How would you work with this horse?
I rarely -- or never -- post these questions because I don't think they can be dealt with via the internet. But, I am curious as to what other trainers (Cherie? Maura?) would do with a horse like this.
The horse is a rising 8-year old Welsh Sec D mare. She was broken in late, at 5 or 6, as she was originally intended to be a broodmare, but evidently had complications with her first foal so was sold on by the breeder. Ended up at a breaking yard. They got her started, barely, but then went bust and all the horses were auctioned. This horse went to a riding school, where she had a job as a lead rein pony until her current owner bought her. So as you can imagine, this horse has had very little basic training. Current owner is greener than the horse. She does not want to do much, just have a happy hack, but thought that in order to be a useful equine citizen of the world, the horse should have some more schooling. Unsurprisingly, she also struggles to get the horse to hack by itself and so on.
Anyway, this is where I come in. I've been riding the horse once per week since about August (with a break from Dec to Feb because their arena froze), trying to give her some basics. The good news is that the horse understands basic leg and seat aids, both longitudinally and laterally, is starting to understand bending, steers, and can go forward into a nice contact. As she did none of this before, I'm pleased with this progress. The bad news is that the horse's most intransigent issue is her spookiness and reactivity. When something scares her, you completely lose her. And she fixates on certain things being scary and that becomes the end of the discussion. Her usual reaction is to slam on the brakes when you approach object in question, blow off all driving aids, and throw her head one way and shoulders the other. Now, if my yard owner were to pile a stack of 2x4s just outside of the arena, my own horse would spook at it because it's a new thing that is not supposed to be there, and then within five minutes, not be bothered at all. This little Welshie never gets beyond the first stage. It is as if the horse isn't interested in what we (people) have to say. She is, in all things, very much a "horse's horse." People are providers of food, but she's not interested in us beyond that. With de-spooking, I have tried the approach and retreat method, I have tried working her and ignoring (as best I can) the reactivity and the object in question, and all manner of things in between. I get on her case and make her work hard when she does her stop and throw the shoulders to the outside routine. The horse just doesn't care what I do (or don't do). I am aware that horse is like she is because she isn't confident or secure when working in the arena and away from other horses and feels on edge in this situation, so has to be in flight mode. Quietly riding through it and keeping her mind and feet busy with lots of transitions and figures, which is what works for most horses I have ridden, hasn't made a blind bit of difference.
Her owner sometimes hacks her out on the weekends but doesn't do much with her during the week. I have tried encouraging the owner to do more groundwork (as it is not productive for either of them if owner rides her in school) during the week, to get the horse more accustomed to being taken out and doing stuff with people. This isn't really happening -- they don't really "do" groundwork here or see it the same way we do in the US, so I don't think owner has a conceptual framework for these ideas. I have also encouraged owner to lunge/long rein horse in the arena, but owner doesn't (though she sometimes free schools her -- but productively, i.e. join-up). It also does not help that owner has tried in the past and failed to desensitize the horse to things like plastic bags, and is now convinced that the horse will never get over her fear of plastic bags and other objects.
If the horse had 30 days of continuous training, by me or someone better than me, things might be different, but that won't happen. Similarly, while this horse is wholly inappropriate for this owner and owner on some level knows that, there isn't even a remote chance that she will sell the mare and buy herself a schoolmaster. I also can't ride the horse more than once per week, as she is about an hour's drive from me and owner can't afford to have me there more often.
Given these limitations, what would you do with this horse? How else would you help her learn that really, life is easier when you do what we ask and are not afraid of everything.
I've got a mare in for training who sounds very similar to yours thesilverspear so I can relate to the difficulties you're facing. The mare came to me because she had shied, then bolted and bucked, eventually dislodging her experienced rider. The object she had shied at was a stationary but novel item placed in her usual environment.
Since she's been here I have diagnosed some deficits in her basic training- she didn't have a good stop and was confused about go. She tended to stall and drift whenever she was anxious about things (which is often). One minute she'd be working nicely and the next she'd lock onto something I couldn't see or hear and I was suddenly sitting on a leaking petrol tanker with a smoke in my hand.
I have worked on ensuring there is an excellent bolt stop- two handed not one rein stop variety. The stop I am looking for is that the HQ drops and the hindlegs tuck under with a small skid. Kind of like a tiny reining stop. As my mare was very heavy to rein cues at times I've unfortunately had to use stronger rein pressures than I like, however by associating the impending rein cue with a seat cue and releasing immediately the stop becomes light with few repetitions.
I've then gone back to making sure I get the same response to cues for go, stop and turn each and every time I give them. Any stalling, speeding up, drifting or not turning is deleted and then I cue again. I keep repeating until I get three to five soft, calm, immediate responses in a row- making sure to give her breaks etc. I am always aiming for self carriage in speed and line so that she can develop relaxation. This gives me the tools to then deal with the loss of brain focus. So even when the environment is having a big hold on her attention I go back to getting soft stops, slows, turns, changes in direction etc. I am finding this is reducing her propensity to trial explosive responses to stimuli that she is anxious about.
