how do I overcome what happened to her? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 39 Old 10-24-2019, 12:40 PM Thread Starter
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how do I overcome what happened to her?

We recently got a horse that had been turned over to a rescue. She is an 8 year old reg. TWH mare. Absolutely beautiful. But with some of the saddest eyes I've ever seen on a horse. I almost cry just thinking about it. Because she is registered I was able to contact the breeder and the owner listed on her papers. By googling her registered name, I found a sale ad for an owner not listed on the papers. So I've been able to cobble together the majority of her life with the exception of this past year after around May.

Here is a video of her original sale ad from the owner who sold her in May.


That video shows a completely different horse than the one currently in our barn. Pep, as we call her, is fearful and lacks confidence in anything. She is exceptionally sweet and you can tell that she wants to please. However, it takes us at least 10 minutes to get her halter on each time we handle her. If we go in her pen with nothing in our hands, she comes up to us, particularly my boyfriend (he's her horse) within seconds and we can touch her all over. She stood for the farrier just fine.

Her breeder kept her until she was six. They started her and used her a little on the ranch and on trails. They did overnight camping with her as well. They said she was curious and never gave them any issues. They essentially only sold her because that's their business.

The owner on the papers that bought her as a six year old used her for competitive trail and she is the one who made the video you see. She also has a video of her riding in an indoor arena showing off her gaits, side passing, lead changes, flying lead changes, etc. Again, she said she never had issues with her at all. She used her in long distance trail rides and placed twice out of 100 riders in a third and fifth. She said the mare was unflappable on the trail. She offered to buy her back from us as well because she was upset that she had ended up at a rescue. I declined because we love her, but we have been keeping in touch regarding Pep.

The woman in Arizona that bought her in April tells a different story. She paid $10,000 for her by watching those videos, had a PPE done with radiographs (she sent me all of the information on this as well for my records), and wanted her for western dressage. She currently does dressage and her trainer okayed the purchase. The first thing the woman told me was about how experienced of a horsewoman she was which gave me pause. Then she said she had the mare shipped here from Wyoming and she was a basket case. She told me that she ran off with her in the arena and would not stop. She said that she couldn't wear a fly mask because she wouldn't let anything near her head. She told me that the mare was spooky and frightened of everything. She said she had sold her to an equine veterinarian in a town nearby. She kept her for six weeks before selling her.

The rescue lady was told that the mare was scared, would not stop, and had bolted with the previous owner who turned her over to the rescue. This owner came off of Pep, and they were scared so they just gave her to the rescue.

Now I have no idea who owned her between the woman who brought her to AZ from Wyoming and the rescue. There is a span from May to October that is unaccounted for that I have no idea what happened to her.

The horse we have is scared. We have not put a fly mask on her because we were trying to just take it super slow and easy with her. We are able to lead her, groom her, pick up and clean all four feet, she got a cut and has let us clean it and take care of it as well. Yesterday in the round pen I was curious about her so I was just doing a little desensitizing with the lead rope letting it swing and wrap around her legs. Now she stood there stock still, but eyed me warily the whole time and was not relaxed. But she never moved a muscle. It was like she was frozen in fear of what I might do to her if she did the wrong thing. We worked on that for just a few minutes. Long enough to do both sides of her and for her to see that I was not going to mistreat her at all.

When I was leading her back to the barn I stopped and she had put one foot ahead of me and she pulled it back so fast then looked at me waiting for the reaction (the one that never came). I just petted her and stood there with her until she knew that she was okay. I decided to see if shaking the lead as suggested got a reaction from her. And boy oh boy did it. She backed up incredibly fast, but it seemed to be out of fear. Again, I pet her and let her relax.

My best guess is that someone did a "natural" horsemanship program with her that was overly aggressive and abusive. So far everything that the rescue was told about this horse that you cannot do with her we have been able to do. Like touch her ears or pick up her feet, or catch her in a pen. She actually follows me and my boyfriend around in her stall (it's a 24 x 24 area) as either of us cleans it. To me, it feels as though she wants to be with us and she wants to trust us, but something has obviously happened to this horse. We just want to help her recover from it.

