Discussion in 'Problem Horses' started by equinetamer, Mar 15, 2014.

  1. equinetamer

    equinetamer New Member

    So my new horse came from the country, never stabled, kept out in big empty pasture with other horses. His new agistment isn't stabled as such, but he's kept in a little sectioned off "day yard" with open access to green pasture (about arena sized). The agistment has a bunch of these so all the sheds are facing each other.

    My issue is he doesn't like the enclosed space. To the point that even if he's in a back paddock, the bush enclosing it scares him. I cant walk him down an alley about 10 feet wide because theres bush on one side. He doesn't stand in his shed to eat, he just reaches in. When we walk past the stable complex (20 meters away) (barn kind of thing) he is dancing around as though a lion will come out.
    He is fine with the enclosed space of a float, and he's fine if I walk him between say two close trees, or two close barrels. It just seems to be this thing of the enclosing feel of bush, or the presence of big enclosed structures like the stable. When he's back in his paddock, he breathes out and relaxes.

    I know its just instinct, but I was hoping someone would have some tips? He's been here for about two months now.

    My methods so far (that don't seem to be working)
    - walking him past, remaining calm, not thinking that he's going to freak out (he still does)
    - Walking him, letting him graze nearby, then circling him around a bit closer, eat some grass.
    - Walking him past the barn with me on the "scary" side - worked better, but as soon as it got behind us, he was wary and trying to trot forwards. I can't do this yet properly as he is not used to being led from the right hand side, which im working on.
    - I let him go on the top paddock to explore himself after I couldn't get him to work the day before as he was too scared (made him do one good thing to end on a good note before we left though) - he galloped from one corner to the next, staring out at the bush. He would then run to stand near the gate wanting to be let out.
    - Shown him another horse walking through/past - he thought they were a threat, then realised they were a horse and just kept on high alert.

    I can handle his spooks - they're not the worst I've dealt with - but it makes me apprehensive if I'm riding and he spooks constantly at these things, or if they become bigger.
    His ground manners are okay - I've been doing Parelli. He'll walk when i walk, stop when i stop (providing he's not scared), he respects my space, he waits for food. He's fine with sudden noises, sudden movements (I'm known to test this by randomly star jumping in his paddock) - unless its near an enclosed space eg cat running from between sheds, person walking out of barn/stable complex

    Once again, I know its instinct **) I'm just hoping someone will have a tip to help me out so he realises he's not threatened. And I know it might be me being the problem - I make myself calm, breath in and out, not think he's going to be scared, and when he does spook, I act like nothing happened other than giving him a calm voice saying silly boy dont worry and such. And I also heard that if you stare at the place as well, that makes them know its a threat, so I just look where I wanna go. or when he was in the paddock free roaming i went to the fence he was looking out and put my back to the bush. (he ran away a few seconds after) Oh, and when we were in the paddock, he wouldn't come away from gate so I walked the perimeter, then stood in one corner and he came away and into the middle of the paddock to eat peacefully. Only when I went back to the gate did he start running around scared.

    Maybe I can take a gopro video on our next walk so you can see?
    Note: Sorry for long text!! :eek: Didn't realise!
  2. RVP Horses

    RVP Horses Well-known Member

    Desensitisation, improve his ground manners and higher your expectation.

    Desensitisation will teach your horse a better way to handle stress and anxiety rather that the natural flight response, it will give him a chance to approach the situation more calmly, thereby allowing him to think through the situation and process the information realising it really wasn't that scary after all. (think pony temperament instead of thoroughbred temperament, yes I know that's a generalisation but hopefully you get my drift)

    Better groundwork will get you seen as a better leader. I have yet to see a horse in a group that runs through the herd leader because they are scared. If he isn't respecting you when he's worried, your ground work isn't O.K.

