Past abuse: how can you tell? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 12 Old 07-27-2013, 04:53 AM Thread Starter
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Past abuse: how can you tell?

I bought my horse Kalo (half-Arab half-Appaloosa) a little over two months ago. We've spent most of the time getting to know each others' personalities, tricky spots, buttons to push, etc. He's a bit of a puzzle; I feel like I'll unlock one thing, that leads to another question. That's all right, I can be patient. But recently my trainer has become increasingly convinced that someone who previously owned him (not his owner before me, as she's a friend of my trainer's, but someone before her) beat the everloving crap out of my horse. On the other hand, I can see how some unrefined treatment and training, combined with his flighty (very Arab-ish) personality, could have created the same result. Ultimately it doesn't make much difference, as I still have to focus on where he is now, but it would probably influence how I approach problems with him.

How he is right now: he's very sweet on the ground and loves people. He wants to be a lap pony (we've worked on being respectful of space.) His previous owner told me he'd had some issues with a lunge whip that she thought resulted from overenthusiastic, but not abusive, use by previous owners. Under saddle, he's fairly willing but there are some issues. He's not especially sensitive to leg and bit, but he overreacts to anything else (a tap of the rein on his shoulder, a touch with a whip, the sound of a whip against a saddle, etc.) He gets very anxious about canter departures and tends to charge through them and go straight to a gallop. He spooks easily and bolts when he does—the last instance of that had him running through the bit and every ounce of strength I had could not hold him back, slow him down, or even get his attention. That was after a few weeks of serious desensitization work, too.

As I mentioned, knowing or guessing one way or the other isn't going to massively affect how I work with him. My trainer is working with both of us to get back to the basics and help him relax, so we can establish a solid baseline of trust. But if there are any tell-tale signs that would point one way or the other, that would be good to know.
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post #2 of 12 Old 07-27-2013, 04:58 AM
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He sounds slightly green and like he's testing you. Just keep working on him and redirect him until he gives you what you want.

"Strength is the ability to use a muscle without tension"
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post #3 of 12 Old 07-27-2013, 05:07 AM Thread Starter
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He's certainly a bit green outside of any other issue. There are some issues I'd attribute to "testing" (ignoring leg and bit) but in my experience he's genuinely spooking and freaking out (unlike some fakers I have known.) That's what has me giving this a closer look.
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post #4 of 12 Old 07-27-2013, 05:37 AM
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My horse did have some mishandling/mistreatment but it was sorted about a year or so after owning him.

At the end of the second year of owning him I had to move overseas for work reasons and left him in the care of someone. Well they didn't care for him as promised so a friend helped me to find someone that would.

That someone did an awesome job with him but from time to time my horse would act up as you are describing. It wasn't until that person took charge and corrected him that he would stop spooking, etc.

So from my experience, your horse is only testing you. Any sort of reaction he gets from you will make it worse, so it's best to either correct dangerous behavior and ignore silly behavior (like spooking) or make it hard work after he spooks (spiraling circles, leg yields, lateral work)

It sounds like you are a good owner in that you care about your horse and seems like you have a decent trainer to help. But I've found it's best not to think about the past and only change things at the present time.
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post #5 of 12 Old 07-27-2013, 06:59 AM
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I agree I don't see abuse so much in his past. I have a horse that had some less than ideal in my opinion training. He was trained to canter with an 12 foot lead and being being repeatedly hit with a whip, this has resulted in him being a rocket on the lunge line particularly when a lunge whip is near. This was not so much abuse by the trainer but a training strategy that has taken about 3 years for me to "correct". It was not abuse, just different opinions.

I think going down the rabbit hole of abuse is not a good one. A lot of folks are quick to dismiss any fear reaction as the result of abuse. This is true in dogs or horses. Which is a bad reaction because just as often in dogs cowering is a sign of submission and a lack of confidence not a sign that the dog was beaten. People have a tendency to try to "make up" for what was lacking in an abuse situation. Which can lead to spoiled horses or dogs. They perform a certain behavior not because they were abuse but because they were allowed to get away with that behavior. I am not saying that there are not true abuse cases out there, but having a bad past does not give you a free pass through life. Don't let your horses past or possible past define its future. So, even if your horse was beaten with a 2x4 on a day to day basis would it change how you train them? Because it should not.
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post #6 of 12 Old 07-27-2013, 07:14 AM
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I work with two TWHs, they couldn't be more opposite personalities. You could beat the black one senseless, walk over to her the next minute raise your hands and she isn't phased. She just isn't as reactive as the white one. God forbid you have to shoo the white one away you'd think someone was comming at her with a chain saw! All she need is a verbal scolding while the black one has needed more of a physical correction. If I did it the opposite way the black one would laugh in my face and the white one would be cowering in the corner like I beat her... There's a reason we call her the drama queen! Lol
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post #7 of 12 Old 07-27-2013, 10:40 AM
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I generally completely dismiss any history of abuse, either assumed or actual.

