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WHEN A HORSE NEEDS
A SENSE OF PLACE

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Marv, I thought I'd reply to you directly.

Let me give you a lengthy discussion of this horses past as I have been told.

He's a 5 year old Arabian gelding. Was raised totally feral until the age of 4, last July, when the ranch liquidated and they sold the horses. So...we have "mustang" mentality to work with. Humans are unknown and untrusted, etc. From there, the first owner who bought him from the ranch (not an experienced rider herself) sent him to a trainer she'd heard of there in TX. He's an AQHA reining trainer who accomplished nothing in 4 months other than to get a halter on the horse and have him drag a 12 ft. lead rope since the horse couldn't be caught directly. He also must not have spent much time with this horse in hand leading, as he preferred to run the horse from stall, to run, to corral, to pasture and back again. He also felt that the best way to get the energy off an Arabian is to starve him, which he did...and soundly.

The owner found out and removed the horse after 4 months to a friends house to be trained. There was no training done, as the horse contracted strangles during this time and just was there to recover. During this time, the first owner decided he was unsalvageable for her and too much of a project and the horse was sold to a young gal. During the 4 months this gal had him she sent him to 2 AQHA trainers who also were rough and round penned this horse to death...completely lacking the finesse as to when to watch for his body signals etc. He was still thin, still dragging a 12 ft. lead rope during these round pen sessions and thoroughly confused as to what he was supposed to do.

When I found out he was for sale again, I jumped in and bought him. When I went to visit, he had rope burns around his neck, ran at mach 10 around the round pen, wild eyed and petrified. It was very clear he had not received any education as to why he was being worked. There was no connection to his trainer. It had been nearly a year and this horse was no farther along than he was when he came off the ranch. In fact, in some cases he was worse.

When I got him home, I put him in a stall as opposed to a large pen, as he was adept at just running blindly and not engaging his brain. I quit the round pen work and worked on catching him in his stall, leading, etc. When I'd first step into his stall, he'd scramble the walls, trying to climb them to get away. If he did stay still, and you reached for him, he would suck up whatever part of his body you were reaching for and quiver and shake for all he was worth. He'd cower, cringe and show the whites of his eyes. It was a pathetic sight.

Some of the problems we had and still have...He couldn't stand to be touched anywhere. It was like your fingertips were hot as irons...he just couldn't stand to be touched anyplace. He petrified to have anything or any movement behind him. He ties like a charm, but when you go back to approach him sheer terror kicks in.

Now, where he has come and what we are working on...I can touch him on both sides except for his rump on either side. We still can't do legs and feet (he's 5 and has never had his feet done). On his own one day he did lower his head way down and allow me to pet his forehead. No prompting from me. It was unexpected, just lowered his head. Suggestions to work with a long whip or wand to get him used to being touched in areas isn't working. It's not the touching I think bothers him as much as someone being that close to him. The only thing I can think of for this is just time and continually petting and touching. Though he gets pissy and tired of it...where do you go when it has to be done, but he's hating it? That's one of the questions I've posed to other trainers and they shrug their shoulders. With the tying, I've been tying him and approaching, letting him blow without touching him or intervening and then walking away once he stands flat footed. He blows less with each approach and I finally untie him when he stands square footed even though his body is leaning back some and his eyes are wild. I'm finding in our sessions that he gets bored. Then he gets snotty. Not mean, just exasperated and it shows. He's a very intelligent horse and picks things up, but he gets pissed with me sometimes after only spending a few seconds on something. He'll lay his ears, try not to do what's asked even if he knows what I'm asking.

There is a part of me that feels that even with the fear and such, that part of him as learned how to "work the system" and if he's close minded enough and hangs out longer than the trainer, that the sessions will end. If that makes sense...when I've pushed him a bit farther past his quitting point...then he picks things up rapidly as though he knows he's not getting out of it until we get even just a fraction of the right response. Also, he's graduated to a stall with a run, where he can have equine contact and can now doesn't have to wear his leadrope to be caught and can be caught if I turn him out in the indoor arena to play, even though he must still wear his halter. He's not comfortable having it removed and replaced, though I work on this with a larger halter to slip on and off, he's not there yet.