    If you expect him to be O.K. and he's not, take the time to repeat till he understands he's staying in that spot, walking past that object until he can do it without rushing. I had one that rushed through the gate when I took him out the paddock one day (hadn't done it before) so I took him back in and asked him to come out, over and over an over until he walked through then we continued doing what we were originally planning to do. He never did it again.

    If this is the same horse you posted about before, you will notice the answer is pretty much the same. All these issues are related and they are just symptoms of the real problem. Lack of seeing you as a leader and anxiety. Fix these and you have fixed all the little problems and a lot more that are likely to manifest down the road.

    Hope this helps
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2014
  3. Blackbat

    Blackbat Well-known Member

    Hi ET, I believe we have similar ponies and I've had lots of success lately with improving things, which has made for a huge boost in confidence that I can keep his concentration when he feels under pressure from his surroundings. Actually a joy to ride out and about now, less like taking a kamikaze mission :) here's a different perspective to consider...

    When left to himself, even with a calm herd leader, he is suspicious, reactive and avoidant of closed in spaces, even to the point of not eating or drinking. We live on a bush block so he lives in a state of constant mental vigilance and body tension. In an open paddock he is a different animal. This is just him and I can't change the 'personality' he was born with.

    What chance do I have of overcoming this instinctive nature, especially with the added pressures of riding or leading in a strange environment? While perfectly behaved, and doing everything I asked, he would become overwhelmed with fear and eventually the multiple sensory inputs would become too much and he'd explode.

    Over many many years of slow improvement, the most significant change has come about by realising I can't try to be bigger than what scared him, I can't force him to listen to me, can't make him not be scared. Pushing, making, forcing, practicing scaring him via desensitisation techniques or chasing him around trying to be more relevant than the scary thing is worse than useless... I become something to be feared and watched too. A good 'leader' should never be your torturer or tormentor, JMO.

    So anyways, I learnt that my training had never really valued true relaxation and a thinking brain over getting a move performed. I'd never taught anything without the tension of self preservation being involved to some degree, ultimately it was 'do it...or else'. The tension was so subtle that I could barely see it, but I could feel things weren't right...but didn't know what to do about it.

    So here we are embarking on another direction, in which we learn relaxation, a supple body, rhythmic soothing movement and a calm, connected thinking brain. I'm doing less and keeping his focus more. I am trying to be nothing to be feared, but someone who suoports and reassures. Now when we go riding, and transition from an open meadow to a narrow bush track, I know what to do. I hold his hand and quietly guide him through while keeping his body relaxed, moving and flexible. This keeps his mind calmly on my signals, his body actively moving in a way that opposes adrenalinised postures, and the environment less in his thoughts.

    He still worries about closed in areas, but classical dressage concepts have given us strategies that build confidence, trust and keep his mind open to me, not the scary bushes! We are only beginners but the changes are rapid. And I'm amazed that this seemingly unrelated discipline should suddenly turn my shying, tight time bomb into a brave trail horse :)

    If you're still here, I guess my main message is that you can't make your horse not be scared. Don't use scariness to fight scariness. Show him how to keep his mind and body relaxed, resoonsive and focused then all the surrounding environmental white noise dials right down into insignificance.

    Good luck with him, your horse doesn't want to be like this, you'll get better.
  4. equinetamer

    equinetamer New Member

    Hi RVP - Yes, I completely agree our groundmanners aren't perfect **) I've been improving them, but we're not quite there yet. I've been doing the seven games, and he completes them. But I think that he just knows the games, if thats not confusing. Like, he'll do the games but as soon as we step out of them and say just go for a walk and he sees something scary, he'll lose that respect. Which of course could mean we arent doing the games to the extent/perfection they should be. Maybe I should try doing the games in the vicinity of the shed/stables?
    I will try doing the higher expectation thing tonight and let you know - eg: keep walking him past the "scary spot" until he walks calmly.

    On the topic of ground manners, I've been trying to find exercises to do and just keep getting redirected to Parelli. I've looked up some others such as Warwick Schiller, but I need to subscribe to his site to view them, which I don't have the extra funds for at the moment. If you have any recommendations, even if its just a link to a good one, it would really help me out.

