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Catching another scared horse, equine rehab...

I have a question about catching my "scared horse". At a loss, I, too, searched the internet for answers and saw a VERY similar questions posed by Keelyn in Salem, OR. She has a an adopted Mustang that appears to have been abused, and I recently bought a 4-yr. old Tennessee Walker (that came from an auction). She's had hers just over a year, and I have said I will "give him a year", then I'm done trying.

Similar "problems" catching....snorts at every move you make around him; initially would turn his rear to you in the stall, but now after 5 months of "making him let me pet him" in the stall before I let him leave...he'll stand tense and scared to death, then he bolts; the only way he'll walk up to me in the field is if I slowly walk up backwards or sit on the ground (an idea I actally got from the Movie "The Horse Whisperer" and it really works!), etc. etc. etc. I could go on and on.

With no known history, I DO know that my farreir tried to catch him one day when I was at work, and chased him around for quite some time. He became deathly afraid of "men" after that insodent. I already knew that chasing him stressed him out, but after that was done, it was back to square one. As far as riding him, he's a doll. He's obviously been trained very well, but "how" he was trained is the question. Except for if a "guy" walks up to you and he gets very scared and shakes and jumps.

Games? I've tried "Hide 'N Seek" where I turn my back to him and cover my eyes and then turn around and say "where's Romeo?" and I'll turn around and he has walked up to me and is right by my shoulder! He loves games...but he's still scared to death and won't let you pet him..He WILL follow you to the barn, and "treats" seem to help, but don't try to touch him..he'll snort and bolt. He, too, like the other gal from Salem, OR, is smart as a whip, but nervous in his own skin. It's sad...the only "fun" he has is playing with my other 5-yr. old Walker...they're like 2 kids. Then you (I) go out into the field and he tenses up.

My question is...he's only 4. He's young. Can he be totally "turned around?" My Vet says that (if) I earn his trust, he'll be my great companion for life. But will he ever get to that point? He's a bag of nerves. I don't have a round pen to work him in, so it's just going out every single day and trying to give him added attention (which makes my other horses ticked because all of my attention is focused on his "scared" behavior). Everything revolves around "helping Romeo get better". I saw where you mentioned "the littliest effort on the horse's part is worthy of a reward". I guess I need to continue to reward for every single thing and see how that works? I have heard every suggestion possible and tried it with little progess, so I'm wondering if I'm missing something else that you could offer. I Love this horse and only want to help him.

Molly B.

HI Molly,

Well, your love for your horse is certainly abundent and wonderful. Your future together, however, is really an unknown. Just like with an abused/traumatized human, coming back around to total trust can be difficult at best and sometimes will never happen, or only happens in degrees. Generally, as you are seeing, it happens one little step at a time, over an extended period of time. A round pen would help you quite a bit actually. They are a great tool in the training and rehabilitating of a horse such as yours. You say "I have heard every suggestion possible and tried it with little progess" and the key words here are a "little progress." Most humans do not understand that a little progress is very valuable and sometimes all that can be expected or accomplished. Rehabilitation happens with little steps of progress over time. Sometimes it is a lifetime.

Let me share a bit about my horse Pete with you. When I first moved to Colorado from Maui (30 years there as an outfitter) about 5 years ago I heard of an 'outlaw' horse named Pistol Pete. He was on the ranch where I was staying and when I heard about how he had hurt a bunch of people I really wanted to check him out. He was, I was told, uncatchable, unloadable, reared up and split his owners head open, pulled back so hard he pulled down a shed, dragged some guy who got a rope on him and got the rope wrapped around his arm, through a field of rocks nearly killing the guy and more. I was told the owner was going to have him put down because he was so dangerous to deal with. I began to spend some time with this cute little quarter horse and quickly got that he was just afraid, big time, of everything. All the dangerous stuff was defensive (it always is anyway). So, in a round pen, I just hung out with him and asked for nothing, for a few days. Just stood, sat, and hung with him. No touching, no moving towards him, just talking quietly and chilling out, walking aimlessly around. Eventually, he came to me to check me out. Then he began to follow me around. He touched me first with his nose. Then I briefly scratched his withers (like his mother did). Long story short, in a couple of months I got him used to a schedule of coming to me at the same time everyday for a little food and some loving. After a four hour training session, I got him loaded and he now jumps in the open door of any trailer I point him at. He has done a lot of children's programs with me as kids do not frighten him. We have done a lot of liberty play in large and small arenas and round pens. He has become my wonderful partner. He still cannot be handled by anyone who does not understand horses, how to approach them, etc. But, he has come a long way for sure. But, he can still pull back occasionally despite hours of training for that(althought he gives it up after one brief pull), can still be a bit head shy if someone moves too fast towards his head and a few other things. But....he has come so far really, that he put me on the map here as a trainer because of his horrible and wide-spread reputation. His picture is on the home page of my website . He sure is a cutie. He was 8 or 9 with I first met him and very habituated to his fearful behavior. Old habits die hard for horses and human. But...Pete is a shinning example of a rescued horse who now can help rescue challenged children and teach others about trust, forgiveness and unconditional love. Get a round pen and hang out a lot.......

Good Luck.


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