Suggestions for rehabbing my nervous horse? (Long)
I just adopted a Thoroughbred, Annie, from a local barn. She's 9 years old and raced for 1 year from ages 3-4. It apparently wasn't her forte, because she was sold to a group of illegal racers who would run her, run her, run her, and then put her in their pasture with little food and water. A couple years later she was rescued by a woman who threatened to call the humane society if they didn't hand her over, and she's made her way along the east coast until she ended up in Jacksonville, NC with her current owner. Her current owner has 2 other horses and was in an accident and unable to retrain Annie, and she's only been ridden once- by her teenage daughter and apparently her daughter was scared, which of course, made Annie more nervous. So she's in great physical health, she's sound and she's filled out with alot of muscle. She also has the most amazing ground manners. She's very calm and polite, very un-Thoroughbredy like! But as soon as she sees a saddle coming towards her, she panics. She doesn't know anything besides walk and run at a dead gallop. which is where I come in.
I like to think I'm experienced. I've been riding for over 20 years and evented for 12 until I had an accident and broke my back. 3 years ago I rescued a neglected filly and trained her until she was obviously going to be able to do things I wasn't physically able to do anymore. However, she was 2 when I rescued her so I was the first one to break her to saddle.
I've ridden all sorts of "hot" and hard to handle horses and dealt with quite a few nervous ones, but none who were in her sort of condition (illegal racing for so long). Looking for any suggestions anyone might have. She comes home on August 9th (I'm so excited!)
It's hard to say what might help Annie understand that her new riding experiences will not be like her recent ugly ones. You said she "panics" when she sees a saddle. That can mean a lot of different things - if it's so extreme that you cannot even tack her up, then she needs time with you on the ground and without the saddle to build her confidence in you. Then introducing her to the tack like a youngster for the first time. If the panic is not quite that extreme, and you can tack her up, perhaps ground work with the saddle on a few times before riding. She's obviously associating the saddle with unpleasantries. Anything you can do to break that association and prove to her that what she anticipates coming isn't going to happen.
I also have recently taken on a rescue with some baggage. I'm sure your experience has already taught you what I'm learning very quickly; Lots of patients and everything you ask for has to clear and followed through on without adding any unnecessary "energy" to the mix.
Best of luck to you and Annie!
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