    Blackbat - sounds interesting, how can I teach my horse to calm itself with your method? :)
  5. RVP Horses

    RVP Horses Well-known Member

    My training is based around the likes of Warwick Schiller, parelli and many others. Warwick has a very no-nonsense approach. He also shows real time footage so you can see the changes he makes. He "fixes" many horses from English disciplines and of various breeds with various problems so it is proven to work on the very problems you describe. His methods are very similar to other trainers but he has a great way of explaining things and makes things simple to understand. He has quite a few you tube clips that are free to view or it may be worth having the odd lesson where certain issues can be addressed then you are left with some homework to continue. I offer as much follow up support as you need as issues arise. Often it is just a case of body position, not enough pressure at the right time, not quiting for a try etc that can make all the difference and this is hard to explain, much easier to demonstrate to get you on the right track. It sounds like it will be easy to demonstrate with your boy as he has a few scary places to overcome and once you learn how to handle it in one place this then transfers to everything else you are doing. It would be good to test his ground work because often people think they are doing it right and it's really good but it has holes in it which tend to manifest as the very issues you are having.

    If after one session it isn't working then don't continue but I'm very confident it will help :)
  6. Blackbat

    Blackbat Well-known Member

    Whichever method you use (they all work in the end), it's more about your attitude than a particular technique. If you remember he is in a new place, with new people and you are doing new things with him... He would thrive on consistency, predictability and redirection of his worries onto something he is good at. If you are have been trying to teach him a new language, taking him to scary places and making him do stuff he doesnt totally understand, randomly doing star jumps at him... you and your activities are not a safety zone for him but are unpredictable (for the present) and trigger his self preservation?

    With practice I'm sure you will develop a better understanding, but it's not just about performing games. The quality of your feel and your ability to read him and respond appropriately is the real lesson in the games. With that he will come to trust your judgement and follow your ideas because you are a mobile safety zone of predictability, consistency, reassurance, and never ask him for something he can't offer with the perpetration he has had to date.

    A great horseman once said you can't push a horse through something bad and get something good... so the trick is to never take them to the point of feeling threatened, don't push em when they tell you they're terrified, or you'll just prove they were right to not trust you. Read the horses need and give it to them as a gift of safety. I find fear is such a fascinating emotion to deal with in a horse, you can really learn a lot about them (and yourself). When fear is present a horse can learn and process nothing, but it's something most people will downplay or dismiss or blame/punish the horse because they don't understand why or what to do, which tends to make it worse.

    I saw this empathy at a horse expo once. There were many demos of people working sweaty horses, laying them down, cracking whips over them to prove how trusting they were...I don't know if you've heard of learned helplessness but its worth googling. Then I saw Manolo Mendez demo a horse, it was worried about one side of the arena. I know some might have insisted the horse obeyed and stayed straight, made it uncomfortable to leave the fence, pushed it on in a counterbend etc. But he mentioned the horse was worried, and said that's why he took it away from the scary fence in a long loop along that long side. Whatdyknow... The next loop was shallower and the third time down the fence the horse wasnt worried. I thought that was the coolest thing I'd seen all day :)
  7. Rosinante

    Rosinante Active Member

  8. LNT

    LNT Well-known Member

    A great horseman once said you can't push a horse through something bad and get something good... so the trick is to never take them to the point of feeling threatened, don't push em when they tell you they're terrified, or you'll just prove they were right to not trust you. Read the horses need and give it to them as a gift of safety. I find fear is such a fascinating emotion to deal with in a horse, you can really learn a lot about them (and yourself). When fear is present a horse can learn and process nothing, but it's something most people will downplay or dismiss or blame/punish the horse because they don't understand why or what to do, which tends to make it worse.

