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Help me with my newest 'shouldn't have looked at craiglist' pony!

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  • Help me with my newest 'shouldn't have looked at craiglist' pony!

    I apologize for the length, but I needed to provide some important background knowledge! After 20+ years of riding and boarding, we finally bought a small farm for my two horses over a year ago.... of course, two horses just wouldn't work, so we found a pitiful mini who had quite a few health issues (teeth through cheeks and a 'dead' eyeball that needed removal). My husband loves playing with her and 'walking her'. Plus, she is fun to teach tricks and do groundwork with. I hope to begin ground driving soon! (I am in zero rush with her and I am a teacher, so training comes when it can for now, sadly.)

    In January of this year, I was on Craigslist just browsing out of boredom, (WHYYYYY??) and saw this pitiful white mini. She wasn't terribly built (but not as nice as Fergie) and was in a small mud with a few other pitiful ponies, horses, donkeys. My husband is just like me when it comes to animals and wanted her we went to get her. (To be fair, my young horse is leased out, so we were down to two haha!)

    She would not let us near her but was terrified, rightfully so. We corralled her into a stall/shed thing and the guy was able to grab her by the mane/neck and halter her to get her to the trailer. She clearly had not been handled much, if at all in a positive way, and was just completely terrified. I don't know what other suckers would have taken this pony home, but we sure did!

    We put her in a paddock with an attached stall and let her be for a few days to settle in. She was pretty thin, but not starving or anything. We slowly introduced a small amount of feed and good quality hay, which she did great with. She would not let anyone anywhere near her. She would just bolt if you even acted like you wanted to mess with her. I began sitting with her in the mornings and evenings either talking on the phone, working, or reading. My husband did the same when he could. We would throw her some snacks and treats when she would take steps towards us only and she responded well to that. We could only catch her when I got her in just the stall and grabbed the leather halter and grab strap I keep on her. (She did get a full vet workup, dental, and hoof trim under some pretty heavy sedation...but necessary).

    Well, it is March, and things haven't changed much. Once you catch her and have a lead rope on, she tries to flee. If you stay with her in the stall, she is extremely nervous and even will tremble sometimes. I have tried basically everything I can think of. I have focused on building a positive relationship with her, but she just wants nothing to do with humans. She will come up for treats if I sit with her for a while and toss them at her only if she takes a step to me. It takes about 20 minutes but eventually she will take a treat from me. BUT only if I am crouching or in a char.

    She hates being touched. I began touching her and rubbing her with a training stick, for my safety and her confidence. She handled the back and shoulder area but tried to bite the stick aggressively at her chest, belly, and flank. I have been able to touch her back and shoulder with my hand, but always watching her closely.

    I have experience with green horses and babies, but this kind of terrified pony is new to me. We are managing with what she is giving us, but I just want to be able to work with her! I am looking for suggestions on gaining her trust and where to go next with her. For now, my plan is to continue to feed her in the stall and just hang with her while she eats, trying to move closer to her. What suggestions do you all have? I would love to hear any ideas!

    Ps. she is an adorable little white puff pony and we named her Foxy!
  • Original Poster

    Oh and she is 6-9 years old (estimated by vet and dentist) and I am working on posting a picture!!


    • #3
      My advice would be to take your time. It may take a very long time for this mini to come around. Take a book out and sit in the pasture with her. Letting her come to you out of curiosity versus you going to her also helps. Sing a song, talk to yourself, but don't look at her. Most fearful horses will come around once they don't feel threatened.


      • #4
        *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
        Steppin' Out 1988-2004
        Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
        Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015


        • Original Poster

          That is so reassuring!! I am prepared to be patient with her, but I just had to ask...
          i appreciate the stories and advice!!


          • #6
            Sounds like you're doing things right so far.

            How is her attitude? Could she use something like one of the mare supplements or maybe a general calming one?

            Do a search for a great story about Argus, written by Watermark Farm. I believe she also had a blog that gave more detail. Poor horse had lived his life inside a stall but Kate (?) did a fantastic job of going slowly with his rehab and accepting his limitations.

            Proofreading is your friend.


