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As a child we might have the misfortune to touch a hot kettle or pot on the stove and burn our hand and forever remember that feeling.
That feeling will give us caution around similar situation for the rest of our lives as we transfer the memory of the pain to other circumstances.
The memory is lasting long after the pain is gone.

This is also true for emotional experiences in our lives as we encounter. Circumstances that stress our ability to deal a problem that is presented to us may cause great emotional pain and distress.
It can take a life time to overcome these events.

If we do not find a way to deal with these past troubles,then we are burdened by their load as we travel through our life and they may effect everything else that we do.

This has everything to do with training horses and how horses think.
They may catagorize things in a different way than we do but if something has not been a good experience,then it is to be avoided in the future.

The memory will stay until replaced by another or at least the pain is diminished.

How do you deal with this with your horse and is it at all important to you?

Can horses have bad mental health?
 

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Excellent post. I can say with absolute certainty that horses CAN have bad mental health. My horse WAS a perfect example of this when I got him. He hated people, would bite, kick, rear, charge and was said to be dangerous, vicious and unpredictable. His experiences with people drove him to be like that, he found that being aggressive made people leave him alone, thus he was protecting his dignity, something that had been taken away from him on more than one occassion. He had no play drive (when interracting with people) and he had no try.

We also need to remember that bad mental health also shows in the horse's physical appearance. A dull coat, bad feet, mental issues such as weaving, cribbing, etc., bad attitudes, a tendency to get ulcers, etc. can all steam from bad mental health.

This issue was EXTREMELY important to me, and still is to this day with any horse I work with...what is his opinion of me? Am I someone he truly trusts and respects? Am I someone he feels comfortable enough with to express himself? Will he play with me? Will he try his guts out for me? Is his expression a happy one?
 

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It's a great post. I already predict lots of arguing going around. Lol!

First of all I always care whether horse will have or had a bad experience or not. That means any kind of experience: too rough training, whip, trailering went not so good and all. What I am trying to avoid is to hide from facing the issues if the horse has a bad memory about something. I usually give little time and approach, say, trailer again. If I need new approach or help from the trainer then I look for it.

Can the horse have mental issues? Yes, it can.

I am a "lucky" owner of the horse with really bad experience as yearling caused by the man. I knew what I'm getting but even though I didn't expect it to be THAT bad. Took lots of time from her to start to be fine with people around, and even though she obviously doesn't like men much and more relaxed with the women.

Also I used to work with the horse (not mine), which was hit in head (and I suspect not just once) with shovel (or something like that). He even had couple permanent bumps on forehead. I spent over year, but he still reared any time someone would raise a hand next to him or just moved suddenly. Eventually this horse sent a rider to ER, and almost flipped over with me on his back, so I stopped riding him after that.
 

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I sure hope my guy remembers being zapped by the electric fence and holds a healthy respect for it for the rest of this life.
I always always pick unbroke young studs, geld them immediately and thus don't have to deal with issues.
Mental health can not be cured only controlled through medication. What do you do for a horse??? You sell them and make a better choice.
 

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My mom's mare Ginger I have spent years with working to get over her past instances. You could tell she was abused and handled very harshly. When we first got her it took me two hours to halter her and and then another two months realize the halter nor I was going to hurt her. But she still had the association of the halter with unpleasant stuff. So I'd halter her to groom and treat her.

When we got her she'd been turned out on pasture for four years and just bred to. Before that she had a cowboy wannabe type owner who was the one who abused her.

I was cleaning her stall once when she was eating in it. I picked the pitchfork up to toss some of the poo over the door and into the wheelbarrow. She spun around so fast and a hoof flashed about three inches to the right of my face. She was shaking too. So that's how I found out she'd been beaten with a pitchfork.

We are still working on her getting used to ropes. Like roping ropes. We were told her poll was dislocated with one at one point. She's a lot better and it's taken a while to get her to the point where she'll just have her back stiff and head up when I'm swirling it over her and laying it on her.

Oh and you can tell she was beaten with a whip. It took me a long time to get her to not bolt when I had a whip in hand while riding. I usually just ride with a dressage whip. She understands now that I use it as a cue not a beating stick.

