was something that HAD to be dealt with, we continued working everyday for about a week- and worked for as long as it took to get to a "good point" whether it was half and hour or two hours. My goal was any kind of progress, I wanted a little bit more each day. I also continued working on handling his feet, etc as to establish something he was (by then) comfortable with.
Eventually, I figured out, by working with him and really paying attention, that he is just very insecure, and fearful- it's like he ALWAYS felt trapped and needs to fight, once he figures out there's another out, he takes it, but it's incredibly hard for him to find it, and his natural tendency is to fight.
He doesn't fight anymore. Occasionally he'll "kick out" if I surprise him, but that's few and far inbetween. He's slowly figuring out there is another out aside from fighting, but it's still not his automatic reaction and you you can tell he try's very hard to fight the urge. (Instead of kicking, when he has the urge, he pins his tail and swishes it vigorously. When picking his back feet, I have had to tie his tail up with a rubber band so he does beat my face up, but he's okay with that now).
All around, he's gotten better. Way less tail swishing, way less kicking (no striking, charging or biting) way less ear pinning, etc. knowing that he can explode and will explode, I push him "just this side" of that breaking point whenever I work with him, and we get a little further each time I work with him.
I have gotten to wear I can saddle him, I've laid on him and made him walk in a circle on both sides (not actually sitting, as I want an easy out if he does flip out). He's responsive with ground work, yields well, flexes well, he does fairly well at backing, but he struggles a bit. He does do it, to a certain point and then sticks and gets uncomfortable with it. Each day, I get him to take a couple more steps.
He's turning into a good little horse (still has a way to go) but I just can't hit that "breakthrough" where he really seems to accept things. Not particularly trying to think of him in a humanly way (which i know i have been referring to all along, but that's because I'm human and it's the best way I can describe it) but he seems like there just this giant wall around him, and he's always "just this side" of flipping out. He just doesn't seem to enjoy anything, he just "deals" with it. (By anything, I mean, anything involving any other creature- including human).
Although I trust at this point that he won't attack me (though I'm still careful) I can't trust he wouldn't if pushed too hard too quickly, since you can see fighting is the automatic reaction (and you can really see when he is pushed he tries very hard to "not go there" and not panic, but it's still there.)
Also, I'm hesitant to do any real work under saddle until I can get some kind of eagerness from him. The last thing I want, seeing that he has that propensity to become overwhelmed and possibly blow up easily (even if it hasn't happened in awhile) is to be on his back when that happens. When I did lay over him and make him walk and flex, he showed absolutely no problem with it, so that was encouraging. He was slightly hesitant to move, but seemed okay with the change up of me being on him, rather than on the ground. He didn't act like he was anywhere near blowing up, but I didn't really push it either. Since he was doing so well, I left it at that. Despite his issues, he's actually fairly willing to accept new things. He's definitely NOT spookey, his issues seems to come with anything that appears aggressive to him, but he try's incredibly hard. (And I really think its more panic than aggression as we've progressed and I've worked with him).
Sorry for length! But, I've never seen such a young horse so completely on guard, but I've seen glimpses of what can be a great little horse, and want to try and encourage him to let that side of himself out. I just think that if I can get thru to that, he will be better and more willing all around. I've got the respect, but I'm having a hard time with the trust part, and would like suggestions on breaking through.
Honestly sounds to me like there is pain issue somewhere with this horse.
Could be something easily found and treated, could be something broken or pinched somewhere, could be deep seated abscesses in muscle layers, all sorts of things.
But this horse sounds miserable basically, and needs to be looked at by equine vet.
Everyone uses the training methods that they are comfortable with. Mine are unconventional, but work for me...I can only tell you how I build trust.
I take mine for walks - just a halter and lead and leisurely long walks through the woods on my trails, reassuring them as various sounds, sights, and smells get their attention or gets them a bit spooky. I especially like taking them out on windy days when they are naturally more prone to be nervous. This accomplishes several things...it establishes you as the decision maker in where they go and what they do, the constant reassurance fosters an attitude of trust where they look to you for security and safety, and it establishes you and the horse as a team. Once these are ingrained in your horse, you can honestly do just about anything you want with them, and they become far more willing, and even look forward to working with you. It sounds ridiculously simple, and that's because it is. The problem is most people get in a big hurry and simply don't invest the time it really takes. A couple of walks on the trail just doesn't do it - it takes time and patience, but heck, it is a pleasure to go for walks in the woods anyway - why nhot take your horse along as a companion?...
First, get yourself a trainer who knows how to handle a problem horse.
If you aren't extremely careful, that horse could potentially kill you. It hardly seems the horse respects you, and you don't seem to be a very competent leader. Before a horse can ever "trust" someone, they need to have someone who can be their leader so they can absolve that nastiness, the fear, and insecurity.
Stop working on "trust" and start working on leadership because that is the only way you will get it.
I work with a TWH rescue who is a nervous nancy, and quite a belligerant fool to myself. I suspect that this is from poor handling of his previous owner that was selling to the meat market, and he just simply does not respect women. Men on the other hand, he is a mess.
