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post #1 of 11 Old 02-01-2015, 11:24 PM Thread Starter
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Unhappy Super Spooky Horse

This post may be long, but I want to get as many details in as possible.

I have a gelding that is turning three in March of this year. He is a cowpony size (600-700lbs) and does not kick or bite but is terrified of humans, noises, and objects. He was born on my farm and I've had hands on him the moment he learned to stand. His half-sister and dam are 'in-your-pocket' type of horses and I've had no problem raising and owning them the last fifteen years.

Sam, however, stumps me.

Let's go back to the beginning.

When Sam was first born he was a little skittish, but I attributed that to just baby behavior and he'd out grow it. Around four-five months old, I tried halter/lead breaking him. Everyday for an hour I'd work with him just to take one step forward and most times he'd refuse and throw himself bodily on the ground. His full brother and half-sister (who I still own) were super easy to halter/lead break. It frustrated me, but I kept with it. Around six months old he was put with his full brother Duke, who he attached too like a pacifier. Anytime I'd go out to visit, Duke would come up and greet me, but Sam would be at the back peeking around his brother's rump. He was still touchable, but wasn't a very 'touch me' horse and would leave after two or so strokes. His brother Duke developed ring-bone and while my vet was out assessing him, she noted how Sam had "no confidence" (since he bodily spooked at her trying to say hello) even at six months old.

His brother sadly had to be put down. His dam and half-sister live side by side with him in two separate paddocks. He doesn't exhibit normal herd behavior. Whenever the girls nap by the fence he's alone by himself on the other end of the paddock. In Nov (2014) he decided to bolt through the fence that separates them and ended up with a good 2-4inch flap on his face as well as knocking down three panels of fencing. The odd part? The girls actually ducked under the electric braid (that was untouched/broken) to get away from him. When I drove up that afternoon I thought someone played a trick on me.

Moving on, he will bodily flinch at sounds (even if you are or aren't in the pasture with him) and he acts like he's in a constant state of fear. It took an hour for me to put his halter on and lead him into his stall so the farrier could do his feet the next day. Now he's un-catchable in his stall and my farrier of 15 years (he's 80) said that someone is going to have to have the patience of a saint to work with him. It's a big stall so he has room to move about. Anytime you try to come up and touch his withers he'll flinch and move away from you. He's learned that if you grab his halter he can snatch it away from you and get away. If you try to reach for his halter he'll move his body and turn away from you. If you enter the stall or pasture he will immediately turn to walk away and get distance. He's not interested in communicating. When you finally manage to get him clipped and standing still he will turn his head away from you and constantly looks away at his escape path. I feel like he doesn't want to communicate and isn't 'in the moment'. When you work with a horse you expect them to be further than Step 1 every day.

Now if you had read this and I didn't say, "He was born and raised on my farm," you'd think he'd been abused. I've never hit him or abused him in anyway. The reason I am reaching out is because I'm getting depressed that I cannot reach him and I feel like I failed him somehow. I've owned horses for fifteen years and I've never had one like him. My friends have suggested I put him down, but I don't want to go that route. Right now he's not catchable, doesn't communicate, and is constantly fearful and not relaxed.

As I stated before, when he was young, I was trying to convince myself it was just baby behavior. Now he's approaching three and this behavior is worsening.
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post #2 of 11 Old 02-02-2015, 12:22 AM
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post #3 of 11 Old 02-02-2015, 12:34 AM
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Someone like Cherie might give you the best answer.

I wonder if making him a bit hungry might not help. that way, he'd see you as his provider. I'd be scared to work with him in a stall. I'd rather work with him in a round pen or paddock, where I'd want to make his looking elsewhere very uncomfortable, and his looking at me so easy . I'd work on that for a bit, and working until he CHOOSES to stay looking at me, and maybe even follow me around. you know, "join up". then I'd quit, and maybe feed him?


really, I can only throw out ideas from what I've read, not from my personal experience, since I have none in working with a baby. but, some of our members do. so we ca wait until they come up with some good guidance.
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post #4 of 11 Old 02-02-2015, 01:06 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by tinyliny View Post
Someone like Cherie might give you the best answer.

