Horse afraid of people due to static electricity shocks
I am nearly in tears as I write this.. I am so disheartened.
I have an 8 year old mare who is having issues. In the last month or so she has gone from an in your pocket, first to the gate, loves attention kind of horse to one who is afraid of people and won't let anyone catch her or touch her. This was a big mystery to me until earlier today as no apparent traumatic human encounter was glaringly obvious. It all began while I was out of the country for a few weeks and my hubby was caring for her at our neighbor's ranch where we board our three horses. He said that nothing traumatic had happened to cause it, but that one day he went over there and she simply would not let him anywhere near her.
Since I have been home, I went out there the very girst day back and she came up to me like she always has, but the very next day wouldn't let ME anywhere near her either. (For those of you who might be tempted to suggest that she was simply trying to get out if work, this mare has been on holiday from work for 8 months due to medical issues I was dealing with that prevented me from riding etc. She has only been coming up for grooming and positive interaction.) It has taken me three weeks to get to the point where I can catch her, groom her, and do ground work with her again, but she still does not WANT me to touch her, and looks away and moves away at any human touch. She really does not wish to have much of anything to do with people by choice, it is obvious in the way she acts. She is like a completely different horse. So anyway, today I brought her up for grooming outside her pasture and everything seemed to be going OK. I was finishing up grooming her with the soft brush and she was pretty relaxed but alert. Well, we live in a very dry place, and static electricity had apparently built up, and when I put my other hand on her neck it discharged a HUGE shock. She just about jumped out if her skin and wanted to run away from me, no attempt to console her made any difference, all she knew was that my touch HURT. I distracted her with some ground work exercises, disengaging the hindquarters and such and she calmed down after several minutes.
Back in the winter time a similar thing happened where I walked out into the pasture on a very cold -30 C day and she came up to greet me. Well, I normally greet my horses by bending slightly at the waist, and blowing into their noses etc.. On this particular day my mare touched her nose to my winter hat and got zapped right in the nose. She just about had a heart attack and ran off, no amount of coaxing would get her to come near me the rest of the day, and she was VERY wary of me for days afterward.
So now, this static electricity business has turned into a HUGE issue and working with her is taking up all of my time. It is my guess that my hubby had inadvertently shocked her one day while he was grooming her etc while I was away and that is why she wouldn't come near him the next day. Let me also add that they are fenced in with electric fencing, not sure if this has anything to do with it.
I am so discouraged, sad, and frustrated that I could cry. It took me three weeks to begin gaining her trust back and now all that work was for nothing and we are back at square one all over again. At least now I know what the root cause is anyway, but I have NO CLUE how to fix this. Anyone have any ideas??? We need HELP!
I just googled it coz heaps of the horses on our agistment property have that problem too. Mine don't interestingly enough and the only difference is that they don't wear light rugs. Just heavy rugs. Could that be a correlation??
Had this problem with the quarter sheet and fleece cooler. Static Guarded both to death, which stopped him from being shocked again. To regain his trust of both objects, I fed him LOTS of treats, while holding the sheet and sometimes right out of the sheet.
You have to do everything you can to stop from shocking her and then provide a ton of positive reinforcement that you're okay again. She'll come around as long as she doesn't get shocked again.
Happens with dogs too here, we are so super dry, lizard, desert dry.
Water is your friend, carry a spritzing bottle or a wet hand towel and use that first, before touching her.
Now, any time a horse for any reason is hard to catch, you don't want to keep that horse in the situation where it can be hard to catch, training 101.
Be proactive and put the horse up and work at catching it several times a day, until it remembers that is what it needs to do.
Don't turn it out before you have it retrained and let it practice running away from you, if a horse you can catch out there is important to your management.
Many cowboys can't catch their horses, they run them into something and rope them.
That is not a problem for them.
Most of us want to be able to walk up to our horses or better, call them to us, so that is what we have to train our horses for and reinforce it.
I have trained plenty of cowboy horses that at first almost go over a fence if a human approaches them with a halter, expecting to be roped.
They are worse than a feral horse that doesn't know what you want, is just wary, not scared out of it's wits.
I hear you, it is very disheartening at several levels and it is causing you anxiety and anguish that she is so scared and with reason, shocks hurt!
Now, just get on with the retraining with a smile, all will be fine, just as if you were training for some other you do with her.
