Am I ruining my horse?
I have a 7 yr old 1/2 fjord 1/2 QH. He was broke at 2, ridden a little and put out to pasture with no human contact until 5 1/2, when we purchased him. It took weeks for my 12 yr old daughter to gain his trust and be able to catch him. He soon bonded completely with her. They spend hours cuddling and nuzzling each other out in the pasture. He loves to bury his head in her chest and run his muzzle through her long hair. He is low in the pecking order and very submissive with her. He has major trust issues with other people, especially the farrier and vet - though he does allow them to work with him - he is just very nervous. (Though he is naturally very laid back otherwise).
He is her performance horse for 4-H. She does western and english and showmanship with him. But he doesn't get that he can't cuddle during showmanship. For the riding classes he has a little too fast of a canter/lope.
We have started working with him with a trainer to get him ready for fair in a few weeks. First lesson in showmanship she explained that he has to learn that the arena is business and cuddling is for the pasture.
He wouldn't walk with the trainer so she yanked on the chain around his chin and yanked and yanked and made him back around the arena.
He then moved where she wanted him to move, but didn't know how to square up his feet and when he didn't he got the chain yanked some more. When he would move his face toward her he would get bopped in the nose.
Then he was given back to my daughter. He wanted to bury his head in her chest for comfort, but she had to push him away and let him know it is time for business.
By the end of the lesson he was very fearful of the trainer and jumped away when she got close to him and shook like a scared dog.
Now, four days into training, he is totally head shy - tosses his head if your hand gets close to his head, he is not speaking to my daughter and turns his back to her when she goes to be with him, and has started to buck uner saddle.
The trainer is saying that it will get worse before it gets better - just stick with it. He is just testing you to see if you will give in. If we stop now, it is all for nothing.
Sometimes, if you ask an inattentive or dominant horse to canter with authority they will give a buck but then canter instantly whenever you ask them. However, I have never thought of head shy as a similar thing, and combined with the bucking under saddle and avoidance it is likely bad. It sounds like the trainer taught the horse to stay away from humans and made the horse lose trust. He thinks a hand coming for his face means pain. Since you seem to be implying that the horse had a nervous disposition to begin with, this probably made him more nervous. With fearful horses I prefer there to be more positive teaching than negative. Punishing a nervous horse can make the problem worse.
It sounds like now the problem is getting worse and you may consider dropping the shows until the horse comes to trust humans more again, and finding a more experienced trainer who knows how to deal with timid horses would probably help you. A fearful horse in the more chaotic environment of showing combined with 12 year old is a recipe for danger.
Are you sure that he will be ready for the fair with this kind of 'progress'? Is there another trainer that you can go to that doesn't use a chain?
Thanks for your replies. His trainer says that he will come around and be ready for fair in 3 weeks. He just needs to be whipped into shape and put in his place. He needs to know that the chain is on (they have to use a chain in showmanship) and be afraid of it so if he starts acting up and she tightens the chain he will be good.
He is not at all a dominent horse -- he is picked on everywhere he goes by other horses and is not pushy with my daughter, just cuddly.
The bucking is when she asks him to canter. He very rarely will throw a little buck - always with ears forward, not angry. But now it is every time she asks him to canter.
I cannot explain the bucking in the canter. But Seriously? she is hurting him? is it really worth seeing the horse loose interest in people AGAIN just so she can show? I would say find a more positive trainer. Hurting an intimidated horse is not going to help... Im not one to be against hitting, or stud chains(when used within reason and properly timed). But I HAVE owned a very scared(very large) horse before, and I could only imagian what he would be like if someone tryed to train him using "domanation" methods(actually I got him AFTER someone had already tryed :() I think the horse needs a more Happy environment :) and will be more successful with one too.
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I'm sorry but this trainer sounds like she has you snowed, at least somewhat, and is just after your money. You don't want a horse that cowers into behaving because of fear and pain, and that sounds like exactly what she's doing to him. "Putting him in his place" is not training, it's breaking, literally. There are a LOT of supposedly reputable trainers out there that do despicable things to get results in a hurry. If I were you I'd pack up and run in a hurry before she messes the poor pony up any worse. Yes, he may stand in the arena, but what about when you take him home and he's terrified of you? It's not worth it just to hurry up and get ready for one little show. There will be plenty more in the future.
I don't post here much but read this and want to say that I really think you should find another trainer. My mare is a sweet heart but she also knows when it's time to work. There is a big difference between teaching a horse to respect your space and "bopping it in the nose" and making it headshy or fearful. You want a horse to work with you out of respect, not fear. Yanking the chain over and over and backing the horse all the way around the arena is not the right thing to do in my eyes.
Working on slowing his canter will come in time. He's probably just not built up yet or balanced enough to move at a more collected pace. It takes alot of time, not something that can be accomplished overnight. There is a time for work and time for play. For example, when I choose to take my mare out to let her graze she's in her halter. When she's in her bridle she is not allowed to eat. This horse sounds like a sweetie who needed to gain trust in humans. The trainer may be causing more harm then good by working with an already timid horse in this manner.
In example, I will let my mare put her head into me and I'll hug her. However, when she is obnoxious or pushy (trying to push her head into me or trying to rub her head on me) I'll let her "catch" my elbow. She is learning to respect my space. Does that make sense? There is a difference between being firm and being abusive (not saying your trainer is abusing the horse...just talking in general).
Best of luck in whatever you decide!
I would find a different trainer, you dont want to lose that cuddlyness :)
my horse is naturally not cuddly usually, but i have handled some that are, and they are so loving and would do ANYTHING you want, they just want to get along. I would find a trainer that lets him shine, and letting him know the arena is business without scaring him.
If it were me, I'd find another trainer.
That said, I won't tolerate any of my horses "cuddling" with me either... they may come into my space when invited, but no other time. I've never needed a chain, pain, or fear to get them to understand this concept... if your trainer is trying to tell you that it IS necessary, they aren't a terrific trainer IMO
Thank you all so much for your advice. I went tonight and picked him up from the trainer! We are deciding it is not worth doing fair and maybe he will be ready next year.
Lots of good advice and I am glad to know my gut feeling was right -- not the trainer.
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