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ohmyitschelle 07-29-2010 04:43 AM

Helping a horse become kid friendly.
So it's been awhile since I've posted here, but recently I've had a problem that I could do with some advice on.

I can't go into reasons online, but recently a 4y.o girl has been coming with me to visit my horses every time I go down to look after them as she now lives with my family. My gelding is absolutely smitten with her and doesn't care if she gets so excited, runs across the paddock towards him and hugs his legs, as he's usually waiting for her to come to him happily.

I'm huge on safety for both horses and other people, but I'm also one to believe that if there is something that one of my horses are frightened of, then they have to learn its alright, without being forced. Usually my method of reintroducing whatever it is that frightens them and making it a situation where they don't necessarily have it right in front of them, but its a constant, works. However, this doesn't seem to be working well, and I'm at a loss of if its simply more time or not.

My mare, who I've had from 3yrs is not coping with the child completely. Whilst the young girl knows the rules (first thing I taught her was not to surprise a horse or go behind them and 95% of the time she gets this without me reminding her), she's like most kids, lively and in love with horses, so she gets very excited. And whilst my mare normally has a heart of gold, she's reacting out at times. In the beginning, she was showing the young child that she best stay away from her... she wasn't nasty, but she showed me many signs of being uncomfortable because she'd never seen a child before, and didn't know what to do with her. This was extremely apparent when the girl picked up a grooming brush and tried to brush my mare, who pinned her ears back and was having none of that.

The child is never left without supervision, although I do have a dodgy leg, so there has been two incidents where she's run off suddenly and I'm left screaming at her to come back. Thankfully Honey listens to me and knows I'd never purposely put her in harms way, but she just can't accept the child. I thought I had taken away the complete dislike by putting the girl up on Honey's back. They bonded in that space, Honey was over the moon that someone was on her back and stood stock still, looking after her pint size rider whilst I snapped a photo of it. She seemed happy to have the child around her again, but after I had ridden her, and my mare was satisfied that she'd been ridden (first time in months), it went back to Honey disliking the child.

I see it as Honey's extremely jealous. Evo has no problems with the little girl, and in fact he has become more of a pleasure to handle, because he's forever watching himself around her. But Honey seems to always be scowling whenever the child is around, especially near me. I know she'd never hurt the wee girl, but she has threatened once (the child didn't listen to me and tried to go near her and Honey lifted her leg, but I pulled the child who wasn't even near her, back) and I have to wonder if she's jealous and angry, because whenever its just me and her, shes thrilled to see me, snuggles in and follows me around. When the child is there, she tries to get me alone, or avoids me.

My main question is, how do I approach this? The child pretty much comes every time and telling her she cannot come to the ponies is like WW3, we're working on this with her lol. I don't have experienced children skills. However, I do think that they could eventually become comfortable around each other, I just need to know if I'm going the right way with still trying, and making sure the child understands that Honey doesn't like her very much so to give her a wide berth, unless I'm right beside her. I'm one for safety but I don't want to make a big dilemma out of it, giving Honey more to think about.

Any tips?
Thanks in advance.

Citrus 07-29-2010 06:35 AM

It sounds like you are doing a lot to educated the child, keep at it, repetition repetition repetition.....

As for the horse, act like a goof around her.... wave your arms all around, speak in a high pitched voice, be floppy, basically act like a four year old..... be silly and goofy and do everything you can to desensitize your horse to the childs behavior.

kitten_Val 07-29-2010 06:54 AM

Some horses just don't like kids. Some horses don't like men. And some don't like women. I've seen all 3 "don't likes" although it's not very common of course.

Try to associate kid with something pleasant for her: feed, treats, petting, etc.

iridehorses 07-29-2010 07:09 AM

Welcome back Schelle.

First I have to say that I was very uncomfortable reading your post. From the sound of it (and I can only go by the words) you are putting too much faith in your horses, especially Honey.

A child's horse, IMO, is born not made. You can make a horse more tolerant but never safe. I would keep that in mind when the child is around the horses. A horse that pins her ears - for any reason - around a person, is not to be trusted. Saying I know she'd never hurt the wee girl is very naive and that is how terrible accidents happen. I would avoid having the child around your horse unless you had a firm grip on her hand.

The very last thing you will ever want to hear is "She's never done that before!!!"

inaclick 07-29-2010 07:35 AM

Sounds like the little girl is smart and loving. Don't underestimate the power of comprehension of a child. I think it's safe to have a 1 on 1 talk with her.

Explain her gently that Honey gets upset easily and would be happier if left alone.
Make sure you mention it's not the little girl's fault, don't turn this in a guilt problem. It's just how Honey is.
Honey needs some time on herself. To further explain why she should not touch the mare, tell her some little white lie such as:

"Honey is very ticklish. She tickles all over and she can't help it. When you're in the saddle, she does not get tickles so bad."