I wonder if making him a bit hungry might not help. that way, he'd see you as his provider. I'd be scared to work with him in a stall. I'd rather work with him in a round pen or paddock, where I'd want to make his looking elsewhere very uncomfortable, and his looking at me so easy . I'd work on that for a bit, and working until he CHOOSES to stay looking at me, and maybe even follow me around. you know, "join up". then I'd quit, and maybe feed him?


really, I can only throw out ideas from what I've read, not from my personal experience, since I have none in working with a baby. but, some of our members do. so we ca wait until they come up with some good guidance.

I've tried having him join up with me many times. He just doesn't actually go through with it completely. He will take 1-2 steps forward and then just lose interest and I've lost him again. My paddock is a tad too big to work with him in relative space of him actually paying full attention to me. I also don't have a round pen. But the way he is, even working him in a round pen, I am just not convinced his learned behavior of a round pen lesson would stick the following day or am I back at step one again? Thank you for your reply so far. I have done the whole "holding hay" or hand feeding him grain so that he's forced to face me and be interested instead of acting scared and wary, but even then he's hesitant.
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post #5 of 11 Old 02-02-2015, 02:50 AM
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Hi,

First & foremost, especially as he was apparently born like this & it's apparently not a 'default' genetic setting, given his laid back siblings, and he does indeed sound overly 'nervy', I'd look closely into nutrition, ensure he's getting high magnesium, high salt, low potassium, low calcium(in relation to Mg).

I'd also get a chiro vet to check him out - pain/nerve problems can cause an 'overly nervy' horse. Perhaps get his eyesight checked too. Obviously he may not be up to that yet, but I'd make it a priority as soon as he's there.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cate9198 View Post
Around four-five months old, I tried halter/lead breaking him. Everyday for an hour I'd work with him just to take one step forward and most times he'd refuse and throw himself bodily on the ground.
Of course, depends how exactly you were going about it, & how you went about 'hands on from the time he could stand' as to whether that is likely to have helped or hindered. But on face value, the above sounds to me like you were just asking for way too much. If you were not getting anywhere, causing(albeit inadvertently) the horse to panic so much that he threw himself to the ground, this is likely to have caused him MORE fear about the goings on. It's always best to work in very short(even a minute to begin with) sessions with green horses, and keep it non-confrontational, so you can build gradually on successes. So if the horse isn't even confident being near you, I wouldn't have attempted to halter/lead him yet.

At any given time when desensitising, aim to 'push' a horse enough only to the level of discomfort, not into the realm of real fear/reactivity. Back off *before* he gets reactive. Rinse & repeat until he's confident with that level & his 'comfort zone' is extended. Then repeat process pushing him a little further than his new comfort zone.

Quote:
He was still touchable, but wasn't a very 'touch me' horse and would leave after two or so strokes.
So for eg. if he can tolerate 2-3 strokes before it gets too much for him, I'd start out approaching him & giving him 1-2 strokes and leave him before he feels the need to leave. I'd also personally add some positive reinforcement too. As a good scratch would obviously be punishment, not reward for this horse, I'd give him a small food treat when he allowed himself to be touched too.

Quote:
His dam and half-sister live side by side with him in two separate paddocks. He doesn't exhibit normal herd behavior. Whenever the girls nap by the fence he's alone by himself on the other end of the paddock. In Nov (2014) he decided to bolt through the fence that separates them and ended up with a good 2-4inch flap on his face as well as knocking down three panels of fencing. The odd part? The girls actually ducked under the electric braid (that was untouched/broken) to get away from him.
I'd suggest keeping him in a herd, not solitary. Of course he doesn't 'display normal herd behaviour' if he's not living 'normally'. And the more stress in his living environment - even if 'low grade' from living alone - will effect his behaviour, as well as health. Will also increase his need for Mg. When he ran through the fence, something probably frightened him acutely(& if the camel's already loaded, it may have only taken another straw), and he unthinkingly bolted for the safety of other horses. I don't think it's that odd that your girls escaped from him, if he's so edgy & needy, he probably made them uncomfortable.

Quote:
When you finally manage to get him clipped and standing still he will turn his head away from you and constantly looks away at his escape path. I feel like he doesn't want to communicate and isn't 'in the moment'. When you work with a horse you expect them to be further than Step 1
Perhaps because you're expecting a certain 'progress' & not getting it(so he's absolutely 'in the moment' but YOU aren't), sounds like he's being confronted with too much so of course he doesn't want to 'communicate', but his mind is on nothing but escape/self preservation. Instead of thinking about what he 'should' be up to, take the horse as you find him, where he IS.

