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Gaining the trust of an abused tb

Hi Franklin!

I love your website! I read it all the time, it is very helpful and refreshing. Sometimes if I have a "problem," with a horse, your website is a great way to help me think out of the box to work through it.

I do have a question...I am an experienced horseperson/rider, and I have just purchased a 4 year racetrack rescue. He has a great mind and loves to please, but he is very fearful! He is backsore and the chiropractor is working with him, says he was really out of alignment. He is very uncomfortable with grooming and handling. I have been working with him by just placing my hand on him and holding it there until he stops twitching/swishing, etc. As soon as he relaxes, I praise him and do something else. He now seems to enjoy having his neck rubbed, he actually leans into it, but anywhere on his flanks, belly or back, he is very uncomfortable. As soon as I lay a hand on him, he tenses up like a rock and does that air swallowing thing that horses do when they are afraid. Sometimes he kicks out on the opposite side of his body. I haven't seen any improvement with this, and I make sure to move very slowly and that he can see what I am doing. I also don't make a big deal out of his reaction or hold him, but he never tries to move away from me.

He is the underdog in the pasture and he is perfectly content to be alone, away from the other horses. When he is turned out, he walks away from them over the hill and doesn't interact with them, even if there is hay involved. I do ground work with him, and light round pen-type play time in a large arena. He is fearful about this too, but quickly calms down. Do horses usually get past issues like this once they have learned to trust a bit? Do you have any suggestions about what I can do to help him relax about the learning process a little? Or maybe some insight about how to help a socially handicapped horse learn to be a horse? Have you seen sore horses get like this about being handled? The vet has thoroughly checked him out and other than his back, he doesn't seem to be hurting anywhere else. Of course, when my back hurts, everything hurts with it.

Any advice would be wonderful!!

Thanks, Rachael

Hi Rachael,

Well, I always suggest taking a horse as far back in its initial training as possible to rehabilitate it. Like an abused person, this can take an enormous amount fo time and the animal may never come fully back arounde to trust completely, although some do. Again, like an abused or traumatized human. Look at the problems PTSD has caused those returning from war. Some get over it and some never do. Going off in a completely different direction may help some. Trick training really can bond a horse to a human. See if you can accomplish some simple tricks like a bow or laying down, without food reward or clicker training (all food reward). Stacy Westfall has a lovely dvd on training a bow w/o food reward. It can take a month or more to train a good bow as well. The benefit here comes from it being the horses idea to lower its head and get either close to, or on the ground. This requires a whole lot of trust on the part of the horse. Laying a horse down has been used to calm horses forever, but I like Stacy's technique and attitude. You can Google her.

I would completely re-sack this horse out. Getting it used to scary things as if it were a foal or yearling and do it a lot (maybe take a month or more on this). Desensitize it to being touched all over with soft towels, etc. Your are probably not considering the length of time it generally should take to train a horse for various things. Generally it is so much longer than we humans think it should take that we do not see the incremental progress we think we should. It really is a one-little-step-at-a-time process. Always end a session on a positive note as putting a horse away for the day is the beggest reward you can provide. Also, what happened just before you put the horse away is what it will remember about the session. End with a Good Boy and a little scratch on the neck.

As far a socialization with other horses goes....I would play this by doing it 'in-hand' for a while with other horses. Have a friend have the other horse in-hand as well. Take your time and see which horses your horse takes a shine to....Doing it 'in-hand' makes it a whole lot safer for your horse initially. If there is a horse your horse gets on well with, put them both together in a big round pen and play with them both at the same time. But they must get along before you do this. You can also turn several horses lose in a large arena and work them all as a herd. You can do this from the ground or from the back of another horse. When you work a group of horses, they tend to start moving as a unit and sort of bond during the exercise and have to get along because a leader who can move them as a group is there. If you know how to do this, it can really get all horses socialized rather quickly. Something to consider.

You know Rachael, I travel to teach a lot. Consider that I could come to your barn and do a clinic. If you think there may be interest let me know....Meanwhile, the best of luck to you!

Sincerely, Franklin

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