Eventually tickle the little girl too, for some giggles. She will probably swing her arms and legs and you can explain her that's what Honey ..ya know.

I would be very wary of allowing a child around a horse that is clearly uncomfortable with her presence. Maybe Honey would only want to send her away and give her a warning. But horse warnings are generally kicks and bites, after pinned ears and lifted leg. Any warning of this kind could be fatal for an adult human, and even more for such a small child

inaclick 07-29-2010 07:57 AM

Forgot to add: some animals simply dislike children. That does not make them vicious or bad.
My dog dislikes children but tolerates them well, however he will do everything possible to avoid them and go hide somewhere until the toddlers are gone. If he is found, he will just stay there stoically sighing loud, that is the only disapproval sign you'll ever get from him.

A horse cannot exactly hide anywhere. His choice will be to leave or push away and a horse pushing away can do a whole more damage than a dog.

My choice was simply to ask the children to leave Ayax alone. I lied to them, saying he is sick and grumpy (he is neither of those). I know he tolerates them well, but I see no reason in forcing him to do that and the children usually have squirrel attention span so they switch off their interest to something else in under 2 minutes.

ohmyitschelle 07-29-2010 09:49 AM

Thank you everyone for your replies, I expected a lot of comments on the negative side of things when I posted this.

I for one do not wish to force anything on Honey, and definitely am not naive about her capabilities. If I did not care for the way my horse is reacting I would not take the time to come here to ask for advice. However I thank you all for the advice.

I am in agreement on many things, and I've already given the little girl several talks on that Honey is not used to kids and doesn't mean to seem grumpy but its a lot for her to take on. The child has accepted this, and is more than happy to spend her time with Evo. Anytime in which she seems to want to get close to Honey, she is in close supervision now, ie right beside me holding my hand, or on the other side of the fence and I'm next to Honey.

This wasn't posted to make sure the little girl could get a happy ever after story, but to help my horse if I could, to be a little more accepting. I should have mentioned that because I've done everything with her, she's not very accepting of many people, she's very exclusive... so this is something I work on by putting her in the position where she has to think ... I agree, having a child in that position is potentially dangerous, hence why I haven't really "put" her there.

Thank you everyone for you advice, I'll definitely be taking it all -good and bad- on as food for thought!!

mls 07-29-2010 10:05 AM

As was said - some critters simply do not like children. Usually boils down to the predator reaction. Children and dogs cause the most common 'dislike' or fear response.

MN Tigerstripes 07-29-2010 10:20 AM

I agree with everyone else's suggestions, especially that a children's horse is born and not made. I have something else to add also, being that the girl is so small/young I would suggest carrying her when she is around Honey. It may cause Honey to be more accepting of the child and it may not, but it WILL make the situation safer for the child. Kids can move very quickly and I know from personal experience how quickly they can get into a relatively dangerous position around a horse. Thankfully I'm very lucky and all of my horses (living and passed) always adored children. Good luck!

xxBarry Godden 07-29-2010 10:37 AM

As well as owning a horse I own a Rottweiler - a breed of dog who inherits an image. My dog is as soft as butter but he weighs 45 kilos. From time to time kids come up and say 'hello' - and I am torn. The dog is prepared to say 'hello'
and I know he will not bite but he weighs 45 kilos - more than most kids.
So I stand between dog and child - knowing full well that if anythng goes wrong it will be taken to have been the dog's fault. Then immediately the dog and child have said, out of touching dstance, a very brief 'hello', I put my dog away into safety.

My horse weighs 525 kilos and she is as soft as butter and I know she will not bite but she weighs 525 kilos. From time to time kids come up and say hello - and I am torn. The mare is prepared to say hello and I know she wll not bite, kick or barge but she weighs 525b klos - the weight of a small car and at least 5 tmes the weight of most kids.
So I stand between horse and child - knowing full well that if anything goes wrong it will be taken to have been the horse's fault or my fault for letting things go wrong. It will never be the child's fault.
Then immediately the horse and child have said a brief, repeat brief, hello, I put my horse away into safety. I am very aware that in one horse's foot
there is 525/4 = 131 kilos (almost 290 lbs) of weight, projected by a steel shod foot.

The risk you run are significant and if, Lord Forbid, there ever is an accident - you will be judged not by your peers but other humans who may not have the understandng of horses which you have. For your horse's sake, and of course for the safety of the child, don't take chances.

You'll get little thanks for what you are trying to do - but you'll get full blame if it all goes wrong. Do be cautious.

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