There's a lot of other little quirks about her that stem from her past treatment. She's progressed far enough that I don't really do anything special for her anymore. We've got most of the issues worked out.

You just take it slow, remember what was done to them (or find it out), work on one thing at a time, and make sure to love on them a lot.
 

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Marecare,

I always enjoy reading what you have to say. Your posts are always well written and give me something to really think about. I think you should write a book, if you haven't already. You're definately on my "favorite people" list for the horse forum ;)

I don't really have much to say about the topic. My mare and I have gotten through alot with patience and an open mind. I guess I was blessed with a relatively sane minded horse, despite some of the things she's gone through in her past. Her past is still a rather foggy area. All we really know is that she bounced from home to home untill she ended up, some how, with the woman who starved and mistreated her. There were many things that she was absolutely petrified of, including men. During the time we couldn't ride because she was too skinny, we worked extremely hard on ground manners. We tackled everything she was scared of on the ground. I honestly think all she really needed was someone to understand her and give her the training she needed. She is also now completely in love with my father.

It's hard for me to write everything she's overcome, but if you could see what she was like then, and experience how she's like now, you'd understand that she's a completely different horse. We went very slow and worked on one thing at a time. She's the coolest horse I've ever known.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Marecare,

I always enjoy reading what you have to say. Your posts are always well written and give me something to really think about. I think you should write a book, if you haven't already. You're definately on my "favorite people" list for the horse forum ;)

I don't really have much to say about the topic. My mare and I have gotten through alot with patience and an open mind. I guess I was blessed with a relatively sane minded horse, despite some of the things she's gone through in her past. Her past is still a rather foggy area. All we really know is that she bounced from home to home untill she ended up, some how, with the woman who starved and mistreated her. There were many things that she was absolutely petrified of, including men. During the time we couldn't ride because she was too skinny, we worked extremely hard on ground manners. We tackled everything she was scared of on the ground. I honestly think all she really needed was someone to understand her and give her the training she needed. She is also now completely in love with my father.

It's hard for me to write everything she's overcome, but if you could see what she was like then, and experience how she's like now, you'd understand that she's a completely different horse. We went very slow and worked on one thing at a time. She's the coolest horse I've ever known.
I very much appreciate your kind words thatgirlsacowboy and I am sure that you have made a large difference in your horses life.
Young people seem to have a special connection that we old fogies dream of.
I think that the older that a person gets,well they can become set and unyielding to the world and just get a bit sour about things.
I think horses see that or smell it of something.

It is sad that the longer that you live then there is more opportunity to collect bad (if you let it) and the burden can effect so many things around them.
A think horses can be like that too and the more they get passed around the tougher things can get for some of them.

It takes someone like you to come along and make a difference in their life.
 

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Mental health can not be cured only controlled through medication. What do you do for a horse??? You sell them and make a better choice.
I assume you mean mental illness rather than mental health. I agree with your statement. If a horse is truely mentally ill (and very few are) then they should go to the canner and a better choice made next time.
 

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you are all thinking like predators and how we think, not how horses think
horses live in the moment
am I being hurt or not
am I safe or not
survival comes first
extras are a matter of repetition and muscle memory
 

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I assume you mean mental illness rather than mental health. I agree with your statement. If a horse is truely mentally ill (and very few are) then they should go to the canner and a better choice made next time.
I'd add or to be a pasture pet if it's safe on ground and someone is willing to pay for food/farrier/vet/etc or to be put down (and that's what the local rescues do).

It's interesting enough though that mental sick horse I used to take care of owner did not want to get rid of. They didn't want to ride it either themself, but put people on him pretending to be great riders. Just to cool them down. I think it's very sick. Especially considering the fact the horse could kill them any moment.
 

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you are all thinking like predators and how we think, not how horses think
horses live in the moment
am I being hurt or not
am I safe or not
survival comes first
extras are a matter of repetition and muscle memory
I WISH it would be true. But I've seen number of times when after just ONE accident or bad ride in trailer horse refused to walk there again scared to death. So took lots of time and patience to deal with it (and in some cases a really good trainer).
 

