I could really use some advice. I have a horse I have owned for about 2 years. First year and half was great, he was just what I wanted, a relaxing easy ride. One of those horses you just click with and I felt like he bonded with me very well. About 6 months ago he started acting out of sorts, grumpy and at times a bit scary. I had a gut feeling something physical was wrong but I was told by multiple sources it was behavioral. It took him really losing it and me getting mildly injured for me to really press the issue. We finally found a real, physical injury that likely was the cause of the behavior.
At this point my feelings about the horse were really mixed. On one hand, I didn't trust him like I use to and he had really scared me a few too many times, but on the other hand it was because he hurt not because he was trying to be naughty. We are now in the midst of recovery and rehab. He is NOT being cooperative about his layup. I've done this with other horses, I know he is just frustrated and getting stir crazy but this is not helping mend our relationship. In fact every day I feel like our bond is getting worse and my feelings towards him are not going in the right direction. I feel guilty for this because it isn't really his fault. I still do everything I'm supposed to with him and I am not mean to him, just quiet and somewhat robotic about it all. I find it hard to be really affectionate with him, which I know he likes.
How do you repair a bond and restore trust in your horse? What can I be doing with him during this layup time to improve our relationship? (right now he is in a stall with a very small attached paddock and is being handwalked) I want to do things that will be positive for both of us so I will actually *want* to ride him when he is sound again. Advice?
When my older mare had a bad ligament injury three or four years ago and had to be handwalked and handgrazed for a long time, we actually had a lot of fun with it. She looked so forward to me taking her out to graze, and we built the walking around that. Graze for a bit, walk a lap, graze some more, walk a lap, etc. She loved to roll in the sand arena, so when I discovered that we would go to the arena especially to roll.
When we walked in the arena we'd go around the jumps in different patterns, circling left and right, to keep it interesting.
When she could walk more distance we'd explore different parts of the farm, looking for dandelion patches; later we'd walk down the road to see the horses at the next farm and back again (not far, but it had a little hill which was good for both of us!).
You could bring a little music player with you and play tunes outloud while you handwalk - something mellow but cheerful.
In her case, I actually bonded more with her during this period - she'd always been a little challenging for me, and she wasn't very cuddly or affectionate. After that year we had a real understanding and I am very fond of her now, though she's mainly my husband's riding horse now.
you might consider some clicker training--I had a terrible relationship with Sadie when I got her--she tried to kill me a couple of times. Not a physical issue but very bad handling by her previous owner and she is a classic Pig Headed Boss Mare (and so am I.) She was almost completely shut-down emotionally and resentful (because I Was Winning) and I could tell she was just waiting to get the drop on me (which she'd done several times.) It was an ugly impasse. The only time she didnt HATE with me was grooming time, and she didnt even enjoy grooming THAT much. I had to be constantly vigilant around her.
When I started clicker training all I really wanted to do was get her to stop pinning her ears and tensing to kick or strike. What I GOT was her interest and engagement with me. Now I believe I have her loyalty and cooperation. It was really amazing.
I havent done any clicker training or activities with her in going on two years but she still offers behaviors for me to reward (which I do.)
This is going to be really hard to do, but you have to take the emotion out of it.
You cannot take the horse's actions personally. I know it is hard, especially with one you've had a relationship with. You almost feel hurt/betrayed that the dynamic has changed.
The thing is though, they are animals. When they hurt, they act out sometimes. They don't mean to direct it at you, they are just expressing themselves the only way they know how. There is nothing personal about it, though we often take it that way.
My advice would be to grit your teeth, keep the horse at an arm's length emotionally, and get him through the rest of his rehab. Then when it is time to get him back under saddle, let a professional do it. He may have some residual mental issues, and still anticipate pain, even though the pain is not there anymore. A sympathetic but decisive trainer is the best to help him sort through it.
THEN see how he goes. If at that point, you no longer feel as if you want to ride him, there is no harm in that-- horses changes, people change, sometimes you do need to move on. You can sell or lease or re-home or whatever. But at least you've given it a shot.
We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.
It's a horse. It's not a companion animal. Certainly not a human.
Yet you are assigning human emotions and values to his side of the relationship with you...and he does not have them. Because he is a horse.
Try to see it more his way, not your way and stop assuming he feels what you do and interprets/understands his situation the way you do. He does not.
He does not understand he is on layup and must stay quiet, he only knows he is unhappy with the arrangement. He does not understand he could reinjure himself, and does not "care" because horses are very much in the moment and it is all about right now with them. You are an annoyance because you are not giving him what he wants but making him do what he does not want-there is no feeling or affection there BUT no resentment the way we feel it either.
So don't take it personally because the horse does not mean it that way, just being a horse reacting as horses do and processing information the way horses do.
Take a deep breath and step away from all the emotion and self doubt because there is no reason for it. And never feel bad or gulity when you have the thought it's not the horse for you because HE DOES NOT CARE like you do.
A little blunt. Not saying they are total, uncaring blobs but they react only in their own way while you read the reaction based on your way...so you are getting upset.
Yeah, you can try the clicker training as they are, certainly, food motivated and treats are good. But think your basic problem is getting too personal and that's getting you seeing things that are not there.
By all means plan on sending him to a pro to get a good restart...but...if he is not the one for you? DON'T feel guilty. He doesn't.
When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.
That said, I would like to add a flipside as well...
Six years ago my husband bought me my first horse in 20 years. I thought he was perfect. But as time went along I quickly found that I was having a hard time bonding with him. It was heart wrenching and I felt guilty for not "clicking" with him. I even shed a few tears.
A horse that desires human interaction with me is very important to me. Trail riding and hanging out with them is my hearts desire. So, in my case I chose to get a different horse. I felt like a traitor (yes I know he had no such feelings), but I know he is a lot happier where he is out on a ranch than here having some lady fussing over him.
I am also so much happier with my new horse. She loves being fussed over and being groomed and she runs to me in the pasture. It makes ME feel good... which is why I am spending all of this money on horses after all.
Maybe after your horse is better, if it seems like he isn't the horse you remember, an option would be to look for another partner whose temperament matches yours better. I actually think it takes about a year to really form a partnership.