In regards to approaching visual stimuli she is scared of I have changed from the advance retreat approach because it allowing her to perform too many random unwanted deviations in line, changes in speed etc as we approached the object. The randomness reduces predictability and controllability in her umwelt (world) which only increased the anxiety. I now focus very much on ensuring that she approaches scary objects at my speed and on my line. I delete line deviations by getting the forelegs back to where I want them (with direct turns and indirect turns or whip taps on the shoulder) and I correct speed deviations with go cues (heel nudges and whip taps behind the girth where needed). Of course I am tactful in the way I do this and make sure I avoid using so much pressure she trials a big response. I do allow her time to evaluate the object as we get closer by letting her stop to look at it and raise or lower her head depending on what it is and its size. But once I cue go I keep cueing it until I get it so that the steps towards it are the only thing that is rewarded by the release of the go cue as soon as she responds correctly.
I have found that getting the go, stop and turn working from soft cues which are responded to immediately has reduced her anxiety overall when ridden and meant I have been able to get her to approach and then touch objects which we previously approached sideways, or not at all.
Not sure if any of this is a help and good luck with your mare. Good on you for helping with her as well- its a hard situation when you have limited time.
What do you mean by approach and retreat? everyone has different versions of this.
Reeco was a spooky idiot who went into panic mode so quickly that you didnt have a chance to do anything about it!
The method that worked with him was getting him to follow spooky things. so flappy plastic bag on the end of a stick, walking with him on a line and waving it around me, always moving away from him but keeping tesion on the rope so that he had to follow. Eventualy curiosity got the better of him and he went from trying to run away to trying to stop it moving by putting a foot on it! I also waved it around his ears and only stopped when he stopped reacting. So if he spooked the bag stayed flapping above his ears, when he relaxed the bag was removed. You can now hang plastic bags off his ears!
The lady who trained Reeco (melanie watson) is incredible at this and she has relatively inexpensive DVD's available that deal with ground work and despooking
Instinctive Horse Training - Horse Training through Natural Horsemanship
(The DVD is the rope halter one)
Probably something to give the lady structured advice. Melanie is also quite happy to give advice over the phone.
I would be looking into thorough vet check. Excessive pain will do this, of hidden kind, not something that shows up such as lameness.
And wonder too about Lyme disease or something similar in your area? A horse that has had that will be excessively spooky too, and if new to you all, may not know what she has had. I don't know what might be there though, but am sure you will.
Plants will also produce some of these things, locoweed here will, and some others too.
She could also have something wrong with sight maybe?
Do you know her breeding and if the horses are prone to be like this?
Palomine - you may be on to something with her breeding. As a welsh D a lot of them are "fire breathing dragons" who a spooky, difficult and generaly a pain the proverbial if you dont knwo what you are doing.
There are of course nice quiet sensible section D's but these tend to be the exception rather than the rule!
Yes, I am suspecting this horse's main problem is that she is a Welsh D. When I saw them this past Thursday, the owner told me she had researched her lines and they are notoriously sharp and spooky, even for Welsh Ds. Great.
This horse, on the plus side, is not a panic bolter. She's more of a panic freezer and or will stop and spin. On occasion, she will drop her hindquarters and scoot, but only for a stride or two. When I first started working with her, I thought, "All this horse needs is to be clear on the concept of moving forward off the leg and seat aids and that will sort her out" (I didn't know much about Welsh Ds at the time). The horse was extremely backwards-thinking at the time and did not really understand even basic aids and had no "go" installed to speak of. So I did that -- the horse will now go nicely forward off a soft leg aid. Until she gets to something she doesn't like. Then the head comes up and she slams on the brakes and will ignore the leg if you ask her to go towards the scary object. Because I don't want this horse to understand any more than she already does that she can blow off even big leg aids when she's scared (horse had worked this one out long before I came on the scene), I will spin the horse around and make her trot off-sharpish in a different direction when she does this, so I at least retain some control of the feet. This has not deleted the horse's response of "scary object = STOP." However, trying to keep the horse near the scary object and not rewarding the stopping behaviour by letting her move away just results in horse becoming more panicky and shut down to the aids.
The horse's problems are clearly deeper than merely being not forward enough.
From my experience; sell her.
the other thing with section D's is that they are generaly switched on enough to know when they have got your number! so even if you get her going well silverspear she may not do the same for her owner if she feels the owner is nervous or wont make her do it.
What I always fear with this type, is the novice owner trying to take the horse out for a nice ride and the horse spooking off a ledge, or into traffic, or flipping over backwards because they spooked while climbing a hill. If they keep it as a pet, fine, but this type of horse is best ridden by the very experienced(or someone with velcro on their seat).
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