    this has made so much sense to me thank you for that Blackbat, I was wondering and not to hijack the thread, but my boy is terrified of needles, once he see's the needle he just goes into panic mode and you cant get near him, any ideas on how to combat this please?. I had a situation on Saturday where he needed sedation and no way was that going to happen without someone getting hurt, would appreciate any advice also :)
  9. RVP Horses

    RVP Horses Well-known Member

    It's very hard LNT as most training teaches the horse to change their response to fearful or anxious situations allowing them to act more calmly and therefore be able to process the information and think their way through it. They can then discover their fear was unfounded and learn to trust and think through situations better. Rather than their natural response which id run and then you don't have to worry if it really was scary or not. A horse that is that worried can't think and process the information, a response that is needed if the horse is to be safe.

    When it comes to veterinary procedure it is hard because the process IS likely to cause discomfort and a degree of pain so they are probably right to be fearful and wary of it. You can probably improve the situation if it has been caused by them being rough handled when having veterinary treatment applied rather than it specifically being a fear of the treatment itself and you could certainly teach the horse not to be fearful of the site and probably the smell of the needle but once the needle was used on them the fear is likely to come back.

    The theory behind the process of desnsitisation (which I think is a misnomer of the practice because it isn't really about desnsitisation at all) is to find something they are just a little worried about and teach them that if they relax it will be O.K. then work up to something a bit more scary and a bit more scary in a process until something that is really scary they won't react violently to, instead they much just look, jump or take a couple of steps away while they are thinking if it really is that scary. So of course you can easily do that with the needle and as I mentioned before it may help with the overall situation but you can't keep sticking them with a needle until they relax and realise it isn't scary.... it'll never happen.

    So I guess it depends what part of the process they are really scared of, horses generally don't pre-empt pain like we do so I still think it could be successful. It works with horses that are bad to worm and in that process the end result is that they still get the yucky paste that they don't want so it would be interesting to see if it would work.
  10. equinetamer

    equinetamer New Member

    Hello everyone **) I tried to take into account what everyone said last night and it went quite well. I'll try not write a novel but the basics is that I walked him around, taking our time. When he thought we were about to go past the barn, I stopped for a while till he smacked his lipsand lowered his head (moving attention away from barn) then I took him in the arena next door to the barn, did some walk lunging then walked out past the barn. I stood him facing the barn, and once he relaxed, I said good boy gave him a pat and moved on, taking the pressure off. Then we came back did it again. Once he was fine with that, we went a bit closer on the next walk back. To the point where I stood him at one end where the "scary" was, and he stood a little worried, and didn't relax as much but as soon as he took a nice deep breath I rewarded him by a pat, good boy and walked away. It worked I think, but I'll do it again tonight to see if it was just a fluke!

    Yes, I'm always too worried to try anything that requires the immediate understand that the horse is accepting - I don't have the experience to pinprick that exact moment and release pressure/reward, and so I dont want to mess it up ! I'm even wary of Join Up although everyone raves about it ';'

    Forcing the horse to do scary things I dont agree with, I think it creates more problems than it solves even if it somehow works as a 'quick' fix. Eg: Shoving a horse into a trailer using whips, bumropes etc is a quick fix for a scary situation. (not saying its good!)

    I have watched every single Warwick Schiller video on YouTube ! Found him a month or so ago and I love him and his method. Unfortunately though his youtube videos arent step by step kind of thing, and its not the 'whole' story, which is what I need with the subscription, which hopefully will get soon. I'm kind of a visual learner, but I need steps as well.