Am I way off? And do you think our current plan of everything at a snail's pace is likely to pay off with her? We are in zero rush. We have two other riding horses, that although not perfect, we can take off down the trail on. It is more about what she needs. I would love love love to hear opinions and suggestions on helping her.

Thanks so much.
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Rhonda
to ride on a horse, is to fly without wings
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post #2 of 39 Old 10-24-2019, 01:30 PM
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I think planning on taking things at a snail's pace perfect. If she can move faster, then great. If not, no problem. Listen to her, let her tell you what she can handle. Which it sounds like you are doing.

Some people will tell you she just needs to get over it, that they wouldn't be tiptoeing around a horse like this, etc. etc. But this is YOUR horse and YOU are the one working with her. Just keep on doing what you are doing. She will come along at her own pace and you will be happy with her and yourself.
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post #3 of 39 Old 10-24-2019, 01:44 PM
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One of the most beneficial things I ever did with my fearful Morgan, Minnie, was just spend time around her. I would sit on the round bale in her pen, slowly pick manure, browse on my phone while sitting on a stool near her, etc. Minnie needed to realize that it was safe to be around quiet me, minding my own business, before she was ready to feel safe with me quietly interacting with her, and then more loudly interacting with her...

Another huge thing is to just be patient, and accept her for how she is now, not how she used to be or how you want her to be. She will make forward progress, but there will likely be many steps back. Learn to laugh at the silly things that may trigger her, and learn to react with love, not irritation. There will probably be silly things that she is scared of that you don't expect.

Toofine - 1998 Half Arabian
Minnie - 2013 Morgan
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post #4 of 39 Old 10-24-2019, 01:50 PM
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Ah, yes, I meant to add that as well. She will have day where she regresses. This is where I sometimes have problems with the horse I'm working with, Teddy. I understand intellectually that working with horses is going to involve some progress and some steps back, but at the times when those steps back actually happen I have a hard time accepting it.
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post #5 of 39 Old 10-24-2019, 02:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ACinATX View Post
Ah, yes, I meant to add that as well. She will have day where she regresses. This is where I sometimes have problems with the horse I'm working with, Teddy. I understand intellectually that working with horses is going to involve some progress and some steps back, but at the times when those steps back actually happen I have a hard time accepting it.
My best advice: "Breath in, smile, breath out" when she take a step back. Know that you are her person, and you are working with her to get through this. Know that she has chosen to begin trusting you, despite what happened to her in the past. Know that she is in the best place she could possibly be in, when she takes steps back. Know that you are her safe place, and no matter the steps back she takes, you are still her safe place.

It's so hard, but you can do this, and you are doing this, for her.

Toofine - 1998 Half Arabian
Minnie - 2013 Morgan
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post #6 of 39 Old 10-24-2019, 02:40 PM
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If she is a sensitive horse - or some people will say light it could be that dressage or how they handled her trying to get her to do western dressage blew hew mind a little. And it takes some time for horses to settle in. I purchased a mare 3 years ago (3 years in Aug) and to be honest in the last 9 months is when she finally just really settled in. Really added some weight, started to seek me out for attention and really seemed relaxed when we trailered her out for trail rides. I started riding her right after I got her but she was always tense and I could tell that at some time in her life (not the people I got her from) she had been disciplined more harshly than I do. She was hard to catch, and rushy when I rode her and did not stand still to mount. But she never did a thing wrong under saddle - I just kept with it. Slow and steady -easy and slow in movements and very rarely disciplined her. Tillie's personality has blossomed this past year and I lover her even more. But my mare is sensitive she is wary of strangers and can be flighty if cornered.

Just keep doing what you are doing. You can't erase what happened to her but you can create new and more positive memories for her.

