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My Horse is afraid of cattle...What to do?

Hello Franklin:

I just came across your website and it's terrific. I€šve read several of the questions and answers. I really like how you help people. I'm hoping you might be able to shed some light on my situation.

I have a 12 year Trakener gelding. He's a good horse, and I love him. I've have had him 7 years. I bought him as a 5 year old when he had never been turned out in pasture, just stalled and turned out in an arena to exercise. Bad news. We've come along way in several years. He no longer stays in a barn and loves being a pasture horse. He goes/went on trail rides and turned into a peaceful and mellow horse. UNTIL, we moved to a new facility a month ago. All went well for about a month, until about two weeks ago when cattle were introduced into the pasture right across the street from his pasture and the barn.

Yes, he can see the cattle right across the street and yes, he can hear them mooing, he also reacts to the sounds. FYI, he's always been a BIG smeller, he's probably smelling them too. He seems to be semi-alright in the pasture with other horses. However, he does stay at the upper end of the pasture and sticks close to the other horses (of course, that part is normal). I do see him staring at the cattle, at least he's not running around and freaking out in the pasture when turned out. However, when I take him out of the pasture to go to the barn (he walks all over me, I have to continuously turn him in circles, he snorts and throws his head up - he's terrified). When I try to groom him, he moves back and forth in the cross ties looking out towards the cattle/boogie man. I'm unable to clean his feet because he's moving around so much.

Yes, I did get on and attempt to go on a trial ride a week ago. He was jumping around, snorting, staring, balking, acting like he was scared of everything. Then he started to act like he was going to rear, that's when I got off. I do understand he is very afraid of the cattle, and I do know I'm in somewhat shock because I've never seen him like this with such consistency and for so long. I do understand my fear makes the situation worse so I'm going to re-channel my fear and upset into trying to be more relaxed, not getting mad, and spend time soothing him and doing lots of walking, grooming etc.

My issues are: I don't want to get hurt, I don't want him to get hurt, and I really miss our peaceful and therapeutic riding together. I'm feeling sadness too. What do you suggest? Scary questions but, is it possible he'll never get over his fear of cattle?

Thank you so much, Therese

P.S. The barn owner says other horses have been afraid of the cattle too but, they got over it in a week or two. My guy is more sensitive, I guess. I'd appreciate any incite you might have. I'm borrowing someone's computer right now.

Hi Therese,

Seems you have a horse with 'bovinafobia.' I just made that word up. If there is a horse on the site there that is calm and good around cattle, you could try having the horse's owner 'pony' your horse, with and without you riding it, around the cattle. You could also ask the owner of the cattle if they would allow you and your horse to hang out in the same pasture with the cattle with the intention of getting your horse used to the cows. As far as him running over you, you should deal with your boundries and do it now. Before you go anywhere with the horse he should stop, back up, go around you and generally show you good ground manners, no matter what. So, set your boundries and insist on good manners before you go anywhere. You do this by making what you don't want the horse to do hard for him by putting him to work doing tight hind quarter yields. Do not wait until you are in a situation where the horse gets spooked and you are trying to restrain him. Restraint does not work anyway as the horse is too strong. Better to get good at directing his nervous energy around you by having him move in tight circles. That is work for the horse and they will not want to do it for too long.

I don't like cross ties. I have seen way too many wrecks with horses spooking in cross ties. I would forget them for a while until your horse calms down and will stand freely, without being tied while being groomed and saddled. This is a safety proceedure and will make things safer for those around you and the other horses in the barn. A good rule of thumb is if your horse won't stand calmly on its own (unrestrained), restraining (in cross ties in particular) him will become a dangerous proposition as he will feel captured. My horses stand freely for everything. They will also tie forever, anywhere. Isn't that a safer and better way? Its called good and thorough training. Obviously you are at an English barn where the emphsis is on riding, riding and more riding. Try putting your attention to training, training and a bit more training. Please attempt not to focus on riding for a little while and work on your ground skills. You can acclimate the horse to cattle while being on the ground with him. This is where the basis of all good relationships with horses begins. If you are not fully and completely connected through a trusting and high level relationship on the ground, you have missed the boat so to speak. These ground skills will make you a better rider and up your level of horsemanship immensely. Understanding the principles of high level training will make you a much better equestrain and horse person. Problems like these will be easy for you to deal with. You say you want to have the nice easy relationship you used to have. I feel you probably had a decent relationship with your horse, but not much of any behavioral issues came up. Just pleasant riding.

If your horse seems to be wanting to rear, buck, kick, bite or a host of other undesirable behaviors, immediately put the horse to doing hind end yields (leg yields) while you are riding him, or on the ground with him. Practice this before you need it. Practice in the arena or some such safe place. It should get as comfortable and natural as breathing. This is a great tool to instantly modify behavior you do not want as it immediately puts the horse to a task he can do and puts his attention right back on you as opposed to the scary object(s). If you do not know or understand 'leg yields' let me know. These are basic principles of good riding of any diciplin, non-abusive and effective.

So, there are a few comments and suggestions. Please let me kwow how it all goes. If there is something you do not understand, please consider a few telephone coaching sessions. They are extremely effective, efficient, convenient and cost effective (about what a piano lesson costs). You can get results quicker, easier and with fewer mis-steps through a few phone coaching sessions. Please let me know if you are interested.

Sincerely, Franklin

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