    But yes, will have another go tonight Thank you everyone *#)
  11. retroremedy

    retroremedy Well-known Member

    Hi LNT, Unfortunately you are not going to solve your horses needle phobia worrying about your horses fear. I completely disagree with Blackbat, worrying about worrying your horse brings emotion into horse training and emotion compromises effective horse training. There is a good quote in horse training that goes along the lines - always find a starting point and be as gentle as possible and as firm as necessary and always reward the slightest try. In regards to your horses needle phobia, get yourself a syringe or needle cover and find a starting point with that syringe/needle cover ..therefore can you stand next to your horse with a syringe in your hand? Use the desensitisation process to do this and only remove the syringe/needle cover when the horse stands still for 10 seconds or demonstrates a sign of relaxation....then once they are comfortable with that step it up and see if can you rub them with the syringe/needle cover. Then increase it until your can not just rub but tap them with the end of the needle cover just. Then twice a day every day get the syringe/needle cover and tap them in the usual needle spots. Give a carrot after the tapping session to add a positive experience at the conclusion. Therefore, even if they end up getting a needle and it hurts the process doesn't always hurt, they might get one needle every six months but if you tap them twice a day that is only 1 painful jab out of 360 tap sessions with a syringe/needle....therefore they don't get classically conditioned to needle always equals fact you will instill tapping with a needle results in a carrot! So your horse can improve it just depends on how much time you can devote to desensitising them to needles. Hope that helps.
  12. CTCT

    CTCT New Member

    LNT this is one of the few times I use clicker training (I'm not usually a fan). It's classical conditioning and basically replaces the conditioned response (that needle is going to HURT) with a stronger one (that needle is now associated with that clicker and that clicker means a reward). It's slightly different to desensitisation: rather than removing the response it replaces the undesirable response with a more desirable one. I find it tends to work better where the thing we are trying to teach them to accept DOES, even if only occasionally, mean pain or discomfort. You can abolish that response but then the next time you gave to actually give a needle, I find the horse tends to regress a lot. Pain is a POWERFUL conditioning stimulus!
    It needs to be used with care, especially with highly food motivated horses (I have one!), but can be very effective. I'm no expert, but there are a mountain of videos and links out there to show you how it works.
    If your boy is THAT terrified of needles, you will need to establish the clicker response to some other task first, then transfer the clicker training tothe needle. "Touch this with your nose" is a good one to start out teaching, as that can be transferred to "touch this NEEDLE with your nose" then to "touch this needle with your nose while I am holding it on your neck". Then you shape the response to "touch, then stand still".
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2014
  13. Blackbat

    Blackbat Well-known Member

    That's an interesting interpretation RR, to read me as saying you should tiptoe around in terror of upsetting the horse. I don't mean that at all. I hope the OP didn't take it that way.

    You are advising the same ideas I was. Find the point they can tolerate then gradually build up from there. No throwing in the deep end. It's reading the horse and not pushing them over the brink into not coping, where they can't think or learn anyway, or where the handler gets scared or frustrated. If anything it requires an absolutely unemotional mindset in the handler so they can make a plan of progressive steps, an objective assessment of the horse's anxiety... empathy is not sympathy.

    I don't know how I'd approach the needle phobia, probably make sure you can reliably lower horses head, bend the neck laterally and relax (a slack muscle is easier to needle), 'friendly game' where you can stroke the horse to a standstill if they won't stand still, rubbing the horse with plastic wrappers and strange items using approach and retreat until he relaxes, some toothpick work, carrots even? and lots of unhurried practice. Don't hide or sneak, show them the syringe- I know it sounds weird but since I started explaining what I was doing for the horse it's actually been a difference in acceptance for worming, needles and all medicining. That's a bit way out sounding, but it does allow for a calm pause and assessment before the act.
  14. RVP Horses

    RVP Horses Well-known Member

    It sounds like you were misinterpreted Blackbat just as you thought desensitisation meant going around scaring them lol.

    I think everyone is actually on the same page. Some obviously don't like particular words or phrases but when they explain it, it actually turns out to be a similar approach just reworded.

    So I guess firm but sensitive leadership with some form of conditioning, whether that be desensitisation, clicker training or repetitive approach and retreat, they are all very similar and are based on a reward system. Horse does what you want, it get what it wants.

    Add pressure, take it away when you get the slightest try for what you want. But I think we would all agree that the better the timing for the reward the better and quicker a horse learns but if you reward at the wrong time or too slow the horse can learn the wrong thing just as fast.
  15. Blackbat

    Blackbat Well-known Member

    Ha, touche!