            • #7
              Give her a year. My last rescue took 18 months to get to the point where he comes to you. He might flee briefly, but will stop and face you. He had been beaten badly by someone. He still shakes at certain things (flinches at being touched), but he accepts handling and riding. He's super sensitive, young, and excitable. Now he will follow with a rope draped over his neck. He's still suspicious if you have something in your hands ( blanket or pitchfork). I rub him all over with both. If you try to make every experience a positive one, you should see improvement over time. It may be incrementally slow progress but you should get there.

              My boy was terrified of ropes. I would leave a small rope on his halter. He would stand shaking and snorting at it. Eventually accepted the rope and i started switching it with longer catch ropes ( on a breakaway halter). Once you caught him, he would calm down. I suspect someone walked up and beat him for no reason given how he reacted at being approached. I do not think he understands why he is afraid, but it is like ptsd in people - he gets anxious, fearful, and doesn't like being touched very much.

              I finally put him on antidepressants and I'm definitely seeing a more relaxed, confident horse. Fear interferes with learning new behaviors. You can't learn if you are terrified. He would panic, and shut down with learned helplessness. He would give up. At first i thought lots of time, and repetition in training would help, but i just couldn't get him past some things. I've met plenty of abused horses that will never need medication and train well. He isn't one of those. The medication brings his anxiety down so he can learn new behaviors - i see much less "freeze and tremble" behavior. He's either a shake and tremble horse or a bolt for the hills horse. A couple more months and i will wean him off the meds.

              Hopefully your horse is more of a "never met a human in my life" rather than severely abused. Abuse is difficult to overcome. My horse was practically a baby when the abuse occurred - he didn't have experience with nice people, so he assumed all humans were bad.

              My other rescue was only abused by one person, so once she trusted me, she would walk through fire. She loves kids and most people.


              • #8
                The welsh pony we bought in 2002 from a horse trader wasn't as mistrusting as your little mare, but he had a number of issues. First, he couldn't be caught, didn't want to be touched, hated to be in a stall (was very nervous), couldn't be tied (he'd rear up or pull so hard he'd fall down), was horribly headshy, fled in terror if you waved your hand or raised your arm in any fashion (even when a good distance from him), and had no concept of what a treat was. He was absolutely petrified of my 6'4" husband.

                The pony was severely abused prior to ending up at the horse traders, where we bought him. And the horse traders barn wasn't a place I would have left a horse (if we could have afforded it, I would have taken several home). The stall the pony was in had a good FOOT of dried manure everywhere - no bedding. I'm not sure it had ever been cleaned. Anyway, this man that ran the place bought the pony at a horse "fair" off two men, who were beating the pony with 2 X 4 boards to try to get the pony to load into a miniature horse trailer (the pony was too big to fit properly). They had a rope around is neck trying to pull him in, while the two beat him to make him go forward. Who knows what other atrocities this poor pony suffered... So the horse trader took pity on the pony, bought the pony on the spot and brought him back to his barn.

                It took I'd say a good year for us to make any significant progress. I had to use ACE on the pony for vet and farrier visits for a while (though this hasn't been needed in well over 14 years). I also had the pony on a calming supplement (it did take the edge off and I thought it definitely helped). And it just took time... a lot of time. I kept feeling that I was not "good" enough to bring the pony around, because it was taking so long. My vet reassured me that the pony was way better ever time they saw him - which made me feel better.

                He's not the same pony now. Stands for the farrier, loves to be brushed and scratched, pet his face, pick up his feet, can be tied, very friendly, comes running when called and full of personality. The only thing I continue to have issue with is worming him. He does not like that at all. I have to grab his little nose with my left hand, dose him quickly with my right, and then he's just fine.

                I do not remember the name of the calming supplement, but it was herbal. I remember it had valeran root and I think L-tryptophan? It smelled funny, I remember that!

                You're doing great OP. I'm sure you'll gain her trust in time. Keep at it. The rewards are amazing.
                Attached Files
                ~~ How do you catch a loose horse? Make a noise like a carrot! - British Cavalry joke ~~


                • #9
                  Originally posted by ladybugsbw View Post
                  . I began touching her and rubbing her with a training stick, for my safety and her confidence. She handled the back and shoulder area but tried to bite the stick aggressively at her chest, belly, and flank. I have been able to touch her back and shoulder with my hand

                  Why not preemptively treat her for ulcers ?