Quote:
Now if you had read this and I didn't say, "He was born and raised on my farm," you'd think he'd been abused.
Not at all actually, but yes, many assume abuse when horses are reactive, headshy, scared of whips, etc. But he does sound abnormally edgy, regardless of handling. As said, I'd start out assessing/amending nutrition and keeping him in a more natural, low stress herd environment. And then greatly reduce training expectations & do things in less confrontational ways. Can you find a good trainer or horse person who is understanding of natural equine behaviour & can help you?
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post #6 of 11 Old 02-02-2015, 03:53 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you for your reply Loosie.

My only goal right now is for him to at least let me touch him without feeling the need to instantly shy and move away from me. The only time he approaches me is if I have food in my hand or if I crouch/squat down he'll come over and sniff and interact with me then (because he doesn't see me as an intimidating target), but other than that there is no want or need to talk to me. I can't offer him treats (I've tried to introduce him to carrots and apples and he's eaten around them and left them in his bucket). Maybe what I'll try to do is possibly hand feed him his grain (he likes that) alongside positive reinforcement from allowing me to pet him a few times and then let him be rewarded with food and slowly work from there.

What I've done the past few days is stand outside his stall and stroke his forehead 1-2 times and giving him his feed by the handfuls. I only do this a few times and then let him have the rest of his feed as to not make him feel overly sensitized. At least now he's waiting at his stall door for me and doesn't openly shy. Though I know moving into the stall he'd shy and head for the other end.

I'd like for him to just relax around me and not have this sense of I'm going to eat him the moment I get within his flight/fight range.

Another friend of mine also suggested a chiro vet because her friend had an appy that sorta acted the way he did and was found to have a bad back. It's interesting you also mentioned this, something to look into definitely.

About the halter/lead breaking thing. I took it very slow and he was the one that had the explosive reaction and tossing his body onto the ground upon asking him to step forward. Once he accomplished walking forward on his own, I'd immediately stop and reward him. He walks well now, but it was a real challenge back then. I know all horses are different, I guess I hoped he'd be as willing and easy-going as his siblings. Just a surprise to me to see a foal throw himself on the ground repeatedly when his siblings didn't do any of that.
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post #7 of 11 Old 02-02-2015, 04:13 AM
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I would have him checked by a Vet , a blood panel and his eyes checked.
I think that he has learned that if he shys away, you stop, and he can be left alone.
I would put him into a herd, try to have a horse that he can pal up and have as a buddy.
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post #8 of 11 Old 02-02-2015, 06:41 AM
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This horse sounds somewhat similar to a horse I once knew. Trooper reminded me of an autistic child I had worked with. She often seemed to have her mind in a different world. Trooper was so elusive her owner had to put food in a small enclosure in order to catch her. I got to know her a bit better after her owner moved her to a barn where I was working. I was able to halter her and take her for walks when she first arrived and appeared to be suffering from separation anxiety. By giving her a treat when I put her out, she started coming to me when I went to visit her.

One day, I noticed that one of her eyes looked as though it had been replaced by a piece of blueish-green plastic. The vet said it was a cornea wound and would need to be treated with two types of cream a couple of times each day. Since one of the medicines dilated her eye, we decided to have her wear a fly mask as a sun screen. She was kept in a stall while being treated. Since I had to touch her vulnerable eye during this time of treatment Ė I was the one who seemed best able to do the job Ė Trooper came to trust me.

I tried to do a little ground work with Trooper while she was at the barn, but the owner never came up with any money to pay me, so my work was very limited and not very productive. I did get on her and ride her at a walk and trot to show she might be able to be ridden for a video the owner made while trying to sell her.

When a woman came to buy Trooper, I told her of my experiences and said that she would need special treatment since she showed signs of autistism. The woman seemed very understanding, and Trooper was more calm with her than with anyone I had ever seen. Iíve never heard more of Trooper, but I hope she found a good understanding home.

I really donít know how similar you horseís situation is to that of Trooper. I share this story with you to let you know there may be hope for your horse. You may need to change your expectations, or you may need to find him a new home.

