SPOOKY AND SCARED GREEN BROKE HORSE
Question: I am working with a 3-year-old mare that I purchased a month ago. Even though I have experience with training horses, this mare scares me and makes me nervous. She is head shy and doesn’t like me touching her legs. She is so "Spooky" that I can only touch her for a short time before I give up. I am waving flags and plastic bags and things at her just like the books, I read, tell me too. This doesn’t work, like the "Horse Whispering" books say it does!!! She is so jumpy and acts afraid. Plus, even though I can now get on her in the round pen, when I take her to an arena she is not used to, she just goes nuts. Can you tell me what I am doing wrong? I feed her really well and she is kept in a boxstall most of the time, with some turnout time in-between training time. She is Green Broke already.
Answer: Is she spooky because she is getting to much grain and not enough exercise, thus just needs to burn off those extra calories by being an idiot or is she spooking because she still does not trust her human to keep her safe from harm? If not just to many calories and not enough exercise, then:
Once you have gained her trust, then you will be her herd boss and she will look to you for guidance and safety. Meaning, as long as you are not tense or afraid of anything, then she will relax, thinking, my herd boss is unafraid so no reason for me to be so. You must learn to keep your tenseness and nervousness around her under control. Very Important here. A tense, nervous person cannot train a horse very easily, if at all.
She sounds like she has may never have had enough human contact or should I say, safe human contact. Perhaps a human has also worked her over pretty good instilling a fear of people. Thus the head shy and shy of someone touching her legs.
Okay, number one: When introducing such a horse to "Fear Stimulus" (things that will frighten her), you must go SLOW and EASY. Or you will just make her worse. Oh yes, we can pound into their heads that they must accept this item or that item but trust me, given a chance she will spook even worse at them, even a year down the road, catching the owner by surprise.
When rubbing her head or legs, you must keep it up until the horse totally relaxes. Never quit until you feel and see her relax, at last accepting the touching. Doing it just a bit really isn't much help. Stopping before she submits to your gently touching (rubbing is best) is no good.
Introducing her to bags, flags, tarps and all those things that go "Bump In The Night" must be done slow and easy. And again, never quit this gentle/slow process until you see her head come down to normal, her ears begin moving back and forth like a normal horse, her muscles relax, her breathing slow, her heart rate come back to normal. Then you have completed her training lesson properly and can quit until the next day. (Work with her 5 or 6 days a week, any less is not training but harassing a nervous horse).
And here is my secret. In the pen she lives in. Place a barrel for her to get used to. Leave it there. Plastic barrels are best as the horse will soon make a toy out of it, knocking it over and rolling it around if still young enough to enjoy play time. Then add a small tarp, one that you don't mind that it is going to get wrecked. I initially spread it out in front of their water trough, forcing them to walk on it to get a drink or better still, in a gateway between pasture and pen/stall, forcing them to walk over it to go out or in. Young horses will soon be grabbing it in their teeth and rearing with it in play. I stuff plastic bags or feed sacks with other old ones and throw it in their pens, they soon make toys out of them too. I drape tarps, old blankets, bags, whatever over their fences. Tie them on the fence some times for more of a challenge for the horse in removing them.
WHY DOES ALL THIS WORK SO WELL? Because she has a pen full of junk that will not injure her but best of all. I AM NOT WAVING THESE THINGS AT THE HORSE, I AM NO WHERE IN SIGHT SO THESE THINGS AREN'T EVEN ASSOCIATED WITH ME SPOOKING HER. Better still, she is busy teaching herself that they are harmless.
Second and very important. She needs to be turned loose in the arena, other available pens, other arenas, all over the place until she learns she is not going to be hurt. She needs to relax, trust her owner, trust every strange thing for miles around.
Last one. Keep your nerves under control. If a horse (any animal actually) senses their human is nervous, they then think there really is something to be afraid of. Animals have a highly developed 6th sense and they know when their human is nervous or jumpy. For this horse, once again, I must write: Don’t forget the big 4 when training all animals. Patience, Kindness, Consistency and Repetition. (All 4 combined never fails to work).