So, yes, he's made some progress...but I think he can do more, and can't find anyone who knows what else to do, but what I'm doing. Yet he's bored...he's bored, but clearly not ready to move on...things still terrify him. The last 4 weeks we've been stuck. Bored with the lessons, but not ready to move on. I won't start under saddle work (intro to equipment) until he can be touched and moved around without panic. And his feet...I want him comfortable with his legs and feet being worked on before we progress to anything more. It would be stupid to move him into carrying equipment when he still isn't solid with so much. My biggest problem is we seem to be stuck. My other problem is that I worry that if I'm not out there for a couple days, he regresses. I've not captured his mind...some of his trust, but not much of his mind.

Sorry for the lengthy email...I could go on with details, but this is a good start.

Thanks for reading...

My response...

My usual standard caveat applies here. I have no information about the horse or the individuals involved in this situation - I am working strictly off the information contained in this email.

This is the type of horse I love to work with because horses like this usually make startling progress in a very short time.

I would be willing to bet this horse's problems can be summed up in one simple premise - he has no sense of place. He has been removed from a situation where he knew EXACTLY what was expected of him and put into a situation where he has absolutely no idea what is expected of him.

When a horse knows what is expected of it, it is 100% comfortable, contented and confident. This horse was taken from a "feral" life where it knew EXACTLY what was expected of it and placed into "domestication" where nothing was like it was before. The problem was intensified when his domestication went sour for whatever reason - probably resulting from coming wild into a facility where all the other horses were light years ahead of him in getting along with humans and the trainer felt his time was more productive elsewhere. Certainly the less dangerous horses came first, that's pretty much human nature.

And now we have a basket case whose days are filled with apprehension and confusion.

How then do we deal with such an animal? We help it make the transition between "feral" and "familiar" by putting it back into a situation where it feels comfortable, or, in other words, where it has a sense of place, and then extending that sense of place into the world of humans.

In the feral world there is a very tight system for getting along with other herd members. It is the genetically ingrained social interactions that keep the herd intact. Every action by a herd member genetically demands a set reaction from another herd member. Long before the dawn of man, horses were interacting with each other in this genetically programmed manner - each horse knows EXACTLY what is expected of it at all times.

Each herd has a leader. A leader is a herd member who simply decides to be the leader and does leader things with the determination it takes to meet all resistance head on. That sounds kind of rough to human ears but to horse ears it is simply the way it is. The horse has but two natural genetic choices - fight, or acknowledge the leadership.

If we can place the horse into a herd dynamics scenario and act like a lead horse would act while short-circuiting any attempts to fight, the horse is genetically preprogrammed to acknowledge the leadership.

Once it does that, and it will in a very short time, it knows EXACTLY what is expected of it - be a cooperative herd member. When a horse knows EXACTLY what is expected of it, it is 100% comfortable, confident and contented.

The best place to do this is in a round pen. I know, you said it has already been round penned to death. But we are not going to round pen it, we are going to put it through a herd dynamic scenario where a person who acts like a horse determined to be leader. Confronted with horse actions, he will react with horse actions.

We use a round pen simply because it is the most convenient place to perform the scenario. We simply want to control the horse's movements. The object is not to wear the horse down, in fact the slower you can move this horse the better.

I have a bonding scenario on the web that is in use world-wide. It the procedure I use to establish a rapid, strong, mental connection with the horses I work. Since I wish to keep track of who has a copy I move it around the web and use an auto-responder to tell people where it can be found at any given time. Anyone who wants a free copy can send an email to Bonder@MarvWalker.com

An email will arrive with the current Bonder URL.

Read the bonder procedure over a few times and see if you think you may be able to put him through it. Performed in the manner set out, it will make a tremendous difference in him. Many of the folks on my HORSES list have used and seen it used, by me and others, on horses pretty much like yours with great results and you may want to join there for awhile for additional help.

Best of luck, this is not insurmountable by a long shot. It is really pretty straight forward.

Click here to check out my very reasonably priced DVD inventory covering many of the subjects featured on my site's pages in greater depth.

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