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Insecure ex-show horse will not leave certain area of pasture to eat

Hello from the UK. What a wonderful site you have - keep up the good work and in the meantime I really hope you can give me some advice as I really dont know what to do with my mare.

I have a 5 year old Arabian mare. We have had her from approx. 9 months now. She has been heavily shown before we got her and I think that the restrictions that a lot of show animals are faced with - are a major route of her problems.

Basically she is unable to make any form of bond with other horses and when turned out in the field (she is currently out 24/7)- she has one section of the field that is her 'safe area' and will not dare to come out of this section. The other horses are kind sociable horses (I have tried her out in small herds as well as bigger herds) and she just panics and is routed to the spot. She grazes this 'safe area' completely bare - and although there is lush green grass just meters away from her - she will not dare step into it - and will literally stand there and starve if I don't feed her hay and hard feed (I have tried to force her to move to the grass by not feeding her but she started to drop weight).

If the other horses come to her section - she will follow them and become one of the herd - but as soon as they move away - she just remains in her section all on her own again.

She was weaned from her mother at 5 and a half months and apparently started this behavior after coming home from being show trained as a yearling. She has been wintered out for a few winters and I am not sure on the amount of turnout she had when she was being shown.

Is there anything that you can suggest that will help me help her to move away from this fear? She is currently turned out with one other mare. if I could get her to bond and trust just one other horse then I would be overjoyed - but she has little trust for anyone- human or horse.

Thanks, Nicola xx

Hi Nicola,

First of all, thank you very much for your kind and generous donation to my website and work. It is much appreciated, indeed.

There are several things I wish to point out and suggest. You are already aware that competition life, for not all, but many horses, is hell. I am not a fan of how many horses are trained and kept for competition which I feel is basically an ego based activity for the human, at the expense of an innocent, sentient being, the horse. Horses attain status within their wild herds through a process of natural leadership selection. They are not naturally competitive in the wild. Also, old habitual ways of thinking and behaving are very difficult to change and modify in humans as well as horses. A gradual and consistent introduction to a new way of feeling, being, living and activity seems to work best for both species. So, first off, more playing on the ground that is simple, fun and assists in this horse bonding with you (or some human who has the knowledge, time and willingness to spend with the horse). This horse will bond with you if you handle/play/interact with and spend a lot of time with on the ground and in a very positive and non-stressful way. Much more time than you would think, is required. ‘Trust’ is developed overt time though shared experiences that are ‘feel good’ experiences and mutually successful at some level. Particularly the enjoyment level. What you may think is just too elementary to do (simply just being with the horse quietly and peacefully), would be significant to the horse if done consistently and lots of reward (removal of all pressure of a request or input of energy) for compliance or even effort at compliance. Asking for three steps forward, a whoa and then reward (simply let the animal stand peacefully for a few moments like 15-30 seconds), is significant to the horse. This is very different than the interaction it had with humans in the show arenas and barns. Lots and lots of reward or peace after simple requests will get you on the track of a trusting relationship with this horse. No food reward for sure and even stroking is unnecessary as part of the reward. This may take several months, but may take a shorter length of time depending on your skill, attitude and willingness to go for it.

As far as her comfort zone in the pasture, consider getting some sort of easy to move fencing (electric tape perhaps). You gradually begin to make the area of her comfort zone smaller and allow the barrier of the tape to GRADUALLY move her to a different area. Do not simply rope off her comfort zone. Rather it is better to make the change gradual. See about keeping the other horse she is OK with nearby and even in the same area so they both get moved gradually together. Sounds like she is low horse in the pecking order too and this may prompt her to be somewhat fearful of being with the herd and leaving an area she is comfortable in.

Remember trust is not a given and must be earned over time through mutually successful experiences with another being. If you are willing you can do this and your horse will come around. It is not complicated, nor difficult. It is, however, time consuming. Consistency of energy, attitude and how you interact with the horse is very important. Inconsistency produces fear. Consistency develops trust.

Please keep me posted and let me know how it all goes. Thank you again for your thoughtfulness.

Sincerest regards, Franklin

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