By the way she is gorgeous!
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post #7 of 39 Old 10-24-2019, 02:46 PM
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Honestly you need to teach her how to get rid of her own anxiety. No matter how slow you go, if you don't teach her that she will eventually build up anxiety and fear until she has a bolt or a buck or a spook etc. Teach her to get rid of her anxiety by focusing on you. You need to be her dopamine dealer so that whenever something happens the rider can gently get her focus and she will dump out all her anxiety and continue on in a relaxed state. You need to get her on the ground to where she will look to you to relax and then you can move to under saddle etc. Once you get her there on the ground you will find a lot of the other issues will probably just go away on their own because they are simply a symptom not the root.

Anything worth doing, is worth doing well.
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post #8 of 39 Old 10-24-2019, 02:53 PM
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I bought a mare three years ago who was supposed to be bombproof, but was terrified 24/7. She would barely ever unclench her jaw for the first few weeks with us. We could not put anything, especially not our hands, on her head. She was sold to us by a dealer who just left her halter on 24/7 rather than try to catch her and halter her. Once she has a halter and lead on, she is very submissive and will follow you around. But you can't tie her solid. She pulls back until she flips over backwards or rips off whatever she is tied to. A chiropractor told me she has messed up her neck badly from going over backwards (this is just from assessing the damage).

She spooks badly. I came off her twice in the first two weeks I got her and knew something was wrong. She eventually gave me a concussion.

I started over completely with her. We did a 3 month online liberty training course that was amazing. Like your mare, she also likes being around us, but is scared to do something wrong and get reprimanded. She used to run in terror at things that wouldn't bother a normal horse. A bucket, a shovel... we had to be aware of this at all times. In my liberty training course, we had to use a driving whip for cues (without ever physically touching the horse, just as a pointer), and she was terrified of that. I had to walk around with it for a few weeks while doing chores just so she would get used to it and not run for her life.

I don't know what happened to my mare, but it sure sounds similar to what happened to yours. Go slow.... very very slow. She will come around.

After the liberty training which we both loved, we formed a solid bond, and moved on to ground work. She is so much better than she used to be. I can do all sorts of things around her I wouldn't have dreamed of doing before, and she doesn't react anymore. She's much, much calmer. Loves scratches. I can walk up to her and halter her anytime, anywhere.

Lately, I've started treating her with photonic therapy and she is beginning to really improve under saddle. No spooks in a long time.

Give your horse time. Hang out with her. Let her get used to you being around without always having to work. Sit and read a book in the pasture. No expectations of any contact, just sit there and be part of the herd. Horses don't have to touch each other to be part of the herd. Let her approach you. When you approach her, do it respectfully and slowly. Give her time to process. Let her invite you in by turning your head towards you and acknowledging you. Acknowledge her pain from a difficult past. Good luck!
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post #9 of 39 Old 10-24-2019, 02:54 PM
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I think she is going to be an awesome horse once she learns to trust again. I'm sure the horse in the video is still there, but somebody tried to dominate her and punish her for being scared. I don't know exactly why, but some people respond to a fearful horse with dominance, like they think the horse is doing it on purpose just to peeve them off. That is my guess as to what is going on. The horse came out from Wyoming, something happened to scare the horse, which scared the owner, and they or a "trainer" tried to dominate the horse into behaving, which only made the horse more fearful and lost her trust in people.

I have no doubt someone paid $10,000 for the horse in the video, as that seems to be what people with plenty of money pay for good gaited horses around here. Which makes me sad, because I don't have that kind of disposable income! So I was lucky enough to find some gaited horses on the lower end of the horse market......but that's not the point. The point is, I personally know people who have bought at sold gaited horses in that price point here in AZ. Sigh!

Anyway, I think you are very lucky! I think if you gain her trust (doing what you are doing, taking it slow, not punishing her for every little misstep, etc) and just becoming her friend, you guys are going to have that great horse back. Lucky you! Maybe you were meant to find each other.