    It's true we all mean the same thing, I reckon. I don't mean to dismiss desensitisation, just to guard the OP about the different ways its performed. Hence the extreme examples I gave.

    One was flooding the horse with stimuli, streaming with sweat and taking away its air, giving it no option but to surrender after 2 hours and be pulled down by a leg rope before being covered with a tarp and stock whips cracked over it. Applause, the 'crazy' horse is tamed. What do you think it really learnt in this case? Extreme I know, but even taking a wary horse into a situation and deliberately causing it to panic then making it stay until it 'calmed down' is going to do nothing but drive its instincts deeper under the surface and not actually help the horse really change its mind about the issue. This is similar to what the OP described in first post. And she knows it wasn't working (this is also the premise of amateur join up so I'm glad you trusted your instincts there).

    The result of this approach is that you have to start back at square one every day, 'desensitise' to every colour of plastic bag, because all you've done is suppress an instinct not deal with it. Learned helplessness can be a result of this sort of 'desensitisation'- in inverted commas because I really mean 'intimidating bullying'.

    On the other hand, is a desensitisation that acknowledged the horse's worry, took it to safety instead of declaring battle, and allowed the horse to stay thinking and trusting. Gradual advancing into the area of worry staying well away from the remote chance of panic. 5 minutes later a relaxed dignified result with long lasting benefit and no applause (not very flashy to look at). And I think this sort of approach is the one the OP tested tonight.

    Look forward with interest to debate of relative terms, and OPs experiences in future :)
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2014
  16. RVP Horses

    RVP Horses Well-known Member

    I absolutely agree Blackbat. When you ask people how there horse is with desensitisation and they say yeah he's good. He doesn't mind anything. Then they go on to explain other issues, you know the desensitisation isn't good at all. Most people stop desensitising when the horse stands still, therefore a lot of "desensitised" horses are actually horses that have shut down due to not being able to cope with that much pressure, therefore a ticking time bomb just waiting for something else to worry them a bit and they will explode which comes out as a buck, bolt. rear etc. If it is taken a step further and the horse is rewarded for relaxing, that is when big changes start to happen, but you need to know what a horse looks like when he relaxes and reward the smallest change. If you try to wait for a big change the horse will get more shut down not less and will stop trying for you as he has no reward. Once you get a horse accepting something that he has been rewarded for relaxing with, you can use this in scary situations as his cue to relax. My horses, if they get worried about something, all I do is throw the whip over their back gently and you can see them relax immediately. Now you have a tool to help them through other situations.

    I hope the OP keeps us informed of her progress. Horses they are such a fascinating journey.
  17. Blackbat

    Blackbat Well-known Member

    Bingo RVP! Exactly!

    And once you have that fear switched off, you must fill the void with something. Once the mind is less anxious, you must preoccupy it with a predictable job that involves full focus on the communication between you and the horse. Can't expect them to stay calm if you leave them swinging in the wind with no helping hand.

    Otherwise they just search for an excuse to worry again. You're right, they are always thinking so it's best to keep a positive plan running for them to follow at all times and feeding back to each other about how it's going.

    Shutdown is so destructive, do everything you can to keep your horse open and communicating, even if their opinion of you isn't the best at least it's honest, you must swallow it and allow them to judge your ability to run the show at any moment.
  18. retroremedy

    retroremedy Well-known Member

    Blackbutt, I have a few questions for you about what you have do you switch off fear or make a horse less anxious without getting them to do a "job" in the first place? You make it sound like it is some separate event?

    Also, what do you mean by predictable job? Is predictability something you think is key to all aspects of handling horses as well as the jobs they should do?
  19. krayzee

    krayzee New Member

    And don't ya just love anthropomorphism ........
  20. old_mate

    old_mate Well-known Member

    Are you suggesting that Horses don't have emotions ?

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