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Starting a very skittish horse

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  • Starting a very skittish horse

    We got a rescue in that is probably one of the most fearful horses I have dealt with. When she first came catching her was just not going to happen. Months have gone by and a whole lot of patience, she does come up to us now, I'm able to tack, and lunge her without much drama. She is still pretty head shy, but much easier to manage then when she first got here. Hind legs I am finally able to touch, even with sedative early on if you tried to touch below the hock she would kick violently straight back. I haven't been brave enough to ask her to pick her hind feet again yet, but I can TOUCH below the hock now without a total freak out.

    Anyway, she really is lunging and listening well, comes when you go to get her, but still tries to get her head away a little putting the bridle over her ears. w/t/c on the lunge no problem. But I want to start her and just can't get up the nerve without bombproofing her a little more. Someone sneezed when I was walking by them the other day and she jumped about 800 feet in the air. I've been able to stand with all my weight in the stirrup, but when I lean over her back she darts off sideways bucking a little. She is not "normal" in the sense that your voice and patting her make her nervous. If you go to pat her neck to tell her good girl (or stroke it, rub it, etc) she will jump.

    I'm not in a hurry, but could use some other ideas on getting her more trusting for when I do climb up. I know her pretty well, at this point I'd have to stick on because I can guarantee a reaction, she bolts. That has been her thing since the start, if she gets scared she just takes off. I've started hanging "floppy" things on the saddle to try and get her used to motion above her, but what other things can be done in prepping a really skittish horse for being started? I'm not above sending her off, but as untrusting as she is I worry about rough manhandling, particularly since we have come SO far, from not being able to get near her, to where we are today. Any tips or things I could try?

    She could care less about the saddle at this point, it's PEOPLE. Lord forbid you sneeze, cough, try to scratch an itch, or try anything NEW with her. I tried to flyspray her the other day and it took me about 10 minutes to get her to stand for it, but she was trembling. I've been grooming her on the mounting block to get her used to people taller and over her, and the first couple of times I tried that you would think I was trying to eat her. It has been a very slow go, and I'm running out of tricks!

    We had a full vet check done early on and she is in good health, it's all mental.
    "Hell, when I move my things go in boxes and I always make sure and bubble wrap my dog feces so it don't get broke." runwayz

  • #2
    It sounds like she may have been abused in the past.

    How old is she?


    • #3
      Is she inside during the night? I would put on a radio when she is inside. This will get her at least started to realize that not all noises are bad. This won't fix all her skittishness but it might help. If need be, record someone sneezing and just replay it all the time while she is in her stall. Eventually she'll learn that sneezing doesn't have anything to do with her.

      Now how you go about recording someone's sneeze is beyond me haha

      Keep things routine and consistant and slowly integrate new things. I'm sure I don't have to tell you this though when you groom her, sing out loud, have your ipod going, talk to someone. She'll get use to the other noises.

      That is all the experience I have really hope it helps
      Blog of an ordinary and every day horse lover!


      • #4
        get a pro to help you. someone who works many youngsters and who isnt afraid of what she might do.



        • #5
          sounds like fuzzy ear plugs might help take away at least some of the things she reacts too.


          • #6
            This horse is blessed that she found you. Take mbm's advice and find a pro to help you and to be honest about the future of this horse. This horse's instincts overide most normal equine behavior.
            1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.


            • #7
              She doesn't sound ready yet for you to get on.

              If her leading is pretty good...I'd pony her off another horse.

              It will get you up "above" her. The calm nature of the other horse can help her learn it is ok. Work up to being able to pat her and stroke her neck from up top.

              I'd also send her to a really calm and good cowboy who can work on some bomb proofing.

              I'd also make sure her diet and ulcers are not at play....ulcers can make them even more skittish.

              Good luck....it will take time.
              ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


              • #8
                Third the pro.

                But first watch them ride. Be sure they are one of those riders with a soft flexible back, not one who is simply a strong rider.
                Taking it day by day!


                • #9
                  I agree with BFNE, she doesn't sound like she is ready. Can you give her more time? Even with a pro, she is not going to any more "ready" for riding right now.

                  We had a lovely mare that had been very abused. She just needed more time to trust us before she could handle any thought of me on her back. Even with a lot of time she still could come unglued if she got nervous. On the ground she became very solid.

                  Let her tell you when she is ready for more.

                  It sounds like you are doing all the right things, maybe just continue that for a while longer if you have the time. Sadly, these poor abused critters just can't always follow our timelines.


                  • #10
                    You can use a parelli style carrot stick to rope a hind foot and pick it up so you stay out of range.

                    My barn rescued a couple mares who had been running mostly wild with very little (poor) handling. One mare was of the "kick first ask questions later" type. If scared she'd go over and through anything that bothered her or kick. We have experience with rescues and with semi feral horses but she was a bit much and after one person got trampled and two people got kicked she went to a cowboy trainer.

                    He sacked her out and ended up putting 90 days training on her including ring work, trail riding, and herding cattle. She came home with a set of manners and easy to handle but he never got the buck ironed out of her (she'd be fine then "forget" someone was up and rodeo off) so nobody rides her and I wouldn't want anyone to ride her.