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by ladybugsbw View Post
                    Oh and she is 6-9 years old (estimated by vet and dentist) and I am working on posting a picture!!
                    Yes!! It is against the rules to post about a new pony - especially a cute little white fluffy one named Foxy!!! - without pictures!!!!

                    I highly recommend subscribing to Warwick Schiller for a couple months. You can do a one week free trial to see if you like his style and methods. You will learn so much about horse behavior and how to shape and change it in a humane and ethical manner. It will be the best money you ever spent, and it will change your relationship with your horses forever.
                    "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him."


                    • #11
                      Well first of all KUDOS to you for taking in that poor little pony!
                      You sound just like my sister, she has a farm and can't say no - at one point she had 1 malnourished donkey, 1 abused Friesian, 1 pot belly pig and 1 green-as-grass 18 yo Icelandic horse in addition to her own 3

                      Good luck with Foxy. Your infinite patience and gentleness WILL be rewarded.
                      Ottbs - The finish line is only the beginning!


                      • #12

                        Here is a demonstration of Monty Roberts' "Join Up, Follow Up" technique with an untrained mare who had never had a saddle or rider on her back. In 23 minutes the mare went from being terrified to letting herself be ridden with a saddle.

                        I was fortunate to watch Monty Roberts do this exact same set of exercises in real life with an untrained horse. I was so inspired that when a stray cow wandered up our farm's driveway a few months later, I used this technique with her without a round pen. She joined up, let me touch her all over and followed me around in about fifteen minutes.

                        I think the magic of the technique is that you square your shoulders and look her in the eye when starting the technique to drive her away from you. Then you turn your shoulders away and avoid looking in her eye. This arouses the animal's curiosity. Since you are not threatening her and driving her away with your eyes (as a predator would do), she will come to you. That's what worked with me and the cow.

                        Horses are herd animals who are frightened by being without a herd leader. When she "joins up" with you it means you have been chosen as her leader and she trusts you. It's a quite remarkable transformative training technique involving no pain or trauma for the horse. The technique puts her in a position to choose you of her own free will.

                        I hope you can find a way to use this method with your mini and may God bless you for your kindness in rescuing her.

                        P.S. Monty Roberts also wrote a #1 best selling autobiography, "The Man Who Listens to Horses."

                        He was also honored by the Queen of England for his work with her horses. It is reported that the Queen cried when he tamed her wildest horse in such a kind, quick way.

                        Last edited by Frosty M; Mar. 9, 2019, 09:54 AM.


                        • #13
                          Second the subscribe to Warwick Schiller or acquiring a copy of "Gaining Control and Respect on the Ground" which is 8 simple exercises that changed the way I handle horses (and students --I was a teacher for 41 years and used that theory in my classroom the last ten --worked great!) The reason is I think you are reinforcing some of the mini's behavior problems. You indicate you stop when it becomes tense --you are teach the mini that acting tense is the correct response. You need to keep on the pressure, no matter how slight until there is a relaxed response (lip licking, eye blinking, deep breath, or standing still for a 5 count) THEN stop --you've taught the mini the answer to pressure is to relax. If the mini is in good health, then I would start systematic training ASAP. 20 min a day --going in with a plan --again Warwick Schiller or any other ground work training (I happen to like Clinton Anderson's "Gaining Control and Respect on the Ground" because it is broken into 30 miin segments I could watch on my lunch, the try on my horse --but he's not the only one --there are many good DVD and YouTube training people) As a teacher you know the value of repetition on a regular basis. Regardless of the mini's past --she has a future --letting her "sit for a year" isn't going to improve her. At least, that's my opinion.


                          • Original Poster

                            Originally posted by Chall View Post
                            Why not preemptively treat her for ulcers ?
                            She is 3 weeks into ulcer treatment now! As soon as I saw that, I ordered ulcergard (great minds think alike!) I have to squirt it on a handful of senior, but she eats it. So far she does seem generally happier, but I haven't noticed anything else different yet...but we will see!

                            Thank you all so much for the suggestions! I am going to look into each suggestion mentioned above. I am familiar with some, but haven't really devoted time into learning more about them in years. So thank you for providing some fun 'homework'!

                            And of course...Pictures!!!