Even if they have been abused, I don't treat them any differently than any other horse. I push when I need to push and back off when I need to back off. Babying a horse that has been previously abused doesn't help them "get over" it.

Anymore, it seems like there are so many people who make excuses for bad behavior or bad training by saying "well, he was abused". Not saying that you are, just noting that it's a common thing these days. BUT, since every horse is different, you can't just take their demeanor/actions and make assumptions based on that.

Just as a "for-instance", I've got a horse that I know for a fact was abused. Previous owner witnessed it and told me all about it. The abusers went so far as to beat him with 2x4s whenever he would spook or act nervous (yep, that'll fix him *eyeroll*). He's got one of his front teeth that was broken off during one of these sessions. Even from day 1 when I started training him, he never gave any indication of his history. He was a little cautious around men, but not to the point that anyone would think "oh, he's been beaten by a man".

On the other hand, my Dad's horse has never seen a moment of abuse in his life. I know that for a fact because I know his breeder and Pokey was unhandled when I bought him as a yearling. Just to walk up to him with no knowledge of his history, I'd venture a guess than 90% of people would assume abuse in his history. He's very cautious around people. When you go to catch him in the morning, he acts as if he's never seen a human before. Every time you touch him, he twitches all over the place. God forbid you try to spray him with fly spray...let alone give him a bath. There are about 100 other little things that make you wonder what the heck happened to him, but nothing ever did. It's just the way he's bred. His full brother, they never did find anyone able to get him broke to ride or safe to handle.
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post #8 of 12 Old 07-27-2013, 10:51 AM
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You will get much the same reactions from a horse that has been babied as you do from one that was abused. And can't tell the difference either.

I've seen a few horses that it was less 'abuse' than it was too rough a handling for that particular horse, in that it was more sensitive to cues, and more apt to react.

Not talking about someone being rough either, but someone who just had more gruff manner about them.

I too believe that way too much credence is given to the horse must have been abused, and not enough to the handler is lacking in being able to read a horse, and that their skills are not up to par.

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post #9 of 12 Old 07-27-2013, 11:22 AM
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I agree w the other posters, I wouldn't attribute his behavior to abuse. I think "abuse" is over credited. For example, ranch horses are often raised in vast areas and not handled that much until around 2. If an individual that was only familiar w horses raised in "close quarters" and handled from the day they hit the ground got a ranch baby, they might confuse highly "alert" and ordinary unhandled horse behavior with "abused".

To me a tell tail sign has to be an "unmistakable" response, otherwise you can never know. I got my mare as a filly. Other than being to thin, there were no other immediate indications of abuse and none that ever "showed up" until years later when my husband left a gate open behind him which she summarily walked out of proceeded to calmly stand outside the gate with him. He had no rope or halter so he proceeded to take off his belt to put around her neck - she immediately and very visibly panicked then ran off for all she was worth. That told me two things, it was a man and it was a belt. Of course, if I ever caught up to would be a woman and it would be a bat.

There is just as much horse sense as ever, but the horses have most of it.
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post #10 of 12 Old 07-27-2013, 08:52 PM
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That told me two things, it was a man and it was a belt. Of course, if I ever caught up to would be a woman and it would be a bat.
That would have told me that at sometime this horse jerked away from someone that only had a rope or belt around her neck. And yes! It was probably a man but not necessarily so; but I'll bet it was not the first time this horse had jerked away from someone.

I also put little or no credence in past abuse. Probably only a very small percentage of the horses that people think were abused actually have be abused. Most have 'learned responses' to people asking them to something the wrong way or taking the pressure off at the wrong time.

If you want a horse to throw a fit, just step back away from them at the wrong time and you have taught them to throw a fit.

If you want a horse to be 'head-shy' and act like he has been beaten in the head, just startle him by quickly raising your hand and then back away and pet and reassure him. You just rewarded him for acting head-shy.

Instead, you should keep waving your hand in his face until he just stands there. Keep walking toward him while waving your hand. Let him walk backwards (only backward and never forward to sideways) away from you without trying to hold him still until he stops on his own. The instant he stops backing away from you, you need to stop and back up a step with your head down. It only takes doing this a couple of times and you can wave your hand up into his face without any reaction at all.

Bad timing and and the wrong reaction to a horse's response or reaction is all it takes to make one act like an abused lunatic. They learn to show fear very quickly. They can also be taught to not show fear almost as quickly depending on how naturally reactive they are.
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