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Horse Help Center

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Catching a horse...

I was doing a little web searching for help on "catching a horse". My husband has a Navada Mustang that was abused and then rescued. We really don't know much about the abuse but the horse is a pile of nerves. All the time, rarely is he calm enough to enjoy anything. I was reading your reply to someone having troubles catching their horse and it completely makes sense. You also mentioned that it would work if there wasn't any abuse history for the horse. Ours has abuse history. So, my question is, what do WE do?

Background, my husbands horse was rescued from dispicible conditions, he is only 6ish, was "gathered" a few years ago and is really women shy. My husband was able to adopt him because when we went to go see him the gal said he was really shy and we probably wouldn't beable to get too close to him. However, he let my husband walk right up to him and pet him, lift his feet, kind of hang an arm over his back etc. The gal was really suprised and thought it would be a great fit. So, we adopted him. My husband is kind of a "horse whisperer" he has a quiet nature about him that horses really like. We only have mustangs and all have been wild at some time. We adopted a 6month old colt once and my husband was the primary "gentler", he loved it. Just sitting in the stall and inch by inch bonding with the horse and building trust. He wanted to beable to do that again, so we found Chance.

Now, we've had Chance a bit over a year and I have to say there there isn't ANY change in his security level with us. He can walk in and out of his stall a thousand times and freak out each time, he can walk past the same landscape, where nothing's changed and jump at something. Maybe he sees something we don't but honestely. At the place he's boarded, they are wonderful with the horses, gentle and patient. They horses get to stay out in pasture all summer long, after all, they are herd animals and like their freedom and grazing (not always grass to graze though, some of the pastures are dirt). My mustang will come to me, and the other horses that are out in the pasture with them will come to humans. Chance on the other hand, will filp his head and go off the other way. I can not tell you how many times we've only gone out there to feed them, and my husband has made it a point to get close enough to Chance that he will scritch him or scratch him in a place that he loves (he has one or two of those places), making it a positive experience. But every single time it is a process just to get close enough to the horse to touch him. Then no matter how slow you move, he always tenses up, his head shoots straight up and he freezes, but makes sure he has the option to bolt if needed. In a fight or flight, he is constantly in flight mode.....constantly! When we do actually put a halter on him, my husband has to get the lead rope up over his neck before actually putting on the halter or else Chance backs up and takes off. There is a split second that you actually "have" him, but that second flashes by and then you have to start over.

The sad part is, we haven't done much with him in the way of work. In the round pen he is amazing, extremely sensitive and responsive to any change of body language. Just barely ask him to turn and he does a turnback like in a race. My husband is really quiet in the round pen with working him because he doesn't need much stimuli. And he seems to like to work. He seems to like to have a job. We aren't sure what kind of riding he ever did so we are starting from the bottom up and redoing it. He takes to the saddle just fine, stands quiet to have it on, my husband's sat on him twice now. When he lunges him in the round pen and asks him to stop, he immediately stops, turns in and takes a couple of steps towards my husband. (I know that's not what a lot of people like when lunging horses, but I think with Mustangs it's different.....)anyway...

So, once we've actually got the halter on him, he's fine. Jumpy about things, all things but pretty good in halter. He never tried to pull away, follows us anywhere even though scared out of his mind and every once in a while he will actually relax when being groomed. We've even had him get equine massages. Thinking maybe that would relax him. He really enjoys them but it doesn't stay with him long. He can be completely relaxed in the cross ties and then when walking him to his stall or back out to pasture he can be a nervous wreck.

Yesterday was kind of the straw that broke the camels back though. My husband admittedly looses his head when trying to catch Chance and will indeed chase him. Yesterday it had just rained for the first time in months and the ground was slick. Chance was running and went to take a corner he couldn't slow down for and ended up jumping a fence and into a pasture with the barn owners geldings. He's fine over there but it is the principle. My husband said that every time Chance would run by him he would nicker at him like he was laughing at him. That didnt' help AT all and my husband just got madder and madder. He called me to come out and help him catch the horse. A couple of times up and down that pasture I just said we should leave him. Try again another day.

Personally, I think Chance is smart, very smart. A nut job most of the time but very smart. Yesterday was actually the first time we have thought that maybe we can't help this horse and maybe we should give him back to who rescued him and adopted him to us. We are at our wits end and don't have any more ideas on what to do with him and to gain his trust out in the pasture. Being a mustang he knows what it's like to be free and he really enjoys it. But we have 4 other mustangs that seem to love us and will come from across the pasture when we drive up. We spend a lot of time with our horses when we can, which is a lot of the time. We truly want whats best for them. With Chance we just can't seem to figure out how to "reach" him. I know it will take time. My horse I've had for 8 years and he's come a long way. He was afraid of men when I got him, big, scared and shy. Now my 6-8 year old nephews play around him, ride him and love him. He's a gentle giant. I know that Chance's personality is different than Boo's, but even with a different personality, he doesn't have to be be afraid of his own shadow all the time, does he?

I know this is a long letter, and I apologize. I appreciate the time you took to read it. We just don't know what else to do with this horse. We like him but we just feel like we can't figure him out and help him. Any suggestions would be so helpful. I'm going to look at the rest of your website. I'm glad I found it.

Keelyn, Salem, OR

Hi Keelyn,

OK....Here are some suggestions: First off, NEVER GET ANGRY! THE HORSE IS NEVER DOING ANYTHING TO YOU PERSONALLY! It is just being a horse and doing what horses do. This horse (Chance) has a lot of fear. If he is chased this fear will remain. Gentle direction of movement in the round pen, lots of breaks and a bit of verbal praise as rewards for compliant movement is golden. When the horse stops, turns and faces the handler, that is exactly what you want. You might consider a food treat when he does this to encourage the horse coming over to the handler. You want him to begin to follow the handler around. Without putting a halter on the horse, you want him to stand quietly at liberty while being rubbed all over with as many things as you can come up with including the halter and leadrope. Do as much at liberty joining and bonding as possible. When you can put the halter on, do so and immediately take it off. Do that a lot so he does not associate the halter and lead with being ridden or worked. Carry the halter and leadrope a lot without using it all the time. The big reward is turning the horse back out in the pasture with a cookie before he moves off. A bond with any horse is formed first and foremost on the ground playing games and doing fun things without much pressure on the horse at first. Playing with a horse, as opposed to working the horse, while possibly being the same action, has a different 'feel.' Would you rather play or work? Both are active.

I have no problem with using a lot of food reward (horse cookies, a handful of equine senior or sweet feed) for compliance with a fearful horse. You can always drop the food when the animal becomes more trusting. Try to have the animal earn the reward through some little 'try' at compliance. Getting good at recognizing even the littliest effort on the horse's part is worthy of a reward. Most folks do not know how to recognize these small efforts, but they are a key to successful training. One small step at a time is what you are looking for (one little lean in the direction you want is a try). The horse's head slightly turned where you want it is a 'try.' Picking up a foot and immediately putting it down is the animal trying to provide the foot and deserves reward and praise. The vast majority of humans do not understand that simple fact.

Anyway, I hope I have given you some food for thought. Good Luck and please keep me posted.

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