                            • #15
                              Well, isn't she just adorable!
                              ~~ How do you catch a loose horse? Make a noise like a carrot! - British Cavalry joke ~~


                              • #16
                                Ah, a pretty little foof ball. I love those warm, wooly coats that the itty bitty's get.

                                Sounds like you're doing a good job with her. Let her set the pace and she'll come around. I guarantee it.

                                When my boys were little we went through a bunch of ponies as they outgrew each one. So many of them came to us

                                in sorta wild, feral condition but after gentle patience everyone turned around and became great little partners.

                                Have fun and keep us posted.
                                "There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery." - Charles Darwin


                                • #17
                                  What a darling pony! You and your husband have done a wonderful thing by taking her on and being so loving and patient with her. Thanks for the pictures.


                                  • #18

                                    I agree with everyone else, she may just take a little longer than some, give her more time, keep doing what you're doing.

                                    You can try Valerian, someone mentioned it above (though misspelled). It is a herbal calming supplement that helps reduce anxiety. I first tried it because it's a USEF forbidden substance so I was like, that means it probably actually works, right?? It has been great for my retired gelding when he gets too attached to my mare. When I moved them to Florida they rode on a trailer down together and once they stepped off he'd become OBSESSED. Screaming and running the whole time I'd have her out to ride. 3000 mg Valerian (17hh thoroughbred) did the trick, gave it to him for a couple weeks, then took him off, and all is well.
                                    "The best of any breed is the thoroughbred horse..." - GHM



                                    • #19
                                      I would like to offer a different perspective on this.

                                      As of now, scaredy cat, kind of untouched, untrained if not outright feral and/or abused, all that by now is not that relevant.
                                      What is relevant, she is stressed in that situation, her world doesn't make much sense and she is not really getting better.
                                      In such situations, people can wait and wait, or they can start training, so a horse in that situation learns past that stage.

                                      After starting many feral horses directly from the mountains and many others that just were not handled for whatever reason, some we bought ourselves, some that came to us when their owners just were not getting ahead and knew it was just not getting much better the way the horse was still so stressed at anything and everything around it, I think that is best for those kinds of horses to get on a training program so they can get past that and start learning.

                                      Unless the owner is fine with having a hard to handle horse that is stressed with life forever.

                                      We found out that a good training program right from the first day, confine and train, gets such horses learning and quit stressing right away and becoming solid citizens that enjoy life with their humans and are enjoyable for those handling them.
                                      The longer we were letting them practice being jumpy and scared, the longer it was taking getting them over it.
                                      The quicker we could get them interested in us and in watching and eventually understanding that we were trying to "talk" with them, the better they learned to relax and not be stressing by it all in their new life.

                                      While we had the rare feral horse that right away was curious, over it's fears, and right away started working with their human, most of them were like this cute fluffball and just were not getting over it.
                                      They didn't know better and needed to have someone taking over and explaining life to them, not stand there waiting for them to read the human's mind that they were supposed now to just interact with those strange humans doing scary things.

                                      As things are now, for what we are being told, it seems that the situation is such is reinforcing that being scared and watchy is what is working for her, so that is what she is doing.
                                      I would start serious training, horsey bootcamp to explain what we want, not wait for her to eventually find something she is not looking for or seems to be able to imagine humans are after.

                                      I would say the stress of a good starting program to halterbreak and teach her what she needs to be learning will not be any more stressful to her than the world she is living in now and in the long run will take stress away and let her relax in this new strange world she found herself in.

                                      Then, saying all that, there are many ways to train.
                                      Each one will have to decide by themselves at each step how to proceed.

                                      I bet once she is more amenable, she will be a wonderful little horse to have around.


                                      • #20
                                        Can you use one of your other ponies to show you can be trusted?

                                        A friend of mine bought a mule and she was very obedient but trusted no one.
                                        I tried to give her a carrot when she was out in the pasture, but she refused to take it and wouldn't let me near her.

                                        I gave up and went to one of the other horses also out in the pasture. I suddenly felt something behind me and I turned around and there she was. She let me pet her and took a treat from me and she always let me catch her after that.

                                        She just needed to see for herself.

                                        Maybe if you turned her and another pony out together she could see for herself that ponies are safe with humans.

                                        Good luck, hope this helps.
                                        "They'll be no butter in hell."