I have a horse who seems to hate the sound of electric discharges...she flinches at the shock itself, but anything that has a similar "clicking" sound makes her agitated. Camera flashes have a similar effect, and lightning. This horse HATES being shocked. I am not exaggerating, if you put her on one side of some fence posts with NO FENCE, she'll avoid trying to walk between them for DAYS, just in case there's electric.
My horse is now well broke, a working horse...she got over the huge "spook and run away" thing, but it did take a while. It's just something that she had to respond appropriately to...the panic/run away was an overreaction...I don't WANT to shock her, but it's something that happens, she needed to respond appropriately. Flinching is fine, I don't mind her getting a bit tense, even the odd jig step...jerking her head up, pulling/setting back, running off...not ok.
Make sure that you don't get upset by the shock/flash...it's tough, but if you act like it's no big deal, she will eventually start to trust that it is no big deal. If you startle and immediately make a fuss of consoling her, she'll keep thinking that it is a big deal and act out. Cookie, pat, return to grooming. If she does blow up, ok, make sure you're safe, and as soon as she is calm enough, just lead her right back to where the event occured, and go back to whatever you were doing.
I think that the anti-shock stuff for laundry is called "static guard" here, it's an aerosol. This might help de-static your brushes and clothes. Different types of brushes will have different tendencies to create a buildup of charge on the horse, you can experiment and make sure that you use the less static-collecting ones...although as you use any brush it will collect oils and dirt and probably not accumulate charge as bad.
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Thanks for the responses everyone, I truly appreciate all of your thoughts and ideas.
I guess I should have given more details in my original post. This mare is pasture boarded on our neighbor's ranch of a couple hundred acres. There is a barn, but there is not a chance in hell that I would get her or any of my horses in it b/c it also doubles as the ranch owners shop where he cleans and dresses his hunting kills. (Horrible place to do that, really.) So, keeping her up in the barn is not a good option. I don't really have any small padocks to keep her in right now that have both good access to water and hay/forage, not to mention that she turns into a totally neurotic fence running maniac if paddocked off from her herd mates, which only causes more problems (ie: extreme buddy sourness) when reunited with them.
This mare is such high maintenance, truth be told! She is my "problem child."
I only blanket her in the very coldest part of winter, like -40, or when we are expecting a lot of snow. Blankets and coolers are not an issue for us because we rarely, if ever, use them.
It is more the static that builds up ink the brushes and in people's bodies that gets discharged upon touching her that are causing a huge problem. I think I will try the spray bottle and Static Guard ideas. I've never lived in such a dry climate before, so this is totally foreign to both her and I, I never even thought to use static guard. We never had this problem when we lived in KY!
Again, thanks everyone for your replies and ideas, they are greatly appreciated!
Body brushes will really build up charge, wear a damp glove on one hand and after you pass the body brush over her, neutralize the bristles by touching them to your glove. BTW, you will not feel much sting with a glove as opposed to with your bare hand. Same goes for your mare. The first time you touch her, lean into her a bit and let the the static discharge on your coat or through your clothes. Sounds wacky but it does work haha
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Like what CHT said, moisturize her coat too. I use the one on the below link and it's amazing. We have incredible electric shocks in Calgary from the dryness and since I've started using this I've never zapped my horse. You mix it with water and it lasts for months!! It smells divine and really helps keep the horse dust free and glossy (but not slippery so you can use it all over) as well. When I'm grooming I spray it onto his body on the really dusty parts and then also give my groom brushes a spritz. Amazing stuff!
My horse had a similar thing happen to him. I kissed him on the nose, and shocked him pretty badly. Honestly I probably shouldn't have kissed him on the nose anyway. He didn't get too upset, though, but he won't let me kiss him on the nose unless he is awfully relaxed, otherwise he goes into giraffe mode with his head straight up in the air! I can touch his nose and brush his face, etc. he just gets worried when my face is near his.
Been using gloves, spray bottle etc, works great unless I forget. I forgot a few days ago and gave her a tiny shock that caused her to jump and run away, but I was able to work my way back up to her and finish after wetting the brush.
She has not had any other symptoms of Lyme, she has always been a very sensitive mare, and she is fenced in partially by hot wire. I believe now that she is simply reacting like a normal horse does to electric fencing, by avoidance. There is no other problem with muscle or joint stiffness or pain that is even remotely evident. Now that I am taking extra care to prevent static electricity shocks we are having no problems.