PS. Another common thing around here is horses that are afraid of men. People say that a lot. I've had two horses that supposedly don't like men. But I think what it means is that they are sensitive horses and get fearful if someone (man or not) tries to dominate them.
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post #10 of 39 Old 10-24-2019, 04:02 PM
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Hi, while it's interesting to know their history, it really doesn't matter much & imo tends to get in the way of people treating a horse as a horse, simply addressing what's in front of them, if they find out or assume or suspect 'Abuse'. So I'd forget speculating about what was 'done to her' - which may have been absolutely nothing... could have been someone frightened her & she bolted or they came off once, but it just snowballed from there, who knows.

Quote:
Originally Posted by therhondamarie View Post
desensitizing with the lead rope letting it swing and wrap around her legs. Now she stood there stock still, but eyed me warily the whole time and was not relaxed. But she never moved a muscle. It was like she was frozen in fear of what I might do to her if she did the wrong thing.
Yes sounds like she was indeed 'frozen in fear'. Doing this 'flooding'(behavioural term) kind of 'desensitising' where you keep doing something regardless of the horses response/attitude can be the cause of that. She is obviously worried about what you're doing. Maybe has learned previously she has to stand there & put up with it & it will eventually go away, but she hasn't learned it's nothing to worry about. The aim of 'flooding' done properly is to do something, regardless of the horses response, keep it up until the horse is apparently blase about it. But people often don't realise that 'quiet' or not moving do not mean the horse is necessarily relaxed about it. Good you at least realised this.

So, she will be a 'hair trigger' when feeling like that. That's the kind of thing that causes horses to be labeled as 'suddenly, out of the blue, for no apparent reason' exploders - because people haven't recognised or been considerate of the horses fear, so they have kept going, continuing more & more until the 'straw that breaks the camel'. Then wondered at her reacting to straws...

Even done properly, until the horse is relaxed, I don't like this method, for the unnecessary, unhelpful stress it puts on the horse beforehand and that 'relaxation' can be more a 'shell shocked' or a resigned, 'broken' sort of attitude/behaviour rather than actual confidence & trust in what you're doing.

So... Rather than doing stuff in the name of 'desensitising' to the degree that she is actually quite scared... so that emotion is associated with what you're doing, confirming it's something to worry about, I like to use 'approach & retreat' tactics, to prove to the horse it's fine.

You introduce the stimulus to the degree that she may be nervous about it but not seriously frightened, not reactive. This might be about how close, how fast, how long you do something for, for eg. Then you stop, remove the 'pressure'. The horse relaxes. You repeat... You keep up this level of 'approaching & retreating' until the horse is *actually* blase about you doing it, before increasing the intensity a bit more & approaching & retreating until she is relaxed about that level. In that way, you can ' stretch' her comfort zone, prove to her she can trust you & your 'toys' without associating serious fear & risking her blowing up.

Quote:
Long enough to do both sides of her and for her to see that I was not going to mistreat her at all.
If she was 'frozen' in fear, it was too much. It should have been *short enough* to enable her to realise it wasn't bad, didn't amount to anything. That is likely to mean a few seconds, not lots, or minutes of continual 'assault'.
Quote:
decided to see if shaking the lead as suggested got a reaction from her. And boy oh boy did it. She backed up incredibly fast, but it seemed to be out of fear.
Yes, horses *react* out of fear. If you want her to learn to *respond* with understanding, yielding calmly & respectfully, best to introduce it in such a way that you don't provoke fear/reactions.
Quote:
as though she wants to be with us and she wants to trust us, but something has obviously happened to this horse.
Yeah 'somethings' often happen to cause horses to be wary or reactive in certain situations. Remember, they learn from instant associations and can't reason, so associations/memories are more primal, emotional. So it could well be the 'something' about flapping ropes around her legs was the same as what you were doing.

What is important is what you do, how you handle her at the time, now, not what might or might not have happened in her past.

Some info I've found helpful; [COLOR=Lime][B]www.horseforum.com/horse-health/hoof-lameness-info-horse-owners-89836/
For taking critique pics; [COLOR=Lime][B]https://www.horseforum.com/members/41...res-128437.jpg
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