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Horses are remarkably adaptable and they can and do get over all manner of insults to thier dignity and health. If the right approach is used horses can overcome whatever has happened to them in the past. I don't belive that every problem a horse has comes from intentional abuse. I have seen horses that are head shy because of a bad case of bugs in thier ears. Horses that are hard to bridle generally have not been beat about the head but rather have been bridled carelessly and the bit has banged thier teeth and gumms too many times. The evasions that are used be they kicking or biting or throwing thier head around are learned behaviors. The horse does it because it works. When it quits working the horse quits doing it. The easiest way to make your horse hard to catch is to fail to catch him a few times. The most effective way to bridle a horse that raises it's head up when youtry to bridle it is to stand on a stool and bridle it properly every time. As soon as the horse learns that raising it's head doesn't stop the bridle from going on the head will begin to come down. There are things that can be done to speed up the process but the horse must believe that it will be caught or the bridle will be put on in spite of the best efforts to evade.
 

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How do you deal with this with your horse and is it at all important to you?

Can horses have bad mental health?
Absolutely it is. And yes in my eyes horses can have mental health problems. It will be different than what we present with as humans, but thats why you get horses with bad habits and other behavior problems. All because of the stupid and idiotic things we do as humans.

Lack of understanding of a behavior, poor trainers, poor riders, ignorance, lack of patience, environmental issues, natural instinc, bad experiences and the list goes on and on.
 

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I agree with gaited1 and KevinsHorses.
You train/treat every horse the same. It might take more time to accomplish but it should not be any different. If you are thinking of the past and not the present you are hindering your horse. Not only that but you are setting them up to fail.
 

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I have to agree with Kevin, gaited and crimson on this one. It's like with dogs; treat them like they are still being abused, or neglected, and they will pick up on that emotion, and continue to act in fear, anger, or pain. They live in the moment...they have too, that's how they would survive in the wild. They act on instinct, and when a horse has been abused, his fight or flight IS stronger, but that doesn't mean you have to pussy foot around him regarding training...yes, be gentle in your methods, but when he strikes or bites at you, teach him like you would any other horse that you are to be respected. That same horse can kill you just like any other horse who hasn't been abused.

Yes, we understand horse behavior much more than we did years ago, and I'm in no way saying that one has to be harsh in order to work with any horse, but to use that understanding as a crutch to not do certain things with a horse who's been abused? My own mare has a shadey past, and I know forsure she's been eared at some point, but do I not touch her ears and top of her head, just because she might not like it? No...I do it a little bit each time I handle her, so she someday realizes that 1)it's not hurting her, nor will it ever 2) I'm not going away.
 

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Aye, but I think people are saying that you do have to treat an abused horse, or one with serious issues, differently than you do one which has had good training and treatment its whole life and is fairly mentally stable. Treating it the same as any other horse, like going into its stall to clean it as you would any other stall even though the horse is terrified of pitchforks and might freak out and kill you, is just daft. They do have strong memories of negative experiences -- they have to for survival. Being cognizant of such behaviour and working with it isn't pussyfooting around; it's being sensible. Yes, you don't avoid it, but you do wouldn't touch your head shy horses face the same why I would touch my non head she horse's face. You'd take things a lot slower.

I'm lucky in that I haven't had to deal with this sh*t for years as my horse has never had a day of bad treatment in her life and has her act together (with people anyway... other horses can be a different matter), but the horse I owned before her certainly had neurotic issues that I had to address directly before she could become a safe and sensible riding horse. It took a lot more time and I had to really think through how I was to build a relationship of trust with that mare since she came into the relationship thinking that humans weren't likely to keep her safe and secure. Gypsum on the other hand operated from the basis that humans were likely to keep her safe and secure and was more inclined to trust them. Makes life a lot easier.
 

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Horses are remarkably adaptable and they can and do get over all manner of insults to thier dignity and health. If the right approach is used horses can overcome whatever has happened to them in the past.

I couldn't agree more.

We have two at home that came out of hellish situations. One is a little 30+ year old POA mare that had her teeth smashed out with a boulder, as well as other atrocities done to her by a mother daughter pair. For the first 6 months we had her it was very clear that she really wanted nothing to do with me, but hubby could love on her all day. Slowly but surely I've gain her trust, she no longer views me as just another evil female.

