I want to share the story of a little paint pony named ” Thunder ”
I received a call from a woman who had purchased a three year old Pony who was not yet trained to ride. She was excited about how calm he was for such a young horse and decided to purchase him. The sellers had agreed to deliver him. She let him settle in his new home but soon found out she could not go near him. He was afraid of everything and everyone. He attempted to kick if you touched him anywhere on his hindquarter or legs. He just wasn’t the same pony she looked at. She had to lock him in a stall so she could attempt to tame him. She did a great job but he still reacted with fear or kicking if she went near his hind end. When I came, he was standing in the stall quivering with fear. He showed major signs of tension like his tail was tucked tight, holding his breath and his eyes were huge. If I tried to approach him over the stall wall, he attempted to jump out of the half door. Hmm..guessing the sellers drugged this pony so he seemed calm when she purchased him. My first thought was he must have been abused. I later realized that he was acting as a horse in the wild would if caught and locked up. Presumably, he must have grown up in a herd and his only human contact memories were traumatic to him. ( haltering, vaccinations, castration, etc. )
The first thing I decided to do is give him treats ( Of course! )
This would help his mind relax and forget about his fears. Eating ( chewing ) actually has a relaxing effect on the horse, it keeps his mind relaxed and not so focused on ” flight ” While he was loving the treats, I was able to halter, and pet him. Everything I did was very slow, talking to him the whole time. What I was saying didn’t matter, it was the tone of my voice that mattered and remained the same, quiet and comforting.
I used some Ttouch methods with him. These are awareness methods, not massage. These ” touches ” make the horse more aware of their body. In other words, if a horse is nervous or holding emotions, he completely shuts down his mind and body, it is a defense mechanism that humans use as well. Horses become very unpredictable in this state of mind. The Ttouches help the horse become aware of his body mentally and physically. It can also create a bonding and trusting friendship with horses that are tense. I started with a long dressage whip to act as an extension of my arm. This way, I could stand back in a non threatening way but still touch his hindquarter without getting kicked. If your horse is having odd behavior, I suggest trying Ttouch to see if he is shut down, blocking out emotional stress or pain. Know that there is always a reason for this behavior, based on fear or pain. It doesn’t have to mean the horse was abused, it is almost like a map to areas of tension. If you don’t address the cause, with proper training exercises or tack fitting, you will waste your time with the Ttouch ( after horse has been diagnosed healthy by your vet ) ligament issues, arthritis, etc. can cause pain and rigidity as well.
Signs of tension with eyes and mouth say a lot about the horses emotions but so does the tail! A clamped, rigid tail is a sign of fear or even pain that resulted in shutting down emotionally. You want to address and actually get the horse “aware ” of it’s body. Does your horse unnecessarily spook at things? Does he seem startled when you pet his hindquarter like he didn’t know you were there? This can come from a slight physical pain that can even come from locked back muscles, shoulders, etc. Remember some horses tolerate pain by becoming stoic, emotionally shutting down. It will eventually show up in behavior, lameness or health. The horses self preserved way to stay comfortable, enduring, tolerant. Horses main priority for themselves is comfort, and safety.
” The horse must always feel comfortable in all equestrian activities, this is how we show him our love and respect.” – Miguel Tavora
You will start to know a horse is relaxing by watching his body signs. His eyes will go
from distant or scared to calm and relaxed. ” soft ”
He will begin to lower his head in a relaxed manner. He will breathe out and begin to gently chew. These relaxed signs can appear but the tail may still be rigid and clamped.
I could now pet him all over but needed to know if he was still going to kick out if I pet his hindquarter. I use a rope or lasso to desensitize that area, just placing slight tension for awareness. Linda Tellington suggests polo wraps as they are gentler. In some cases, the horse is less fearful of approaching with the rope than wrapping him with a polo wrap. After some hopping and kicking, he settled. He was just scared and kicking out in defense. His ears were not pinned but his tail was clamped. All “problem ” horses have to be handled differently and that is why no” how to” book can address the situation. I taught the owner the Ttouch so she could work with him 10 to 20 minutes per day. He soon became relaxed and accepting and I was able to start him under saddle. Chasing a horse in a round pen until he ” relaxes ” does not work in cases of pain and emotion, it seems to but is actually creating a stronger mental shutdown. This is different than acceptance or accustoming to tack and surroundings. I have seen many horses leap right out of a round pen in fear and confusion. Horses like this need routine and consistency of ” awareness “in order to change their defensive nature to a trusting, willing character. This pony was able to change because of his owners willingness to learn, to have faith in what I was doing and allowing the time needed to gain his trust.
If you persevere long enough, if you do the right things long enough, the right things will happen.