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.
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.
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'.
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.
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.