The second is a little gelding that I've written about many times. At a year or so old he was boarded up in a barn, at the time he was a stud colt and we can only assume that he became a handful so they sentenced him into a tomb. It was a year on Dec 4th that he was pulled out. He's still a work in progress but he's come so far in year that it amazes me.

A few years back my older gelding was getting cranky when I went to mount him. He'd pin his ears, tighten his mouth and generally have an ugly look on his face. Got the chiro out and he was out of alignment in several places on his body. Even after a couple of adjustments and some time off he continued to make cranky faces for a few more weeks. His body was in good shape now but he was going off of remembered pain.

I have nothing to back this up, but I truly believe that their memories are cellular. Once something has caused them pain they never forget. They may forgive, but they don't forget!
 

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Remember that horses remember in pictures instead of thoughts. The picture of the event that led up to the pain-fear etc is what triggers the response. You have to desensitize the picture to replace the response. It takes a while and consistency is the key.

Find the picture and work on it and things will get better--This is the first thing I do with a new horse--look for the pictures.
 

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Interesting topic. Horses do have wonderful memories, however, like gaited mention, they don't have memories like us. They are extremely forgiving, but not in a way that we would like to think. Horses are very specific in their thinking, they all tell their story in their own way, and its how we deal with it that makes it better. Its important to remember that the horses first priority is safety. Its not a solid stall and a good fence that makes a horse feel safe, but instead the comfort that the horse finds in its herd members and specifically the herd leader. If the horse has had a past in which people have always been the predator and never the herd mate, then that has to be the first step to overcome. Very often, I see people who can make that horse lose the fear of people, but in the same way that I don't fear a kitten. I'm not afraid of it, but I'm definately not going to let it be my leader. To be able to transition between the invitation into the herd and then placement in the herd with people is where many people may miss a step. Its not about sympathy, but about offering something solid. Its not sheltering, but teaching how to accept and enjoy the world. The mental health of a horse is something often ignored by imposing our idea of safety on them.

Horses are also specific with their memories. One horse that I had come in for training came in with a laundry list of mental issues, not entirely strong physically, and his owners couldn't figure out why he kept throwing them. He had connected the owners nervous energy around her children, and he became nervous around children. He had been mistreated in the past, and one of the first things to teach him was how to handle corrections without overreacting. I never sheltered him, nor did I baby him, but I did lead him. That was what he needed.

On another note, I do think that we tend to overlook some of the reasons behind the defensive behaviors. A horses behavioral issues won't only be seen as what we see as mistreatment through a heavy hand. I have seen people think that defending their personal space as abusive, but not seeing their horses insecurity, a poor fitting saddle, or a poor riding style as being harmful to the horse. A physically healthy horse is much easier to acclimate to change than a physically damaged horse. I think something sometimes looked at as "poor conformation" is often overlooked as poor posture that is affecting the way that the horse is going to react to stressful situations due to the strain on the fight or flight reflex. Many horses I work with are a combination of fixing physically at the same time as mentally. Another thing that we take forgranted is that just because the vet says that something is healed, learning how to use it again is a whole 'nother story. Horses are masters at disguising any kind of deviant movement. Unequal distribution of weight between the legs can cause many musculoskeletal issues that many people can't even see, they only see the behavioral problems associated with the horses defensive wall going up as its body is compromised.

So, to answer the question, yes, I pay attention to everything that my horses are showing, as well as every other horse that I work with. Its not about avoiding the memory of pain, but instead recreating it, and figuring out just what kind of pain it was, be it emotional or physical. Is it something they are hiding because they still see me as the preadator? I consider it my job to learn as much about their body as I can so that I can recognize what lies between the lines. Often times, only working on the mind can cause the horse to harm itself more as it only learns to escape any kind of pressure applied by the leader. When a horse comes to my barn, they are not my pet, they are not my friend, they are not some poor soul that I need to take care of, they are my family. They will need to rise up to a certain level of expectation, but I have no problem showing them how to get there, regardless of their past.
 
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