I don't see my instructor working to gain his trust. I see him moving his feet and demanding he does what he says when he gets overly squirrely. I don't work on trust because he is an ass who could potentially kill me (and has socked me in the stomach with his head before) and I'm not willing to risk it.
Ask, tell, demand. If you can't get that horse's feet moving, you can't get anywhere.
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buy buck brannamans dvds or clinton anderson. then do all the ground work. you'r trying to beg for trust instead of demanding respect. this type of horse(I had a mare like this) needs respect first, then trust comes later. they are weird to work with. my mare was a mustang that had been roughed up by people pretty bad, then starved. if given the choice they would rather not interact with people, or other horses. So dont give him a choice.
have you ever watched a rude young horse act agressively towards the lead mare? let me tell you, they are pretty sure they're gonna die for the next 10 seconds.
i actually think you need to push this guy. what he needs to learn is how to deal with stressful situations. if you always stop just short of him having issues he will never learn. he can be pushed hard, agression gets him no where, but figuring out the right path will.
Trust is something that comes with respect. If he respects you, he will trust. He just has to know that appropriate behavior is not optional. I'm in the same boat with two clients horses right now. Their spookiness and goofy behavior has decreased a lot in the weeks I've had them because they are becoming very respectful. So, I suggest Clinton Anderson methods. They give the horse something to think about and specific rules they must follow. That brings about respect and then trust.
1) I don't ***** foot with him. He is demanded to be respectful, and does what he's told, mindful of my space, and his feet move a great deal in the direction I choose whether I am working with him directly, or if I'm just out in the pasture. More or less, on the ground, he is easily handled. I just simply don't push him too far too fast outside of his comfort zone. If he slacks off (being lazy)or even looks at me wrong, he does get reprimanded (I demand a yes mam response, none other, i give him time to figure out the correct response IF he doesnt already know it, and thats the only way he's treated differently) This is for me, or other people (though I almost exclusively handle him myself). He does currently get sticky backing up (he's fine in hand) past a certain distance, so I work on that and get him better each day.
Once he finds that other way out, he's golden, I have taken things slow with him because I don't want to give him the opportunity to freak out and I don't want to push him to regress to that, as I sense it's still there. He, honestly, does not act like he WANTS to be that way, and like he WANTS to do good. In that sense, it has been a pleasure to work with him, despite the challenges.
(I am familiar with Buck and Clint, and I do think in this case Clint's approach is a good tactic, and I have been fairly well going in that direction with him)
He's fine (now) with being touched, groomed, lead, etc. He's respectful of space, and is fine with me entering his. He doesn't argue, and doesn't threaten to. He hasn't "attacked" past that first week of working with him, about 4 months ago. He has, though very rarely now, over reacted to new things if I expected too much, too quickly (learning curve on my part and his). I was mearly stating the history, and struggles to give some insight. If he was anything less than respectful, then I wouldn't be asking about this part. In fact, if it were just me, and he seemed to act normal otherwise, I wouldn't worry about it. I don't particularly care if he's my buddy. He seems just very on guard, distant, and doesn't seem to know how to really relax unless he's just completely alone. And that may just be the way he is, I don't know, but I've never met a "loner" horse that will shut down and get tense when approached pleasantly, or someone (or thing) is making nice gestures (whether it be me giving him a scratch, or other horses wanting to play with him while he is entertaining himself) ... By tense, I don't mean like he's going to blow, just that he seems to not really know how to react)
2) He doesn't seem in pain. He moves nicely, he's not stiff and he bends well, he doesn't carry his head high or toss it around, so I don't suspect pain being an issue. He's sure footed, doesn't trip a lot, and doesn't seem physically at ill ease. He just seems mentally in a different existence. That being said, since my horse will be going to the vet for her coggins and such, I can easily take him with. His feet/teeth are in good shape now, as well.
3) Walking is not a bad idea. I don't work him every time I go catch him (he was he was never hard to catch, but I didn't want to make him so). And I actually do recall taking him for a walk on this large ranch I was doing some training on and he seemed to enjoy that, come to think of it, but I haven't done that in while.
He definitely is a "different" little guy, but he tries a lot and all in all gives a lot.
And I think it would benefit him all around if I could find a way to assist him with being "okay" with the "good parts"- not just with work (which he really is doing very well with) to help make him a well rounded horse. So, was just seeing if anyone knew or had any suggestions on exercises (or whatever) to assist with developing that thinking part, and further tune down that reactive, defensive part (which is a lot better, but I can see him fight with it when he gets frustrated) and until I see that part gone, I can't with good conscious, give the ok for adoption.
And for what it's worth, and I've been training horses off and on for 50 years, unlike most of what you will hear, a horse will trust you far better if you earn it - not demand it, and you earn it by coercing the horse to fall into the trust naturally - not forcing it. If I had a dollar for every time someone whose "trusting" horse bucked, bit, kicked, or acted up, I could take a trip around the world...when I hear those stories I just sit back and chuckle...
Before I was much past the start my immediate thought was a pain issue.
I would suggest that your vet scopes him for ulcers. He had a bad start and if he does have an issue in his gut, this would have been made worse by the changes (although for the better) and the gelding.
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