                    I wouldn't get on your horse until I felt confident and safe around her on the ground and even then I'd want someone who could ride out a rodeo for the first few times.


                    • #11
                      I agree with ponying her off another horse and finding a cowboy. I'm working with a skittish mare right now, and it's very testing of patience!! "My" mare is broke, but I get the sense that whoever "broke" her had only done it recently and didn't put much time into her. She's very, very green and very tense under saddle. She's finally calming down, but it takes a good ten minutes of circles. The first time I widened my hands to shorten my reins she about came unglued. On the ground she's fine...once you catch her. She only recently started coming to us, and that was after an hour long session to make up for the freak out incident. She turned her ass towards me one day so I flicked the end of the lead rope towards her, barely brushing her hocks, and she freaked. She ran around her corral while I calmly stood in the middle, not moving, until I heard a BANG. She had bonked her damn head off her feeder. That turned into "every time someone has a halter, RUN AROUND!" Oiy.

                      Good luck OP. The only horse I ever felt truly unsafe around was a super, SUPER skittish gelding a few years ago. That's the only horse I've ever given up on as well. It wasn't worth me getting hurt. After months of working with this horse (for free for my BO) he was coming along nicely, but he would just shut down completely if something startled him and there was no getting through to him. Last I knew he was out in pasture as an ornament.

                      If you feel you are truly able to get on this horse eventually, then please be careful. She's not ready yet. If you still don't feel safe being the first person on her there is no shame in that. Find someone you trust and have them start working with her AND you. Keep us updated!
                      runnjump86 Instagram

                      Horse Junkies United guest blogger


                      • #12
                        John Lyons Round Pen Reasoning.

                        My guy was the same...I followed the book start to finish and it took some time but he is a different guy now.

                        Can throw plastic shavings bags at him and he won't even budge
                        Boss Mare Eventing Blog


                        • Original Poster

                          Thanks for the thoughts thus far!

                          Like I mentioned, I'm not opposed to sending her off but I'm going to be really picky, and I would rather not. I do not want this horse man-handled and frankly the "cowboys" around here are the rough'n'tumble type. It has taken me quite awhile to gain any trust, the last thing I want is some rough bronc rider scaring the beejeebers out of her. I would rather take it super slow and go at her pace then try to push her at this point. Not saying the other approach couldn't work, but I feel like I owe her an element of predictability and calmness at this point in her life.

                          She is 8, vet guessed by looking at her teeth. I wish I had history, I picked her up for meat prices at a local auction. No papers, QHx of some sort. She WANTS to like people, she just does not trust them.
                          "Hell, when I move my things go in boxes and I always make sure and bubble wrap my dog feces so it don't get broke." runwayz


                          • #14
                            Radio. Yep! That works too.

                            As BFNE said, she's not ready to ride quite yet from your description. Play with her some more. Ponying is good but don't do it unless you are in a confined area. My experience with really keen horses like this is another horse is a help, yes, but not enough to change the behavior. If she wants to jump, she'll jump, whether you've got her on lead rope ponying or on the ground or whereever. She'll bolt from your leading horse as soon as not so make sure you're further along on the listening parts. If she gets loose she'll probably scare herself...been there, done that, had to fix my neighbor's lawn when the hoofprints messed it up....

                            I hesitate to recommend sacking out or other sensory-flooding techniques, as you have already said (no cowboy techniques) because at this point she may not trust you if you do that stuff to her. She needs more activity and more loving handling just like you've been doing. I think you're doing SUPER with her and be patient. Keep going like you are and one day she'll look at you and give a big sigh and go, "OK. I can be a horse now." and that will be it and you will have her trusting you. Be patient. She'll tell you when.

                            It might help to sort of put her lead rope on and just kind of tow her around with you when you teach or do stuff, just make sure she's getting lots of exposure to all sorts of stuff in and out of the ring and barn. When she does the littlest thing RIGHT, give her a treat immediately. When she spooks and then comes back to you and listens, make out like she did a great thing. I think you have to be her friend and her haven so to speak and she'll let you get a long way I'd bet.

                            And, to Effie, just because a horse is skittish or headshy does NOT automatically mean it was abused. I RAISED a mare from the moment she took her first breath (literally as we had to pull her from her dam at birthing, and I had to blow in her nose to clear it) to 4 years old. She was literally born headshy. Gradually as she matured got more and more nervy about her head. She was handled daily from her first day of life, too. It made me so mad that people would walk in the barn and dash up to her stall and dab their hand at her face, and she would pick her head up from a sound sleep and duck back in her stall -- and the first thing they would say is, "Oh, poor thing, who hit you in the head?" Well, NO ONE. I handled her for her whole life, every day, and no one ever EVER hit her. She just had a princess attitude and nobody could touch her head or ears without her permission. Especially a stranger! Because of her, now I never jump to the conclusion a horse may have been "abused" because they are headshy. Not saying it doesn't happen, but you can't be sure it's abuse. Sometimes just neglect is enough to make a horse unsure - never being handled at all is just as bad I think.
                            Proud & Permanent Student Of The Long Road
                            Read me: EN (http://eventingnation.com/author/annemarch/) and HJU (http://horsejunkiesunited.com/author/holly-covey/)