While dealing with Trooper, I tried to do a little research. I even sent an email to Temple Grandin to see if she had every encountered a horse she would describe as autistic. She said she hadnít and would need more information on Trooper. I wrote her again, but received no response. I did, however, find information about Benny the Autistic Horse during my internet research on the subject. While Bennyís situation is different from that of your horse, you might find his story interesting.
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post #9 of 11 Old 02-02-2015, 07:24 AM Thread Starter
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This horse sounds somewhat similar to a horse I once knew. Trooper reminded me of an autistic child I had worked with. She often seemed to have her mind in a different world. Trooper was so elusive her owner had to put food in a small enclosure in order to catch her. I got to know her a bit better after her owner moved her to a barn where I was working. I was able to halter her and take her for walks when she first arrived and appeared to be suffering from separation anxiety. By giving her a treat when I put her out, she started coming to me when I went to visit her.

One day, I noticed that one of her eyes looked as though it had been replaced by a piece of blueish-green plastic. The vet said it was a cornea wound and would need to be treated with two types of cream a couple of times each day. Since one of the medicines dilated her eye, we decided to have her wear a fly mask as a sun screen. She was kept in a stall while being treated. Since I had to touch her vulnerable eye during this time of treatment – I was the one who seemed best able to do the job – Trooper came to trust me.

I tried to do a little ground work with Trooper while she was at the barn, but the owner never came up with any money to pay me, so my work was very limited and not very productive. I did get on her and ride her at a walk and trot to show she might be able to be ridden for a video the owner made while trying to sell her.

When a woman came to buy Trooper, I told her of my experiences and said that she would need special treatment since she showed signs of autistism. The woman seemed very understanding, and Trooper was more calm with her than with anyone I had ever seen. I’ve never heard more of Trooper, but I hope she found a good understanding home.

I really don’t know how similar you horse’s situation is to that of Trooper. I share this story with you to let you know there may be hope for your horse. You may need to change your expectations, or you may need to find him a new home.

While dealing with Trooper, I tried to do a little research. I even sent an email to Temple Grandin to see if she had every encountered a horse she would describe as autistic. She said she hadn’t and would need more information on Trooper. I wrote her again, but received no response. I did, however, find information about Benny the Autistic Horse during my internet research on the subject. While Benny’s situation is different from that of your horse, you might find his story interesting.
I've read about Benny and this sounds like Sam:

"Symptoms: any type of pressure whether training or discipline causes Benny's behavior to escalate which I call a melt down. Over-anxious, over-excitable that no amount of training or discipline can reach Benny. He wants to be touched, then doesn't want to be touched, then wants to be touched then doesn't want to be touched and has to roll to comfort himself. Too much touch can cause a meltdown of behavior seeking escape, needing to roll, complete hysteria. Leading him can cause hysteria and need to escape. He is highly intelligent and tuned in but does not want to be groomed, pet or touched, yet he seeks being scratched but must move away within a few scratches due to overload of his nervous system and will roll. He doesn't like a lot of noise as that throws him into melt down hysteria behavior of escape."

From: Benny Autistic Horse

He doesn't roll when I work with him, but he does escape and have a slight pacing panic when I get into his flight/fight zone (or just breaks into a run if he's out in his paddock). The only time where he's thrown himself down is when I was halter/lead training him as a youngster. Noises also can cause him to have a full body flinch.

So far people have suggested a vet check him out, he be added with one of the girls to have a buddy/herd behavior and that he could be possibly autistic.

- I do plan on calling my vet out to consult me.
- The only worry I have about the buddy/herd behavior is that he attached to his brother but still avoided human contact. (even when he was free on the pasture and never pressured)
- If he's autistic or has signs of autism (but it hasn't been confirmed in horses), I have no idea how to communicate if he does have some type of mental disorder.
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post #10 of 11 Old 02-02-2015, 08:12 AM
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Get everything else checked out first, of course.

My experience with Trooper was unique and very limited. I had hoped to find more information on this concept. I had hoped to interest Temple Grandin since she is, herself, autistic and also likes horses.

One may more easily deal with horses exhibiting such traits than with people. They can be simply turned out in a paddock with or without other horses, or they can be put down.

If you have the time, resources, and patience, you could experiment and document your findings to help expand equine studies. You might, also, contact local horse rescue operations to see if you can find anyone who has had experience with similar situations. Someone else might be interested in working with this horse.

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